28 May 2017

Margaret Court, Qantas and morality

No other tennis player in the last 50 years has come close to the record number of victories and the dominance on the tennis court as Margaret Court. She currently lives in Perth, Western Australia, and is the pastor of Victory Life Church. I've met her on a couple occasions and when I read this report from the Channel 9 News network, I was dismayed and disappointed.

Here's the rub. Margaret came out and said that she would not be using Qantas any longer. Seems that Qantas started this controversy with their announcement about gay marriage. Margaret Court simply is responding to their statement. And she has that right. But some in the gay and gay-loving community find her comments out of bounds and thus are demanding as Channel 9 reports the arena in Melbourne should be renamed.

Naming arenas for sports greats like Hindmarsh Stadium or Lambeau Field is not related to the ethics or the goodness of the named one. It's about the contribution to the sport. Rod Laver, Alan Border, Sir Donald Bradman... any one of these stadia could be stripped of their named rights if someone reports their being less-than- something. From what I've heard some significant sports figures were not exactly wholesome and fair-go-givers. John Kennedy has been shown to be a womanizer and yet, all across the US there are highways, libraries, and yes, even sports stadia named for him. Shall the thought-police or morals police start looking into every named location worldwide?

Martina Navratilova, herself a lesbian and tennis great, tweeted twice yesterday,"Maybe it's time to change the name of the Margaret Court Arena then... and I guess Margaret will be taking the boat on her next trip?:)," she tweeted.
She added in another tweet: "thank you Qantas for your support. And Margaret - you have gone too far. Shame on you... #wrongsideofhistory."

So what do you think? Is Margaret Smith Court on the wrong side of history? Or are the thought police going too far in preventing free speech and personal opinions?

I applaud Margaret Court. She's a champion on the court, and in the court of hostile public opinion. Everyone, including Ms Navratilova has a right to speak their mind. The world is a better place when we talk with each other. But tennis is tennis. Let the arena stay as it is.

22 May 2017

Jerusalem at the same time: Coincidence?

I wonder when Donald Trump, president of the US, decided to visit Jerusalem. Was it during his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu? Was it after some advisor reminded him that Wednesday is Yom Yerushalayim? Or did he read my tweet that I was going to be in town starting Tuesday? Unless his motorcade prevents my movements, which is highly likely, and he gets out to shake hands (which is highly unlikely), I will never know. But I can imagine, can't I?

Yes, I'll be in Israel at the same time as the Donald. But our purposes are significantly different. He will be on a lecture tour, although he insisted that's not what he went to Saudi to do, and I will be meeting up with Jewish leaders and agencies for various purposes. There is room here at the Great Synagogue in the sanctuary...maybe we should have a default meet-up time and date, just in case it works out.

Wednesday will be the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, and as such will be celebrated with all kinds of activities and foods around town. Of course, reunification indicates something about unity, and if I remember right from my last year's visit, there was deeper division than I had experienced in a long time. More Palestinian flags, downright hostility to me by one man, in the Old City, not for being a Jew for Jesus, but for being a Jew! From what I overheard, that's not the mood of the young people, but I'm hoping that this week, across the town, there will be significant unity among believers and those who don't yet believe.

Maybe Donald and I will see eye-to-eye.
Maybe Donald and Bibi will see eye-to-eye.
Maybe I won't get caught in his motorcade.
Maybe Yeshua will return to set up His throne--- it's going to happen. And it's going to happen in Jerusalem. I'd love that to happen.

Whenever that does happen, be ready, dear reader. That reality of the return of Messiah, to establish His government, way better the Republicans in the White House or Macron in Paris or Hassan Rouhani in Iran. The rule or Kingdom of God will be established throughout the world, and all will bow their knee to the Almighty.

17 May 2017

The boring bits

I watched the news at 6 pm tonight. There were accidents and violent shootings, arson attacks on buildings and drugs associated with football players of note. But when I think about it, most of life will never get on the news. Most of life is boring. Most reality isn't news at all. Most of the traffic on the road will not have an accident. Most people will go to work on the bus or the train, and simply pay their fares, walk to the office, get their morning coffee, perform their daily tasks, and go home, on the bus or train, eat dinner, retire, and start over tomorrow.

The news isn't comprehensive at all. It's only the stuff that stands out, above or usually below, the levels of normal situations of life. Humanity and dare I say, nature, usually carries on in its regular course. The patterns or orbits of the planets are consistent, they say, but for many that simply sounds boring.

A woman named Barb Raveling says many things in her blog, and this one might speak to our point today. She highlights 9 Bible answers to the question of boredom, really just gets things back in perspective about percentages of thrills and ennui.

Filling up our ears with noise and losing time to contemplate, that's a massive result of the fear of boredom and the lack of completeness that is found in a relationship with the Lord. Most of life is the boring bits. Walking with the Almighty through it all, that's the thrill, not of a roller coaster, but of a God who extends His love to us, daily, hourly.

I'm not on the television show 24, although I try to take life 24 hours at a time. One day at a time. Surrendering my life to the care of God, who ever wants me to know Him and walk with Him each day. Boring? Ok, most of life is just that. I don't sink every 10-foot putt, nor return every lob to my opponent's court deep enough. I don't answer every unbeliever's questions with satisfaction, and the drudgery of sameness nips at my heels throughout each day. Yeah, so? I'm not in a Tom Cruise movie. I'm just me. And that will have to do for now.

01 May 2017

PM and President Trump to meet Thursday

The Australian reports today about the meeting this week on the USS Intrepid in New York City. Read the whole article here. In short there is a retelling of the testy telephone conversation in late January and the iconoclastic diplomatic behaviour of the neo-president, and some recommendations by Alan Dupont, staff writer.

He says, "Turnbull should pursue three objectives in his meeting with the US President: he should add his voice to those of other US allies urging Trump to play a constructive leadership role internationally; he should try to imbue the President with a deeper ­appreciation of the value of alliances in general and the Australia-US alliance in particular; and he should support a US accommodation with China that minimises the possibility of a full-blown conflict in Asia but pushes back against Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea."

On the ABC-TV Breakfast show this morning, the 'testy' call was described as "rocky' and "robust.' The presenters interviewed Professor James Curran. His bio reads like an academic champion. "Curran is a Nonresident Fellow at the Lowy Institute and Professor of History at the University of Sydney and a Research Associate at the United States Studies Centre. His most recent book is Unholy Fury: Whitlam and Nixon at War (2015). A former analyst with the Office of National Assessments, Curran was a Fulbright Scholar at Georgetown University and in 2013 held the Chair of Australian History at University College Dublin."

I liked his evaluation of the meeting to come. He mentioned the site on the Intrepid as iconic, a warship in NYC, not a meeting in the White House nor at Mar-a-Lago, which he says is "a step down in protocol terms." His take on the meeting is one which will "showcase a defense relationship" from the past. He doesn't anticipate any grand announcements. Curran mentioned the last time a sitting Prime Minister and US president met on a watercraft was President Lyndon Baines Johnson meeting in May, 1968 with Prime Minister John Gorton. Aboard the Sequoia, the two men couldn't hear each other over the sounds of the engine on the yacht as it chugged up the Potomac River in DC. Curran says it's "altogether fitting and proper" for allies to remember the past, shared struggles and sacrifices. But his assessment is that this alliance is "anchored in memory, moored to memory" with "rhetoric and imagery that is awash in sentimentality" but not doing the "hard thinking about what China's rise" means for us, and appears to be an alliance which is "cruising in its own sea of complacency and nostalgia."

What about the TPP? We shall see. Is it only the past we honour, or will there be a consideration as Curran says, of "the broader US/ Asian regional posture." We in Australia are hopeful.

I liked the whole conversation and thought to share it with our followers. The meeting itself is worth considering, but beyond that one, what is the purpose of your meeting with those with whom you will meet this week, or even today? Is it merely a photo op? Is it for the purpose of history and sentimentality? Is it to produce something worthwhile and ongoing?

So, when you go to work this week, as I've already started on our Sunday yesterday, will your going be productive? Will your meet-ups with folks at the trivia night at the local pub be nostalgic or future-looking? Will there be significance to much of what you do today and this week? That's a consideration that is well worth your evaluation. To that, we call you.

Let's make the best of life today. 14 times in the Gospels, 7 times in the book of Acts and 8 times in the rest of the Newer Testament, the word "today" is used. Overall in the entire Bible, it's 190 times! Let's make the best of today. Let's hear Him today and do His will. Let's not let church be a 'photo op' of us with the Almighty.

"For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.
Today, if you would hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, As in the day of Massah in the wilderness, When your fathers tested Me,
They tried Me, though they had seen My work. For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart,
And they do not know My ways. Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.” (Psa. 95.7-11)

Today. Seems a good day to make right with God. And your fellows. Are we good?

30 April 2017

A Bookshop Sale

For no apparent reason, we are conducting a sale of 20%... everything in our Jews for Jesus book shop in Bondi Junction is going to go on sale for one week only, from Friday this week (5th of May) to Friday next week (12th of May). Weekdays only. We are not open on weekends, usually.

Everything including all the Arnold Fruchtenbaum books, Art Katz books, CDs of Paul Wilbur and Marty Goetz, DVDs ranging from teachings to Hollywood movies, Judaica like shofars and prayer shawls, anointing oils and candles. It's a comprehensive sale, nothing is omitted.

If you have an extra Bible or more, and can bring it to the shop, anytime, we'd love to have more used Bibles to give away. We give them freely (Proverbs 23.23, Matthew 10.8), so please be generous, especially if it's a Bible that's still in good nick, but you just haven't opened in over a year. Thanks.

Have you listened to a podcast lately? They are all here. Bible classes, sermons, some one-off teachings. We think you will enjoy learning along with us.

We hope to see you in Sydney, 257 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction, anytime, but certainly during the FNAR sale. God bless you!

22 April 2017

To be or not to be...on Facebook

For about 7 weeks, I've been off Facebook. I have not looked at my page, nor noticed friend requests, nor private messages. What a pleasure it has been to have all that extra time for all kinds of other activities. I also remembered that social connection is worthwhile, so I spent more time on the phone and in-person contact with people in the US and here in Australia. When I was alone at an eatery, I didn't log onto my smart phone to see what others were doing; I read a bit, and pondered a bit, and enjoyed the silence of the media. Alone... not a bad place to be.

Wait, you say, God said, 'It is not good for a man to be alone.' And of course, I agree with that. And that has to do with lifetime relationships between a man and his wife. Still, there are times, when a man has to be alone with God, and a woman has to be pondering all that God is saying to her individually as well. I'm not Roman Catholic, but I always liked St. (Mother) Teresa's comment about prayer: Dan Rather, US news anchor on CBS-TV, once asked Mother Teresa what she said during her prayers. She answered, "I listen." So Dan turned the question and asked, "Well then, what does God say?" Mother Teresa smiled with confidence and answered, "He listens." Another of her famous quotes on solitude is here: "We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls." (Quoted in Quotes
For more famous quotes from this gentle soul, here they are .

I guess all this to say, take some time to pray, to listen, and to ponder. Enjoy your meditation time with the Almighty. If you have time to join in the community of Facebook, so be it. Share God's good love with others on social media. But if you feel yourself swallowed and consumed by the need-to-know or the look-at-me self-exposure, then pull back. My seven weeks away was refreshing and moderating. May you also find God in your April and May, and throughout your days.

11 April 2017

CT, rabbis and Passover for Jesus-- a response

by Rich Robinson, guest blogger

Rabbis Yehiel Poupko and David Sandmel’s recent article “Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal,” was written in response to the increasing interest of Christians in Passover and the celebration by some of Christian seders. Certainly, this phenomenon deserves exploration and comment. But I am not so sure that Rabbis Poupko and Sandmel’s response is the kind that is needed.

The authors explain Christian interest in Passover as partly due to American freedom. Yet more foundationally it coincides with the rediscovery that Christian faith is a tree that springs from Jewish roots—as the authors,in fact, suggest in their next paragraph. It is not merely “innate human curiosity” but a realization that Christianity is a fulfillment of Jewish hopes, centered on a Jewish Messiah, a hope that included the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob on the part of the nations of the world, i.e. non-Jews. For many Christians, this realization has given new depth to their faith. Is it then a good thing or a bad thing that some Christians want to celebrate a seder? Is it good or bad for the Jews? To put it in other terms, is it a kiddush haShem or a chillul haShem (a sanctification of God’s name or a desecration of the same)?

The authors find the recent tradition of church seders “particularly troubling,” though whether “most Jews” will agree with them is a moot point. There are few things that most Jews agree on, and church seders probably do not head the list. But what is it that troubles the authors?

First they offer the matter of history. The seder as we know it, they write, did not exist in Jesus’ day. Well, no one is about to argue otherwise. In his seminal book The Origins of the Seder, Baruch Bokser wrote that the seder as described in the Mishnah—from whence the modern seder evolved—represents “the need to overcome the loss of the temple.” In other words, Passover post-70 is quite different than Passover pre-70. And the seder has continued to evolve: the custom of breaking and hiding the afikoman is unknown to the Mishnah.

What Jesus did at was a pre-70 Passover ritual, whether explicitly called a seder at that time or not. There was lamb, matzah, and bitter herbs. There were cups; the gospels tell of two, but we know that Mishnaic traditions often went back to earlier times, so we can reasonably suppose that there were four. In any event the presence of “cups” shows that traditions had already accrued beyond the bare essentials mandated in Exodus for the Passover observance. There was the singing of the Hallel, as Matthew 26 reports that the disciples “sung a hymn” and then “went out to the Mount of Olives.” In other words, they concluded their Passover with the Hallel Psalms. All this is a reasonable reading of the gospels. To what extent they told the story of the Exodus we don’t know, but we can hardly imagine that the origins of Passover played no part in the Jewish observance of that day.

It becomes rather moot, then, whether it is proper to describe Jesus’ Passover meal as a seder. It was a proto-seder, a pre-70 seder, a seder-in-formation; it was seder-like, it was seder-ish, it was kind-of-like-a-seder, it had elements of a seder—any way you put it, seder is the most relevant way to speak of it. That, certainly, is how Joseph Klausner repeatedly describes it in his Jesus of Nazareth. It wasn’t Rabban Gamaliel’s seder, but neither was his seder my grandfather’s. Seder is as seder does.

Beyond terminology, the authors make the point that at the Last Supper, the focus of Passover on the events of Exodus “takes a back seat” to Jesus’ new expression of faith, in which he created a new ritual. Theologically speaking, that’s not really on target (apart from the fact that Judaism has always created “new expressions of faith” down through the millennia). Correctly, the authors note that “the Jewish Passover meal inaugurates the Jewish people into its history.” That history, however, comes to be expressed in hopes for continued and ultimate redemption, as witnessed by the reusage and the reimagination of Exodus imagery in the biblical prophets. The messianic hope came to be an expression both of a final, climactic exodus and the desire for a renewed Davidic king: an event and a person. The authors recognize this when they go on to speak of the hope from redemption from exile. Yet the New Testament claims to realize those same hopes in the person of Jesus. That is, he fulfills the hopes of the Jewish people, which is a hope that from the beginning was meant to encompass all nations (Genesis 12:3 is one of the earliest hints of this). Whatever newness Jesus brought must not obscure that the New Testament views itself as a continuation of the same story as in the Hebrew Bible, and the fulfillment of the same.

On to the authors’ next point, that Christian adaptation of Passover shows a “lack of respect.” Conversely, they say, Jews who encourage Christian seders fail to show respect to and understanding of Christian faith. But the Christian faith is not to Jewish faith as Christianity is to Hinduism, or Judaism to Shintoism. The Christian faith arises fully out of Jewish soil; to reiterate, Jesus fulfills Jewish hopes, which included the hope of the Gentiles coming to know the God of Israel. This is why the Apostle Paul can write in Ephesians 2:12-13, “Remember that you [Gentiles] were at that time separated from Messiah, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah” (substituting “Messiah” for “Christ” to drive home the point). In other words, Gentiles who come to faith in Jesus do not replace Israel and do not negate God’s covenants with Israel but have been brought near to Israel and to those covenants. This too is a fulfillment of Israel’s own hope.

Given all this, one can also view Christian seders as showing not only respect for the Jewish faith, but also a warranted participation in the Bible’s own construal of Jewish and non-Jewish history. The Old Testament has for two thousand years been a dual possession of Judaism and the Church. (Sometimes I call the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible by the name my Jewish family used when I grew up; to me Old Testament always sounded more epic and grander than New Testament). Given that reality, one cannot simply write off Christian Passovers as an infringement of a Jewish possession. One could even argue that a Christian seder shows more respect to the Jewish people than does a Jewish seder in which everyone just wonders how much they can skip before they get to eat.

For various reasons, not necessarily mine, we find rabbis such as Evan Moffic (What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover) encouraging Christian seders and providing resources for the same. Perhaps, in the name of interreligious understanding, it is time to recognize the unremovable Jewish scaffolding that upholds and constructs the Christian faith, and the part that the Passover story plays in that.

What is your response?

09 April 2017

The Father's Love: I never knew you

Parshat Tsav
A sermon given at Or Haolam
Overland Park, Kansas
By Bob Mendelsohn
Saturday 8 April 2017

To listen to this online: Click here

Shabbat shalom, to the members of Or Haolam, to my friends, relatives, brothers and sisters in Messiah, and those who are investigating the claims of Messiah among us. What a pleasure to return to KC again this soggy spring, and especially to Or Haolam, a true home away from home. Some of you will know my biography in measure, that I grew up in Prairie Village, attended Somerset Elementary and Meadowbrook Junior High, then graduated Shawnee Mission East in 1969. I grew up and still visit Kehilath Israel Synagogue, especially when I’m in town for the yahrzeits of my parents, brother and others. They are buried at Blue Ridge. So my roots sink deep and my affection for this town and the messianic expression of our faith only increases over the years.
If you didn’t receive a white card from Jews for Jesus, please receive them just now as the ushers come through the aisle and pass them down each row. Thanks. You can fill that card out anytime during my talk. And if you do, please drop it off to me at the end of the service or mail it in, if you prefer. For those reading this online, just write me and I will see to information being sent you.

I am especially grateful to Shmuel and Jim and those in the leadership here who continue to cheer me on from afar, as we work in a way together, for the salvation of the Jewish people. And that topic, once again, is my topic today as we consider Parshat Tsav, and the message of the Haftorah, from the prophet Jeremiah.

Yes, today is Shabbat Hagadol, the Sabbath immediately before Passover, and thus we would read an alternate Haftorah portion from the prophet Malachi. I will mention it en passant, but I felt the ordinary reading of Tzav’s haftorah (Jeremiah 7-8) is God’s word for us at this time.

As Hagadol, the Great Sabbath, it readies the congregation for Passover. It might be better titled Shabbat HaSeh, the Sabbath when we commemorate the Lamb.

1) The primary event commemorated on this Shabbat is a great midrashic miracle which occurred on this day, several days before the Exodus. According to the stories, we Jewish people were commanded by Moses to take a lamb and tie it to our bedposts on Shabbat, the 10th day of Nissan, four days before they were to leave Egypt. When the Egyptians asked the Jews why they were buying lambs en masse, they were told that these lambs were intended for the Paschal Offering, which would be sacrificed in preparation of the Plague of the Firstborn. For obvious reasons, this information bothered the Egyptian firstborn, who immediately asked Pharaoh to grant the Jews the freedom they demanded. When Pharaoh refused their request, the Egyptian firstborn waged war with Pharaoh's army, and many Egyptians who were guilty of atrocities against the Jews were killed on that day.

2) The Egyptians were theologically upset, when they found out the Jews were planning to slaughter lambs, an Egyptian deity -- but were incapable of doing anything to prevent this action.

3) Some suggest that this Shabbat is called the title "Gadol," because it is the day when the rabbis traditionally deliver really long lectures about the laws of Passover, and teach long about the lessons to be learned from the holiday.

4) Finally, the Haftorah read in many communities from the prophet Malachi on this Shabbat speaks of the coming of Messiah, referring to the day of his arrival as "Yom Hashem hagadol v'hanora" -- the "great" and awesome day of the Lord.
So you can see that I have plenty of other stuff I could be teaching in this time, and even take extra time since this could be granted as D’rash hagadol.

That said, I still believe the Lord wants this particular word at this time for you at Or Ha’olam and any who might be listening online or reading this manuscript later. Please, just now, ask God to teach you, deep into your heart, of the Father’s love for you. (pause)

In our reading of the Haftorah, Jeremiah is writing to the Jewish people his first real prose sermon starting in chapter 7, and thus I feel it is acceptable to borrow from it directly to hear what God is saying to us.

He chides Judah for all their boasting, their confidence in their building by which they are safeguarded, and warns them to amend their ways. He, as is typical of prophets, lists our sins, one by one, and sometimes with repeat, until we finally might actually acknowledge our sinfulness and repent.

What sins are listed in Jeremiah 7 and 8?
He starts with:
“if you truly practice justice (meaning we were practicing injustice) between a man and his neighbour,  if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin” (7.5-6)
“Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known?  Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” declares the Lord. “And now, because you have done all these things,” declares the Lord, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer” (9-13)

Jeremiah is not only chiding; he's derailing us from our thinking we are a-ok. What will be the result? Dispersion and the ruin of the Temple, “as he did at Shiloh.” (verse 14) From where does this sinful activity come? It boils down to a misunderstanding and disobedience to the First commandment. What is that First commandment? Love God, and Him only. “I am the Lord thy God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” It’s barely a commandment at all; just an appeal to know Him.

“The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, (sounds like they are breaking Shabbat) and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods in order to spite Me. “Do they spite Me?” declares the Lord. “Is it not themselves they spite, to their own shame?” (7.18-19)

Often our response to God’s conviction of our sins is something we could call Reformation or Rehabilitation. We will make it right with God. We will fix our own lives. We will daven more. We will fast twice a week. We will rise early and make food for our neighbours. We will donate to charity. Honest, Lord, we’ll do better next week.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think repair is great. I think restitution is often right with people. But rehab and doubling down on our efforts of religion is not going to ever impress the Almighty. Our righteous deeds are like filthy menstrual rags in his sight. We can never out-maneuver and out-religion God. He knows our hearts. He sees our insides. He understands our motives, way better than we do, and certainly more than our closest friends.

Listen to Jeremiah’s next lines:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat flesh. For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people;

A true mystic like Jeremiah or Catholics like St Teresa of Avila...they all drive us to the original. Not to a weird new place, but to the original.

"and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward. Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them. Yet they did not listen to Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck; they did more evil than their fathers.” (7.21-26)

When you are speaking with someone and they are looking at their cell phone, does it madden you? They say, "I'm listening to you." But you wonder. You feel like shouting, "Look at me, and I will know you are listening." That's what the Lord seems to be saying to Judah.

The point is this: be personal with the Living God. Listen to Him. Love Him. Hear Him. Be real. Be His person. Your religious chatter and your pretend devotion stink in His nostrils. Idolatry, the replacing of the Lord with anything less than Him, whether the Queen of Heaven, and getting dysphoric about God, or championing the rights of those who oppose Him, is entirely worthy of judgments.

“For the sons of Judah have done that which is evil in My sight,” declares the Lord, “they have set their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind. (7.30-31)

Neither the false ideas and proclamations in the ‘safehaven’ of the Temple, nor the afternoon picnic to the Queen of heaven can safeguard the Jewish people. Just two decades later, we were taken captive by the Babylonians and God’s judgment fell on us severely.

We had leaders who calmed us with words that predate, but channel Neville Chamberlain, but are nothing of real healing. We had teachers who taught of their own initiative, but didn’t really bring us the powerful words of the Almighty. And we did nothing. We spread out bones and saw death all around us, but didn’t turn to Him.

“You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Do men fall and not get up again? Does one turn away and not repent? Why then has this people, Jerusalem, turned away in continual apostasy?  (Apostasy doesn't mean falling away; it means 'standing away.') Think about that-- giving your back to the Lord of life. Shame.

They hold fast to deceit, They refuse to return. I have listened and heard, They have spoken what is not right; no man repented of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his course, Like a horse charging into the battle. Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration; but my people do not know the ordinance of the Lord. How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men are put to shame, they are dismayed and caught; Behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, And what kind of wisdom do they have? Therefore I will give their wives to others, Their fields to new owners; because from the least even to the greatest everyone is greedy for gain; From the prophet even to the priest everyone practices deceit. They heed the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.  (8.4-11)

Dear friends, this is what the Lord wants us to get today. A relationship with Him, in the Messiah Yeshua. That happened to me about this time of year 46 years ago and I remember it like yesterday.

All my good deeds, my mitzvahs were fine, but in terms of gaining God’s approval, as if those were enough to bring in God’s amazement and satisfaction, is laughable. What had to happen? I had to acknowledge my own sin, not only my sins. Let me explain. Sins are the deeds I commit against God or people. Lying, cheating, hating, etc. Sin is the inner fault in my heart that actually makes me do those misdeeds. In other words I commit sins because I have sin. Sin is the attitude; sins are the actions. I am not a sinner because I sin. I sin because I am a sinner.

Can we read a bit from the Brit Hadasha just now? I want to read two portions and show you a famous painting from Rembrandt.

The two portions are taken from the Gospels, one in Matthew and one in Luke. Both equally famous. And significant for Torah-considering people. In Matthew, Yeshua is teaching His talmidim and the crowds about the Kingdom in what might be titled the “Sermon on the Mount.” He says this and it’s hard to hear on Shabbat Hagadol.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, You who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7.21-23)

Who casts out demons in the name of Yeshua? Believers in the New Covenant. Who prophesy in the name of Yeshua? Teachers of the Bible. Who perform miracles in the name of our master? Great preachers and TV Bible thumpers. (incredulous) And to them he says, “Depart!” What? This is horrible. If they don’t get into heaven, how can I get in? It’s as if there is no guarantee.

The Judeans in Jeremiah’s day counted on the presence of the Temple as their safehaven; some in modern days are counting on the religion of Jesus-proclamation to save them. Their quiet times and their fasting and their other religious activities are something they would highlight if questioned about their faith.

But 600 BCE and today God’s answer is still the same, “I never knew you…. Because you do not know Me!”

Obedience is fine, as long as it’s honest and personal and real. And one more thing. As long as you are not counting your mitzvahs as ENOUGH to get you God’s approval. That’s the rub.

Listen to what the disapproved people said, “Did we not prophesy? Did we not cast out? Did we not do miracles?” Every one of their punch list of approval considerations were things they did. All good to be sure. BUT if you are seeking to be in God’s pleasure, then you have to RECEIVE what God has done, God’s kindness and stop trying to earn it. It’s a gift.

No wonder He said, “I never knew you, (and I add) because you do not know Me.” Maybe we should go back to the most basic of beginnings in the story of the Prodigal Father and see what this really means.

Luke 15 features three short stories of lost things, and the joy in finding them. First is a sheep that is lost and the owner searches diligently, leaving the 99 others in the flock, and finally finds the missing one, and there is rejoicing. I get that. Like searching for my keys just yesterday.

The chapter continues with the story of the lost coin, and again the long search and finally the finding. And again rejoicing. Each story ends with this tag line: Luke 15.10 “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Then comes the story I want to end with today. And the painting by Rembrandt. The story is the Prodigal Son or lost son who leaves his father and family and lives riotously, squandering his entire inheritance, and wakes up in a pig pen. He realizes his life is in ruin, and he decides to change, to amend his ways, and to go back to his father. You have heard this titled the Prodigal Son. But friends, prodigal means lavish, not wayward. And the son and the father were both prodigal in my understanding.

This image by the famed artist Rembrandt is worthy of deep appreciation.

It’s a simple and rather basic painting, with five men and dark shadows. That’s it, really. So it’s an artistic study of the people. There is barely any other reference point. No scenery… no landscape… no fruit bowls… no animals. Just five men, like a basketball team.

Look closely at the image, though and the light shines brightest on the two on the left and the furthest to the right.

My friend Amer Olsen works in New York City and is an artist by training. I asked him to unpack what he saw in the painting here of the return of the Prodigal and he wrote me a long description, parts of which I highlight here. “Visually, the strongest light in the picture falls directly on the location of the returned, received son - his back, the father’s face and hands - falling onto the ground around them, though the son’s face is turned toward the shadow. But the son’s face isn’t so much turning from the light, as it is being enveloped by the father’s figure, resting in his bosom. In fact, when you look closely at the son’s face it looks surpassingly serene and beatific. This is in great contrast to his tattered rags, worn sandals and calloused feet - even his shorn head reminds me of a slave or forced-labour victim. Also, the son’s face is the centre point, not of the dimensions of the canvas, but of the vanishing lines of perspective (only hinted at by the two steps to the bottom right), which is the artist’s way of saying: “This is where I want your eyes to be drawn. This is where the heart of the message is.”

Do you know the whole story? It’s complete at the end of the sermon here in the notes. Please read the whole thing. Back in those days, fathers didn’t run to meet their sons. They didn’t run at all! It was undignified. But in this story the father runs. Nothing else mattered to the father.

The father seemed to take everything in stride, even the negative attitude of the older brother. So many stories we could discuss; so many trails to follow.

The emphasis is clear. The father has run back to rescue his returning son. The son has no pretense of good works. He falls on the mercy of his father. The father has no consideration of the son’s waywardness; he only is seeking reconciliation and restoration of the relationship. The son doesn’t say, “I have done great things in your name.” The son doesn’t even say a word of self-honor. He actually says, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

The father only welcomes the son. At the beginning of the story, the son says, “Father, give me my inheritance.” That phrase is shocking. He is saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead.” Remember, a person only receives an inheritance when someone dies. And the father gives him the 1/3 of the estate. (The older brother would receive double for caretaking purposes.) The father prodigally extends a third of the estate to his younger son, whom he knows will live wrongly. At the end, the son practices his lines in the pig pen by saying, “Dad, make me as one of your servants.” In the beginning the son said, “Dad, give me.” In the end, he said, “Dad, make me.” That’s the essence of the son’s amendment. It’s not about himself; it’s about the father.

I grew up an Orthodox Jew, practicing my religion with great dignity, and shame in my failures. I went beyond my family’s commitment to their practices and at 16 began to seek God through that effort, but to no avail. Only when I threw myself on the mercy of the Almighty, found in Yeshua, the Messiah, my salvation, did I ever come to know Him. I am the lost son, the kneeling one, tattered shoes and cropped hair, the loser, the failed, the needy—that’s how I come to God. And that’s how God wants us all to come to Him.

Not on the basis of all the good things we do and should continue to do for others. But on the basis of God's awesome love. We are the lost ones. Fall on His mercy and ask, in fact, beg, to be forgiven and brought into His family. Let His arms wrap around you.

Jeremiah says, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. (9.23-24)

So will you do this just now? Will you confess Yeshua as your messiah and Lord? Will you turn to Him in faith and ask God to make you into the man or woman you should be? Will you acknowledge that without Him, you have no hope for eternal life? Yeshua died for you, that’s what next week’s titled holiday “Good Friday” is all about. He died to restore you to the Father. It’s “good” because hopeless mankind, in a pig pen, separated from the Almighty, now has a single method of real restoration—the death of Messiah, to bring us back into relationship with Daddy, with our Father in heaven.

Then we will hear Him say, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
The one who knows me will enter.

And again, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Matt. 25.23

The joy of your master is eternal life. Let’s go there!

Shabbat shalom and chag pesach s’meach

01 April 2017

The Good, the Bad, and the Unleavened and Confusion

The article by Aaron Lewin is a great read. We published it a bit early, and as it is now April, we have to share it with you again. Don't miss it this time.

Click on this hyperlink to read the article on The Good, the Bad, and the Unleavened. Thank you.

Happy Passover to our Jewish mates, Happy Easter / Resurrection Day to our Christian followers. We are not sure how pastel painted eggs became the rage about a holiday that notes the death of its hero, but apparently someone thought it a good idea.
Some things are just confusing. Is this an exit, or is it not?

What about these memes I found:
this one:

Confusion seems to be a regular feature in many lives. We often hear that, when we mention that we are Jewish people who believe in Jesus. WHAT? They want to know which side of the fence we really are on. They ask, "OK, fine, but do you attend church or shule?" As if being a Jew for Jesus is out of bounds for them. Therefore it has to be for us. But it isn't, is it?

After all, the Jewish prophets predicted a messiah would come. And it's recorded in the Jewish Scriptures (Holy Bible). So Jews told each other that when the messiah would come, things would be different. Not that we would or even could become non-Jews. By following the Jewish messiah foretold in the Jewish Scriptures, we are actually the most Jewish people out there!

31 March 2017

Cemetery vandalism… again!

by Bob Mendelsohn, JFJ National Director

Following are three reports of cemetery vandalism, in two different US cities. And all within a fortnight. And a conclusion which has hope and might surprise some of you. Concerning the cemeteries, what is sad is that none of the perpetrators have been caught, so far. What’s worrisome is that this appears to be a trend, and what that says about the US just now is troubling.

Police in Philadelphia are investigating a vandalism at a Jewish cemetery last weekend. This was the 2nd time in a fortnight that Philly cemeteries have had headstones knocked over and damaged.

At least 75 tombstones were overturned Saturday night at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery. The only targets were the Jewish graves according to Det. Jim McReynolds of the police department's Northeast Detectives Division. He said no damage occurred at the three neighbouring Christian cemeteries at Mt Carmel. Two weeks ago, a dozen headstones were damaged at a Catholic cemetery in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia mayor's spokeswoman Lauren Hitt reported.

That vandalism at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Cemetery didn't appear to target a specific group of people, Hitt said. The Catholic cemetery is about two miles away from the Jewish cemetery.

The vandalism at the Jewish cemetery was especially worrisome because it comes less than a week after a similar incident at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, said Nancy Baron-Baer, the Anti-Defamation League's regional director for the Eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware region.

"One stone in one cemetery being desecrated is one stone too many. We are talking about hundreds within a week," she said.
The ADL is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 offered a $3,000 reward for the same purpose.

But there is hope. In a most unlikely show of support, after the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis was vandalised, Muslim-American activists Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi launched a fund-raising effort to help pay for the toppled headstones to be repaired. They set a goal to raise $20,000, but donors gave more than $130,000. El-Messidi wrote on Facebook that some of the extra funds would go toward the Philadelphia cemetery, and he visited Mt. Carmel on Sunday to help in the recovery efforts.

"Seeing this in person was very devastating," El-Messidi wrote on Facebook. "Many people there were embracing one another in tears due to what they saw."

"I want to ask all Muslims to reach out to your Jewish brothers and sisters and stand together against this bigotry," he said. Members of the Philadelphia branch of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, an American-Muslim organisation, also visited the cemetery and helped in the cleanup efforts, according to national spokesman Qasim Rashid.

Salaam Bhatti, another spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, told CNN there are as many as eight more members at Mt. Carmel cemetery Monday helping out with "whatever the cemetery needs."

"This attack is not just an attack on our Jewish brothers and sisters but on our common community," Bhatti said. "We believe we need to be protecting our fellow humans from this extremism."

I know some of our Blog’s readers will be suspicious of the kindnesses of these Muslims, but I reckon their words, their money and their personal attention to the cause of repair should all be highlighted more than their own religious persuasion.

If a person in time of need rejects the kindness of a neighbour, and fails to receive that measure of love, it says much more about the (non)receiver than about anyone else in the drama. The perpetrators of the evil in the desecration of the three cemeteries (and dare I add many more such desecrations worldwide in the last two years) will be caught in due course. God knows how to judge those who disparage his own people.

As northern Spring has begun, with the seasons of Easter and Passover to be celebrated in the next few weeks, may we pause and call to mind the harsh condition of the world in 1500 BC or 30 AD? May we remember that God heard the cries of his Jewish people and sent a redeemer to deliver us when Moses was born, raised in the royal comforts in Egypt, trained as a wilderness shepherd for four decades, then led us out of Egypt by God’s outstretched arm and mighty hand.

“Let my people go!” was Moses’ cry and eventually, and with regret, Pharaoh did let us leave slavery in Egypt.

1500 years later, God again heard the cries of the people, and in the darkness of Roman occupation of the land of the Jewish people, in what we today call Israel, God again sent a redeemer to deliver all people. Yeshua (some call him Isa or Jesus) was born, raised in Israel, trained as a carpenter at his father’s side, then led us out of slavery to sin by his death on the Roman cross and resurrection from the dead.

No one had an inside track on this redemption. In fact, the Good Books says of everyone on the planet, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Paul’s letter to the Romans 5.10)

So whether a Muslim, a Jew, a Catholic or a none-of-the-above, here’s God’s good news for you this Passover. “God loved the world so much that he sent his only son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3.16)

24 March 2017

The Good, the Bad and the Unleavened

by Aaron Lewin, guest blogger

Why on this night do we eat only unleavened bread?

It really is the million-dollar question. Why do we have to eat this dry, crumbly bread not only for one night, but for eight nights? While there might be some matzah connoisseurs out there, for most it is at best passable and at worst a plague for eight nights! As a friend of mine put it last year, “I hate Passover! You have to eat food you don’t like and spend time with relatives you don’t like.” It is called the “bread of affliction” after all. . . .
But enough with the kvetching. If I’m honest, perhaps I’m overstating my dislike for matzah, yet the question remains: “Why on this night do we only eat matzah?”

We, of course know the traditional answer: “Because our ancestors had to leave Egypt in such haste, there wasn’t enough time for their bread to rise.” But I’m sure there must be more to it than that.

Taking a look at the Torah, we find that unleavened bread makes several appearances, all in connection with the sacrifices that we had to offer. We find that, for the most part, God specifically instructs us not to mix leaven with our offerings to Him (see Exodus 23:18 and 34:25). This, together with the rule about not eating fat, could lead us to believe that God has some strange eating habits, perhaps a forerunner to the modern vegan diet. Or, more probably, God is trying to tell us something.

The rabbis teach that leaven or yeast is used throughout Scripture as a symbol for sin (see, for example, Berachot 17a and also Rashi on that passage). Sin, simply put, is anything bad that we do/say/think. God didn’t want us to mix leaven with our sacrifices, in order to teach us that when we approach Him, He expects us to be pure and holy, just like He is. The very setup of the Tabernacle teaches us that while God wants to live among us, He is still decidedly different from us. We were to never forget that He is a holy God who cannot have anything sinful in His presence. As He put it, “You shall be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 20:26).

The problem, of course, is that we are not holy. Most of us would like to think that we are good, law-abiding citizens. Some of us might even think that we are a bit above average in the honoring-God department. The traditional, rabbinic Jewish view on sin seems to subscribe to this approach. The rabbis teach us that we each have two inclinations, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) and the yetzer hatov (good inclination).1 The power to do good or evil lies in our hands. We are fundamentally good people, who are sometimes led astray to do bad things.

The understanding that we get from the Tanakh about sin is, however, very different. As we read the Torah and the rest of Scripture, it is quite discomforting to realize that we are not basically good people who sometimes go astray. We, ourselves, are the problem. Take, for example:

And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Bereshit/Genesis 6:5 JPS)

The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Tehillim/Psalm 14:2–3 JPS)

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Our very nature is tainted by sin because we are born as the descendants of Adam and Eve, who sold themselves into slavery to sin when they rejected God and followed the serpent’s advice. King David recognized this and exclaimed, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Tehillim/Psalm 51:5 JPS).

Furthermore, the whole sacrificial system of the Torah, which seems so strange to us in the modern world, was designed to teach us that we weren’t good—we had to bring sacrifices regularly to God for Him to forgive us so we could draw close to Him. I’m sure the constant sight of dead animals and blood was a wake-up call to any who entertained any thoughts of being fundamentally good.

Even our modern world confirms the truth of God’s understanding of us and sin as shown in Tanakh. One just needs to read the headlines to realize that the world is a broken place, and it’s not just the fault of a few “bad eggs.” Consider the Shoah: the fact that such utter depravity could take place in the twentieth century in the land of the “Poets and Thinkers” is more proof of the utter corruption of the human race. And whether we like it or not, you and I are included in that.

So, leaven is used by God in the Bible to teach us about sin. It’s beautiful then, that at Passover, we cleanse all the leaven from our home as a symbol of a desire to lead a life that is sin free. And eating the matzah reminds us that God expects us to be holy as He is holy. Perhaps the million-dollar question is not, “Why do we only eat matzah?” but “How does God expect us to be holy and how can we deal with the problem of sin in our lives?”

Thankfully, Passover provides the answer, and in a place that we would least expect it—in the matzah and in the lamb. We no longer eat lamb at Passover, because the lambs that we used to eat were sacrifices that had to be offered at the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem. No Temple, no altar, no Passover lambs. And yet the central part of the very first Passover in Egypt was the lamb. Without the sacrifice of the lamb, without its blood on our doorposts, our firstborn too would have died. The lambs died instead of our firstborn.

Thousands of years later, another Passover lamb would die, so that we could live. The Messiah, Yeshua, like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7), gave his life for us at Passover, so that we can escape the wrath of God at the “day of the Lord” (Joel 2:1–2) and that we can “live life to the full” (John 10:10). More than that, Yeshua died to free us from our corrupt selves and our slavery to sin so that we can be free to live a life of purpose that honors God.

While the rabbis teach that since the Temple was destroyed good works now atone for our sin (see Avot de Rabbi Natan 4), the Torah teaches something very different. In Vayikra/Leviticus 17:11 we read, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life” (17:11 JPS). In other words, our sin led to death—either our death or the death of a substitute, in this case an animal, just like at Passover. God never repealed this commandment and so it still stands today. We believers in Yeshua recognize that the animal sacrifices in the Torah pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of the Messiah, who would take away the sin of the world.

Sometimes Yeshua is mistakenly portrayed as a Jewish martyr—a teacher who tried to bring about sustainable change but was murdered because he upset the status quo.

And yet in the Brit Hadashah (New Testament) we read that Yeshua knew that his calling was to give his life at Passover for us and for all humanity. He knew what was going to happen and he taught his talmidim (disciples) in advance, at his last ever Passover seder.

Picture the scene: excitement and anticipation were written on the faces of those present. All those assembled could feel that something big was going to happen soon. Perhaps Yeshua was really going to challenge the Romans and lift the oppression. And then he did something strange. After the meal, he took the cup, which is traditionally the third cup, the cup of redemption, and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). We then read that he took the bread and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

The bread of affliction, the bread without leaven, became a symbol for the death of the Messiah. But it also became a symbol of our hope. As an early follower of Yeshua, Paul, puts it, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, the unleavened Messiah became leaven for us, so that we can become the unleavenedness of God.

Before I came to faith in Yeshua as Messiah, I lived a pretty decent life. Sure, I was mean to people sometimes, didn’t always tell the truth, but for the most part I didn’t do anything really bad. No murders, only a little stealing— nothing major. And yet at one point I realized that even though I hadn’t committed any crimes against the law of the land, I was in major need of God’s forgiveness. I came to understand that I wasn’t holy—quite the opposite in fact. I was a slave to sin, and I needed someone to forgive me and set me free. As Yeshua said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin . . . if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed” (John 8:34, 36).

The rabbinic Jewish understanding of sin might sound comforting to us, but in reality, it is an empty comfort. For only through the Messiah can we really deal with our sin problem. Paul, again, said it best, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Messiah, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7–8).

So maybe Passover isn’t as boring as my friend says. And maybe there is something to eating matzah for these eight days—not to spur us on to try harder not to sin, but as a reminder that someone already took on that sin for us. This Passover, as you remove the leaven from your home, why not ask the Messiah Yeshua to remove it from your heart?

For more on Aaron, read here.

05 March 2017

Mardi Gras confusion

It came with flurry and noise and a thunderstorm from heaven, but nothing would dissuade the revellers from parading and celebrating the Mardi Gras parade 2017 in Sydney, yet once again. The parade took place last night, Saturday night, first Saturday in March, even though Mardi Gras officially was Tuesday.

From the ABC news report, "About 200 floats and thousands of performers made for a dazzling Mardi Gras spectacle through the inner-city suburbs of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills, and even though it sprinkled in the second half of the parade, it was not enough to dampen spirits."

But wait, was it Tuesday?

Was it different this year? Nope... Mardi means "Tuesday" and thus Mardi Gras ("fat Tuesday") is always to be marked on that day of the week. In fact, the day before "Ash Wednesday."

No wonder it was confusing. And some of the revelers might have had dysphoric confusion, but I don't know them by name or motive. Mardi Gras originally was so named as a way for people to practice eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season which begins on the next day, Ash Wednesday.

Gender matters and there is much discussion about it, even here on the JFJ website. Another read is here on the Dr Michael Brown website.

But gender confusion is not my point today, although it might be something with which you are struggling. God will be kind to you, if you ask Him. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find your answers.

Getting the night's revelry out before the humility of Lent, ok, that's a way some deal with fasting. Although I don't recommend it. But I like the idea that another religion brings into the same day, and it's the Anglicans and the day is called "Shrove Tuesday."

The name Shrove comes from the old middle English word 'Shriven' meaning to go to confession to say sorry for the wrong things you've done. Lent always starts on a Wednesday, so people went to confessions on the day before. This became known as Shriven Tuesday and then Shrove Tuesday.

The other name for this day, Pancake Day, comes from the old English custom of using up all the fattening ingredients in the house before Lent, so that people were ready to fast during Lent. The fattening ingredients that most people had in their houses in those days were eggs and milk. A very simple recipe to use up these ingredients was to combine them with some flour and make pancakes.

So whether you are dressed up in a costume or eating pancakes, let's let this season of repentance and readying be something you use to get right with your Higher Power, the Living God, and enjoy this time of your life.

01 March 2017

Autumn in Australia

1 March officially begins a new season in the Great Southland of the Holy Spirit. Summer has ended and autumn is upon us. We hope for cooler temperatures as we had our hottest February since 1890 or so, with 11 days over 35 degrees (that's 95 degrees for US folks). That's a record. That's hot. So autumn is welcome to join us as soon as possible.

The fever heat of summer was only cooled by swimming pools and beaches, by air conditioned movie theatres and shopping malls, and by the slight relief of a gentle breeze at day's end. But now we anticipate the coming of winter, but mostly just an easing of our discomfort.

For many autumn means 'back to school.' Although in Oz our school kids returned just after Australia Day (26 January), the universities are back just now. O-week was either last week or the week before and our uni students are hitting the books, and the coffee shops with enthusiasm and great anticipation. Or they are back in the administrative offices trying to change their schedules to fit into the rest of their lives, with parties and work, with friends and for whatever reasons they seek amendments.

We are hoping for activism to hit the uni world again. Back in the 1960s, the prime drivers of the changes in the world came from universities. Berkeley campus of the University of California with its Sproul Plaza, was the epicenter of it all, just across the bay from Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, and we are hoping that the world's dissatisfaction will cause a flurry of changes. What do we mean by this?

Brexit, Trumpmania, and all the other recognized insulating and isolating movements in the last year has caused some serious reactions from now-vocal opposition. If those movements become more grassroots and more vocal, then we really have a chance to see the world keep changing, even for the better. If the vocalization is merely noise, or strident 'We are not you' thinking, that's not going to do anything good. But if the voices of university activists rise up over the din of stridency, then we have real hope.

What do you have to say about life just now?
With whom will you be saying that?

24 February 2017

Bibi in Australia and preservation

After an exciting few days in Sydney, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is readying to return to Israel. He came from a one-day stopover in Singapore and carried on to big crowds and welcomes in political and religious circles here. Of course, not everyone was thrilled in his being among us. But most peace-loving and democratic Aussies were glad to welcome the Prime Minister. He was, after all, the first sitting Israeli PM to ever visit Oz. And we are the honored ones to whom he came. "Two vital democracies" he described our two countries. His entire message is here.

This article shows some hostility against Bibi by some few hundred protestors, but their voices are few and far between. Their agenda of pro-Palestine was a cover up to their real anti-Israel sentiment. They don't want a two-state solution. They want Israel gone. Sorry, that's not diplomacy; that's not democracy; that's racism and that's unAustralian.

God has preserved our people, no matter how many Pharaohs, or Hamans, or Hitlers rise against us. And He will continue to keep us His until the end.

Bibi was asked, "How does Israel do what it does?"
Bibi answered, "Two things: 1) a continual quest for the future with a deep regard for the past." He mentioned the combination of "tradition and innovation" as the hallmarks of the success. And we know it's about God, too, although He seemed to be left out of the conversation at Central Synagogue the other night. But we won't leave Him out here.

11 February 2017

Tu Bishvat and a missed opportunity

This is a Hebrew phrase, tu bishvat, and is the date of today's holiday (think "July 4th" or "MayDay.") And it's a very minor holiday we note and celebrate today. The name of the holiday is simply the date --"Tu" is spelled "tet-vav", and the letter tet has the value of 9 (it is the 9th letter in the Hebrew alphabet) and vav has the value of 6. Added together they equal 15. The "b" prefix means "in" so Tu Bishvat literally means "15 in Shevat".

This is unusual for numbering. Usually in most counting systems, one would employ the decimal method. So it should be 10+5 Bishvat. But note that 15 is not written "yud-hey" (10 + 5) because Yud Hey is one of God's Hebrew names. So that we don't use the name of the Almighty in a pedestrian (or vain) way, we use 9 + 6. Clever.

The meaning of the holiday, that is, the purpose of the celebration is that we note the "new year for the trees" since this is the beginning of the agricultural cycle in Israel. When I was a kid, this was a time to raise funds for tree planting in Israel. We would shake a can at old people and ask them to contribute so that we could plant a tree in the Holy Land. Not that as a youth I ever made it to Israel, but the money collected went to the synagogue and I imagined that the money did pay for some trees.

Tu Bishevat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. See Lev. 19:23-25, which states that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year's fruit is for God, and after that, you can eat the fruit. Each tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu BiShvat, so if you planted a tree on Shevat 14, it begins its second year the next day, but if you plant a tree two days later, on Shevat 16, it does not reach its second year until the next Tu BiShvat.

Where there is a law, there are lawyers, loopholes and more laws, so don't be surprised at this reckoning.

But let me get back to the 9 + 6 rather than the 10 + 5. I like that the legal minds of Judaism put a fence around the name of the Lord, so that we wouldn't use it for ordinary use. I appreciate their zeal for preserving the dignity of the name. At the same time, I think they might have missed an opportunity to highlight God's presence on the 15th of each month.

In the same way we put his name "El" in names of children and cities by attaching it as a suffix (Nathaniel, Ezekiel, Yechezkel, etc), where we almost invoke his name, we could be doing that each month on the Yud-hay of the month. After all, many Jewish holidays fall on the 15th (Passover, Purim, Sukkot) and we don't shy away from using the fullness of the moon to help us note those. Yud Hay Shevat would be a great way to remember that God gives us nature, especially trees, and asked us to keep track of their ages.

I like giving myself a chance to put God into the conversation, and into memorial places in my life. No matter what else you are doing today, take a minute just now, and ask God to be in your day, to guide you, and to strengthen you to His tasks. Sound like a plan?

07 February 2017

You don't always know...

The symbol Co at the end of the sign for "Sydney Theatre" was clearly an abbreviation for "Company." But what if you saw the letters, "C O" anywhere else? It could mean in care of, as in an envelope address "Martin Schwartz c/o Sylvia Goldblossom." What about the periodic table element Cobalt? There you go, seeing co could also mean "Colorado" the state in the United States. You don't always know.

Sometimes it takes context to know whether the letters ST are dealing with a Catholic saint or a street name, like St Catherine or Catherine St.

You don't always know what you think you know, you know?

Need more examples? How about clouds...Are these black clouds in a white sky...or white clouds clearing in a black sky? You just don't always know, do you?

All that to say this-- things we think we know, we don't always know. We think that we have this religion thing down, that our religion is fine, and that no matter what, we know what we know. But wait, there are times when we just don't know.

In fact, a wise man is one who knows that he doesn't know. Isn't that what the wisest man in the world, King Solomon said? "When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom." (Proverbs 11.2) In other words, a wise man knows he is unwise. A fool thinks himself smart, but is actually clueless.

So who really knows about life? The ones who admit they are learning!
What about you? Humble? Or proud? Our recommendation--- humility!

02 February 2017

22 years ago today...

...I love to tell this story. It happened here in Sydney, on our first trip to this sunburnt country. We arrived around Australia Day, 26 January, into Melbourne, and our good friend Kameel Majdali met my wife Patty and me at the airport. We were a bit travel weary having flown from Washington, DC, and having left there about 24 hours earlier. We had three boxes of good size, with books and CDs and pamphlets of all kinds. It was a discovery trip--- would the people of Australia want such an unusual group as "Jews for Jesus" to land on their shores and would we hear a Macedonian call? But that's not the point of this story.

On 2 February, 22 years ago today, my wife and I awoke in Sydney's eastern suburbs where we stayed in the home of a generous couple. After a walk on the beach near their house, we said our farewells, and went into the City. We met with another Jewish believer who helped us hand out some literature at the Queen Victoria Building that day. At about 11:30 he approached my wife and said, "Bob may not know this, but there aren't any Jewish people here. They are all over in the Eastern suburbs, like Bondi." In wasn't more than 20 seconds later when a young Jewish medical student approached my wife and inquired about what she was doing. She was wearing a "Jews for Jesus" t-shirt. She was handing out a leaflet titled, "Jews for Jesus." The irony was thick and enjoyable. She received the young man's details and we laughed about the coincidental timing later.

Just a few minutes later, as we were ending our sortie, a young Gentile woman approached me and asked about our faith. She was very open to the things of God and within a few more minutes she was praying with us, as we all held hands, professing her new faith in Jesus as Messiah. But that's not the point of the story either.

Patty went to a little shop nearby to purchase some mementos and souvenirs for the family back home, and we got to the airport easily to fly back through Los Angeles later that afternoon. We settled into our seats on United Airlines and the events of the day were still fresh and worthy of reviewing. Look at all we accomplished today. What a good feeling.

After a couple movies and meals and rest, we landed into LAX before transferring to our next flight to get home. We had to fill out the landing/ arrivals form for the US government, of course. The date we arrived was actually 2 February. You see, we had crossed the international date line, for our first time ever, flying east. That meant we got the day back again. We left at 3 pm 2 February in Sydney and arrived before we left! Our flight took us about 14 hours and we arrived at about 10 am on 2 February in LA! How funny!

But wait, 2 February in the US is Ground Hog's Day. Just a year before, we had seen the movie with Andie MacDowell and Bill Murray with that same title. It was a typical Murray comedy where he played a weatherman who was assigned to cover the events in Pennsylvania surrounding the prediction of the future weather. The story, no spoiler alert required, features Murray starting over each day, awakened to find himself again on 2 February. How ironic! That the first time we experienced the international date line eastbound was on such an auspicious day as Ground Hog's Day. And that we got to start over in the US, and see what the day held for us there.

Starting over, whether on Rosh Hashanah or on New Year's Day or any day, is really about getting a fresh start. Today, even right now, why not look up to heaven, or close your eyes, if that helps, and ask the living God for a fresh start in your life? You don't need an imaginary date line to start over. You don't need a Hollywood movie to help you start over. What do you need?

You need to trust that the Almighty, the One who created our world and the universes in which we live, has a love for you that is greater than any Valentine you might receive next week. His love is most visibly seen in the dying of His Son Yeshua on the Roman cross. That execution was purposeful-- to bring you and me back into God's presence. To forgive us our sins. To make us whole again. Look at what He accomplished that day. What a Savior!

28 January 2017

Summer in the City

Sydney is home to over 4.5 million people and during the holidays tens of thousands of visitors joined our ranks helping to flood the economy and the public transportation system. The retailers were happy; the restaurants overflowed with customers; it's a flourishing time. We chose this time to spend major resources to notify people about the Good News of Messiah. He is alive and well, and available to Sydneysiders and anyone else who hears our voices.

We called the outreach in December our Summer Witnessing Campaign. Here are some photos in an album.

And now it's end of January and summer continues, although the holidays are over. Australia Day came and went. Women's marches took place in cities and hamlets large and small. And for most folks, it's back to work.

What about you? How did you spend your summer? Are you still hitting the beaches and camping sites? When everyone is driving into the CBD for work, are you grabbing your golf clubs and enjoying 18? Or the 19th?

Life is for living, and some work to be able to afford the (other) pleasures of life. Some work because they cannot figure out what to do in life. Some work because what they do in their job is their life. Summer for most is about not working, and getting to do those things we have missed all (the rest of the) year.

I think even Yeshua took some time off from his ministry efforts. In Matthew 15 we read, "and Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon." (verse 21) Withdrawing. That's it. That's rest. That's holiday. That's what Yeshua tried to do between some busy preaching assignments and healing a child of a Canaanite woman. And if the Son of God needed some time off to withdraw, don't you think you do as well?

Shabbat shalom and have a great (rest of the) summer.