15 December 2016

Ending well: Repeat performance

Back in 2014, I was the chaplain on the Moscow summer campaign and each day brought a new message from the Bible, specifically from the Book of Joshua in the Tenach, and found life lessons for the teams. Here in Sydney yesterday we finished our 2-week campaign and I found these words that I gave in Russia to be something perhaps the campaigners can appreciate. So I reissue them in full at the bottom or you can simply click the following link:
Here's the link: (just click on the underlined "link")

Campaigns like the one in Sydney, where over 45,000 people individually received a flyer inviting response, where over 50 Jewish and 60 Gentiles who don't yet believe gave us their information for further follow-up information, where the weather and the weatherman cooperated... well, they are a highlight for many. Our youngest member in his 20s and our oldest in her 70s all gave so well that it was a joy to work together. We bannered and read Psalms, and handed out leaflets.

Photos in abundance here.

God knows how to reach His people; we are delighted to be part of His outreach. May you personally know His love and peace. At Christmas (which we call "Messiah-mas") and throughout your days. Shalom. __________________ Finishing well? Gideon, the compromiser (Part 3 of 3) By Bob Mendelsohn Given in Moscow, Russia 5 June 2014 There are three levels of operations in most activities: planning, executing, debriefing. We certainly do that when we go to the streets. Ilya along with the team plans our sorties, we travel to them and evangelize, and then we come back sharing the stories of what God did while we were out there. In a way, our stories help Ilya frame the future as well, since our discussion tells him where we might go, and the all-essential reality of who gets along with whom, and who works well with one another. When a military operation like the battle with the Midianites is recorded in Scripture, you can imagine that similar planning, execution and debriefing happens there. And today’s story, the final in the series on Gideon, is at times encouraging and at other times heartbreaking. The coward in chapter 6 became the conqueror in chapter 7, but he ends being a compromiser in chapter 8 and that’s not a good ending by any means. Maybe we have to guard our hearts and minds as well, after victories gained, after prayers answered, after we see the Lord make a difference in our little world. We have to be on our guard lest we fail in this same way. Let’s unpack the story in chapter 8, and then let’s consider the Bible and the many warnings there so that we don’t come up short ourselves in this matter of faith. Remember, though, no matter how far Gideon fell, that he is still listed in the book Hebrews, chapter 11, and thus still is considered a man of faith. He turned out ok, although by his compromises he fell short of God’s best for him. And we want the best for ourselves. And we want the best for each other, amen? The story begins with controversy (.1-3)—the tribe of Ephraim, which was the 2nd largest of the 12 tribes, wants some of the spoils of the war. They want to gain some land that Israel had just gained against the Midianites. They are actually angry that Gideon didn’t include them. Maybe some of the ones who were dismissed, the 22,000 or the 9,700 were Ephraimites. We don’t know. But what we do know is that Gideon handled their complaint very well. What should Ephraim have said to Gideon after the war? Hallelujah! Thanks be to God! But no, they wanted something for themselves. Shame on them. But Gideon was more righteous than I would have been. The scene shifts east of the Jordan river where Gideon was chasing two more kings of the Midianites. You should think of them as lieutenants or generals and not kings like political leaders of countries. The Jewish city of Sukkot is in the territory of the tribe of Gad. (.5) Gideon asks for hospitality for his men and the leadership in Sukkot denies his request. What!? A Jew in the Middle East turning down his brothers in need of hospitality. What is that about? My guess is that the leaders of Sukkot did not believe that Gideon would defeat the two chased kings. They were hedging their bets, thinking, “If Midian turns and conquers Gideon, then they will come back and beat us up. So we had better be neutral and not help our brothers in need, for safety’s sake.” That’s terrible, but did you hear the reason? It is a matter of faith! They did not believe in Gideon and in the God of Gideon. No wonder they sent no one to the battle; no wonder they did not receive the team. Remember Rahab, the harlot, the prostitute in the Joshua story? She did receive the spies and was rewarded with salvation and with honorable mention in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. And she is an ancestor of King Messiah as well. So the people of Sukkot are going to receive punishment when Gideon returns. You might think, “Wait, the people of Ephraim were not so good either. Why do the Gadites receive punishment?” Good question. The difference in the two tribes’ behavior is that the Sukkot and Peniel people were directly resisting the name and power of God; they were (in NT terms) blaspheming the Holy Spirit, even assisting the enemy. It was not personal in their case; it was rebellion and treason against the Almighty. Gideon was chasing these two kings Zebah and Zalmunna, because they had killed his own brothers (.19) and when he found them they were with 15,000 men, as the other 120,000 had been killed. By the 300!! Gideon came upon the camp when they were (.11) unsuspecting, and the Hebrew uses the term “Betach” meaning “trusting.” Really we could say they were over-confident. The leaders ran away and Gideon and his men chased Zebah and Zalmunna and caught them. As well as the entire army! Gideon brings back the two kings through the territory of Sukkot and says to the 77 men (.14) that their taunting him was in vain. He exacts punishment on the people of Gad that day with thorns and briers from the field and the hills. He lays his brothers to ruin. Wow…the punishment was deep and vivid and clear. Gideon returns to the camp on the west side of the Jordan River and kills the two kings Zebah and Zalmunna, and the people of Israel want to make him a king. He refuses. If I read it right, and if this were the end of the story, it would be a very normal fairy tale story. And for many of us this is where we stop reading. God chose an available man, not very bold, and made him into a general and hero. Good ending. Except that’s not the ending. Remember the pattern of life in Israel in the book of Judges about which we spoke a couple days ago? I quote it to you from my lesson on Monday: There is a pattern in the book of Judges, which you must see. Read chapter 2 later, but for now, here is the cycle: 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 If that pattern were to hold true, then we would see it in the life of Gideon and Israel here in chapter 8. And that’s exactly what we see. The people ask Gideon to be their king (.22) and show their unbelief in the plans of God by this. Gideon well reminds them that God is to be their only king (.23) showing his faith again! Moses had warned Israel about this (When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’: Deut. 17.14) but it was a warning/ prophecy, not God’s plan from the beginning. Look what the Psalmist writes about this time in Jewish history in Psalms They did not destroy the peoples, as the LORD commanded them, but they mingled with the nations and learned their practices, and served their idols, which became a snare to them. (106.34-36) That’s what we learn from the ephod that Gideon made. It might have been something like the garment the priests wore, but it was most probably an idol of gold to which the people came to worship. What a terrible ending to the coward turned conqueror. He had a good idea in refusing to be the king of the Jewish people, but he began living like a king. He had the people bring him gold and he collected over 40 pounds of it besides whatever he collected from the kings of Midian himself. $795,904 in today’s valuation with today’s price of gold. Yes, that would get me through the weekend. The Bible says that Israel ‘played the harlot’ (.27) with the ephod. It says that Gideon had 70 wives and concubines, had a son whose name was “My God is king” and that son Abimelech later tried to rule the Jewish people. The ending sounds fairly bad, doesn’t it? Look at the ending of the chapter. Israel falls and falls hard. No matter what God did for us; no matter how we saw Him work and supply and save us, no matter what the 300 did against the 135,000, we still turned away. Then it came about, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god. Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in accord with all the good that he had done to Israel. (8.33-35) Brothers and sisters, the Word of God is clear. We are a chosen people. He chose us, not because we were so great, but in fact, because we were NOT so great. (Deut. 7.7) and chose us to represent him in the earth among the nations. We respond and we find eternity in Messiah. Then He uses us to go and proclaim Him to others and we ‘win the victory’ now and again. And the warning is clear. Listen carefully: Do not be like the men of the tribe of Gad who played to win, even against their own brothers, not demonstrating hospitality, not living in faith, and chose to live apart from the rest of the community of faith. Do not be like the 22,000 who were afraid and went to their homes missing the battle and the glory of seeing first hand God’s work. Do not be like Israel who chose to live like the nations around her, and even though she saw God’s handiwork, Israel turned victory to idolatry, living for immorality and false worship. Even though Gideon ended as a bit of a compromiser, and didn’t finish as well as he might have, his story is told us in 100 Bible verses to remind us that God uses ordinary people like us, who keep our eyes on God, and who trust Him to win victories. Today we go out to share Messiah. We go out to bring many to believe in Yeshua. When we return and tell stories of victories, and you have been doing that every day, remember, don’t turn your stories and victories into an idol. He alone is King. He alone is our Focus of Worship. He alone is Lord, amen? Slava bogu!

10 December 2016

Overlap: Christmas/ Hanukkah WHAT is the big deal?

It's not every year these two holidays which have nothing to do with each other occur on the same date. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (or Chanukkah, or Channukah or however you want to spell it) starts on the lunar calendar date of 25 Kislev. The Christmas celebration is celebrated on the solar calendar on 25 December. And this year, 2016, those two dates collide and help us to have some great fun with the joys of the season.

Of course this Jewish holiday was not a major festival, that is, not until the late 19th century, when Christmas (which also was not a major holiday of the year) grew in epic capitalistic proportions. As the holiday became the reason for shopping, the shop owners drove it more and more into what it is today, which is barely recognizable as the birthday of the leader of the religion. And Hanukkah which celebrates a military victory is merely an excuse for many for a "Jewish Christmas."

These two Canadian actors and Yiddish specialists perform a great service to the world in their humor. Here is their latest episode featuring many holiday songs for both holidays, with funny spin, of course. They had another funny episode last year about Jews in Chinese restaurants on Christmas if you like this sort of thing.

To many the mixing of secular fun with religious dignity is inappropriate. After all the birth of Jesus is significant and worth stopping shopping and listening to the angels sing, "Christ is born in Bethlehem." Some say the Maccabean victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 BCE (which Hanukkah memorializes) should not be mixed with chocolates, donuts, and potato pancakes, along with spinning tops (dreidels) and other frivolity. But we don't think like those opponents. We think festivity makes the religion work better. And that's why we like this video from the US on Hanukkah/ Christmas/ Christmukah from the Kosher Joe/JFJ people.

This year the dates line up, even if the holidays don't match.
This year your dates may line up, for a week off from work, and neither of these events have anything to do with your life.
Fair enough.

But if Yeshua (Jesus) is, as the boys sang in the first video, was a Jew (Yoshke was a Yid), then maybe he does have something to say to us in this (or any) season. If Yeshua was Messiah (that's what Christ actually means) and actually was born in Bethlehem (like the Jewish prophet Micah said would happen); if angels declared him to be the "King of Israel" as many songs agree; if as Mendelssohn wrote "Hark, the herald angels sing", "Glory to the newborn King" then we must answer this question-- "Who is Jesus?" Without the clues of singing along with the holiday favorites, we might be clueless.

Lynn Wein McCoy answered that question by listening to the carols. At a Harry Chapin concert no less! Here is what Lynn wrote about Christmas . And maybe you will have a similar conclusion.

What is the big deal about Christmas anyway? We think it's about the birth of the Jewish messiah foretold by Jewish prophets in the Jewish Scriptures. That would make anyone stop and 'listen to what I say. A child, sleeping in the night, he will bring us goodness and light.'

07 December 2016

When you do this or that

Last night I went to a shiur. That's a Bible lesson taught by a rabbi, and he was speaking about the parsha (the weekly portion of Torah read in the synagogue in this case, in the upcoming Saturday). He referenced Jewish law (halacha) and specifically rules applying to men and not to women. The rule, if I understood him correctly, is that laws related to time (building a sukkah, praying at certain times of day, etc) are specifically for men to obey, and not required of women. It was not the rabbi's main point, but it caught my ear.

This morning I pondered Yeshua's words recorded in the beginning of the Brit Hadasha. He was speaking about religion and religious activities when he said, "when you fast... when you pray... when you give charity..." And he was speaking to a crowd at the time. (This is recorded in Matthew chapter 6). He didn't say, "This is for the gents. Ladies, I'll get to you later." He didn't say, "This is for those of you who work in the religious centres like the Temple." He said it to everyone. His words were meant for everyone. For those times, and for these times. He meant those words for me and for you.

The context of those phrases is Yeshua's teachings about observable religious activity. He started that section with "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." Religious activity, here called 'practicing your righteousness', is acceptable of course, if done in the right spirit, with right intent. Here Yeshua is cautioning people that the one about whom one should be concerned is the Lord above, and not to worry about who sees and who else doesn't see what we are doing. Some religion will be observed by others; that's the nature of the beast. But if our goal is to be noticed by them, well, Yeshua says you have your reward in full. That is, their noticing your works is all you will ever 'get' from your deeds. God won't necessarily notice; He won't guarantee that angels will notice. Only those in front of whom you are showing off will notice. And they are not worth the effort.

Yeshua assumes you will fast. He assumes there will be a time when you will pray and when you will give charity/ alms. Those are right to do and right to perform. As long as you perform these things to be making God smile. If you want to be noticed by people... well... that's a waste.

I had a Jewish man stop by the bookshop the other day with deep concern for me to lay tefillin. That is, he wanted me to strap the leather phylacteries on my arm and around my head. We discussed many things, and this was top of his list. I balked at doing so, and his young offsider said, "it will only take 60 seconds. On. Off. Just like that." And I thought, this is exactly NOT what Yeshua wants and what he warned about. Knocking religious duties off a list, one 60-second at a time... not good. I thought of those Catholics who told me about saying four 'hail Mary's" and saying three "our father's" to satisfy a demanding priest. Their priest offered them a quickie 'salvation' of sorts, performing religious duties to make up for sinful activity.

The Jewish concept of kavanah is what Yeshua intended. Deep heartfelt compliance with regulations, real attitude checking to ensure that our performance is genuine, to love the Lord, to obey Him, sure, and to do so in the right spirit.

Isaiah the prophet regularly spoke to the failings of the Jewish people in his prophecy. His book begins with such almost hostile remarks. "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts?
Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them.
So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. (Isaiah 1.11-15)

God, who ordained these appointed times and mechanics, says He will despise them. Why? Because they are performed by duty-compliant people, and not by those with a real heart for God.

When you do this or that... do it unto the Lord. He will be glad for time with you. And you will be doubly glad.

30 November 2016

Empty and filling: life lessons abundant

In the United States, President-elect Donald Trump is filling up his cabinet, his inner sanctum of strategic advisers, whom he will deploy to accomplish his wide-ranging agendas. Some serious Washington insiders are listed and there are more to come. Back in October, cartoonist Ben Garrison set in the American mind this cartoon of 'draining the swamp.'

The promises of P-E Trump include the removing of things unpopular in Washington, DC, and especially what might be titled 'swamp' but many are wondering if the choices of insiders like Steven Mnuchin. (Steven Mnuchin, a hedge fund manager and former Goldman Sachs executive, is President-elect Donald Trump's choice for Treasury secretary) What about Tom Price (HHS), and Elaine Chao (Transportation)? More about each as they come along here on Vox . They seem to be insiders from the swamp.

Here in Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (pictured) is set to reshuffle his front bench, as close to the US Cabinet as he can get. Here's a write up The New Daily reporting. We could see Attorney-General George Brandis removed, and we could see a return to the front bench of former PM Tony Abbott.

I read a Bible verse last month that spoke to me deeply. It was a saying of Yeshua, whom some call Jesus. The setting was the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles) and the great Water Pouring ceremony took place on the heights of Jerusalem. There are many meanings to that situation of course, but the words themselves are powerful. Yeshua said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7.37-38) The scene involved water being poured out at the Temple (destroyed in 70, 40 years later) by the High Priest. Here is the encyclopedia entry on water pouring.

Each end of Sukkot featured this water pouring. It was also the day of the beginning of the rainy season in Israel. This is significant this year, as the bush fires all over Israel, were started by arsonists-enemies of the Jewish people. If the rain were flowing, the fires would be minimized. But of interest to me is that at the beginning of the rainy season, the priests would pour out the remaining reservoir. It was a statement of faith; it represented the belief of the Jewish people that God would provide (a major theme of Tabernacles). Emptying the reservoir gives opportunity for the Lord of life to fill it with new waters.

As December returns tomorrow here in Sydney, and many friends and colleagues join me to share Messiah's message of love on the streets, we are hopeful to find empty folks, that is, those who admit they are empty, and thirsty for life, for love, for God in their life. If people admit to needs, then God can supply. Here's the video from Israel
Admit you are empty.
Ask God to fill you.

26 November 2016

Howard Hughes, Rules Don't Apply: A review

I'm not an expert on Howard Hughes. I didn't see the 2006 movie about Clifford Irving, the fake Hughes biographer, starring Richard Gere in Irving's role in "The Hoax." Leonardo de Caprio's performance as Hughes in "The Aviator" (2004) featured his earlier life in Hollywood and in the airline industry from the 1920s and 1930s. Warren Beatty's 'biography' of Hughes picks up and ends in 1964, so there is no overlap with Aviator. Beatty's super-involvement included producing, directing, writing the screenplay, and acting as the lead character. Let me highlight a few moments of the film.

Four main characters feature: Beatty as Hughes, Lily Collins as Marla Mabrey, Matthew Broderick as Levar Mathis, and Alden Ehrenreich as Frank. (For those who follow this blog about many Jewish concerns, the last three of these listed have Jewish ancestry). Other characters are played by the likes of Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen in more than cameo roles.

The ambling story concerns Hughes in conflict with the world: New York bankers (led by Oliver Platt), his own staff, and just about everyone. He makes Marla wait for her one-off appointment with him after her screen test. He makes us wait ... and wait. It seems interminable. Hughes doesn't appear as luminous as most would make of themselves if they were billionaires (or was he 'only' a millionaire?) In fact, he stays in the shadows most of the movie. The choice of lighting reminded me of "Citizen Kane" and even the mystery of Rosebud seemed to flashback on me in "Rules."

Beatty uses the ingenue Mabrey as a foil, and in the movie this Baptist woman is the daughter of Bening (Beatty's real wife). Too weird. Collins as Marla makes perfect sense. The real-life daughter of singer Phil Collins, has been in a few things, but this is her first major role. Her IMDB listing is here . And she's playing a starlet-wannabe coming to Los Angeles/ Hollywood for the chance of a lifetime. She comes from Front Royal, Virginia, still a rural town near Washington, DC. Her Baptist preacher has inspired her to know about virtues including sexual behavior and about abortion and such. Some surprises ensue as you might expect.

I will not spoil the ending, but will tell you that this is not an Irish tale. It's pure Hollywood. At least in its endings.

There was a momentous scene which seemed to turn the movie, but Beatty didn't stay black-to-white as I expected. In that scene he 'came out' and turned on a lamp near his darkened self. If I remember right, the background music of Mahler's 5th even changed its feeling. He caught a serious glimpse of his DNA-in-the-future, and that seemed to give him spark and lift. But Beatty didn't keep it going to my disappointment. By the way, for Donald Mitchell, perhaps the most important Mahler scholar writing today, the Fifth Symphony “initiates a new concept of an interior drama.” The idea of a programmatic symphony has not vanished, “it has gone underground, rather, or inside.” I wonder if that influenced the choice of the 5th throughout.

Perhaps Beatty saw in Hughes a great American enigma. A life of massive financial success and yet a life of wishing to be in relationship with his departed father. A desire to keep his father's legacy, or at least his name, in perpetuity. And utter dissatisfaction with those who disagreed with him, on any level, even about ice cream availability.

He lived as a recluse, see these facts about the real Hughes in this article from History.com I'm sure some of the real story influenced Beatty. And then there is the Hollywood add-on as per usual.

Hughes was a megalomaniac, but I'm not a psychologist, so probably shouldn't evaluate him as such with such little information. Still, Beatty made us think this in the very slow opening (at leat 45 minutes of the 2 hours) and Hughes' obsession with his own reputation and possible identification as crazy.

Someone asked me "Did you like the movie?" And honestly I never quite know if I liked some movies until I sit down to write the review of it. This one is certainly in that category. What I liked was clear...the parts by Sheen, Bergen, Platt, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin... they all were subjugated to the great one. Beatty made it clear, in their deference, and their compliance, their opposition and their diminution, that Hughes was the greater. I liked the ingenue and her life choices she was continually forced to make. I liked the Radaresque Broderick in his subjugation to Hughes, until that one moment of confrontation. I liked the forward-thinking Frank, the chauffeur. I suppose there was enough in the movie to give it another look, down the road, on an airplane at 35,000 feet in a few months.

ABC News in the US gave it a moderate score, and finished with "When "Rules Don’t Apply" is good, it’s a delight. When it’s not, you just wish you were somewhere else." Oy, did I agree with that one!

And maybe then I will think of what I have to do to live in subjugation to my Greater One, the Almighty. No matter how I see myself in this movie, as I identify with one or more characters (at a time), I know that in the end, no matter how much I gain or lose, there is a Greater One. A God who gives of Himself that we might have life. I had a good relationship at times with my dad, but when I met the Eternal Father, the Lord God Almighty, I found my own darkness-to-light moment and the music changed from Mahler's 5th to Mahler's Resurrection!

No enigma now. Life comes and life lives on, because of the One who said of Himself (and which is a sign on one of the churches in the early part of the movie), "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." (Yeshua, the messiah quoted by his friend and biographer John) Thanks be to God.

23 November 2016

Why do they 'celebrate' Thanksgiving?

I'm visiting in the US until Saturday, so I'm experiencing all the rituals of Thanksgiving, including but not limited to overeating, a glut of football games, times with family, overeating, raking leaves, watching the Christmas decorations light up, overeating (Did I mention that already? I was too busy napping from the tryptophan overload.) So maybe those of my readers in Australia and elsewhere might want a quick lesson in the holiday.

Click once on each photo to see full-size version
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists from the UK and local Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies which would later be called the United States of America. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted more than two months, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.

In 1623 they celebrated their 2nd such gathering, and a tradition was born. New York was the first state to make it a holiday and many others joined suit. The American south had no such intention, but later joined in. For all the date-by-date story of how Thanksgiving became a federal holiday, even related to shopping, see this website of history and for learning.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the day when retail sales put companies into the 'black' column, that is, out of the 'red' (debt) perhaps for the first time all year. Credit card sales explode and retailers are happy campers. After all it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And like many a Jewish salesman sings, "What a friend we have in Jesus" during this time of year.

On the day of the eating of the turkey, a parade takes place in New York City. The parade is 75 years old or so, and has been sponsored by Macy's, the great department store at 34th and 6th Avenue, in Herald Square. With marching bands, floats, and huge balloons it's a spectacular to be sure.

For others (and even those Yanks still reading this moment without the stuffing), a day to say thanks is a great idea. And not only to BE THANKFUL, which in itself is an excellent idea. Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, also from my home town of Kansas City, said, "The nice thing about feeling grateful is that it drives away negative emotions like annoyance, resentment, or anger. I really find this to be true. I just spent some time reflecting on the vastness of what I have to be grateful for, and as a result, the usual, petty annoyances of my day have vanished."

And she's spot on. Gratefulness is Fantastic. And let me tell you one more thing, even better than being thankful.

Have an object of your thankfulness. In other words, being thankful needs to be a thank you card SENT TO SOMEONE! It can be a boss, a friend, a doctor, a neighbour, almost anyone who has done you a service or given you a product which gave you some pleasure. But WAIT< there's someone even more than this!

At the end of the day, a thanksgiving to the Almighty is appropriate. After all, the good book says, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." (James 1.17) So everything we have which is defined as 'good' is from heaven, and the Owner of the Block above would like to hear those awesome words, "Thanks so much." Directed thanks makes Thanksgiving that much better.

Here in my hometown, on Thanksgiving night, they turn on the lights in the Country Club Plaza. It's always a crowd pleaser. When you give thanks to the living God, for all He has done for you, and for your country, for your family, for your situation-- a real enlightenment takes place, in you. And sometimes many will see that. Why not try that this Thursday? It could become a habit!

17 November 2016

Be seated. Another view on sitting in heaven. (Part 2)

In my first writing last year on this idea of Messiah here   being seated I majored on his victory. That is, that Messiah is seated like a priest who has concluded his work.  In this writing I want to ponder the idea of enthronement as judgment. That is, that when a ruler is seated, he is able to make decisions and rule from a position of authority.

In 2 Kings 19.15 we read, "And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, who art enthroned above the cherubim, Thou art the God, Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. Thou hast made heaven and earth." (19.15)  God is proclaimed here as both Creator and the Enthroned One. Then Hezekiah continues, "the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, afor they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. And now, O LORD our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou alone, O LORD, art God.”

His being seated is not from exhaustion, but rather from exaltation. It's the permission to sit AS KING that is to be seen here. A prince, an adviser, an associate, even a right-hand man, all of them are considered 'up there' with rulers, but until the one in charge extends the 'please, be seated' comment, then the 2nd, or 3rd, or... has to remain attending and upright. When THE authority extends permission to sit, then that authority is shared.

Note what the Psalmist says in Psalm 2. "Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed,
He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them.
I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!" (verses 1-2, 4, 7, 12)

And again the text in Psalm 110 about Melchizedek and the famous opening of at least two sounds-like deities,
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at Your right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.
He will judge among the nations, he will fill them with corpses, he will shatter the chief men over a broad country."

When God sets up His throne and invites the "Lord" to where no one can dismantle it, it is for the sake of seated-to-rule. Those enemies over whom the king will rule will be like an ottoman, a footstool. That final seating is for the sake of judgment. And who will be there?

Paul writes of this, as does the writer to the Hebrews.
1Cor. 15.25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
1Cor. 15.27 For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him.
Eph. 1.22 And He put all things in subjection under His (Yeshua's) feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,
Heb. 2.8 YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.

In other words, the sitting down by Yeshua, forecast in Psalm 2 and Psalm 110, is about subjection. Think of royalty and thrones. A king is established and everyone bows to him upon entry, and is not permitted to arise from that lowly bowing posture until allowed by the king. Sit...until...

I love the notion of Yeshua being seated. He is the authority, the head as Paul says, of the Body of his followers. And that session (seatedness) is not about exhaustion, but rather about victory and conquest. He will rule. He will make all things right. He alone is the hope of the world. Oh to Him we must plead for sanity in countries and in companies. To Him, all things will be put in subjection. I long for that day. I speak of that day. Come, Lord Yeshua, come!

15 November 2016

After the election...and a football game

Donald Trump will be the president of the US beginning on 20 January next year. Full disclosure: I was not a Trump fan ever, whether as a politician or even as a person. Still, he will be my president come 20 January. These are realities. I will not speak against him as our president. I will continue to pray for him as the Apostle Paul taught in his letter to young Timothy. "Pray for all in authority," was the instruction and I will comply.

A week ago the Seattle Seahawks played a grueling anyone-can-win football match against the Buffalo Bills. There was a lot of pushing and shoving, a lot of sledging (Yanks, that is Aussie-speak for trash talk), and much involvement by the 12th man, the Seattle fans in the stadium. The announcers on the television took issue with a defenseman, the cornerback Richard Sherman, and the Bills' coach Rex Ryan even called the decision by the referees 'ridiculous' when Sherman ran into the kicker for the Bills near the end of the first half.

After the game ended, the ESPN sportscaster, Lisa Salters, interviewed Richard both about 'that play' and about the demeanor of both teams after the game ended. The brutal manner on the field ended, and the opponents generally were high-fiving and embracing each other. He basically answered her that football is a leave it all out on the field activity, and then people matter more. NY Upstate reported here , "At the end of the interview, Salters asked Sherman how the two teams could get together after such a hard fought game. Sherman cited that during the game it's a dog fight, but at the end the teams should get together. The cornerback made a point to mention a few Bills players did not stick around postgame.

"Some of their players went in the locker room. They were talking a lot of mess, but they didn't want to see it at the end. Those are the opposite of competitors. Competitors come out and they shake it up after a game like that."

Consider this quote from Hillary Clinton's concession speech after the US elections last week. "Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for and I'm sorry that we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country.
But I feel pride and gratitude for this wonderful campaign that we built together, this vast, diverse, creative, unruly, energized campaign. You represent the best of America and being your candidate has been one of the greatest honors of my life."

Was this the man about whom she said so many dastardly things?

What about Donald's remarks about Hillary after she rang him to congratulate him on his electoral college victory. "I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign. I mean, she — she fought very hard. Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country."

What? Is that the same person who fought so hard to dominate whom he called her 'crooked' and a 'liar' and dozens of other epithets?

Maybe this commentary about both football and elections says the same thing. Sherman says "Competitors come out and they shake it up after a game like that." And that's certainly the spirit the US needs in these days after the election. We need one another. We need to stop name-calling, stop the bullying, stop the hostility-- let's work together to make the world a better place. A dream? Nope-- the way forward is filled with hope and opportunities, and dangers. May we be gracious to each other, now and in 3 and a half years.

11 November 2016

Donald Trump: The first 3rd party winner

Let me first join in with both Hillary and Donald in their defeat/victory speeches on Election Night/ Day and wish the disunity would stop. Americans need to get beyond the hatred and strife which characterized the last 18 months of the circus of the elections. That is a base of reality which I will again mention at the end of this blog.

Over the course of months I watched, albeit from afar, the horse race which was the US elections this year. It was easy to get some updates almost hourly, certainly daily, on the big race for president. Hundreds of other contests were decided on Tuesday this week, of course, including local propositions and senators and congress people, but all eyes seemed to be on the two main candidates, determined by the longer-than-ever primary season and the rubber stamping national conventions. And by now, informed people know that Donald J Trump is the president-elect. He will assume command on 20 January as is the national custom at his inauguration.

I wrote the other day about the Bradley effect and how the pollsters got it so wrong, but today my thoughts go to the idea of a third party. So many of my contacts in the US (I've lived in Australia for 18 years) were polarized in support of, or fierce opposition to, either of the major candidates, Secretary Clinton or Mr Trump. I found a few, rare individuals who were supportive of a candidate and who were not strident. So much hostility; so little grace.

To be sure, there were those undecideds who seriously were stuck between what many called the two evils. Some said, "Better the devil we know than the devil we don't know." Some couldn't get beyond Benghazi or tens of thousands of chattering emails. Some could not accede to a man who guaranteed his genitals were of significant size and who demeaned others like a schoolyard bully. Back and forth the mudslinging continued. It was genuinely ugly and for me as an American in Australia (or wherever I traveled) and so embarrassing. But wait, let's go back a bit.

Some of my strident friends couldn't support Hillary because she was pro-abortion, even to the end of a pregnancy, as she said, if the life of the mother were at risk. They didn't voice the same concern when Donald said, “I'm pro-life, but with the caveats. It's-- Life of the mother (very important), incest and rape,” Trump said. Donald also said, ‘You have bad researchers’: when Bill O’Reilly questioned him on Planned Parenthood TheBlaze - Sep 9, 2015. In 1999, Trump stated to the Associated Press, “I believe it (abortion) is a personal decision that should be left to the women and their doctors.” OK, so he has changed his mind since then. People do that. And I'm glad he did, but I wonder, is he as dyed in the wool Republican as some think?

Read this report this week from Business Report on Donald and women's health issues.

The Donald promised to release his tax returns like every candidate of modern times. He didn't. He did say, "In terms of taxes, “I know people making a tremendous amount of money and paying virtually no taxes, and I think it's unfair.” But we don't know about his own record.

OK, as a businessman who has declared bankruptcy any number of times, do we want him to run the largest economy in the world? Too late now to ask that question, but some were thinking that.

His sexual exploits were another embarrassing theme throughout the final days. Women lined up to declare their being assaulted by him; video tapes from years ago revealed a person who was not the picture the Republicans would want, and especially for the evangelical Christians who didn't share those values. Yet 82% of evangelicals voted for him. Values aside, they voted party.

Many voted for him because they liked the platform of the Republican party which included a recognition of Christianity and prayer in school, an overturning of Roe v Wade, a lowering of corporate tax threshholds, etc. The platform called for a recognition of the rights of the unborn under the 14th Amendment. The platform calls for Keystone to be finished. You get it, it's a comprehensive exercise of classic conservative values and such.

I'm saying all this to say that I think Donald used the Republican party as his own and would have gladly renamed a new one the Trump Party if he needed to leave. I think Donald well represents what would have been a third-party if Cruz or Rubio, or any of the other 16 candidates for the nomination of the Republican party had won. I worry that Donald is the George Wallace of our day. Mind you, I acknowledge that he won and that he is to be our 45th president. I get that. And I support our process of elections and will pray for him to be good at being our next president.

Still I aver that he's the consummate third-party candidate. Forget Tea Party or Ross Perot, forget how Perot knocked Clinton into the White House. I may be wrong, but I think Donald J Trump is the real 3rd-party person of this election. He is as Republican today as he can be, but what will he be tomorrow? His erratic personality, and self-importance, and declaration that he could stand in the middle of Times Square with a gun and shoot someone and get away with it-- it's so non-Republican. His unwillingness throughout the primaries to listen to his handlers/ advisors was clearly displayed. People loved that he was non-PC. In fact he was anti-PC. He was a loose cannon. He could say to anyone at anytime that they were less, they were of little importance, they were insignificant. He propped himself up by knocking others down. Whether it was Ted Cruz or Ari Fleischer, Megyn Kelly or John McCain, Rand Paul, or anyone who challenged him. That's not Republican; that's not even American. That's self-consumed and classic misanthropic behaviour. I express my worry. It is not disdain; it is not disapproval of the process. It is worry and anxiety about the person.

I think people voted the party, even though the party had been coopted by the classic outsider. He boasted of his outside-ness. He is the first president-elect never to have held a governmental or military position. Yet, he is as sharp a politician as there is.

And thus I will pray. And hope. And challenge Americans to get beyond the hatred and strife which characterized the last 18 months and join together to make the world a better place with better people performing better acts. And that prayer should not be for a bullet to strike Mr Trump. It should be as the apostle Paul wrote to his mate Timothy what should be a wonderful guide for us in these days of putting aside the hostility, "I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Messiah Yeshua, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension." (1 Timothy 2.1-8)

09 November 2016

The Bradley effect and President-elect Trump

Donald J. Trump is going to be the 45th president of the USA. This was a shock to many, but not to the 37 million Americans who voted for him and Mike Pence, his running mate. He made promises over the last 18 months during his campaigns and even in his acceptance speech given in New York City at 7 pm Sydney time, which is about 3 am along the US East Coast. He promised to double growth in no set time. Will he build a wall between the US and Mexico? Will he practice what he preached about 'all Americans' and move from businessman to TV personality, to candidate, to statesman? Only time will tell.

The map of the vote (and the headline) on the New York Times website is fascinating.

Donald turned many historically blue states into bright red. He rode the waves of 'change' and 'anti-Establishment' all the way to the White House where he will find his oval office in less than 80 days. Americans are frustrated; let's see if this turns out better.

During the introduction of Mr Trump by Gov Pence, I did note that Pence's son's fiance Sarah was less than enthusiastic about comments about the president-elect. See the first few minutes of this CNN video online here

But I'm sure she'll come around in due course.

With all that now behind us, what awaits us? A Bible verse kept coming to mind today, as pundits spoke about the hidden Trump voters, those with a real desire for change, but who couldn't answer as such in polls before the election day. "For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light." (Yeshua recorded in the Gospel of Luke 8:17) Secret agendas are never completely secret. Hidden ideas eventually come out. Yeshua, that is Jesus, explained it this way. Everything will come out. Be sure of that.

The Bradley effect is a theory concerning observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in some US elections where a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other. The theory proposes that some voters who intend to vote for the white candidate would tell pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for the non-white candidate. It was named after Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who is black, who lost the 1982 California governor's race despite being ahead in voter polls going into the elections.

The Bradley effect suggests that the inaccurate polls were skewed by the phenomenon of social desirability bias. Specifically, some white voters give inaccurate polling responses for fear that, by stating their true preference, they will open themselves to criticism of racial motivation. Members of the public may feel under pressure to provide an answer that is seen to be more publicly acceptable, or politically correct. The reluctance to give accurate polling answers has sometimes extended to post-election exit polls as well. The race of the pollster conducting the interview may factor into voters' answers.

Look, I've tried to slip through some things. I've tried to hide my own wrong activities and I've been caught. And although at the moment I hated being caught, the reality is that I love the freedom of exposure. The reality train is a much smoother ride than one where one has to lie and cheat and duck and cleverly re-invent story.

So now we wait and see. What Donald said or what he will say and what he will do. Let's hope he does what he said in tonight's speech, "I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all of Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I'm reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country. As I've said from the beginning, ours was not a campaign but rather an incredible and great movement, made up of millions of hard-working men and women who love their country and want a better, brighter future for themselves and for their family. It is a movement comprised of Americans from all races, religions, backgrounds, and beliefs, who want and expect our government to serve the people, and serve the people it will."

08 November 2016

Fever heat of summer

I had to take this photo yesterday. It was stinking hot outside. 36 celsius is over 100 Fahrenheit. And it's only November. Early November at that! What does the summer plan to bring us? No matter what it was a tough day to be outside, not only to walk around and do anything.

The one phrase that kept popping into my mind while near Windsor this afternoon was "the fever heat of summer." Is that something from Shakespeare? From Milton? Dante, of course. Nope, it was none of those. It was written by a man named David. And he well knew something about summer heat. He lives in Israel. In summer and winter and all year at times.

The occasion for his writing this poem (named Psalm 32) is not known. But we do know some things about David's life and his religious practices. He wrote a similar poem in Psalm 51 after being caught out in an adulterous affair with his neighbour. This psalm is another penitential poem which might have been written at the same time.

David is pensive and deep in thought. He's pondering his options and comes up with only one which matters. He humbles himself and asks God to forgive him for whatever sin he had committed. But before he asks, he defines his feelings. They are deep and real. He is pained. He says, "when I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long." The angst is palpable. His pain goes to the kishkes. Then David says, "my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer." I think I get that. Drained vitality is exhausting. The draining I felt all day in the summer heat, even though I had an umbrella and other forms of shade over me, is what David must have experienced that day, or that season.

When your thermometre reaches 33 and above this summer, remember this phrase, and remember your sins, then do what David did. "How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!
How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah.
I acknowledged my sin to Thee, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;
And Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin."

That's it. He wants to forgive us for the sins we commit. Those sins prevent our relationship with Him and with others. The way back is the tough one. It's not easy. It's about admitting our sins and asking God to forgive us, honestly.

Maybe this will be a Pavlovian device for you. Or a catalyst for thinking about God. He really loves us and uses all kinds of circumstances, and people, and events and... to cause us to get in right relationship with Him. It's for our good that we admit such bad. You know? So when the temps rise, and you remember this phrase "the fever heat of summer", use this as a device to cause you to turn to face the Lord and to be part of His forgiven family. Hallelujah, what a saviour!

03 November 2016

Paid in full

Jeni B went to the pub Saturday night. On entry she paid the admission fee and enjoyed time with her friends. I met her on Sunday morning at her church in Cherrybrook, in Sydney's Northwest. She showed me this stamp on her wrist. That's customary for many places in town, to allow for entry and reentry. If you cannot read the letters, it says, "Paid" and the date "29 October 2016." Jeni made some comments that inspired me, and this blog is a reflection of some of her comments.

You might also notice the book on which her wrist is placed is a Bible. It's open to a section in one of Paul's letters. In verse 20, it reads, "for you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." In context, the reference is part of a series of considerations: 1) about justice and not taking fellow believers to court, 2) about food and living in the sufficiency of moderation, and 3) about sexual activity, and being faithful. The Bible is teaching something deeper than a set of rules and regulations. Verses 18-19 says, "Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?"

Paul says we should manage our own passions, control ourselves and live in peace and harmony with our neighbours. How? By the awareness of one singular reality: we have been bought with a price. Paid for in full, like Jeni's being admitted to the pub's party. When something is paid for it belongs to the purchaser. Whether this be a car, an entry ticket, or eternal life, once paid, the purchase price completed, the ownership is transferred.

No longer are we going to live in religious duties and religious rights or wrongs. No longer are we going to claim one spiritual leader or another (1 Cor. 1.12, 1 Cor. 3.4), because we are a temple of God's Spirit. God actually dwells in us. And He can actually dwell in us because He bought us. And has sanctified (cleaned) us from the inside. Hence his purchase, his cleansing, his indwelling-- all point to a change in our lives and in our behaviour. We are changed from the inside. We are HIS!

Note what Charles Spurgeon had to say, if you have a few extra minutes today. This was his sermon he gave after the death of a friend and deacon in his church in Newington. Here is the entire sermon online . Among other treasures Spurgeon says this of the price. "You will notice the text says, "Ye were bought with a price." It is a common classical expression to signify that the purchase was expensive. Of course, the very expression, "Ye were bought," implies a price, but the words "with a price" are added, as if to show that it was not for nothing that ye were purchased. There was a something inestimably precious paid for you; and ye need scarcely that I remind you that "ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold;" "but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." Ah! those words slip over our tongue very glibly, but we may well chide ourselves that we can speak of redemption with dry eyes. That the blood of Christ was shed to buy our souls from death and hell is a wonder of compassion which fills angels with amazement, and it ought to overwhelm us with adoring love whenever we think of it, glance our eye over the recording pages, or even utter the word "redemption.""

Thanks Jeni. Thanks Yeshua. Thanks be to God for His inestimable gifts.

27 October 2016

All in the name: Truth in advertising

I don't know when the change happened. But it's everywhere now. When I was young, and our family went out to eat, we would order from the menu, and the items would have names like 'meatloaf' or 'veal parmigiana' or 'spaghetti and meatballs.' Mind you, in those days, ethnic foods were not that available in restaurants, at least not the ones we would visit in our infrequent outings. Main ethnic foods were prepared at home, by my mother or our grandmothers, and whatever was served, that was our dinner. And that was it.

Sometime in the last few decades, and perhaps because of allergies or the desire among many to eat healthier, the tendency has been to name just about every ingredient in each individual item on a menu. Now if you order a simple you will read, "Surf N Turf (350 GM Aged Sirloin) Finished with sauteed prawns and squid in a garlic sauce(Cooked medium)" or if you want Chicken Tikka masala, which is a fairly simple Indian dish, you might read, "Tandoori Chicken Tikka Boneless Chicken thigh fillet marinated in yogurt and spices, cooked in clay Oven, Served with Mint chutney" And those are the shortest of the listings on the menus in North Sydney which I just grabbed.

Sunday we bought some food at the Farmer's Market in Temascal in Oakland. Abundant food was available and most were organic and local and had practiced 'integrity' (meaning it was without 'sweat shop' type employees). But this stall caught my eye. The title of the venture was almost longer than what was in it. If you had any question about its origin or health factors, well, that was dispelled by the reading of the title. Or so they hoped.

Back in the 1970s I first noticed some funny names of buildings. The buildings were churches, and although most had recognizable names like All Saints Episcopal Church, or First Presbyterian or Tenth Street Baptist Church, still others had outlandish names. Like The Exciting Singing Hills Baptist Church outside Dallas, Texas. I remember driving near Cove City, North Carolina and finding the Undenominational Holiness Church photo here

But more outlandish is "Hephzibah Fire Baptized Holiness Pentecostal Church of the First Born" in Columbia, South Carolina. You get the idea. The longer the name, the more information you know about the character or in some cases, the doctrines of the congregants. I used to attend the Full Faith Church of Love, in a suburb of Kansas City. (They changed their name to adjust from the 1960s to the 2010s, which was and is sensible).

All that to say this: The days of the meatloaf are gone-- certainly as far as food goes. In food salesmanship, we have to know the caloric and the saturated fat content. Is it organic or not? Where was this fruit harvested? Did they use chemicals or were international labourers involved? Does this apply to everything then?

You don't find many churches anymore with those detailed names. There is a trend lately to rename and to rebrand, though. Nowadays the unusual terminology for churches is to hide its churchy sound. For instance Restoration, Elevation, and The Grainery come right to mind. How about Epiphany Station, Radiance, The Flood, and The Rock. You get it. We now want to be relevant and relational and thus hide the word 'church' from the people. Get them in first, then explain what we are about.

Over the years I've had people tell me that we ought to change the name of our organization from "Jews for Jesus" to something less 'in your face.' Something that tells what, rather than who, we are. They say we would get more Jewish people to hear from us if we change our name. I'm glad for their care, but I am not convinced. I like truth in advertising. I like the sensible listing of our ingredients. I like that we don't put everything about us (like "Hephzibah Fire Baptized Holiness Pentecostal Church of the First Born"), but enough that the reader or hearer knows enough to invite further discussion or to walk away.

We readily admit who we are. We readily admit whose we are. Does that make sense to you? Whose are you?

19 October 2016

Tranquility in vivo

So much of life is turbulent. We get disturbed when we read the newspaper and see the suffering of Syrians in Aleppo. There are gunshots spraying over university campuses or in shopping centres. Worries arise in respect to the falling British pound and the dissatisfaction with the American electoral process. Life seems difficult and without calm.

Dr Bruce Wells wrote in this article in June this year about depression and worrying. He says, "Worrying excessively can lead to a host of physical and mental problems such as hypochondria, muscle tension, chronic indigestion, poor sleep, irrational fears, panic, self-consciousness, stage fright, compulsive behaviours, and perfectionism. You may think that worrying will help you avoid bad things from happening, lessen the impact of bad things, or help you come up with solutions. But worrying is actually the problem, not the solution."

So Dr Wells gives six solutions which might help.
Rather than be held hostage to disruptive worrying thoughts throughout the day give yourself permission to postpone worrying until later.

A solvable worry is one that you can take action on right away.

Once you determine that a worry is solvable, brainstorm as many possible solutions you can think of.

Sometimes you can’t solve a problem because either it’s not your problem (you are worried about your daughter’s failing marriage), it’s uncontrollable (you are worried whether it will rain during the picnic), or it can’t be resolved right away (you are worried about your factory closing in two years’ time). When this happens focus on managing your own emotions.

The solution is to accept that uncertainty is a part of life and then choose to focus on the parts that you can control and put all of your energies into making the most of them and appreciating them.

and finally,
Chronic worriers tend to have two types of thoughts. First, they over-estimate the possibility that bad things will happen, and second, they underestimate their own ability at handling these things. These thoughts aren’t based on reality or fact and are totally irrational.
You can break these bad thinking habits and develop a more balanced and healthier perspective of your worries.

Yeshua said this to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?" (Luke 12.22-26)

Worry is a function of distress, and it makes much sense at times. But in the midst of it all, in our lives (in vivo), God can bring tranquility. I wish that for you. I wish that for everyone. Not because of some prescription drugs. Not because of a dismissal of the realities of life which can be daunting. But a tranquility based on the power of God to oversee, and to override, to prevent and to accomplish.

If Yeshua is really who He claimed to be; and if He so chooses to assist and to help, then what honestly do I have to worry about? He wants us to trust Him.

Hear these words from Isaiah the prophet who was trying to calm the Jewish people of his day, "Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, but He will save you.”(Chapter 35:4). And what about these words from the great Rabbi Saul of Tarsus: "Don't be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Phil. 4.6) And what does Saul say will be God's response? "The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Jesus." (4.7)

Know Yeshua. Know peace.
No Yeshua. No peace.

Photo credit: By author in Hunter Gardens. 2015. All photos from there are Hunter: here

18 October 2016

Conjuring up images: Isaiah 60

Maybe I shouldn't use the term 'conjuring.' It might make you think of Macbeth or even earlier, as history shows, Shakespeare took note of The Three Witches or Weird Sisters or Wayward Sisters whose origin lies in Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), a history of England, Scotland and Ireland. But to 'conjure' is more than the witch's notion. Merriam-Webster says the simple Definition of conjure is
"1) to make (something) appear or seem to appear by using magic
2) to make you think of (something)
3) to create or imagine (something)"

OK, so I want you to imagine with me what Isaiah is saying in his wonderful passage in what we label "Chapter 60." Remember he didn't write in chapters like modern novelists do.

Is. 60.2 “For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the LORD will rise upon you
And His glory will appear upon you.

I let my mind wander as I read and even memorised this passage a couple weeks ago. And I wondered what the Almighty was saying. Isaiah is talking to people who have been suffering in what he called 'darkness.' Some of that darkness is sin. Some of it is hopelessness. Some of the darkness is selfishness. Our gloom. When was darkness covering the earth, I mean, originally? Ah, of course. It was in Creation. See Genesis chapter 1. In the same way that the world 'came to be' in that time, God is saying through Isaiah something like this. In the same way you think it's all lost, that darkness is oppressive and settled and never moving, even then, God will break forth and bring His light. His glory will shine. It will rise (same word as sunrise) over you and bring hope and healing. You will not be suppressed by darkness; light will triumph.

Isaiah's message is so thrilling and comprehensive that it took 66 chapters to unpack it completely. If you want to listen to the podcast / sermon / Bible study group on Isaiah 60 which we conducted last Thursday, here is the link:
Isaiah 60 Podcast
And of course the entire series (up to chapter 60) is online at: Bible classes on audio Enjoy!

Photo of the three witches by painter Johann Heinrich Fussli
Photo of the sunrise taken in August 2015 by the author at Magnetic Island (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bobmendo/20378803856)

16 October 2016

What is love, after all?

It's not even Valentine's Day, but I'm thinking about love. Yes, emotional love. Yes, real love. I'm not even watching a chick flick on an airplane, although I have done that. Hey, nothing wrong with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan together. No, the word 'love' is bandied about so often and so far... it does require some thinking on it, don't you reckon? And after we have thought about it, maybe we should discuss it?

Nothing like Shakespeare's 116th sonnet to help us on the subject.
I quote it in full. Forgive me if you aren't used to these 14-liners from the Bard.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Yes, this is Elizabethan (a.b.a.b.) and not Italian. That's for my trivia friends. OK, so what is love according to Shakespeare? We know first that it's not love if it changes when change happens. Or is dismissed when others take it away. It is fixed. It is locked in. The marriage vow says, "in sickness and in health" and means that no matter what your partner experiences, or doesn't experience in your relationship, you are going to stick it out.

Tempests blow and yet love stays the course. When ships are tossed in those tempests and the guiding principle (star) is not so easily found on the horizon or in the sky, yet it remains, to guide when we do finally engage it. We don't know much about the worth of the stars, but they are there, pointing us on the way.

Change-- nope. Not a characteristic of real love. And if anyone calls me on this, then real love never existed. Wow, what hubris! Or what correctness?

I walked by Bondi Beach with my friend Kameel the other day. The graffiti wall was painted anew, with fine new works still fresh from their creators. And I found this one. And really liked it.

Maybe you will like it also. The colors are bold in person; the message distinct. The focus for me was on the middle of the word, 'Love." What do you see?

I see a cross. Why? The Bible says, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3.16) That's the greatest love of all. John said elsewhere, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4.10).

The cross is the location of the death of the Jewish Messiah Yeshua. He gave His life for us that we might experience His love and life.

The greatest gift. From the Greatest Giver.

Photo credit: By the author. From Bondi Beach. Original is here

Amazing grace: Being edited

Many of us Jewish people spent hours and hours the last couple weeks dealing with personal issues, repenting of sins committed, and asking God and others to forgive us. We anticipated that God, who set up these High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, would be somewhat vested in being there on the other end of the long phone call to Him.

There was talk about judgment and about eternity; there was consideration of repairing the breach and making things right. It was deep, emotional, considerate. And all the while, many in the row in front of us or behind us, or who never even darkened the doorway to enter the synagogue, seemed to be less inclined to dig deep and ponder what was hitting us so deeply. Should they be so sure that their prayers or thoughts were heard by the very busy Almighty? What is their take-away from all this religious activity?

I saw this above image of the editing erasure on another blog yesterday. It struck me personally. When I talk to God, in prayer, asking for forgiveness, is my sin really erased? Did He just edit the history of my life? Or will I have to carry this around with me for weeks, months, forever? I wonder, does the Scripture have anything to say to me, or is it even trustworthy as a psychological advisory book?

If I listen to sensible and powerful voices in history, I would be well advised, even if I knock back the Bible. Gandhi says that the strong are the forgivers. My impression is that God is Strong, so He must want to forgive.

On Google, I found this one, "If God didn't forgive sinners, heaven would be empty." That's especially clear. And powerful to ponder. After all, Alexander Pope wrote, "to err is human, to forgive, divine." Well, I'm human and very capable and very erring. So I'm especially glad for God's forgiveness. Or shall I expect it after all?

So let's look at a couple citations from that mysterious book of life, the Tenach, and see what it might say.
"The priest shall also make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed will be forgiven him." (Leviticus 19.22) "Nislach lo" is the Hebrew. It will be forgiven him. Wow, just like that. A forgiveness because of some animal substitute, a forgiveness which knows the satisfaction of the judicial system. A forgiveness granted, and (perhaps) received.

Later in Torah Moses commands the priests to pray this prayer, "Forgive Your people Israel whom You have redeemed, O LORD, and do not place the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of Your people Israel.’ And the bloodguiltiness shall be forgiven them. So you shall remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the eyes of the LORD."(Deuteronomy 21.8-9) Someone has to pray; someone has to intercede; someone has to do right.

King David well knew his own nature of loving God and yet failing Him miserably. We read His personal comfort with this from Psalm 32. "How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!" And Isaiah the prophet was convinced of his own sins, his own wrong talking, lashon hara, and found God's grace. He reported it as follows: "He touched my mouth with a burning coal and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (6.7)

It takes an agent of forgiveness, a bloody sacrifice, a mediator, and humility to make this all 'work.' Maybe that's why Jewish people like me are fascinated by and eventually succumb to the amazing grace of God revealed in His Messiah, Yeshua. He has done it all for us. We enter by faith into that reality, and we find real peace.

No wonder Rabbi Saul of Tarsus (some call him the Apostle Paul) said this, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Messiah also has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4.32) We learn forgiveness from the One who forgave us. We treat others as we have been treated.

Being edited makes sense, then. And grace is truly amazing when you experience that. Will you do so just now? Receive God's love in Yeshua, and ask Him to forgive you. That is His desire. He did it all for you.

11 October 2016

Hope, where is it? A Yom Kippur message

G’mar Chatimah Tovah. May you be inscribed and sealed at the end for good. That’s one of the best greetings on this holiday. Of course, when I grew up the greeting was “good yontif.” And then we wish each other an easy fast. And a common reply as we ponder not eating for 25 hours is “I hope so!” Everyone from Desmond Tutu to Albert Einstein to another 10,000 quick find entries has a comment about the idea of hope. Mumford and Sons, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, John Longmire and Jason Day…everyone has a hope and a dream and a quote on Wikipedia, or so it seems.

Ask for a quote on emotion or Sydney Swans, or a quote on wisteria or bottle brushes and you will find hundreds, but type in ‘hope’ and this request will garner 10,000 before I can even finish clicking my computer’s “Find” button. Here’s one: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Martin Luther King, Jr. And another from the wife of the current US president, “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world's problems at once but don't ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” -Michelle Obama.

On Sunday I sat with some friends in Collaroy and learned that one of them was working on her Ph.D. in clinical psychology on the theme of ‘hope.’ This seriously excited me. And my excitement added to her excitement. She wanted to know my definition of hope. Hmm, I don’t know that I’ve ever really processed a singular definition of that. So I tried. And failed miserably. I know it’s a concept for a future. I know it’s related to faith, but is somehow distinct from it. Let me ask you—how would you define the word ‘hope?’

John Piper gave a sermon 30 years ago in which he wrote this, “Richard Sibbes, one of the great old Puritan preachers of Cambridge who died in 1635, wrote a whole book (175 pages) on Psalm 42:5. He was called “the sweet dropper” because of how much confidence and joy his sermons caused. He called his book The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, because in Psalm 42:5 that is exactly what you have, the soul arguing with itself, preaching to itself. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God!”

Hoping in God does not come naturally for sinners like us. We must preach it to ourselves, and preach diligently and forcefully, or we will give way to a downcast and disquieted spirit.” (http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/what-is-hope) In this sermon Piper says that the English term “hope” is used in three senses:
1) a desire for something good in the future,
2) the thing in the future that we desire, and
3) the basis or reason for thinking that our desire may indeed be fulfilled.

All of these seem to include a bit of uncertainty. And I tried to share this with my mate on Sunday. But biblical hope is fixed, like an anchor for our soul (Hebrews 6.19), like a helmet which is sure, and that guarded a Roman soldier in First Century Judea (1 Thessalonians 5.8). Piper says biblical hope is “A confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.”

I like that. And I agree with that. Confidence because it WILL come to pass. That’s good hope. That’s biblical hope. During the last 15 months I’ve been watching albeit from afar the activity of the US presidential election process. For months candidates try to line up endorsements and gather funds enough to last the distance. They seek to gather friends who actually might end up opposing them and their posturing and jockeying is a marvel to behold.

At the end of last year the actual voting in the primary season began. It’s rather like our finals series in footy. Some candidates were eliminated in the opening contests and thus were out by February, while others lasted a bit longer. Now we are down to two major party candidates and two lesser knowns.

And many are hitching their wagons to the candidacy of one or the other. That’s what they call ‘hope’ but for me it’s just wishful thinking. As we have seen with the plebiscite or the greyhound races, with the GST or immigration policies, what may seem likely might end up tossed aside, as politics is more like a horserace than some would like to admit. Think Melbourne Cup.

Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. And tonight we have sung and prayed, confessed and admitted fault. We have apologized to God for many things. Let’s talk about the idea of apology for a while. The definition is either:
1) a formal expression of regret at being unable to attend a meeting or social function.
a very poor or inadequate example of or an excuse for, inadequate example of, poor imitation of, poor substitute for, pale shadow of, mockery of, caricature of "a dire apology for a decent flat"

I am thinking of Mr. Trump’s apology on Friday last week. He said this, “If I have offended anyone, I’m sorry.” This might be best characterized as a non-apology.

Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee offered Fox 13 this observation: "That was an apology for getting caught. That was not an apology for the behavior."

The Huffington Post’s Paige Lavender, who is a Senior Political Editor, wrote, “While some were surprised that Trump had issued his “first apology,” many on Twitter noted that he didn’t actually apologize for his comments, which could be interpreted as the Republican presidential nominee encouraging sexual assault.


Rather, Trump said he was sorry some people had taken offense ― not for being offensive.”

I remember televangelist Jimmy Swaggart’s confession “I have sinned” when he was caught out in 1987 with a prostitute.

And I think of Deborah Levi’s four theses on apologies:
Deborah Levi offers the following possibilities:
1) Tactical apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology that is rhetorical and strategic—and not necessary heartfelt
2) Explanation apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology that is merely a gesture that is meant to counter an accusation of wrongdoing. In fact, it may be used to defend the actions of the accused
3) Formalistic apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology after being admonished to do so by an authority figure—who may also be the individual who suffered the wrongdoing
4) Happy ending apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing fully acknowledges responsibility for the wrongdoing and is genuinely remorseful

So let me ask… what is Yom Kippur for you? What kind of apology do we offer tonight? Have we really sinned in all those ways for which we said, “May it be Your will, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, to forgive all our sins, to pardon all our iniquities, and to grant us atonement for all our transgressions.”

Did you repent? Will you repent yet?

You might say, “But I didn’t sin as badly as Donald Trump.” Or you say, “I don’t believe God cares enough about me to even notice me” or you might say, “I repented last year; that ought to be enough.” Look, you can say anything you want, and you can make God to be your servant or to be your judge or you can be his judge by saying, “Nothing changes in the world when people pray.” Each of us has to deal with our own apology and our own hope in response to who we think God actually is.

Listen to this from the aforementioned Psalm, Psalm 42.

“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
The psalmist is saying, “when people insult me, when they taunt me about faith and my religion, that it makes me really sad. And that sadness sometimes makes me feel like giving up.” So the psalmist says.

Look what follows in verses 6-7: “O my God, my soul is in despair within me; therefore I remember Thee from the land of the Jordan, and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the sound of Thy waterfalls.” No matter where the psalmist finds himself, in the midst of his despair, he decides to remember the Lord, and to call upon His name. That is a function of hope. Finding the USB stick or looking at the words on our doorposts, listening to a faith-filled song or hymn… all of these are useful to remind ourselves of the One who bought us and gives us eternity.

Then finally for the 2nd time in verse 11 (and there will be one more reminder/ chorus in chapter 43), we read, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? and why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance, and my God.” The psalmist concludes his aches, his hopelessness, his wondering with a challenge to his own soul. He says to himself, “Hey, it’s bad, but there’s something much worse. It’s the despair of being alone, far from God, and away from His personal attention. The sons of Korach who wrote this particular psalm are saying that their countenance is fallen, but God will raise their heads. Things may look bleak but without God they are bleaker still.
Hope, that’s the ticket. Hope in the living God who will make all things better and for His purposes.

And this is not only for us Jewish people. When God will send His servant, His messiah, listen to what Isaiah predicts will happen.
“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed, Until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.” (Isaiah 42.1-4)

Let me ask you, Who are the coastlands? Matthew answers that question in his biography of Yeshua in chapter 12, “AND IN HIS NAME THE GENTILES WILL HOPE.” (.21)

So whether you are like me, a Jew, tonight here at our Kol Nidre service, or you are a Gentile, even watching on the internet on Facebook Live, either live or later on our video channel, even on YouTube, this word is true. God wants to give you hope. And our biggest battle is often inside our own head and heart. We know ourselves, and we know the depth or the shallowness of our own apologies. We know we are not the most authentic believer out there. We have failed. We have sinned. And then we say, “Wait, I’m a believer. I’ve been a believer for decades. How could I have fallen so far? How could God even begin to consider forgiving me?”

Here’s the deal. Grace and hope are sisters in the same family. Without grace, you are right to beg the default position of failure. You have failed God; you will fail Him again next year. Maybe with different sins, but you will fail again. That’s not an excuse to carry on. It’s the reality of our humanness. AND YET…

God wants to give us hope. Real hope. Not hope with uncertainty. But biblical hope. Assurance. The reality of a confidence in the Almighty that is not braggadocio nor false humility. It’s about knowing who He is, and what He has done, and what He will do on our behalf.

Listen to this from Rabbi Saul of Tarsus, in his letter to the Roman believers, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and 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.” Thanks be to God, amen?

What does not disappoint? Hope. Why? Because of God’s awesome love poured out into us by the Holy Spirit. We have His Spirit. He loves us. We are His. Hallelujah!

God wants to give us hope. And on that you can bank your apology and your Final Prayers tonight. In a few minutes we will hear the sounds of the shofar blast. And remember, we heard it 100 times on Rosh Hashanah. That introduced us to the 10 days of Awe. Now we will conclude them. And with the conclusion we are not wishful thinking about the Almighty. We are serious that He has forgiven us in Yeshua. And we are justified, that is, declared righteous, just as if we’d never sinned, because of our faith in the death of Messiah, the love of God poured out on a Roman cross, to give us all eternal life.

No wonder when the shofar sounds, the long t’kiah g’dolah, we will shout Hallelujah and we will rejoice. We are forgiven! If you have never received Yeshua as your messiah; if you have never professed faith in Him publicly, then why not do that right here and right now? You might be watching in the privacy of your apartment or on a public computer. No matter where you are, or who you are, you might even be running for state government, or be a candidate for US president—real hope is not mixed with any uncertainty. God sent His only Son to earth, to live and teach, and then to die on a cross to grant us justification, to forgive our sins, and to bring us to Himself. Say “Yes” to Yeshua now. Invite Him to be Lord of your life. Agree with Him that you are a sinner and that He alone can save you. That will give you a hope which will never disappoint. Now and forever.

If you want some words to say, try these, “Father in the name of Yeshua, I’m sorry. Really sorry for my sins. I don’t deserve your love. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but those who believe in you say you want to forgive me and be in relationship with me. So I receive your love and grace. I believe Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah and Lord of life. I acknowledge His grace and want His help to walk this out, tonight and from now on. Thank you for saving me. Thanks for your love. Amen.”