25 July 2017

Flashback and memories


King Arthur sings a reprise of the title song in the Broadway show "Camelot" as the play comes to an end. The majesty of the scenes, the songs, the triumphs, the never-ending nature of optimism is found in the earlier lyrics, but this is the final number, with a bit of a tear-turned-away and softening of memories, Arthur and Tom sing,
ARTHUR:
"Each evening, from December to December,
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.

Ask ev'ry person if he's heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot.

Camelot! Camelot!
Now say it out with pride and joy!
TOM:
Camelot! Camelot!

ARTHUR:
Yes, Camelot, my boy!
Where once it never rained till after sundown,
By eight a.m. the morning fog had flown...
Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot."

That's what I'm pondering today as I read the obituary of yet another of my friends from decades gone by. No one would have doubted that John Rooker, student council or Senior class president or whatever his titles were, would be a success and live long and prosper after we graduated in 1969. Many who remembered him from our class in the requisite Facebook historical revue this last week have commented on his kindness, his energy, his wonderful voice and acting ability. No one is saying, "Oy, I hated that Rooker guy..." because that's not what you are to do in times like these, AND because I seriously doubt if anyone did feel like that about John.

But whatever that season of our lives was when Janis Joplin and Peter, Paul and Mary were singing, when Midnight Cowboy was rated X, when Woodstock took the world by storm and Richard Nixon was still up to his ears in government, for John and most of us remembering, it was a Camelot-type moment.

Arthur and the chorus sang earlier, "In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here In Camelot."

This is the stuff that fairy tales are made of. And yet, in the end, they sing about this being one "brief shining moment." Those moments don't last-- neither in their activity, nor in their resultant accolades. In modern days we use the phrase, "15 minutes of fame" and no matter how long on the clock they actually remain, it bears witness to the reality that all of that glory is a "fleeting wisp."

If that be so, then why bother? If our energies for honor and history are but for a moment, then what's the point?

The point is to make the world better, one person at a time. We don't have to be encircled by the millions at the Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC. We don't need accolades then nor now. What we need is to have purpose in life, and strive to make that happen, to the betterment of the world and its people. Then our sleep will be sweet, Then we can look the (wo)man-in-the-mirror each day with something better than smugness or shame. We can look with rigorous honesty and thank the Creator for making us such, and get on with the plan.

07 July 2017

Singalong... when it's odd


I note that every time I watch a live performance, on television, or even like this one on New Year's Eve in Nashville, Tennessee, that
the people at the concert sing along with the performer. I don't think Keith Urban minded at all that wintry night. No one near me that night was singing so loudly that I couldn't hear Keith, but I wondered what I would have done if someone were too close.

Up in Tamworth, the Sunny Cowgirls, the Lee Kernaghan band, and Jasmine Rae all were much louder than their appreciative gallery, so no one really minded the singalong.

(Yes, I shot all these photos)

But then what about this picture of young Paul singing to his bride Jamie?
A hush fell over the crowd, which now became an audience, and we listened with respect and honor. Made so much sense.

So the question is begged...when is it right to singalong, and when do we leave it for the performer? Perhaps it's dependent on the price of the ticket. A free concert, well, it's a free-for-all, and everyone can sing. A ticket at the Sydney Opera House to see La Boheme would not, even if you were a trained opera singer, allow you to sing "Quando m'en vo". It's a fascinating dynamic, really, when you think about it.

We don't grab a scalpel and enter the operating room with our surgeon.
We don't move around the counter and start slicing our cheese for the morning omelet at the grill.

But music, apparently in live concert, in the pub, the club, or in Times Square or Martin Place... that's free game.
Has this ever bothered you? What did you do about this?

Oh, at the neighbourhood church, they would welcome you to join them in singing to God, by the way. And I wonder if God Himself might not be joining in the chorus. As the Jewish prophet Zephaniah said, "The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing." Want to join in?

03 July 2017

Sinner or saint?


This blog was prompted by some Facebook conversation. The issue may be simplified to a binary consideration--which is true? Are believers to self-define as "a sinner saved by grace or a saint awaiting heaven?" The difference may be negligible to some, but let me see if I can unpack the differences. Back in the 1970s I used to read and reread two books which have stayed with me and in my mind for decades. They are Victory in Christ and Johannes Jorgensen's biography of St Francis of Assisi. I don't even remember who wrote that first book. What motivated me then still envelops me today. There are two realities in my life, and those two books well depicted each.

Victory contained a series of chapters highlighting our position in Messiah. Since Yeshua won the victory over death by his resurrection 2000 years ago, then we have nothing to fret, nothing to fear, nothing will cause us distress beyond our capacity. Paul the apostle wrote, "But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' O death, where is your victory? O death, Where is your sting?” but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah." (1 Corinthians 15.54-57)
John the apostle weighed in with "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith." (1John 5.4)

My life has taken this victory mentality seriously. I trust that God has done all that was necessary for me to survive, to win, to have an optimistic perspective. One of my life sayings is "Since Jesus is Lord, what is there to worry about?" It's similar with amendment to both Alfred E. Newman of Mad Magazine and Bobby McFerrin's 'Don't worry; be happy'. Newman's "What, me worry?' is close, but neither McFerrin nor Newman hit the right reason. Being happy, not worrying-- both good ideas, but on what do they base this happiness quotient?

That's why the book about our victory in Jesus is so significant. It taught me the position I have and should have each day. Because of the death of Messiah, I can feel good; I can overcome adversity; I saw the glass as half-full. I could sing happy clappy songs at church; I could withstand the rejections that came from being a full-on Jesus freak. No matter what others thought of me, God had welcomed me into his family and made me his. That sonship was rewarding then, in the present, and in the future. Positive attitude was mine, and that was victory.

I also read Jorgensen's biography of Francis. What a character from history. I knew nothing about the guy before about 1973, and two things helped me learn. One this book, which to this day, continues to assist me with another attitude, equally needed throughout the decades, and two, the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon, by Franco Zeffirelli. It was released in 1972, and I saw it about a year or two later. If there is a single word that characterizes this 13th Century mystic, it would be 'humility.' And that character trait, more than any other, is one which I desperately need, and for which I long.

Perhaps those two themes, victory and humility, are what I considered when the Facebook conversation ensued. Should a believer define himself as a sinner saved by grace (humility) or a saint bound for heaven (victory)? I suppose it might be a matter of degree or timing, depending on whom you ask. And maybe that's why I found such a firm footing each time I would read either of those books. Yes, it's clear that we are failed humans, that our sin nature often finds us acting out in wrong behavior, and humility before a holy God is normal. Psalm 51 says "in sin did my mother conceive me" and a serious admission of sin by the great King David of Israel. (circa 1000 BCE). David said, "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin, for I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me."

Admitting our sin is right, and righteous. Admitting our sin is an honest mark of humility. And the result of that admission is the forgiveness that only God can fully extend. David said, "Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean." (51.7) and "Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness." Victory comes and happiness is resultant from repentance.

"Never water down the word of God, preach it in its undiluted sternness; there must be unflinching loyalty to the word of God; but when you come to personal dealing with your fellow men, remember who you are - not a special being made up in heaven, but a sinner saved by grace." so said Oswald Chambers.

So what's the verdict? His blood has set me free. Victory comes, not because I'm so worry free, not because I'm so good, but because of God's awesome grace and forgiveness. My humility is the entry to the eternal hope of mankind, a relationship with God through Jesus, the Savior. This sinner saved by grace has the victory, and I'm singing tonight. Thanks be to God who gives me the victory.

01 July 2017

How would you answer this man?


I had a discussion today with a man who posed an interesting theory. He has been informed of many philosophies and religions throughout his life, so his position is not one which he has not seriously considered. At the risk of simplifying his reasoning, let me say many of his thoughts and you consider along with him what he is saying, and if you can or want to enter the discussion, answer my question, "how would you answer this man's allegations?'

He says he regularly steals from a grocery store in his neighborhood. It's a national chain here in Australia. His rationale is that the company makes too much money, and thus their money-making must be tainted, with greed, or with some other dirty method of making money, thus the money is not really theirs, since they have stolen it, so his sense of justice invites, no, almost demands, that someone steals the money (or product) back from them. It's Robin Hood-like.

His justification involved a comparison of two men. First was his kindly old uncle who was a humble farmer, all his life, who was worth close to a million dollars at his death. That money was distributed to the many, and he honestly earned all that money, one farm product and hard work at a time. He didn't go on vacations; he didn't live above his means...he was a simple man.

The other man in this man's comparison was Donald Trump. According to this man, Donald was a thief, who made more money than he ever could spend, and the money he made was not due to his hard work at all. He demanded from others; he made others work hard. But it wasn't earned so much as stolen money. Similar to the grocery chain.

OK, fair enough, do you have enough information to answer this man ywr?

He said that the million dollars of Mr Trump and the million dollars of his farmer uncle were equal scientifically, of course, but not equal at all, because of two things: 1) how they earned it and 2) the source of the money changed its intrinsic value, that is the Trump million was tainted.

A man should never earn more than he needs, this man averred, and what a man needed could be defined as owning one house, and perhaps another one, a distant one, for vacations. If a man made more than what he needed, there should be some sharing, some equity, some distribution of that wealth, and if that fair distribution didn't happen, then that was a clear sign of tainted, indulgent, 'dirty' money that needed to be taken, like the grocery stock to equalize the situation.

Do you have enough information to answer this man?

You may NOT use the Bible, or even the Older Testament, although he is Jewish, Bar Mitzvah and all. Just because some old Jewish man who was a power-hungry 80-year-old came up with such commandments don't necessarily translate to today's world, he says. OK, fair enough. Using only assumptions and philosophies and looking at big pictures, what would you answer this man?

23 June 2017

THEIR costs go up? And so...?



We just received an email from our mail house. "postage prices will increase by around 4% as of 3 July 2017" Ah, thanks again Aussie Post. 4% is a huge increase, when the other numbers from the government show price increases only of 2-3%. Even so, prices have to go up, they say.

Who decides this anyway? It's as if each sector of the economy or the government is quoting one or another. For instance, the tolls on the motorways are set to increase on 1 July. And the prices of bread and petrol, of clothing and insurance-- all will rise, because, well, you know, they will hem, haw and say, "Prices are going up. We have to keep up to match them." And no one will stop the madness.

I'm of the opinion that someone has to prevent prices from ascending, in their own way. I'm planning to keep our prices down, in fact, lower than ever. Our cheapest Hanukkah candles remain at $5, our CDs are now almost all $22 rather than the market-bearing $29. We will continue to help everyone find affordability in our on-line catalog. That way, our products will continue to help the ordinary Christian to understand Jewish people, and they will help the ordinary Jewish person to sort out the issue of Yeshua-- who is he? If you can find our products on your bookcases or in your car glove box, then that will only help. See what I mean?

I pondered this some years ago, when the state government acknowledged that they were losing money on the Cross City Tunnel. So what's a government to do? Obviously raise the rates, they thought. BUT all they did was punish the users of the tunnel. What they should have done was to LOWER the costs, and thereby procure more funds from more users of the tunnel. Volume is the answer; not sticking it to the customers. You see what I mean?

But they didn't listen to me then; they won't listen to me now. And I can live with that. Even so, I'm not going to raise the rates. Let's live sensibly, help each other, donate when we can. And make a difference in our world, one government agency or customer at a time. See you at our book shop!

18 June 2017

Who wins?


Yesterday, the Sydney Swans came from 35 points down to beat the Richmond Tigers in a great Round 13 match at the MCG. I was cheering for Sydney, of course, but the real winner was footy. Anyone who likes the game will admit that the league came out the better, the winner.

Before 1989, the Berlin Wall was the Great Divide between East and West Germany. Many families were forced to be separated by the introduction of that divide when it was built in 1961. And although many submitted to its imposition, there were families that continued to meet and have reunions in Lake Ballaton, Hungary. Hungary was the winner; family was the winner.

I often speak in churches, from independent Baptist to messianic congregations to Catholic and ecumenical Pentecostal gatherings. It's such a joy to see the width of the expression of God's Kingdom. A friend of mine and I were speaking today about religion, and he's not yet convinced of the Bible's truths, about Jesus, about God's awesome love. Fair enough. When we spoke about the divides in the religions of Christendom, I suggested that he read the Gospel of John. There the words of the Messiah would be made clear. No one owns Jesus. Baptists and Presbyterians, Messianics and Penties.. none of us. That brought to mind these words of philosopher and Boston College professor Peter Kreeft.

"If the churches ever did reunite, it would have to be into something that was as sacramental and liturgical and authoritative as the Roman Catholic Church and as protesting against abuses and as much focused on the individual in his direct relationship with Christ as the Evangelicals, as charismatic as the Pentecostals, as missionary-minded as the old mainline denominations, as focused on holiness as the Methodists or the Quakers, as committed to the social aspects of the Gospel as the social activists, as Biblical as fundamentalists, and as mystical as the Eastern Orthodox."

I suppose to stay with my theme, the Church would be the winner. And maybe that's why I enjoy my preaching schedule. I so appreciate the width of the varied expressions of Messiah's life. Kreeft has it right. No one owns the messianic message. That is, none of us owns it. Yeshua Himself owns His own message. And when we stand together, we amplify His message to the waiting world. And then we become the winner. That's a classic win/ win. Who's with me?

To watch and listen to my sermon given today at an ecumenical gathering in Sydney, click here.

15 June 2017

Was Rodney King right?


James Hodgkinson from Illinois in the US was killed today near a baseball field just outside Washington, DC. He had a gun and was firing at members of the Republican Party congressional delegation who were practicing baseball. Some members of Congress went into and are out of surgery. No one else died. It was near 7 a.m. Wednesday. The policemen who killed Hodgkinson prevented more tragedy as there were at least 40 people involved in the practice session and many other locals in the area walking their dogs, out to the cafes, etc. For the moment, that episode is over.

I watched a press conference later that day about 4 pm. Featured were Rep. Mike Doyle, Democrat from Pennsylvania, and Rep. Joe Barton, Republican from Texas.
Here they are in the photo. Barton had been on the field at the time of the incident. Barton had his two sons with him, who were just outside the fence. Doyle and Barton have known each other for a long time, they said, and their comments were humanizing and warm. Their affection was not a photo op; their lives are well known to each other and the commaraderie was clear.

The two shared about the tensions in the government, about the hostility and tweets and the atmosphere of partisanship which has lately characterized Congress. And Doyle "hoped" and Barton was "sure" that things would change as a result of today's episode on the field. I heard an echo of the famous line from Rodney King. He famously said, "Can we all just get along?"

To help your memory, King was 25 years old in 1991, at the time of his arrest. Police tried to pull him over in Los Angeles, and had resisted arrest leading police on an 8-mile chase. When finally pulled over police brutality was videotaped. You can see the famous beating by four policemen (see this video from newsman Mike Wallace ). Wallace's report covers the trial and the resultant rioting in South Central and even King's famous line. "Can we all just get along?" (about 18 minutes in)
Here are some other YouTube videos: here and here also .

I agree with Doyle and Barton. Let's get along. Let's stop being so strident, no matter our political views. No matter our race. No matter. Let's learn what Jesus taught, to love one another. I really liked what Rep Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat of Hawaii) said in her interview with Fox News. "I believe failure is not an option... in a moment of unfortunate tragedy... is that opportunity for us as Americans, for leaders in this country to rise up, to set the example, to set that tone of dialogue in conversation... We all have different ideas... The most critical thing is that...we have to debate... actually working together and not demonizing each other."

Maybe Rodney King's famous calming line was right.
Jesus certainly was right.
Labour, Liberal, male, female, he said, she said... Hodgkinson's response was wrong.

Let's all get along.

14 June 2017

The deer, the water, and depression


A Christian man on Long Island wrote a song with words from Psalm 42. "As the deer panteth for the waters, so my soul longeth after thee." It's a prayer of the Sons of Korach, whichever sons those are. I always enjoyed singing this song. Not that I deeply considered the text from that particular psalm. Then last week, a group of us discussed Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 (they probably were originally one psalm) and this verse popped up.


Let me put this line of the song into its literary setting.
As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence. (Psalm 42.1-5)

The little 'Bambi' deer in the photo and in the Marty Nystrom song is exactly NOT what the Psalmists are writing. The author(s) are desperate, more like a vagabond, a lonely man, a starved, aching desperado. Their anguish is summarized in the words, "My tears have been my food", "I will say to God, “Why have You forgotten me?", and "Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me." Those are not gentle words of a smiling deer, but the deep, heart-felt cries of man-in-pain. Deep pain. Aches that describe a depressed, down-in-the-dumps singer.

So why is that in the Bible, anyway? Shouldn't a Bible-believer sing happy-clappy songs throughout his days? When someone finds eternal life in Messiah Jesus, shouldn't they have a good life, full of pleasure and without suffering or angst?

In his classic Making Sense out of Suffering, Peter Kreeft argues well for the need for suffering. Without it, we would have a bad story. Without it we would not learn kindness. Without it we fail to grow in wisdom. He says, "the most popular modern answer to the question of what it means to be a good person is to be kind. Do not make other people suffer. If it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s O.K. By this standard, God is not good it he lets us suffer. But by ancient standards, God might be good even though he lets us suffer, if he does it for the sake of the greater end of happiness, perfection of life and character and soul, that is, self.”

The apostle John wrote about the overcoming of the Devil in Revelation chapter 12. "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life unto death." The pain of life, in the midst of others' pleasures, that seems to be the fate of those who want to win.

Kreeft continues in that book, "“When the worldly toys in which we foolishly place our hopes for happiness are taken away from us, our foolishness is also taken away, and this brings us closer to true happiness, which is not in worldly things but in wisdom.”

Philip Yancey writes in Where is God when it hurts?, "God does not, in the comfortable surroundings of heaven, turn a deaf ear to the sounds of suffering on this groaning planet. He joined us, choosing to live among an oppressed people-- [Elie] Wiesel's own race-- in circumstances of poverty and great affliction... Jesus did not receive an answer to the questions of cause. "Why? ...why?" he called from the cross, and heard nothing but the silence of God. Even so, he responded with faithfulness, turning his attention to the good that his suffering could produce...Jesus' suffering was not a matter of impotence; he could have called on a legion of angels...God took the Great Pain of his own Son's death and used it to absorb into himself all the minor pains of earth. Suffering was the cost to God of forgiveness."

Suffering is purposeful, but depression? How is that useful? When is that to be relieved?

Maybe this article by Mary Leigh Keith will help. And the links they share at the end, also. You are not alone. We have walked this way before. And we are surviving. And finding God now and then. And that's worth it all. Like a deer, come find the water. The refreshing is in His presence. In that double psalm, it's at the altar. It's where the throngs were. The psalm ends with "hope in God." That conclusion, no matter the attending feelings-- that's where life really is.

What do you think?

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)
And
“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:
or
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
Australia

PHILADELPHIA VANDALISM
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.

ST LOUIS LAST WEEK
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.

SURPRISING HELPFUL HANDS
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."

MY THOUGHTS
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.