31 August 2016

Love of Torah? Gene Wilder

One of my favourite movies of all time was "The Frisco Kid" starring Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford. It's the oddball buddy movie of unlikely companions who travel across the US in the Wild West days of the XIX century. Wilder plays the lowly rabbi from Poland and Ford plays the outlaw cowboy, and together they make their way to San Francisco for Wilder to assume the leadership of the fledgling Jewish congregation there. It's poignant at times, hysterical in irony, and plain fun. There are three scenes where the sefer Torah (Torah scroll) comes into play. (Maybe more, but I remember only three).

The rabbi meets up with some bad guys on the train from Philadelphia who steal everything from him, including the Sefer Torah. They see no value in it, and toss it from the train. He also is tossed, and goes back to find it even before he regathers his own clothing.
The second scene of note is here on You Tube where the Indian chief tests the rabbi on two accounts: One, can G-d make rain, and two, does the rabbi love Torah more than his own life. It includes a firey scene and a pseudo-crucifixion motif as well. A bit oddball, but why not in this 1979 classic? It smacks of Mel Brooks throughout. The third and final scene also involves fire and the bad guys who have been chasing our pair from almost the beginning. This may be the full movie, but I'm sure you can rent it online somewhere, too.

OK, so today Gene Wilder passed away at 83 years old, but I will always fondly remember him in Willie Wonka and in Frisco Kid and as Dr Frankenstein (however you pronounce it). He was born Jerome Silverman in Milwaukee, in 1933.

May you find the Torah and the God of Torah to be a joy to your soul, and may God's words give you life as you seek Him all day today.

19 August 2016

Corroboration: Watergate, Rio Olympics Ryan Lochte, and the Bible?

The scandal of American Olympian Ryan Lochte is now becoming clearer. Last week we heard his story of being robbed at gun point and then within a day the IOC said the story was fabricated. Then the American press took on the IOC, and we here in Australia wondered what was the truth. Now with some serious discrediting by his co-conspirators, Lochte stands alone with the story, which now is proven to be a lie. He was not held up by gunmen. He was not robbed. The story is worse than a fable; it's a lie.


This morning I reread the startling and detailed tale of Charles Colson, known as the Hatchet Man in the White House of Richard Nixon. His story, Born Again, chronicles the inside of the Nixon years like no other ever did. Colson was among other powerful men like Haldeman, Kissinger, Haig, and so many of whom Colson says they were "the 12 most powerful men in the world" at the time. They couldn't keep up the lies of not being involved in the Watergate scandal for even three weeks once the Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, let the news story out in 1973. Truth has a way of needing to be corroborated and in the modern era we have more and more methods of verification.

In fact, as a result of what happened to Colson in meeting with various Christian men and reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, and his eventual born-again experience, Colson testified about the central tenet of Christianity, the resurrection. "“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

If a story can be fabricated, and others are willingly partners in the delusion, it's only a matter of time before the truth will come out. The story is told of four university students who were scheduled to sit their final examination for their course. On the morning of the exam, the professor noted that these four young men who were often seen together, were not present for the exam. Finally, just before the end of the allotted time, the young men arrived. One told the professor, "We're sorry, but on our way to the class, our car had a flat tyre and we had to change it. Please excuse us and we will take the test next week." The professor said calmly, "No need for that. Just take this exam which I will write for you just now. It won't take long, and you will be on your way." The boys quickly agreed.

The professor wrote one question on each of four pieces of paper. He assigned the boys to go to the four corners of the auditorium before they opened their exam. They happily complied. Then they sat and opened their paper. They were shocked and knew that they were in trouble. Why? Each student had one question on the single sheet of paper.

Which tyre blew out?

The professor knew that truth stories can always be corroborated. And he knew that lies will always be exposed when shown in the light. The boys were caught out and exposed as liars. They failed not only the exam but also the class. Shame.

Which makes the Colson quote so significant. The twelve apostles in the Newer Testament not only preached about Yeshua; they lived and died for Him as well. They had seen and heard something that changed their lives. And the truths of that Messiah they followed was enough for them, for each of them, separately and together, to proclaim His love and endure harsh treatment for that proclamation.

I believe the Bible because it is corroborated by history and by itself and by those who choose to follow it and live it in their lives. Enough people would have been around after the supposed death and resurrection of this Jesus (Yeshua) that had he then appeared in the Galilee or in Jerusalem or Iran or Egypt or wherever, there would have been such a scandal that the entire Newer Testament would have been shown to be a hoax. If someone had discovered the physical body of Jesus long after his alleged resurrection, then the most significant piece of evidence on which the Gospel (Besorah Tovah) of the claims of His followers, would have been a lie, and thus the entire claim of His person and His Messiah-ship would have been invalidated.

But He didn't show up in Lebanon. He didn't show up in another morgue. The body of Yeshua was actually brutalised, then buried, and then rose from the dead. His followers who cowered in fear because of His trial, arrest, and execution, became men of great bravery and fortitude. Why? Because of a fable or hoax? No. Because they saw Him alive and well after they saw Him die. They ate with Him. Then they saw Him ascend in bodily form into the heights of the heavens. The story is not invented. It's told and retold, it's corroborated. And that's how truth is verified.

What about you? What do you think of the story of Yeshua? Have you read it? Have you considered the truth claims in it? How else will you decide on its veracity? Truth be told.

12 August 2016

Do they like or dislike us?

We live in this tension of disapprobation. At certain times we are understood to be saying that the religion of the rabbis is wrong, dead wrong, and that only through Yeshua is eternal life given to anyone. At other times, we encounter Jewish people who say, "They may believe something different than I do, but they are Jews, and that's good enough for me." We even hear "Good luck" extended to us, in our book shop, or after a large gathering with prayers and songs, which might look like a church or synagogue service. One problem we face is this: Do we want to be accepted or rejected? Do people really understand who we are and what we are saying? And if they do understand the issue, are we liked or disliked?

A Jewish author and scholar here in Sydney was a featured speaker at a Jewish conference in Brisbane earlier this year. She was at the synagogue on Margaret Street that Saturday morning as I was, to worship and participate in Jewish life, as is our custom. After the services, we all retired to the upper room where a meal was served and some people gave short talks to the small gathering. She was among the speakers. I enjoyed her commentary.

Afterwards, in the clean up and farewell time, I approached her and told her that I appreciated her comments. I introduced myself. She said, "Oh, yes I know who you are." I told her that we sold one of her books at our book shop in Bondi Junction. After a bit of uncomfortable small talk, she said, "I won't wish you good luck. Shabbat shalom." And that was that.

"Disapprobation is not only a synonym of "disapproval" but a relative as well. Both words were coined in the mid-17th century by adding the prefix dis-, meaning "the opposite or absence of," to earlier and more "approving" words: synonyms "approbation" and "approval." The Latin verb approbare, meaning "to approve," is an ancestor of both of those words. Another descendant of "approbare" in English is "approbate," which, as you may have guessed by now, means "to approve."" (Merriam Webster Dictionary online)

I remember a secondary disapprobation back in the mid-1980s. A group of us Jews for Jesus went to the Diamond District in New York City to investigate purchasing diamonds. It was Friday, midday. My friend Loren and I walked from one shop to another. Others went to other shops. We found an arcade with a couple dozen shops inside one building. I saw the sign, "Mendelsohn Jewellers" and approached the counter. The frail older man behind the counter saw us, and stood up. Then he saw our t-shirts with the lettering "Jews for Jesus" and he immediately asked us to leave his shop. "Please go. Just go," he said in a softer voice than I was expecting. I told him that I, too, was a Mendelsohn, and that we were hunting for diamonds. He insisted that we leave his counter. "They are watching," he told me. "If I sell to you, no one else will buy from me today." I'll never forget the pain his face showed, nor the pain of this secondary boycott I felt.

Back in December last year, reports swirled around like a Trump hairline that rabbis were 'accepting Jesus.'
Of course, that wasn't exactly right. Here's the news about the rabbis from Israel Today. Other agencies reported something similar.

To be fair, noted scholars and authors from Montefiore and Schweitzer at the beginning of the 20th Century, through to Amy-Jill Levine and Shmuley Boteach in our day have tried to influence the world, especially the religious world about Jesus and Christianity saying along with the Byrds and the Doobie Brothers, "Jesus is just alright with me." They want the Jewish people to re-welcome Jesus as "one of us" and to knock back the disapprobation caused by centuries of the dialectic and the hostility. In the 20th and now 21st Century, we have a shrunken world where we have to 'get along.' Rabbi Evan Moffic's newest book is titled What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus: A New Way of Seeing the Most Influential Rabbi in History (Abingdon Press).
What drove a Reform rabbi to write a book about Jesus aimed at both Christians and Jews?

A reviewer of the book (Steven H Propp) by Prof. Donald Hagner of Fuller Seminary, wrote this about Hagner's seminal work on this subject of the re-welcome (The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus"): "Donald Hagner is Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he taught from 1976 until his retirement nearly 30 years later. He has written/edited many other books, such as New Testament, The: A Historical and Theological Introduction, New Testament Exegesis and Research: A Guide for Seminarians, etc.

He wrote in the Preface to this 1984 book, "I write avowedly as a Christian and not as a 'neutral' observer. I write furthermore as an evangelical Christian... who holds to the ... inspiration of the biblical writings and who attempts to employ historical-critical methodologies in a way that is fair to what is being studied. I do NOT claim that I am more 'objective' than the Jewish writers examined here... my claim in the present book is this: the Jewish reclamation of Jesus has been possible only by being unfair to the Gospels. In order to arrive at their modern portraits of Jesus, Jewish scholars are forced to select from the Gospels what seems to agree with their views and to reject everything that does not... Jewish scholars bring expectations (not to say a priori conclusions) to the Gospels that are far from congenial to these writings." (Pg. 13-14)

Of Samuel Sandmel's We Jews and Jesus he says, "He writes from the standpoint of a liberal Jew ... [but] Sandmel assumes and builds on the subculture of modern critical scholarship." (Pg. 32) Of David Flusser's Jesus, he says, "Jesus, however, he argues, is truly understood only against the Jewish backdrop of the later church's faith in him. Flusser's book is notable in that it is the first book on Jesus by a Jew in which little is made of the Jewishness of the author, indicating the extent to which the Jewish perception is becoming widely understood as the truly historical view of Jesus." (Pg. 33-34)

Then mixed in with these thoughts are the words of Yeshua Himself. He said, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets." (Luke 6.26) I've never really had to worry about everyone speaking well of me, due to my many sins, but still, this warning gave me pause today. Consider this contrasting proverb, "When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." (16.7) So which is it-- they like me, or they don't like me? They wish me 'good luck' or turn and walk away with anger or hostility?

I suppose my conclusion today is that the message I proclaim is one thing and my manner is quite another. If I give people offence by my manner and behaviour then 'woe to me.' But if I live consistent with my message, and others are offended, then, so be it. I don't wish disapprobation on myself or on anyone. I wish people would read the Bible for themselves. I wish we would all get along. I want world peace. I want the stabbings and beheadings to stop. And I believe Jesus, as Prince of Peace, will usher that in one day. And in the meantime... let us all ponder who God is, what He wants for us all, and accept the real Jesus as Lord and Messiah, with or without approval from others. His approval is all that really matters in the end. Paul wrote the believers in Galatia: "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ." (1.10)

09 August 2016

Consider yourself...one of us (From Broadway's "Oliver!") and Singapore

Back in the late 1960s I was in high school and acted and sang in the musical "Oliver!" which has some great Cockney commentary on life. Here's a video clip of "Consider Yourself" from the movie which came out in 1968. Movie clip

This picture is Jack, the Artful Dodger, welcoming Oliver Twist into the community of small-time and small-in-stature street urchins who worked for Fagin in 19th Century London. By the way, Ron Moody who played Fagin, won a Golden Globe, but not an Oscar that year. The movie won the Oscar for "Best Picture." I was glad for Moody's victory at the GG's, but then I think about the Dickens character and remember that Fagin in that book is Jewish, and a crook. He's no less a loveable old thief than Shylock in Shakespeare. Ah, anti-Semitism rears its ugly head yet again.

Even so, the song "Consider Yourself" was on the radio yesterday. I hadn't even thought of it in years, and here I was singing out loud along with the radio. Thankfully the people in the next car didn't notice. My teenage tenor voice has lost a few notes to be sure. And then I thought of the words. I'll not include all the lyrics, but some are especially poignant.

Consider yourself at home.
Consider yourself one of the family.
We've taken to you so strong.
It's clear we're going to get along.

Consider yourself well in
Consider yourself part of the furniture.
There isn't a lot to spare.
Who cares?... What ever we've got we share!

Consider yourself our mate.
We don't want to have no fuss,
For after some consideration, we can state...
Consider yourself One of us!

Even though the Artful Dodger was recruiting to the band of thieves and for his own advantage, the welcome message is unmistakeable. And yesterday and still today I'm pondering the message of welcome. Especially in contrast to the vast feeling of 'un-welcome' which is characterising the planet. Syrian refugees are bandied about as political fodder, but they are at the end of the day-- people! Then so many on FB and Twitter, in this age of social media are less than social. The amount of hostility and rash commentary is equally unmistakeable. People are less moderated by social mores on social media than ever before. The polarised commentaries about ISIS, politics, religion, race, ... it's all there. And it's all out there.

In the year 2000 I went to Singapore. I'll never forget the many visits to the synagogue there named Magen Avot. Rabbi Mordechai Abergel had been the rabbi for about a decade. He was young, born in France, trained in Chabad/ Lubavitch in the Tri-State area (Connecticut, New York, New Jersey) and his first major post was to Singapore. Imagine that! He and his wife Simcha had a few kids. When I first went to Magen Avot, without going into all the details, let's just say he was unwelcoming to me. In fact, at the end of the service, and after the chicken rice luncheon, he asked me to leave. OK, he kicked me out. Scandalous, ridiculous, but he felt he had to oblige the man near me at lunch who dobbed me in to the rabbi. Fair enough; it's his party, he can cry if he wants to.

I could go deep into that story, that the first time I visited was the Shabbat called "Vayeira" which features the reading from the Torah of Genesis 18-22. Amazing stories, and I'll let you watch/ listen to this in 60 seconds here on YouTube . But of significance in that first attendance by me at the synagogue was what the rabbi taught that day about the 'sin of Sodom.' Like so many others in the liberal wing of the church, and so many in shules, Rabbi Abergel taught that the sin was inhospitality. Not that it was sexual sin; no, it was not welcoming Lot. Want to read more on this one?

OK, even so, after a sermon on not welcoming, to be kicked out, well, that seemed very bad. No, it was very bad.

But then the contrast could not have been clearer. Later that afternoon, I was the featured speaker at a small group entitled "Prayer for Israel." This monthly gathering is serious about God and the Jewish people. They are mostly all Chinese Christians with a deep love for the land, the people, and the God of Israel. And when I walked into the room where we met that day, the lady in charge, a lawyer by profession, widened her arms and said, "Brother Bob, welcome." That's it... here was the Artful Dodger's greeting live and in colour. Here was the greeting of a godly woman making me to feel one of us. And it worked. And it still works.

Welcome is not only a word that's a compound word (Good/well and come/enter) that finds its equivalent in German's wilkomen, Spanish's bienvenidos, Hebrew's Baruch Haba... it's one that I find in life that brings a calm, a warmth, a sense of conclusion and peace. Maybe you find that as well.

Yeshua, the Messiah said to the Jewish people of His day, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’” (Matthew 23.37-39)

In other words, until the Jewish people, en masse, say to Yeshua, "Welcome!" we will have a desolate house and be without our Messiah. But when we shout "Welcome" to the King of Kings, He will come to us, our inclusion and HIS inclusion will be complete, and eternity will step into time for the final time. What a day of rejoicing that will be!

Why not live in that 'welcome' today? Say "yes" to the Messiah Yeshua. Consider this for yourself! Let Him know you are welcoming Him into your life. Today. Today is the day of salvation. Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart. Open your heart to the Saviour and Redeemer. You will be included in His kingdom. He will welcome you...how awesome is that?

As a final footnote, this year I'm speaking again at PFI and you are invited. HEre's the info: Sat, 27 Aug 2016 at 3 pm. The meeting will be held at the building of the Bible Society of Singapore, 7 Armenian Street, Singapore, 17993. Call for more information: (65) 6532 4188. Hope to see you there!

06 August 2016

Blood everywhere...(ANZAC, Democrats,

An Australian Facebook friend wrote about the Spirit of the ANZACs. "Next year marks the 100 year anniversary of the Australian Light Horsemen freeing Beersheba from the Islamic Caliphate (Ottoman Empire). If Australia will continue to support the descendents of Israel, then she will continue to be blessed. However if Australia turns her back on Israel, by calling for Israel to give more land for peace, then not only will she be trampling under foot the blood of the ANZAC soldiers, denying their victories, and returing the land to the ones they liberated it from, but she will also find herself fighting against the living G-d!"

I value the work of the ANZACs at Gallipoli, Turkey, and in the entire campaign in what was then labelled Palestine at the end of World War I. The history is clearly unpacked in this article from AWM .
The simplest description is "The battle of Beersheba took place on 31 October 1917 as part of the wider British offensive collectively known as the third Battle of Gaza. The final phase of this all day battle was the famous mounted charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade. Commencing at dusk, members of the brigade stormed through the Turkish defences and seized the strategic town of Beersheba. The capture of Beersheba enabled British Empire forces to break the Ottoman line near Gaza on 7 November and advance into Palestine."

That anniversary in 16 months will be noteworthy for the Aussies, the Brits, maybe even for the world. So the question is begged with which I began. What does the phrase, "trample under foot the blood of the ANZAC soldiers" mean?

Actually the Bible uses a similar sounding phrase nine times. Four in the Older Testament and five in the Newer Testament portion. Three are direct quotes from Yeshua. Only once does the word 'foot' actually appear, and seems unnecessary. Trampling seems to imply 'under foot' as it is a visual word.

After the recent Democratic National Convention, having been blurry-eyed from watching much of both conventions, I posted on FB and Twitter about some of my takeaways. "My takeaways from the ‪#‎DNC‬: Black preachers get the crowd moving. Four days is too long for a pep rally. Videos of Trump's poor rhetoric were excellent. Hoping for Hillary Clinton to include victims of ‪#‎abortion‬ in her Village. ‪#‎Im‬(almost)withher. God was mentioned much more than at ‪#‎RNC‬. Balloons every night would make things more fun. Ended in prayer--that's good. Michelle and Barack are amazing orators." I enjoyed some of the speeches and routines. I found neither convention compelling, but I saw more clearly how I should be voting in 100 days. When I mentioned anything good about Hillary, almost immediately I received more than a fair share of pro-Trump, name-calling of the Dem's candidate. If I mentioned anything positive about the Repubs many took me to task.

That whole posturing and especially the quoting of any evidence came almost exclusively from Fox News or MSNBC. I was gobsmacked. It's almost as if whole chunks of society are 'mediated' by the ultra-right or ultra-left. People aren't thinkers anymore, we are merely quoters. And bad quoters at that.

This excursus into the topic of the conventions allows me to discuss many of the one-issue people from the right. I've been told and retold, scolded and re-scolded about Hillary. Don't I know anything? They tell me that she's an anti-Israel, left-wing, liar and flip flopper who is in bed with Wall Street and a baby killer. Yes, one or two have even told me she is a witch, a practicing witch who believes in Molech and has sacrificed children to the ancient god of fire.
One wrote, "If we can reason away murdering our unborn children and put anything above that we are so being absorbed and digested by society our culture to a point that we don't even see it. We need prayers." One cited Mother Teresa, " It is a poverty that a child must die so that we may live as we wish. Mother Teresa"

The business of abortion in the US which has seen over 58 million children removed from life since 1973 is huge. Planned Parenthood had a very grand welcome by Hillary and the Democrats and is well entrenched in their platform. The abortion mill well represents the phrases trampled under foot and subsumed by the blood of the infants-to-be.

The Bible records this in the Book of Hebrews: "How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?" This phrase of 'trampled under foot' seems to be a synonym for disregarded. And it's linked with a blood covenant reference. That is clearer in the book of Ezekiel.
I quote this passage which seems to depict abortion with no apology:
“As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born. When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ (Chapter 16.4-6)

God hates the shedding of innocent blood.
God hates the taking of a human life, especially one which has no voice to self-defend.
God wants us all to know Him personally, to regard Him with honour and to receive the Spirit of Grace.

What will you do with Yeshua? Please, I urge you, receive His love and care. His blood was spilled for you; He died for you taking on Himself your sins and mine. Any and every sin. And He longs to be in relationship with you. Don't disregard this blog. Don't disregard His voice. Today, if you hear His voice, don't harden your heart. (Psalm 95, Hebrews 3, Hebrews 4) And write to let me know your choice. Thanks for listening.

05 August 2016

Which Religion on the census?

On Tuesday in homes and flats all across Australia, each person is required to fill out the census form. We do this every five years like clockwork. A person who is spending the night, who usually lives elsewhere, has to fill out the census at your house! As a result of the information, which finally we are able to submit online for the first time this year, the government will establish all kinds of programs and reevaluate what they have used in the past.

Everyone is required to be counted, and there are pages and pages of information to submit. Only one question is not mandated to answer. That is, what is your religion? I find this most interesting. They want to gather data on so many topics, including our genealogy, our work, our residence, our interests, but not our religion.

I show my form here so you can be encouraged to fill yours out in a similar way. You will notice that Judaism is not listed as one of the options. If that be so, then Messianic Judaism will certainly not be listed. But we need to be counted. All Jews who believe in Jesus as Messiah are "messianic Jews" and as such, we should call ourselves that. Most in government, and most on Facebook and most around the world haven't sorted out the meaning of this phrase. So we have a lot to teach.

In Israel, when I was there last month, a couple different people told me that "messianic Jews" are those Haredi, the ultra-Orthodox who want to kick the Muslims off the Temple mount and rebuild the Temple. I tried to explain that I was a messianic Jew, but not one of the Haredi. I'm not sure that I clarified it very well to those men. But maybe you will understand it when I say "A Messianic Jew is a Jewish person who believes Jesus is the Messiah." That's as difficult and as simple as I can make it.

Now some messianic Jews attend Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian or any number of other churches. That's fine for them, but for the census, we should consolidate our name, make that known among the Australian Board of Statistics (ABS).

MESSIANIC JEWISH... write it in this year. OK? It will beg the question and you and I will get a chance to keep answering who is who in 'our religion.'