30 December 2015

Uniting Church, Jesus and Palestinians


A blog written by MICHAEL VAN DER GALIEN came across my screen tonight. It's here In this piece Van Der Galien affirms that Jesus was in fact a Jew, and that he was not in modern terms a Palestinian. He even cites Peter Wertheim who as executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry sent a letter asking for help from the Uniting Church, Australia's third largest Protestant denomination. Wertheim is quoted as writing,

"The proposition that Jesus was a Palestinian and that the Palestinian Arab population of today are his “living descendants” is so absurd and offensive that it deserves an immediate and substantive rebuttal."

In response the Uniting Church president Stuart McMillan wrote a general letter to the public saying,
"I would like to assure you and the Jewish community that the Uniting Church does not accept the view that Jesus was Palestinian. We affirm that Jesus and most of his early followers were Jewish. We note that Jesus was born neither in Israel nor in 'Palestine', but in the Roman-occupied province of Judea, and that it is entirely inappropriate for anybody to attempt to claim political capital from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to bolster claims of either ‘side’ of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute."

Goodonya Mr McMillan. And good on Mr Wertheim as well. Making sure we remember who Jesus was helps us understand who he continues to be in the present tense, and who he will be in the future.

Van Der Galien's point here is to be noted well. "Palestinians and other fundamentalist Muslims cry racism and can even become aggressive when they're called out for trying to rewrite history." This is happening and has happened for as long as men have been reporting what happened to each other. News gets skewed with bias and partiality. But the Muslim agenda is visible to observers-- they want everyone else back-pedalling from an evangelical stance whether at a university lecture or in public fora in Europe, here in Australia, South Africa or in the US. The misuse of the term "Palestine" is a key element. Consider this.

Before 1948, every Jew born in what we title "Israel" today was a Palestinian. The land was renamed "Palestine" by the Romans in the 2nd Century under Hadrian in order to eradicate any Jewish reference at all. (See this link for more

So a Palestinian was someone from that land mass between Lebanon and Egypt. Before 135 AD (CE), no one had that term applied to them, except the Philistines. And Jesus was definitely not a Philistine.

A major work of Jewish scholarship is the Palestinian Talmud, composed between the 2nd and 5th centuries of this era, long after Jesus lived, died and rose again from the dead. For more, read Talmud and see what they say about Palestine there. Clearly the problem is more than semantic -- some racism is happening as well as nationalism. God help us all.

Explosives and Australia


New Years Eve is just a day away and all eyes will be on Sydney's Harbour Bridge and fireworks extravaganza. Each year the projections climb about the numbers of people who will be watching either or both of the 9 pm or the midnight shows. Another million will be at the foreshore and millions around the country and around the world will see the scenes of fireworks up and down the Parramatta River. It will be a jubilant and festive time.

Today though is Wednesday 30 December and many in Melbourne awoke to news of a tragic explosion near Altona on the Princess Freeway. The news of this explosion is not festive or jubilant at all. Two teenage boys are dead and questions are still flooding in about the causes of the accident. We are up to 256 dead nationally in this holiday period. Hardly a holiday.

That's not all the bad news from Melbourne. In Footscray yesterday a gas tank exploded being carried in the back of a truck and killed the driver which then sent his truck into a number of nearby cars on a suburban street. One witness described the sound like 'a bomb.' The force of the blast took down two live power lines. Police continue the investigation today.

Some explosives are welcome and others are less-so.

When the Jewish people were at Mt Sinai in the days of the prophet and Our Teacher Moses, the scene was one of great fire and quaking earth. We read the following in the book of Deuteronomy
“These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain from the midst of the fire, of the cloud and of the thick gloom, with a great voice, and He added no more. He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. and when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders. You said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives. Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer, then we will die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?" (Deuteronomy 5.22-26)

Just like explosions in Australia, the fire of the Word of God and the presence of God is welcome to some and fearful and traumatising to others. What is our response to God's presence with us? What is your response to God coming toward you? His arms are open; His love is toward you.

The book of Hebrews copies and pastes from the same biblical scene above with "our God is a consuming fire." (12.29)He comes to reclaim what is His, sometimes with fire. Will you welcome Him into your life?


Original photo by Bob Mendelsohn on Flickr here

28 December 2015

The coin toss and the captain who chooses


The coin flip at the beginning of overtime in today's New England Patriots vs New York Jets is controversial. Not that the coin landed on its side. The call by special teams captain Matthew Slater #18 may have been the weirdest call in history. I watched the replay several times. Referee Clete Blakeman said after Slater chose 'heads' and it landed 'heads', "You want to kick?" And then the response by Slater was almost parroting. "We want to kick" When Slater argued "We won, don't we get to choose?" it appeared that Slater tried to fix things, but Blakeman wouldn’t let him. The commentators wondered if it was 'muscle memory' as the Patriots often when winning the toss at a game's beginning will choose to defer/ kick and take the kickoff at the 2nd half. This whole ending was odd.

Right now, there is discussion in cricket to scrap the tradition of the coin toss, and when we say 'tradition' we are talking since 1744! Whereas in many sports the toss is often irrelevant, in cricket it often does matter. The pitch deteriorates throughout the five days of a test match, and getting in early is crucial. Unless the pitch is very green, and the conditions are overcast, it's sensible to follow the axiom of WG Grace who said, ‘When you win the toss – bat. If you are in doubt, think about it, then bat. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague – then bat.’

So some situations warrant defence and some offence, and it's up to the captain to decide which way the team should go. This Patriots situation is bizarre with QB Tom Brady with or without a deflated ball ready to go on the sideline. You have to wonder what else took place out in the middle, and maybe the NFL will investigate and let us all know conclusively. You have to wonder if Steve Harvey was on a microphone nearby or Regis Philbin was saying "Is that your final answer?"

Turned out that the coach Bill Belichek had actually wanted Slater to kick if he won the toss.

Still, the coin toss is a random luck-but-also-probability game I've studied for years. After all I used to teach high school mathematics.

So who is the captain in your life? Who helps you make a decision when you have to choose heads or tails? And then when you win the toss, what has the captain told you to choose? Life gives us many choices, in what we will do in time off or when to arrive for a meeting. We have to choose where to attend uni and what career path to take. The captain knows better than we on the team know. And if you know that I'm speaking about Yeshua, the Captain of our Souls, the Jewish Messiah and Saviour of the World, then this makes sense. The Greek word for 'captain' is 'strategos' which is used 3 times in the Book of Acts. At times the word indicates a magistrate or a politician. In the modern Hellenic Army, a stratigós is the highest officer rank.

I've been a believer for 40 years and find that a quick check-in at headquarters, with Yeshua my Captain, informs me about life choices, and especially about life mistakes. When I am sent 'on the field' and have to engage with the enemy, if I have my plans set, if my play is determined and I am out to carry out His plans-- life is good.

May I recommend that you personally ask God what His plans are for you, and for your life this week, this year, and resolve to follow Him. He knows the percentages. He has the final answer. Sh'ma... listen to Him!

22 December 2015

Can we say "Christmas"? In public?


I check snopes so often it's not funny. Here's the one I check this time of year from Jewish actor Ben Stein and his confessions for the holidays . He says, "I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are — Christmas trees. It doesn't bother me a bit when people say 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they're slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we're all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year." This is in reaction to the overreaction of so many to the "Christ" references in the holiday celebrated by Christians and with his obvious commitments to the Jewish religion.

Down in Victoria, the education guidelines are hardly clear. In fact the guidelines could have been drawn by a primary school kid with a new crayon. Here is the article by The Age reporter Henrietta Cook . She reports, "State school students can sing Christmas carols in class time, but they can't sing hymns. And honey-dipped apples are allowed for Jewish New Year, but programs that use the Koran and Bible are banned from class time." Sounds as clear as mud.

I have coined the phrase and hashtag #OneWayReligiousTolerance to indicate that as long as something is clearly secular the government will allow it, but once Christianity (and by that I mean personal faith in Jesus as Messiah) is openly shown, the government will seek to disallow it. Sadly.

The other night I watched two different carols singalong shows, one from Sydney's Domain and one from Brisbane. They had no trouble singing "Oh Holy Night", "Hark the herald angels sing", and such great carols of the past with beauty both in stage and voice. And the people seemed to desire and enjoy singing along. After all, these were 'carols' events. And those same events take place in neighbourhoods all over Australia and other countries. Carols in the Parks and Carols in the Church buildings and ... abound just now. They are wonderful events for families and singles, for believers and others to enjoy this festive time of the year. No one is required to attend. No one is required to sing. But the events shouldn't be demeaned to disallow songs with messages that are uncomfortable.

I remember singing sacred music in my public high school, which was 30% Jewish in those days. We sang sacred music because we in the madrigal and concert choirs considered the Jingle Bells playlist to be juvenile and pedestrian. We wanted music with bite and that was entirely sacred. To be fair, "Silent Night" is a bit simple, but our choir director found some significantly tough arrangements for all his own demands. We were better for it; the Christmas concert (Now retitled "Winter" concert) was full of powerful and beautiful music. We had 8 other months of the year to sing secular music. This one was special.

I like the hymns for their poetry. I like the hymns for their focus. Christmas is not only about the season of giving. It's not only about family. It's not just Currier and Ives and snow scenes. It's not just (for us in Australia) barbecues and prawns, beaches and time off work. Christmas is about a Jewish boy born in Bethlehem. It's personal for me. And whether Jesus was even born in December is to me irrelevant. This is as good a time as any to celebrate his birth. And his life. And his mission. And his love.

Sorry if that offends you.
Sorry if I offend you.
Sorry if he offends you.

Christmas is about light bursting into our darkness and bringing hope to the hopeless. Jesus is the glow in the dark reality who loves us and still lives to help us. Find out more here just now. "Born is the King of Israel." Merry Christmas.

19 December 2015

Can an airline really do this?


Apparently this whole thing is legal. I'm shocked. And saddened. It's that Kuwait Airlines will not allow people of a country they don't like fly on their airplanes.
What? This sounds like something from another era, but not in 2015. But read this article from the New York Post here

Yes, the airlines which now no person of good will should ever fly, has admitted that Israelis cannot fly on their planes. How dare they!

This from Wikipedia
"Kuwait Airlines was accused of discriminating against holders of Israeli passports, for refusing in 2013 and 2014 to sell tickets from New York to London to people holding such passports.

In response, Senator Richard Blumenthal, along with five other USA senators, wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in May 2015 urging him to investigate the allegations. In October 2015, at the conclusion of an investigation, the US Department of Transportation issued Kuwait Airways an order to “cease and desist from refusing to transport Israeli citizens between the U.S. and any third country where they are allowed to disembark”

Additionally, New York City Council member Rory Lancman asked the Port Authority of New York, which operates JFK Airport, to "terminate the airline’s lease if it doesn’t immediately change its policy". For its part, the airline said that it is in compliance with Kuwaiti Law which prohibits the company from entering "into an agreement, personally or indirectly, with entities or persons residing in Israel, or with Israeli citizenship.”

I'm disgusted. And shocked. And grateful to my friend Debra in the US who sent me the link. I echo the words of the Jewish prophet Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5.24)

18 December 2015

'Twas the Friday before Christmas... (around the JFJ Book Shop)


With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore: (And with 18% off all day Friday in mind)

'Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the shop
all the creatures were stirring, especially Bob.
The stock list was read by the staff with great care,
in hopes that the customers soon would be there.


The children were nestled all snug in their prams,
while mothers drank lattes swirled in cups in their hands.
And James with his coffee, and I at the till,
had just settled the latest purchaser's bill.

"Now Rosen! Now Brickner!
Now, Levitt and Mike Brown!
On, Rosenthal, Cahn And Edersheim's down!
To the cards and DVDs!
To the music on the wall!
Now sale away! Sale away!
The [18% off] sale's on for you all!"

We spoke out The Word, this is truly our work,
and filled all the orders, then turned with a jerk.
And prayed up to Heaven, sweet smell in God's nose,
and giving His nod, in a moment we rose.

We sprang to our friends, the whole team gave a whistle,
Craig wondered aloud, "What the heck is a thistle?"
But we each could exclaim, at the end of the day,
"Remember Yeshua, He's the Truth, The Life, The Way!"

15 December 2015

18% off SALE FRIDAY


This may seem an odd blog, but we want to let you know that THIS FRIDAY, 18 December in Sydney at our book shop, we are selling EVERYthing in the shop at 18% off. 18 on 18
The address is 257 Oxford Street, across the street from where we used to be for 9 years, and where we have been for 18 months already. We are 100 metres from the BEACH end of Westfield and if you take the bus or train, we are less than 5 minutes from the Bondi Junction interchange.
We open at 7 am and close at 5:30 pm this week... see you for GREAT deals all day. This includes books by Fruchtenbaum and Katz, Rosen and Brickner, while supplies last. Jewish holidays, the Feasts of the Lord, books on Israel and the Holocaust, even classical Hebrew studies.

Also every candle and oil, all the CDs and DVDs, EVERYTHING is on sale. We welcome you and your mates. Tis the season to buy gifts; why not get a godly gift to give? Y tenemos libros y discos en español también!

12 December 2015

On the 6th day of Hanukkah...


We are more than halfway through the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and maybe this Vox Pop with Jewish people from a few years ago says what you think about the holiday. YouTube 2009. But then maybe it's more about sitting at a table and eating like some think on this one from THIS year says it better VoxPop2015 .

But then again, it's possible that you haven't really pondered the real story of Hanukkah. This quick synopsis might help.

Jews were not very significant in the world of 168 BCE and the real powers in the Middle East were the Syrian/Greeks and the Egyptians. They used what we call Israel as a venue for fighting. Who wants to fight in their own backyard? The Syrians were the dominant force. One day they came into Jerusalem and desecrated the Jewish Holy Temple with idols set up to the Seleucid king Antiochus IV and also with sacrificing of a pig. Doubly bad! Judah Maccabee and his little family stood up and asked for volunteers to withstand the Greeks and to wage war. Miracle of miracles, after a three-year war, the Jewish people won, pushing out the enemies from the Holy City and cleansed the Temple. They dedicated it back to God. The Hebrew word for "dedication" is Hanukkah. That's the story. Almost like David vs Goliath. The few withstood evil and God helped them succeed. A great miracle happened there. The miracle of Jewish survival. Thanks be to God.

So the question arises in many-- what about the story of the lights and oil that lasted 8 days.

Some easy to read simple information all in one place on Judaism 101 is here

So I really want to know, what does Hanukkah mean to you? And what great miracle happened to you?

09 December 2015

Who are Messianic Jews?


In the wake of the tragic shooting in San Bernardino, literally thousands of articles have emerged about one of the victims, Nicholas Thalasinos. Those reports have identified Thalasinos as a Messianic Jew. They also say that he got into heated discussions about the nature of Islam with co-worker Syed Farook, who authorities say carried out the attack along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik.

New York Daily News columnist Linda Stasi is now saying that Thalasinos shares the blame for the attack because of strongly-worded posts on his Facebook page.

In a balanced and informative article today, Jewish Telegraphic Agency [JTA] writer Uriel Heilman noted that Thalasinos was actually a “Gentile supporter of Israel.” He noted that “Thalasinos apparently identified as a messianic Jew, but not as Jewish.” As recently as September, Thalasinos wrote to a friend, “As a gentile who loves HaShem, I know my place is to support Israel and the Jewish people.”

We mourn the death of all fourteen victims. As to Stasi’s charges, we think this is a time for empathy and prayer, not accusations. As one commentator noted, “Speech is speech and bullets are bullets.”

In his otherwise accurate piece for JTA, Heilman had written, “One of the best-known messianic missionary groups, Jews for Jesus, actually is comprised in large part by Christians.” Our spokesperson, Susan Perlman, responded to Heilman, stating, in part, “Those who call themselves Jews for Jesus, whether on our staff (we employ about 250 people worldwide) or those who identify with us, are Jewish and at some point decided to follow Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. So your phrase ‘Jews for Jesus actually is comprised in large part by [Gentile] Christians,’ would give the impression that Jews for Jesus are not Jews, which we would disagree with strongly. . . . I’d be happy to have a more in-depth discussion on the matter if you’d like.”

Although Heilman declined Susan’s invitation for further discussion, he did delete the line about Jews for Jesus.

So who are Messianic Jews? They are Jewish people, like Susan, and like me, who have found the Jewish messiah, foretold by Jewish prophets in the Jewish Scriptures. His name is Yeshua (Some call him in English "Jesus"). Gentiles who identify with us, are welcome into the community of faith as co-heirs of eternal life. God is an equal opportunity saviour. That Thalasinos came along and wore a prayer shawl, observed some biblical laws, and stood for Israel's right to exist, are all decent things. They as has been noted, do not make him Jewish. So by definition he cannot be a Messianic Jew. He is as many titled themselves, a "Messianic Gentile." Hope that sets the record straight.

Now the question for you who are reading this... who do you think Jesus is?

05 December 2015

Rabbi Heir and Jesus...which one is true?


I've been watching YouTube videos for the last few days, not trolling, but amazed at what my computer recommends for me to see. On Larry King Live, a CNN TV interview show, Larry often entered religious considerations and especially the "who goes to heaven" debate. On this episode Larry King is interviewing several religionists including Rabbi Marvin Heir, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Larry at the 35 minute mark asks Rabbi Heir who he thinks Jesus is. The rabbi's answer is fascinating.

Larry: "How do you view Jesus, rabbi?"
Heir: "I would say that Jesus was a great teacher. I do not believe that he was divine. I do not believe that he was the son of God."

Here's a problem, Rabbi Heir. The 'great teacher' actually taught that he was divine and that he was the Son of God. So here's the rub... can a man be a great teacher and a liar? Can a man be considered great and fool billions of people over centuries? If Jesus is not the divine Son of God, then his claim is false and he cannot be great, or a great teacher. Can he? So, who will you believe? Jesus or Rabbi Heir? The choice is yours, of course.

What did Jesus teach about himself? First, Jesus claimed to be the unique Son of God. As a result, some Jewish leaders tried to kill Him because in “calling God his own Father, [Jesus was] making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). In John 8:58 Jesus went so far as to use the very words by which God revealed Himself to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). To the Jews this was the epitome of blasphemy, for they knew that in doing so Jesus was clearly claiming to be God. On yet another occasion, Jesus explicitly told the Jews: "‘I and the Father are one.’ Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God’ "(John 10:30–33).

Furthermore, Jesus made an unmistakable claim to deity before the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin. Caiaphas the high priest asked Him: “‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’” (Mark 14:61–62). Some today may well have missed the meaning of Jesus’ words. Caiaphas and the council, however, did not. They knew that in saying he was “the Son of Man” who would come “on the clouds of heaven” he was making an overt reference to the Son of Man in Daniel’s prophecy (Chapter 7:13–14). In doing so, He was not only claiming to be the preexistent Sovereign of the universe but prophesying that He would vindicate His claim by judging the very court that was now condemning Him. Moreover, by combining Daniel’s prophecy with David’s proclamation in Psalm 110, Jesus was claiming that He would sit upon the throne of Israel’s God and share God’s very glory. To students of the Old Testament this was the height of “blasphemy,” thus “they all condemned him as worthy of death” (Mark 14:64–65).

Finally, Jesus claimed to possess the very attributes of God. For example, He claimed omniscience by telling Peter, “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (Matthew 26:34); declared omnipotence by not only resurrecting Lazarus (John 11:43) but by raising Himself from the dead (John 2:19); and professed omnipresence by promising that He would be with His disciples “to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Not only so, but Jesus said to the paralytic in Luke 5:20, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” In doing so, He claimed a prerogative reserved for God alone. In addition, when Thomas worshiped Jesus saying “My Lord and my God!” (John20:28), Jesus responded with commendation rather than condemnation. He allowed the cry of "Lord" said of himself and didn't shrink from receiving praise. Only God can do that.

So I say all this to agree in part with Rabbi Heir and to remind you, Jesus is a great teacher. And part of his teaching is that He is the Messiah, the Lord, the Divine One, the only One who can give you eternal life. He longs to forgive you. He longs to give you life. Receive Him as your Saviour today.

04 December 2015

Is it time to share what I believe?


One reader asks, “You want me to talk to Mr. Goldberg….about Jesus? And during Christmas?”

Answer:
In October, Myer and David Jones began to feature Santa themes throughout their stores. It’s hard to miss the rush of the silly season and the requisite purchasing. Holidays in view are Hanukkah, Deepavali, and Christmas, each of which reminds us to spend so that people can be fulfilled. The madness compounds and money tightens whilst wallets splurge. All to say—capitalism rages.

150 years ago Christmas was a quiet holiday without all the spending. Similarly, Hanukkah was a very minor holiday for Jewish people. The holiday celebrates the military victory of the few (the Maccabees) over the Syrian-Greeks and their leader Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BCE. There is a legend of a small amount of holy oil lasting eight times its usual, lasting long enough to allow a new batch to be produced before it ran out. Hanukkah means “dedication” and represents the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The holiday was celebrated by Jesus (John 10.22ff). But throughout history, Hanukkah was fairly insignificant. Only since Santa Claus got his red suit (thanks Coca Cola) did both holidays rise in public notice and capitalistic urges.

Behind the spending is a vacuous desire for meaning. If I spend enough for my wife, she will find pleasure. If I buy that game for my child, she will appreciate me and it will be a meaningful Christmas for her. The rants of “not enough” are embarrassing when overheard by neighbours or at the toy stores. The search for appreciation is often unmet at holiday times.

I believe that this is accentuated during Hanukkah (this year 7-15 December) as Jewish people traditionally give a present each day to their children over the 8 nights. Back in the 1800s the presents would have been very small, even as many Aussies will remember only an orange in their stocking on Christmas. But those times are long past.

However the desire for meaning is not past. This season, as people march to the mall, this longing actually increases. That’s why I believe this is a crucial time to share what we believe with people, especially Jewish people. For them at this time, family times are most significant. The problem is families continue to splinter and are harder to maintain. So the longing for meaning and relationships is increasing as other options weaken.

“What!” you say. “How am I supposed to add one more duty/activity to my already frenetic schedule during this time?” Or as one person was bothered and wrote me, “You want me to talk to Mr. Goldberg….about Jesus? And during Christmas?”

The short answer is yes, even as the financial folks often remind us to buy stocks and shares when they are lowly valued. Sociologists remind us, “If you want to get a job done, ask a busy person.” So during this season of our own frenzy, I’m hopeful to give you yet one more assignment. Let’s consider how to get this done.

The most obvious and first thing to put on your Action List is to pray for Mr Goldberg (or Mrs Cohen or Dr Schwartz or…) for them to find real meaning this Hanukkah in Yeshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus). Pray daily as you pray for others to discover eternity in Messiah. Next and I think equally obvious is to send them a greeting card and by send I mean in the post! The abundance of emails and Facebook messages are so ubiquitous that they almost devalue. But a letter in the postbox is so unusual in these days that they stand out that much more.

Gospel literature abounds for Jewish people. In our book shop in Bondi Junction (all products are online at www.jewsforjesus.org.au/catalog) you could find a gift of a book, Hanukkah menorah (and/or commensurate box of 44 candles), fragrant anointing oil, CD of music or DVD… almost anything you send them will be very appreciated. A fruit basket or flower arrangement is a nice touch if they are welcoming family to their places, too. But remember, their meaning (and yours) is not wrapped up in a present, but in the Gospel of Messiah Yeshua. That said, don’t send a Bible to your Jewish mate.

How then do I bring up the topic of Jesus? I think the best way to speak with Jewish people is to speak from the position of mateship. Usually friends can speak to friends on a different level than others. Purpose therefore to speak to your friend in a direct manner. Don’t dance around the issue; be direct. Jewish people like direct approaches. But use questions, not answers, to guide the conversation. Something like, “Who do you think Jesus is?” or “Will you be celebrating Hanukkah this year? Did you know Jesus celebrated that also?”

The natural conversation which follows will allow you to share what you believe depending on what they answer. Keep praying. Keep witnessing, after all, Jesus didn’t say “Go into all the world and live your life nicely in front of people so they will ask you questions.” He said to go and proclaim. He will use your style, your language, your capacity… and your prayers and courage. And now is a great time of year to give it a go. God lead you well.

30 November 2015

New page, please


Editing is a great gig. A person doesn't have to write a thing, but has the power to change what others have written by permitting or not permitting a line, a headline, or even a paragraph. Spin is the word many use to discuss the news media today. When I was a young man in the US, Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were the go-to men whose reporting was objective and reliable. On radio it was Paul Harvey who told us the news and it was the truth. Here in Australia, the ABC was the most reliable, certainly without neo-spin. But now things are different.

The editor has power to change the language and the meaning of a report. The crumbled paper shown here represents the attempts of the author to get it right, and yet this is all meaningless if the editor chooses 'an angle' that the report should carry. And the sad thing is that so many media outlets nowadays are choosing a flank, a particular ideology rather than what some would characterise as fair and balanced. Where have you gone, Walter Cronkite?

For instance, this article by Gareth Narunsky, highlights a faux pas from Channel 7 here in Australia. Narunsky tells of an editor, actually the ticker editor, and the spin allowed. "Channel 7 has compared a terrorist who stabbed an innocent 70-year-old man with someone “having an argument with their mother” prior to a car accident. The comments came from the network’s commercial director, Bruce McWilliam, when questioned by The AJN after the network ran a ticker saying “Israel: 16yo shot and killed by police” during the Sunrise program on Tuesday morning. The ticker was in reference to the attack last weekend on a 70-year-old Palestinian man by two Palestinian girls, aged 14 and 16, in Jerusalem."

Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said media outlets which omit essential context and thereby “blur the lines” between victims and perpetrators of terrorist attacks are “detracting from, rather than enhancing, the public’s understanding of the nature of terrorism”.

In their book An Introduction to World Politics: Conflict and Consensus on a Small Planet, Richard Oliver Collin and Pamela L. Martin use a current example of spin to help us see angles. "Israeli governmental spokesmen insist that Palestinian violence is terrorism, while Israeli violence is legitimate law enforcement. The Palestinians desperately spin back, arguing that the violence is killing many more Arabs than Israelis, and portraying themselves as an embattled and persecuted people defending their ancestral territory in the West Bank and Gaza." (Page 35)

So how will we ever be sure of the truth, of the spin-free zone promised by the media?

Did you ever see the short movie, "Eye of the Beholder" with Richard Conte? After some preliminary optical illusions, the story unfolds. Made in 1953 it features the character Michael Girard and six different people's views of him. Truth is somewhere 'out there' to be sure. It might be worth your watching this 21 minute episode albeit choppy on YouTube Beholder
Truth be told, the best beholder is the Almighty. He is the eternal arbiter of truth, justice and everyman's way. He is the one who claimed to be the Truth. (John 14.6). And His renderings of judgment are true and righteous altogether. (Psalm 19.9). You want to know spin-free truth? Ask God; ask Yeshua; ask Him what is right and wrong; what is true and untrue. He will not lie. (Titus 1.2) I'm telling you the truth.

29 November 2015

Is there really hope?


Mention the words Columbine or Colorado Springs, Sandy Hook, Port Arthur, Paris' Bataclan Theatre, and 9-11 and immediately images of terror and pain, mass murder and head-shaking fill your mind. The world is bad and getting worse. When the G-20 gathers, when Congress or Parliament in Australia or the UK conduct talks and seek answers, most thinking people simply wish them well, but doubt any real substantive changes will occur. Where is there hope?

Last summer I stood in Amsterdam, in the shelter/ home of Anne Frank. If anyone knows daily fear and chronicled it well enough to become the journalist of the new world, it was this mature teenager. She wrote in her diary, “Where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” Hope gives life, to be sure, and real hope is even deeper. But in light of recent and continuing terror, I ponder the question, "Is there such a thing as false hope?"

William Ruddick writes in Bioethics, Vol. 13, #3-4, 1999, in his abstract of his piece Hope and Deception: "Convinced of hope's therapeutic benefits, physicians routinely support patients' false hopes, often with family collusion and vague, euphemistic diagnoses and prognoses, if not overt lies. Bioethicists charge them with paternalistic violations of Patient Autonomy." He begins his essay with Ambroise Paré's maxim, "Always give the patient hope, even when death seems at hand." (XVI)

Bildad, a friend of Job the ancient in the bible said these words, "Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh? Can the rushes grow without water? While it is still green and not cut down, yet it withers before any other plant. So are the paths of all who forget God; and the hope of the godless will perish, whose confidence is fragile, and whose trust a spider’s web. He trusts in his house, but it does not stand; he holds fast to it, but it does not endure. He thrives before the sun, and his shoots spread out over his garden. His roots wrap around a rock pile, he grasps a house of stones. If he is removed from his place, then it will deny him, saying, ‘I never saw you.’ (Chapter 8.11-18)

Bildad is saying that there is such a thing as false hope. Planting roots of a plant in a rock garden will cause disappointment. So he says, 'the hope of the godless will perish.' What if my hope in education or in government or in a new candidate for government is misplaced? What if my hope is false hope? Where can I turn?

Many of us have been disappointed. We have placed our hope in people and things and they have failed us. The dashing of our hope has caused deep disappointment and the pain of our disappointment has filled us with the fear of being hurt again. That fear has held us back from entering new relationships as freely as we once could. Once burned-twice shy, as the saying goes.

Job says that the hope of the godless fails. He is talking about godless hope-a hope that excludes God and makes us dependent on the things and people of this world for our core fulfillment. This kind of hope often fails because it requires others to be what they don’t have the resources to be – the answer to our need for a relationship with God. In contrast, hope that doesn’t disappoint is centered first in God because it knows that no one can be faithful in a way that God is faithful. No one can love as God can love us. God alone is fully dependable. God alone will not let us down.

Hope is most real when it is based on what we know about someone. It is most dangerous when it is based on unrealistic expectations because that sets us up for another failure.

That's why this picture is so powerful to me.
It's the picture of someone from above a pool, reaching to rescue someone drowning. The actual story which inspired this painting is in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 14. In that chapter of the Bible, Yeshua is seen walking on water. Then Peter is looking around and says, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And Yeshua said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Yeshua." Wow, that would have been thrilling. And exhilarating and full of glory! "But seeing the wind, Peter became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Yeshua stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

This story is real to me just now. The Bible makes it clear that God wants to be in relationship with us, not only those who never have heard of Him, or who go from sinner to saint in a prayer. He wants to be in relationship with us who have walked with Him for decades. Each of us fails. Each of us is still walking in feet of clay. God's hand is not so short that it cannot save us. (Isaiah 59.2) Our sins separate us from Him, but His hand is ever reaching to get us out of the troubles in which we find ourselves. Hope "does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5.5)

This is for believers AND for unbelievers. This is for those who are new to the faith and those who are long involved. Hope does not disappoint. Thanks be to God!

26 November 2015

For US folks... a Thanksgiving poem


My Thanksgiving

The autumn-time has come; on woods that dream of bloom,
And over purpling vines, the low sun fainter shines.
The aster-flower is failing, the hazel’s gold is paling;
Yet overhead more near the eternal Star appears!

And present gratitude insures the future’s good,
And for the things I see I trust the things to be;
That in the paths untrod, and the long days of God,
My feet shall still be led, my heart be comforted.

O living friends who love me! O dear ones gone above me!
Careless of other fame, I leave to you my name.
Hide it from idle praises, save it from evil phrases:
Why, when dear lips that spake it are dumb, should strangers wake it?

Let the thick curtain fall; I better know than all
How little I have gained, how vast the unattained.
Not by the page word-painted let life be banned or sainted:
Deeper than written scroll the colors of the soul.

Sweeter than any sung my songs that found no tongue;
Nobler than any fact my wish that failed of act.

Others shall sing the song, others shall right the wrong,—
Finish what I begin, and all I fail of win.
What matter, I or they? mine or another’s day,
So the right word be said and life the sweeter made?

Hail to the coming singers! Hail to the brave light-bringers!
Forward I reach and share all that they sing and dare.
The airs of heaven blow o’er me; a glory shines before me
Of what mankind shall be,— pure, generous, brave, and free.

A dream of man and woman Diviner but still human,
Solving the riddle old, shaping the Age of Gold!
The love of God and neighbor; an equal-handed labor;
The richer life, where beauty walks hand in hand with duty.

Ring, bells in unreared steeples, the joy of unborn peoples!
Sound, trumpets far off blown, your triumph is my own!
Parcel and part of all, I keep the festival,
Fore-reach the good to be, and share the victory.

I feel the earth move sunward, I join the great march onward,
And take, by faith, while living, my free hold of thanksgiving.

- John Greenleaf Whittier

13 November 2015

Distance from here to there


Distances are hard to measure in the skies. To measure distances in the universe, a person would need to construct what is commonly referred to as a "cosmic distance ladder". In other words, astronomers use different methods to determine the distances to objects; the specific method which is used depends on how far away the object is. But all of the methods are wonderful combinations of science and mathematics!

I travel a fair bit and enjoy seeing the world through my camera and my own eyes. If you are familiar with Flickr, and even my Flickr site, you know I have thousands of shots of nature and enjoy seeing what God made.

When I'm close to a flower or the beach, the distance is fairly easy to determine. When I'm on an airplane and see the clouds or this rainbow which I saw from the golf course on Monday, I cannot so easily figure out how to measure the items. Of course, as a former mathematics teacher, I could use angles and radii and approximately measure items in the distance, but without all the formulas and measures, it's another story.

When the thunder sounds and lightning flashes, the formula is fairly simple. Count the number of seconds that pass between a flash of lightning and the crack of thunder that follows it, then divide that number by five. The resulting number will tell you how many miles away you are from where lightning just struck. (For metric conversions, divide the number of seconds by 3 if you want the answer in kilometers. A three-second count say, would place the lightning strike about 1,020 m away, or roughly 1 km.)

OK, if you are not mathematically oriented, then you might simply learn to take cover if the lightning/thunder differential is less than 3 seconds. That's easy! Don't delay.

Measuring is important historically. They built pyramids and Stonehenge, The Great Wall of China, and so many major substantial structures without computers. They measured well and those structures are still here as a result. The Book of Deuteronomy reads, "then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance to the cities which are around the slain one." (21.2) Measuring mattered back then. Consider this about distance and the ark of the covenant. "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” (Joshua 3.3-4) They had to know what a cubit was, and then how to measure distance.

And they had to know how to get from here to there, and from there to here.

All around the golf course on Monday I kept looking for signs to help me get from 1st hole to 2nd to 3rd...to the 18th. And knowing where we are going, and measuring our energies, and measuring our expenses-- those are all part of determining our distance.

Nothing is clearer if you know about God, than that there is a great distance between humanity and the Almighty. I guess that's what Yom Kippur is about. That's what spiritual retreats are about. We learn that we are far from Him, from His plans, from His desires for humanity and making His Kingdom come among the poor, the hungry, and the suffering. And that distance is measurable. The prophet Isaiah said, "But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear."

But there is a way to shorten that distance. Hebrews 4.16 reads, "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." God wants us to come to Him, and His arms are open to you. To me. To all of us.

The real answer is Yeshua, as we read in Hebrews chapter 10. "Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."

You want the shortest distance between two points? Between you and God? It's found in Jesus. Get to know Him. He's the Messiah and Saviour and lover of our souls. Want to talk about Him? Let's chat.

12 November 2015

World Trade Centre and seeing forever


Last week I ascended 102 stories of the new One World Trade Center in downtown New York City. The elevator took 47 seconds, and thus traveled 22 miles per hour to get me there. I was not alone. The queue outside was not too long on that Tuesday, and I was happy to exit the lift at the top. The view was blocked by a video screen which quickly ran a history of the development of the area and of the building itself. Then the screen lifted and voila there was the world outside From above as the sun set across the City.

I was delighted with the views. As I walked forward, the path took us past the restaurant/ cafe and then we paraded onto the 100th floor where the expanses were visible in all 360 degrees. I remembered the Twin Towers had a similar view, but this one was clearer on this day. No clouds; just New Jersey in the distant background as the sun kept setting.

The theme of the show was 'see forever' and the company that sells photographs of you superimposed on the scenery (which of course I had to buy, you know, just had to) is named See Forever .com or such. Here's my photo in the sunset But it's not the same sun and it's not the same day and it's not the same location and ... but otherwise it's all true.

So I got to thinking about seeing forever. Could I really see forever from the top of the WTC? In one way the phrase means that I have unlimited viewing. Nothing got in the way of my seeing into the far distance. The only limitation I had was my own optics. In other words if I had a big enough telescope or binoculars, I could have seen Argentina or at least Miami. Even so, that would have only allowed me viewing of places on earth, so my telescope would have needed to point further up and I could have seen Alpha Centauri or the Southern Cross or such. But hey, I can do that from anywhere... no need to see from the top of a building in NYC, you know?

So what else might 'see forever' mean? It could mean that I can see into forever, that is, look into the future (and I suppose the past as well, although rarely is that the intended meaning.) The prophets of the Jewish Bible (nicknamed by some the Old Testament) were those who could see into the future and make predictions and tell forth the justice and mercy of the Almighty. Perhaps this is the 'see forever' understanding to take away from the WTC that day. To be fair, the Jewish prophets like Isaiah, Joel, Micah.. never claimed to see everything, only to teach/ preach what they did see, but they understood their limitations. A wise man knows his.

So let me recommend the third way to see this phrase. That is to see that there really is a forever. If you understand that life on earth is not all there is or will be, and I'm not speaking cosmologically, but rather that your life of its 30 years, 70 years, 91 years and 214 days, however long, is not all there is to your existence, then you are 'getting' it. We were born to live forever. (Deuteronomy 29.29, John 6.51) And that's because God lives in eternity and lives forever. (Ex. 3.15, Dt. 32.40, Ps 10.16) And He desires us to have a relationship with Him which is real and good. We have sinned, long ago and even yesterday, and God doesn't blink at that and at those. (Ecc.7.20, Ps.51.5, James 1.15) However, He has satisfied His own justice by sending Yeshua, the Jewish messiah, to die for us in Jerusalem and to be raised from the dead on the 3rd day. Sin, the great prevention of our spending eternity with Him, has been eradicated and thus we can not only see forever, we can live forever with the Lord. That's better than Argentina or Alpha Centauri.

Want to read more? Check out the Bible verses above, and have a quick word with the Lord. That's what they call prayer. Ask Him if this is all true. Ask Him who Yeshua is. Ask Him.. you will have plenty of time to ask Him lots of other things, too, if eternity is real. You don't have to spend the $32 to ascend the World Trade Center. You can talk to God right in your home or on the train. You can meet Him just now. No need to wait until Tuesday. Want to do that?

31 October 2015

Sneaky, deception and magicians...is there hope?


Sleight of hand is a remarkable visual and sometimes audial trickery that most of us admire. We watch David Copperfield and generations ago watched Harry Houdini, and we are amazed and scratch our heads. “How did he do that?” when he saws a lady in half or makes an elephant disappear. Even those magician shows we watch, when they slow down the trick… most of the time I don’t see how they do it.

I watch the football here in Australia and am constantly amazed when I see what they call a ‘dummy’ play. This is where one player pretends to offload the ball one way or another and ends up with almost-Copperfield-like sleight of hand and moves the ball forward with rapid-fire trickery. We applaud that play and wonder why the defense doesn’t know what he will do. Of course, no one knows what he will do, and perhaps even the offensive player doesn't know what he will do, until he sees the defense react one way or the other.

This is true in many sports and many situations of life, but it doesn’t work when we are trying to work our way religiously in a real way toward the Living God.

God demonstrates no sleight of hand and practices no dummies. He is ever real and honest and forthright. And he calls us to real and honest and forthright living as well. I’m not sure that I’ve ever read the word sneaky as one of those adjectives that applies to the Living God. In fact, I’m sure it doesn’t.

So why is it that we pretend and sneak and live double lives in these days? What is it about the possibility of privacy that is so commendable and allowing in the 21st century? What lessons can we learn that prevent our going there?

The honesty and forthrightness demonstrated in the Scriptures is not only a high mark to admire, but one to which we should aspire. When the prophet Nathan caught King David with his pants down, David didn’t say one thing and practice another. He agreed with Nathan’s assessment and called himself a sinner in need of forgiveness (2 Samuel 12.13, Psalm 51) and let the chips fall where they may. He didn’t lie anymore but clearly said he was guilty and had sinned against the Lord. He had after all committed adultery and murder, and as a Jewish man those are two of the Big Ten that you shouldn’t be anywhere close to committing.

Others saw themselves as wrong, like Isaiah the prophet who when confronted by the holiness of the Lord, said “Woe is me, for I am ruined.” (Chapter 6) King Solomon said “There is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7.20) And Solomon should know, as he lived wildly and spent his money anywhere and everywhere he wanted, to no satisfactory conclusion.

When we sin, if God is a good God, He will send guilt our way to correct us and challenge us and amend our ways.

Guilt is a lousy master but a wonderful teacher to get us on the right path.

The constant refrain from the Scriptures is that people who are sinners, whose hands are dirty, should cleanse their hands and purify their hearts. (James 4.8, Job 17.9, Psalm 24.4)

What does God promise to those who do this cleansing, detox program? “The righteous will hold to his way” (Job 17.9), and “He shall receive a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” (Psalm 24.5) and James summarizes it best with, “He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (4.6-10)

25 October 2015

Removing enemies

By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Lane Cove, NSW
From Judges 1-2, Joshua 23
25 October 2015

Introduction
Thanks to the band for great music today, and to Darren and the staff for allowing me to speak today. Those regulars here know that I have been with Jews for Jesus for a few decades, since 1979 actually and you will get a chance to support that missionary organization today and my work in it particularly using those white cards inserted in your news sheet, or donate up the back at the book/ resource table in the hall.

Music and rhythm
I really like the music of church, in fact, I like a wide variety of music, and find myself tapping along on the back of a pew or the steering wheel of my car quite often. It’s the rhythm which I pattern. The book of Judges has a rhythm all its own. Let me give that to you right away so you can recognize it throughout the teaching series at church, or whenever you read the book.
The rhythm is
1) Israel is disobedient
2) Israel cries out for help
3) God delivers us from our enemies by means of available men and women
4) We forget God and fall into sin again.

I’m sure you will meet that rhythm again and again.

When I think about Bible books that I like to teach in new situations, I always prefer John or Genesis, Proverbs or Revelation, you know, where God is active and teaching and helping us who want to learn about His plans. The narratives like John or Genesis where the storyline preaches even without much work from me and Revelation because it’s about so much of God and us together. Proverbs because it’s so informational and great in short thoughts to help us get through the days. But if there is a book I usually avoid, it’s Judges. You see, Judges is not only about good judges and we will study them over the next fortnight, but it’s also about disobedient and ever-stubborn Israel.

If I teach that to Jewish people I worry that they will think all I ever talk about is sin, and not about God’s faithfulness or such. If I teach that to Gentiles, like I am today, I worry that you might get an attitude of “Those stupid Jews who never get it right.” Anti-Semitism doesn’t need me to stoke its flames.

That said, the book of Judges IS in the Bible and IS useful and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3.16). So I will go there. And especially because the church staff have asked me to bat opener in this series on the book. Today then, we begin in learning this season of Israel’s history.

Removing the enemies: Military might
The book opens with military conquest. That should excite Marise Payne and Duntroon grads, and some of you historians. So Israel’s military victories should give us reason to rejoice in God and to honor Him as God our Saviour. We should memorialize our victories with piled stones and rocks, with trumpets and loud praises. And we should have completed our victories across the country, but if you read the text carefully, you will see some of these things missing.
In chapter one we conquered the enemies around us: Canaanites, Perizzites (v. 1-20) from Dan to Beersheba, including Gaza and Jerusalem. It was an amazing, quick and powerful overcoming. God was with the Jewish people. (.19)

Removing the enemies: Problem
Then the words drop like cannonballs on our text, “But the sons of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.” (.21) Living with the enemy was not God’s plan and that allowance, that permission, that disobedience would haunt Israel then, and honestly, to this day. (1.21-36) And the problem is like we see in other Bible stories, like Saul and Agag and the Amalekites, like Eve and a little disobedience, like Ananias and Sapphira, is that a little disobedience is a lot of trouble to the person then and to the people of God in the future. And the problem is not one of obedience first. It’s a matter of faith in God.

God wants to be in relationship with us and when we let the enemies live in the land, then their gods eventually become a snare and a trap. Look, I’m a golfer and I know a trap when I see one, and when I can, I avoid them at almost any cost.

So what is God saying? Get rid of the people who have foreign gods because if you don’t, your ball will fall into the snare and sand trap, into the golf water hazard, or in rugby into touch, you will fail. So the matter is not really one of obedience first, but rather faith. If God said something, if He tells me something to do, then I must first believe Him and then go to do it. Disobedience is foremost an unbelief issue. Does that make sense? And how do we enter into relationship with the Almighty? By faith and faith alone.

Removing the enemies: Purpose
Why did God want us to remove the Canaanites, Hittites, Jebusites, and all the other nations in the land of Promise? The idolatrous peoples of the land had heard about the Jews, and about their escape from Egypt. They could have turned to the Almighty for forgiveness, but did not. They chose to live godlessly and the Lord knew that if Israel had opportunity to stay with these nations that eventually even the Jews would turn away from Him. That was not good on so many levels and God’s plan was about keeping His people with Him, and thus away from the enemy nations.

I’m not saying 21st Century Australia is at all the same as 15th Century BCE Israel, but some lessons can be learned. Israel then was not allowed what we call multiculturalism. That was the beginning of woes in ancient Israel.

The danger was that Israel would imitate the nations around her. And by walking away from the Almighty, we would actually fail God’s promises, and God’s promises had never failed and never will (Josh. 23.14ff). We would comply with idolatrous nations and live their lives instead of ours. Isn’t this exactly what happened in chapter two?

An angel of the Lord shows up and reminds Israel to be separate from the seven nations in the land, and that God will keep His covenant. He tells Israel that it’s personal. How do we know it's personal? Look at the personal pronouns God uses in verse 1 and 2: I brought you up out of Egypt and I led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you,...you have not obeyed Me;
We did not listen to His voice.

Removing the enemies: Thorns in your sides
Then the angel uses a phrase you might have heard before in the Newer Testament. The phrase, “Thorns in your sides” is sometimes the phrase we hear the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians
“Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me — to keep me from exalting myself!” (2 Cor. 12.7) You may have been taught that the problem Paul had was something about blindness or weak eyes. You may have heard that this ‘thorn in the flesh’ was something physical. But the phrase is a clear reference to people. Consider the three times the phrase is used in the Older Testament.

Num. 33.55 ‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live.

Josh. 23.13 know with certainty that the LORD your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you.

Judg. 2.3 “Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’”

Here we see God’s warning to the Jewish people in Moses’ day, in Joshua’s day and now told us by the angel of the Lord, that if we don’t trust God, and don’t remove the people from the land, that they, people, they will become like thorns in our sides. Therefore I conclude, in the same way, Paul had people who followed after him, centuries later, who told false gospels, who taught the people wrong things about Yeshua, legalizers, people who insisted that the people needed more than faith to find forgiveness. The thorns in Paul’s sides were people who taught wrong information about God.

OK, back to our story.
Chapter two verse 1, God’s longing is clear in the text. The angel of the Lord speaks and reminds them in terms of covenant: “I made a covenant with you and I will never break that covenant; you were to keep it; you were not to make a covenant with the other nations.” But what happened? We didn’t listen to him. The English text in our Bible says “obey,” but the Hebrew translates listen. The understanding is if you listen to God’s word, you will obey it.

The angel finished his commentary with the ‘thorns in your sides’ phrase and what was the result in Israel that day? Weeping. (.4) That’s why the town is called “Bochim” which is the Hebrew word for ‘weeping bitterly’ or ‘sobbing deeply.’ And I like that the word is not singular, but is written in the plural. Why? Because at least two are weeping; God and the Israelites. God joins us in our pains.

But even though that sobbing and the sacrifice that followed were genuine, and all Israel went home to their new land, after Joshua died, that sobbing turned disingenuous.

We read, “Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them” (2.11-12). The cycle and the rhythm of Judges begin again. Failure here is evident.

Removing the enemies: What do we learn?
1) God’s desire is for us to trust him, no matter what we see. Many often make the bulk of their study of the book of Judges into a mockery of the Jewish people, in our failures as followers of God to do just that. But the real story is the story behind the story, that throughout history, even this troubling history, God is ever reaching out to save us, to know us, to be in relationship with us. And He will do everything He can to ensure that we are brought into a place of decision. He may use enemies; He may use friends; He may use a Jewish man from the US, but He will get your attention, and His longing to be in relationship with you will be known by you. What you do with that longing…that’s up to you, isn’t it?

2) Victory is ours if we do trust him. He will cause us to walk in His ways and find delight in Him and in His plans. That’s the major reason to remove enemies. Throughout the book of Judges you will read of one military victory after another. I believe in our lives we can also have spiritual victory, if we win the battle of faith. The Centurion of Matthew chapter 8 is heralded by Yeshua as one whose faith outshone all the faith of all Israel. The Apostle John wrote, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5.4)

In my ministry with Jews for Jesus, the joy I have in seeing Jewish people come to faith in Messiah is unmatched. They can be the most righteous or the least righteous, the nicest or the most crooked, but when they listen to Henry David Thoreau or the Gospel itself, they win. Thoreau said, “If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.”

3) The world, the flesh, and Satan, summed up as The Enemy, want us to allow for him, to hang out with him, to live a double life. Compromise is easy in these days, but if we are victorious in our walk with the Lord, then the only way Satan can beat us is to cause us to pretend, to live sneaky lives and if so, two things are sure. One, we will get caught eventually and two, the enemy will have won if we continue. Yeshua said, “no man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6.24) and the book of Judges is calling us to wholehearted, single-focused faith in the Lord Himself.

4) When we fail, God will deliver us, if we call on Him and trust him.
That’s what I see as the overarching principles and lessons of the book of Judges. Each week for the next while the pastoral team will unpack specifics about this bible book. And what we read in the book of Hebrews, “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, And all these, having gained approval through their faith,” (Heb 11.32, 39)

Maybe next year before the Lane Cove Fair, we will re-read this sermon. And learn about going out to battle. We go to proclaim Jesus as Lord of Lane Cove and Lord of Heaven and earth. And we go, not in our own strength, but in that of our righteous Savior. We go because He went. And you can do that without a festival or a face-painting stall. Talk to your neighbour. Talk to your boss. Help kids at Scripture in school to get it. Tell people on the train and the bus. Let’s go there.

That’s what I tell my team of Jews for Jesus. We go to His own Jewish people because He did. We trust the Lord to give us people with whom to witness. And our victory is in trusting and knowing Him, and sharing Him with others. He loves them much more than we do. I think of Marvin, who got saved last month with me. His interest in God was minimal to say the least two months ago, but a weird vision in the night awoke him to the possibility of a real God, and within a month, this 32 year old Jewish man was not only professing Jesus as Lord, but I was baptizing him in Sandringham Beach with other believers watching. Or Naomi, the Israeli lawyer who while I was witnessing to her last year at a café in Quakers Hill gave her life to Yeshua and is living in His power today. Let us go in His name, no matter the cost, no matter the false teachers and other thorns out there. Let us go to proclaim Yeshua, Lord of all. And let’s see what victories God will give us. Amen?

20 October 2015

To stir or not to stir...good question


I enjoy cooking, and find all kinds of reasons to include sauces and spices in simple vegetable concoctions. Mustard and raisins and chia seeds...they can all make their way into the least likely main dishes. And I like the idea of stir fry. Now I'm sure there are times when real chefs tell us not to stir, as the result will be too thin or too mushy or too something. OK, I get that, but generally my meals are better served if the flavours are allowed to blend.

Here in Australia, we have a national commitment to stirring. By this I am not referencing the culinary arts, but rather the troubling kind. You know, someone who stirs up situations only to 'get a rise' out of someone or some group. "He's just a stirrer" is a brand of commendation in Oz. So as a messianic Jew, this comes naturally to me. I was always a bit of a rebel, and an activist, especially in my later teens, and that has stayed with me through the decades.

But what about troubles that really do need to be calmed? I read a report last year during hostilities in Israel from the Economist here It had to do with kidnappings and resultant closures of walls and the stirring of bad blood. There the term is one we should avoid. This infusion of hostilities into the already-troubled waters of Israel and the Palestinian conflict is not a good blend.

Neal Colgrass of Newser online service wrote in January this year North Korea is alleging America Is 'Stirring Up Bad Blood. Colgrass quotes the BBC, National Public Radio and the Associated Press in his article. There is trouble brewing, to be sure, and that brew is titled 'bad blood.'

Stirring bad blood seems to be the mantra of those who want to malign any involvement of outsiders. Of course 007 would have us learn the difference between martinis made well and unwell, but that's another imagery. Here we are talking about stirring for the sake of stirring, or stirring for the sake of making things better. And that's something with which everyone will not agree.

Koreans will not agree with US sanctions.
Palestinians will not agree with Israeli force.

The Houston Astros baseball team probably agree with the writer (Adam Chandler) of Taylor Swift and her curse as he recounts the troubles Taylor stirs up when she performs at baseball stadia during the Major League Baseball season.

I guess, the bottom line is... when you stir things up, is it for the greater good? Is it for the best purposes? Or are you only a stirrer for stirring sake? I like the idea of soul-stirring music and dance and art. I am often inspired by the likes of Simon Tedeschi whom I heard perform Mussorgsky's Paintings at an Exhibition a fortnight ago in Sydney's Angel Place. I'm inspired by the paintings from the Hermitage I saw in Melbourne's National Gallery last month. The dance performed by the Sydney Ballet Company in Triptych earlier this month was soul-stirring, to be sure. And almost every time I see a performer at an Olympics standing on the top platform having earned the gold medal, and hearing their national anthem played, it's almost the definition of stirring. Let's let that be our goal in stirring today. And tomorrow. How's that?

The Bible says of the wicked, "Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men; preserve me from violent men who devise evil things in their hearts; they continually stir up wars." (Psalm 140.1-2). Good prayer King David.

Peter the good friend and colleague of Yeshua, who was a very capable minister of the Gospel and who died to make it known throughout the world, said this in his general letter, "I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder." (2 Peter 1.12-13). So this arousal to good memory, this stirring of the mind, is intentional, to bring us to a reminder, to call to mind good things. This is rehearsal. This is good stirring. Let's practice this one today. OK?

09 October 2015

Making choices....whom to follow


The Bible says, "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith." (Hebrews 13.7)

This could be a little confusing. Basically the writer of the Newer Testament book of Hebrews is saying this, "If you want to make good choices about theology and about life, look to the people who taught you things, and go with the guys who have a good end-game, whose lives and teachings match where you want to land. Don't follow false teachers. Don't be tricked by your own itching ears. Consider the end, the result, the final landing zone of the teacher... and go with the people who will get you there also."

I know, those aren't the translations, and not the actual text, but it might help someone today who is caught in the either/or place of discomfort brought about by anti-missionaries whose apparent only care for Jewish souls is after they have come to faith in Jesus. I've never seen a "Jews for Judaism" brand anywhere where there is not a messianic Jewish success. They seem only to show up to dissuade and only to make unbelief a thing. That's not a good gig. In fact, that's a very sad mission. It might be better to title them "Jews against Jesus" rather than that they are 'for' anything.

That makes sense to me, that the writer of Hebrews should have had the same difficulties as we sometimes have with anti-missionaries. The two words to note in this Bible book are 'better' and 'warning.' The author says that everything we have in Yeshua, in fact Yeshua Himself also, is better than what we had before. The Messiah is better than angels, than the prophets, than Aaron, than Moses, and we have a better country, sacrifice, possession, promises, covenant, and hope. So count on Yeshua...He's not only Better...he's the BEST!

Then there are five warnings to the Hebrew Christians (a former term for Messianic Jews, which is the current nomenclature). Warning against the five dangers: 1. The danger of drifting (Chapter 2)
2. The danger of not entering into rest (still working to get 'there' on our own) (Chapters 3-4)
3. The danger of not going on to maturity, but rather being spoon-fed (not serving others) (Chapters 5-6)
4. The danger of willful sin, especially staying away from the fellowship of other Messianic people. (Chapter 10)
5. The danger of indifference to the point of denial. (Chapter 12)

There is a progression in these warnings. It starts with being careless about salvation and indifferent to spiritual things until finally one comes to be perfectly satisfied with being indifferent, even hostile to the very God who got you there.

Let me expand these five. First, Hebrews challenges us to ask ourselves how we plan to escape judgment if we neglect and reject so great a salvation, a salvation planned from the foundations of the world. (2.3) Secondly, the place of the Word of God is crucial. The second warning (3.12) is to take care we do not develop an unbelieving heart, and he uses the next several verses to help us overcome unbelief – exhort each other, share in Messiah, hold confidence, even to fear failure. We need to be aware that it is possible to harden our hearts against the Bible/ God's Word, and miss salvation. Third, (5.11-14) When we are not growing spiritually, skepticism, indifference, and apostasy may find room to creep in. An arm kept in a cast for several weeks quickly becomes smaller and weaker than the arm being used every day. Growth takes effort on our part, and it is something we should be working toward every day.

Fourth, in 10:26-31, the author addresses the dangers of deliberate sin, specifically quoting from Deuteronomy 32. Again, these are things his readers are familiar with from Moses’ teachings, but now it is being applied to rejecting Yeshua's sacrifice, a sacrifice sealing a covenant greater than the one brought by Moses. And it involves a separation from the people of God, the community of faith in Messiah. Some messianic Jews were walking away, turning away, even choosing the 'synagogue' over the 'church' (in today's language) and rejecting Messiah's sacrifice publicly. This was a major warning from the author-- don't do that!

Finally in chapter 12 we read the fifth warning, denial of Yeshua. In verse 25 we read, "see to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven." The abandonment of the people of God by these backsliding Jewish believers in Jesus was not good. The author is calling them back. Don't deny Yeshua... you will do so, by the way, if you walk with the wrong crowd. Don't spit on the sacrifice. Don't reject me, he says, because I'm sharing with you eternal truths.

Finally, he drops in this comment with which I started. Consider the result of the faith of those with whom you associate. And go with the system which is the better. In other words, which system appears to demonstrate things that you know to be true, and which has resultant behaviors in people whom you respect and long to replicate. That's the one you need to follow. And from whom to learn. And with whom to deeply associate. Make a good choice... go with the believing community. How do we know that? By looking at the end-game... where are they going? With whom are they going? When are they going? On what do they base their going? It's all about Yeshua and what He did for us. Make your choice. Go with the Yeshua people. Therein is wisdom.

08 October 2015

Who bears the guilt for the death of Jesus?


Published in Eternity website in Australia: here During the 2015 Hillsong Conference, Jarryd Hayne, the former Parramatta Eels rugby league star and now running back for the San Francisco 49ers, sent out a tweet to his followers: “Jesus wanted to help people but was killed by his own people.” The next day after being challenged by one of his followers that Jesus was killed by the Romans, Hayne wrote, “The Jews were the people who took him to the Romans n [sic] forced them to give the order because they couldn’t.”

Because of the tweets, Jewish representatives immediately launched a counter campaign. Hayne subsequently removed the two tweets.

Michael Koziol of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote about the Jewish reaction, quoting the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Dvir Abramovich, who said he was deeply concerned by Hayne’s tweets and labeled them “damaging, painful and irresponsible”.

“For thousands of years Jews were held in contempt and were persecuted and murdered because they were labeled as Christ-killers,” Abramovich said in a statement.

Koziol reported, “Most Christians no longer hold the view that the Jewish people were responsible for Jesus’ death, and persistent belief in that narrative is now associated with anti-Semitism.”

Hayne later sent out an apology tweet, which was welcomed by Jewish community representatives. But the issue remains unsettling for Jews. Some of Hayne’s Twitter followers chided him for his apology, using ugly language to describe Jewish people.

It is unsurprising that the Jewish community was up in arms about Jarryd Hayne’s announcement that Jewish people were responsible for the death of Jesus. We will cop it yet again from another generation of angry Jesus-defenders. Jews will “get theirs” for what they have done to “our” Saviour.

Anti-Semitism is a horrible reality most clearly seen through hundreds of years of persecution: the Holocaust, the Crusades, the Inquisition.
Church and synagogue hostility began as early as the Apostle Paul and the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60). Mainline Jewish resistance to messianic Jews (those who believed in Jesus Christ) was sealed in 90CE during the Council of Jamnia where prayers were added to the synagogue service saying that ‘minim’ (Hebrew for heretics, also a reference to believers in Jesus of Nazareth) were to be hopeless, lost and cut off quickly. The situation deteriorated when Rome and the church united under Constantine. Church merging with state has never been good for the Jews.

The evils of forced baptisms from as early as the sixth century, along with pseudo-conversions in medieval Europe, add the anguish of Jewish people who hear from Christians the charge of deicide (the killing of a god).

Here’s how their reasoning works out: since Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, God’s Son, then their fate, their deserved fate, is hostility from God, and from the church. Thus, any punishment that the Jew receives is warranted due to their rejection of the love of the Jesus of history. As a result of this, Jews have been blamed for the Black Death in Europe, the AIDS virus, financial crises and even the 9/11 attacks on the US in 2001.

No matter which way you look at it, such claims cannot be proven.

But something Jarryd Hayne said does ring true. It’s about culpability.

Someone is responsible for the death of Jesus. And the Scripture does teach us that there were five agents who had a “voice” in the matter.

One of those is the Jewish people (the leaders or the generation who were alive at the time). And that’s the part that might be the most uncomfortable. Without the Jewish man Judas and the Jewish leadership “dobbing in” the Messiah Jesus, he might have lived on for years. But Scripture teaches us that it was the Jewish people who brought Jesus to Pilate for the matter to be finalised (John 18-19). They heard the option to release him later and chose Barabbas instead.

Of course, the Romans were guilty of the actual deed. They are the second voice. It was a Roman soldier who nailed him to the cross and Romans who held the court that convicted him. The government from Herod to Pilate share the guilt in this matter.

The third guilty party in the death of Jesus was he himself. He had the authority and power to accomplish anything or to call down angels to save himself. But he said, “No one has taken it away from me, but I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). Without his own permission, no one would have had the ability or power to kill him on the cross.

The fourth is one of the worst to ponder. It was the Father himself. The most famous verse in the New Testament is John 3:16. There we read that the love of the Father is demonstrated in the death of his Son: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” If the death of Jesus did not accomplish anything, then the Father would be the worst sadist and child-abuser in history. For who among us would give his son to death?

Finally, and most relevant to each of us, is the responsibility each of us has in the death of Jesus. Without our sin, and our sins, he would not have needed to die. But the story is that he died for our sins and without that death/atonement/blood, we would be eternally lost. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3), and again, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by his wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

So when people mention that the Jewish people were culpable for the death of Jesus, they are 20 per cent right. It’s true, but it’s not the entire story. And how grateful I am for the lamb of God giving himself for our sins and demonstrating his own love to us in that one marvellous act. - See more at: http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/who-bears-the-guilt-for-the-death-of-jesus#sthash.4AOu0GCb.dpuf