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.