25 December 2017

Who says this is a miracle?

The year: 1980. 8,500 people screaming in the arena. According to Wikipedia, "The "Miracle on Ice" refers to a medal-round game during the men's ice hockey tournament at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, played between the hosting United States, and the defending gold medalists, the Soviet Union. Here is the last 60 seconds video to watch.  The announcer asked, "Do you believe in miracles?"

Mario Chalmers is an Alaskan basketball player whose career at Kansas University was stellar and launched his continued career in the NBA. In the 2008 championship game, KU played Memphis in San Antonio. With 10 seconds left, Memphis had the lead and Derrick Rose was shooting 2 free throws. Easy, no problem. Except Rose as the entire Memphis Tigers team had done all evening, missed another free throw. KU had 10 seconds to get a 3-point play to tie. They had shot only 2 3-pointers all game. But Mario sank his with 2 seconds left and sent the game into overtime. Here's the video of the last 10 seconds of regulation.  The next day, the papers called Chalmers' shot a miracle.  (I disagreed, but that was another blog)


The word 'miracle' is often misused, even abused. Every breath is a miracle, some say. If Susie will notice Larry at the year 9 dance, it will be a miracle. They sell miracle cures for hair loss and any number of other first world troubles on late-night television. 

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbi Shmary Brownstein of Chabad writes about miracles quoting Maimonides and Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi (1660-1718) among others. Brownstein explains that what we refer to as nature is actually miraculous and “unnatural.” It is only because “natural” events happen all the time that we take them for granted.

But how is nature and above nature or unnatural all the same? Philosophically that doesn't work.

He says, "In the words of the Talmud, “The one to whom the miracle is happening, does not recognize the miracle.”... Extraordinary miracles wake us up to the fact that all of life, down to the minute details, is one big miracle...Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed, writes that all supernatural events were “programmed” into the world at the time of creation...In our daily prayers, we thank G‑d “for Your miracles that are done for us daily.”"

If it's supernatural, then it's not natural. If it's extraordinary, then it cannot be ordinary. Right?

Think about it. When men on ice skates slap a puck into a net 4 times, and their opponents do the same only 3 times, the 4-times men win the game. That's not a miracle. When Chalmers hit the 3-point shot with 2 seconds left, it wasn't a miracle; it was a great shot. 

But miracles do happen. 

Kris Samons of Probe Ministries quotes C.S. Lewis well in this answer:
"It’s very interesting that a common word used for miracle in the New Testament can also be translated “sign.” A miracle is a sign that God uses to point to Himself; the same way we follow signs to find a museum or an airport.
An interesting question may arise. Does something have to break a natural law for it to be a miracle? C.S. Lewis defines a “miracle” in his work by the same name as an interference with nature by a supernatural power. Obviously, to interfere with natural law may not necessarily mean to break the natural law. In fact, nature and “supernature” become interlocked after a miracle occurs and nature carries on according to the change wrought by that event. A science example: the law of inertia (Newton’s first law of motion) states that an object will remain in rest until an external force is applied. Nature can only move from event to event through supernatural intervention.
Deists believe that it was only at creation that the supernatural and the natural related. But we Christian theists believe that God has intervened in nature by its inception, sustained it by His preserving power, and will redeem it through the final act of intervention. The creation and incarnation of Christ are the perfect examples of supernatural inertia (another way of referring to a miracle), not to mention their conclusion as well, in His second coming. God is still in the business of working miracles. And we wait eagerly for that greatest miracle of them all–the redemption of all creation."
Sign-- the Hebrew word is "OAT." Like in Isaiah 7:14. "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel." Virgins don't have babies. So when a virgin walks around the village insisting she has not had relations with a man, and brings a child into the world, that would be miraculous. And Samons' words are true again as this sign God used to point people to Himself. 
That's the story of Christmas. Mary, Joseph, the baby, Bethlehem. It's all there and it's all a sign. Have you seen the sign? Do you know which direction it's pointing you?

The birth of Messiah was like this: "When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. and Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. but when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Isaiah): “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 

And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus."(as recorded by Matthew in chapter 1:18-25)

That's a sign.
Where is it pointing?
Where is it pointing you?

Merry Christmas.


11 December 2017

Hanukkah begins Tuesday...some questions and answers

What does Hanukkah celebrate?

Happy Hanukkah! This is the Jewish holiday celebrated worldwide in December each year, which marks the anniversary of a military victory about 2100 years ago. The occupier of the land of Israel then was a Syrian Greek king named Antiochus the Fourth. He was not good for the Jews, and even went so far as to outlaw the Jewish religion. He ordered us Jews to worship Greek gods. In the year 168 B.C., his soldiers massacred hundreds of people in Jerusalem and desecrated the holy Temple. They built an altar to Zeus and sacrificed pigs on it.


The story goes that one man, Mattathias Maccabee, and his five sons rose up in a little village named Modi’in, and called on the Jewish people to join them against Antiochus. Their call was successful, as many joined in the fight. Mattathias died a couple years later, and his son Judah Maccabee took over, and finished the recapture of Jerusalem.

When they entered the holy Temple, they found the desecration overwhelming. They rededicated the place to the Lord, and celebrated for 8 days. They probably were celebrating Sukkot, a Jewish holiday they could not practice during the final stages of the war against the Syrians a few months earlier.

The word ‘dedication’ is the Hebrew word “Hanukkah”, so when we celebrate Hanukkah, we are celebrating the dedication of the holy Temple 2100 years ago, and for messianic Jews, we are dedicating ourselves again and again to the Living God and to His plan, who loves all people in December, and throughout our days. Happy Hanukkah!


What is the meaning of the Menorah?


The Bible describes a lampstand (Exodus 25.31-34) that was in use in the Holy Temple about 2000 years ago. It had seven branches and was lit with oil. So, the modern Menorah is similar, but not the same as that one. We use nine branches in the modern menorah, which many title a Hanukkiah.
The legend of Hanukkah is retold that when the Maccabees entered the Holy Temple and sought to ready it for regular use again, they found only one small jar of oil that had been prepared. This jar would have been enough to burn for only one day, but amazingly the little amount lasted for 8 days. So that’s why some people celebrate the holiday for 8 days.
But why 9 branches then?
The ninth candle is a servant candle, which is used to light the others in turn.
The menorah in Bible days was a reminder of God’s light being given to all people, representing His knowledge, His presence, and His glory. Yeshua, our Messiah, and the Servant of the Lord, declared Himself to be the “Light of the World” in Jerusalem, and we as Messianic Jews agree. Happy Hanukkah!


Did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah?

Today when we say ‘holiday celebrations’, we often think of foods, greeting cards and family gatherings, as in celebrating Thanksgiving or Mother’s Day. It’s unfair to link this to the same in ancient Israelite practices. That said, the use of Hanukkah as a marker in the Scriptures is clear. Remember the Older Testament ends before Hanukkah had even taken place. Hanukkah marks a military victory in 165 BCE.

Did Yeshua celebrate Hanukkah? He was in Jerusalem, in the Temple, at that time. John chapter 10 records “At that time the Feast of the Dedication (or Hanukkah) took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Yeshua was walking in the temple! The Jewish leaders gathered around Him, and asked Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”  Yeshua answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me…I and the Father are one.” (John 10.22-30)
Did Yeshua celebrate Hanukkah? Let’s just say he noticed it, was in the right place to observe it with the Jewish people, and used the occasion to declare Himself the Light of the World and Messiah of Israel. What do you think about that? Have a happy Hanukkah.

Is Hanukkah a Biblical Feast? 

Neither the word, nor the holiday Hanukkah is found in the record of the Older Testament, since the canon, the official collection of what is in the Scriptures, was closed before the military victory of the Maccabees occurred. So, the Jewish Bible, the one Yeshua read, has no mention of the story of Antiochus and the Syrian Greeks, of Judah Maccabee and the few beating up on the many. The story of Hanukkah is similar to the story of David and Goliath.
That the Newer Testament mentions the holiday (John 10.22) as a marker of a time when Yeshua was in the precinct of the Holy Temple is significant. But most non-Jewish Christians don’t celebrate Hanukkah at all.
Many Jewish believers in Jesus do celebrate the holiday in measure, that is, in some form or another. Whether with dreidels or latkes, with sufganiyot or family gatherings, Hanukkah is a great time of year to remind ourselves of God, and of His love for us.



Is there a Messianic significance to Hanukkah? 

There is no prophetic significance about a coming messiah from the annals of the Jewish people and the holiday of Hanukkah. It is a great time of year, in Israel when the weather is getting colder, and in Russia, Europe and North America, as a sort of answer to all the glitter and merriment of Christmas. In the Southern hemisphere when the weather is warming and summer approaching, the joy of that season is great, but again, nothing is messianic about this holiday.
That said, however, the Messiah did proclaim Himself as deity on Hanukkah. (John 10.30) That proclamation was in direct answer to some Jewish leaders who wanted to know what Yeshua was saying of Himself. On that occasion, in the precinct of the Holy Temple, Yeshua identified Himself as equal with the Father God.
What was the reaction of the crowd, especially of the leadership? They picked up stones to stone him! (John 10.31) They knew what He was saying. Their anger was palpable, and yet He eluded their grasp. (John 10.39)
What is your reaction to the claim—Yeshua claimed to be deity. What do you think about that?  Happy Hanukkah!


Is there any connection between Hanukkah and Christmas?

The only real connection is the calendar-sharing between the two holidays. Before 1930, the commercialism and consumerism which drives the Christmas season and gift purchasing in these days was not known. I know, it’s hard to imagine a year when we don’t see Christmas glitter and sale items beginning in October in your favorite stores, but before the turn of the 20th century, Christmas was a quiet, at home, or at church, holy day. In 1930 or so, when Coca Cola began in their advertising, using a department store Santa in a red suit, the Christmas we know in these days was born.

As a direct result, Jewish families, who were left out of the traditional Christmas because of religious convictions, created a new Hanukkah, with increased gift giving and decorations which would have been completely unknown 100 years earlier.

But the only real connection between Christmas and Hanukkah is that Yeshua, the Light of the World, whose birth was trumpeted by angels and shepherds and wise men 2000 years ago, may not have been born were it not for Hanukkah. If Antiochus and any other evil anti-Semitic king had been successful in wiping out the Jewish people, then there would be no Christmas. After all, Christmas is a Jewish holiday. It’s the celebration of the birth of the greatest Jew who ever lived. Who do you think Jesus is? Have a happy Hanukkah!


Can our family celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas? 

So many families today are blends of races or religions, of step-children and 2nd partners, that it’s often hard to keep track of traditions and compatibilities. At this time of year, when people of faith want to lock into history and future, we heartily recommend an honest celebration of holidays.

If your family is composed of someone Jewish and someone Christian, perhaps a mutual joint celebration of each, in the integrity of each holiday would be warranted.

For Jewish people, Hanukkah is the story of God delivering us from evil and oppression. We were freed to practice our religion however we saw fit. According to the Bible, Christmas, or the birth of Yeshua, celebrates the deliverance of all people from sin, and its power to oppress and dominate us. Both holidays are about freedom and about God.

Don’t blur them into being neither fish nor fowl. What I mean is don’t use a Christmukah bush or something which would demean both holidays of their deeper meaning. Let Hanukkah talk about God; let Christmas talk to you about the birth of the King of Israel.

Happy Hanukkah! Shalom.