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.
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!