28 January 2017

Summer in the City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 January 2017

What makes this a "Good" news book?

Tonight we began a long series again in our book shop. Each Thursday, even next week on Australia Day, we study the Bible together and this week was no different. Although tonight we started a new book, the Gospel according to Matthew. The word "gospel" means "good news" and the question is begged... what makes this book such good news?
Good question.

Then the book begins with a long list of names, Hebrew names at that, which no one since Jehoshaphat has used. There was the exception like Jacob and Ruth, but mostly names like Eliud and Zerubbabel. Didn't exactly roll off our lips. And that's not a great way to start a biography of this Yeshua fellow. Good news? Barely news at all.

Until we started investigating some of the unusual listings. Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, and Bathsheba, along with Mary, who was no Catholic. There were five women listed in a Jewish genealogy. That's rare times rare to the 5th power. Men are listed in Jewish listings. That's it. That's all we need. That's all we ever needed. Until Matthew.

And those women all had some serious flaws or hung out with guys who had them or came from some history of bad stuff. All involved sexual activity. Tamar, who pretended to be a hooker and snagged her father-in-law in a lie and a furious outburst against her. He had tossed her aside and dismissed her from their family. Horrible start.
Rahab is next-- another hooker, for real-- who took care of some Jewish spies in her apartment upstairs and by faith in the reports about the Jewish people, went against the mayor and the chief of police in her village of Jericho. Only her family was spared when the walls came a-tumbling down.

Ruth was from Moab, which today would be in Jordan. And her ancestor, Moab, was the product of incest between Lot, nephew of Abraham, and Lot's daughter. Moab was both the son and grandson of Lot. Not a good start to a family tree.

All three of these women were Gentiles, and participated in Jewish life in such measure that they made it into the genealogy of Messiah Yeshua. But wait, there's more.

Bathsheba was the wife of a man named Uriah, the Hittite. Hittites were one of the seven people groups who lived in Canaan when Joshua and the Jewish people entered after the Exodus from Egypt. The Hittites were to have been eradicated, but Joshua thought better of that. So here's Uriah, and in the story he turns out to be a righteous dude. But King David, usually a good guy in the Book, turns out to be a very bad dude. He sleeps with Bathsheba while Uriah is out on his military assignment. She gets pregnant. David has Uriah killed, and the guilt and shame are catching up with him. His good buddy, the prophet Nathan takes him to task about all this, and David acknowledges his sin in the famous 51st Psalm. Bathsheba has a kid with David, of course, and this is Solomon the king. And he's in the line of Yeshua, too.

Finally there's Mary, the teenager who was engaged to this man Joseph, whose genealogy is what we are reading. Before Mary and Joseph tied the knot and enjoyed the marriage bed, she is informed that she's going to have a baby, as a result of God making her pregnant. Seriously. Virgin conception. That's a miracle.

OK< so all five of these listed women have a bit of sexual impropriety in their lives, or so it appears. Why did Matthew choose to indicate this was 'good' news? For whom would this be good anyway?

I believe the key is found later in two places in the book. First, in chapter 9, Matthew self-describes as a tax collector. Those folks were not the best, not the most liked by either Roman or Jewish society. They were cashed up, to be sure, but his riches left him no pleasure, and no assurance of God's life being his. When Yeshua called Matthew to 'follow' him, immediately he left all that he knew, and did just that. Tax collectors, just like today's IRS or ATO, are unloved by the masses. In fact, we could safely say they were despised.

The other statement of note in this question of the listing of the sordid women is found in chapter 21.
Yeshua used a question about two sons, and which son did the will of his father to describe this single category of people. The father asked the sons to do something. One said, "no" and then later regretted his statement and went to accomplish his father's request. The other son said, "Sure thing," and then didn't follow through. Yeshua asked the people, "Which of the two did the will of his father?" Obviously the first one. And to whom does he compare that first son? To prostitutes and tax collectors. Wow, what a linkage!

“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him." (21.31-32)

Tax collectors were people of status; prostitutes had another, a lower reputation. But both were an embarrassment to proper Jewish society. That Matthew links the two classes of rejection into one, that's very telling. The listing of the 'bad' women in the genealogy says that Matthew says there is hope for everyone. There is hope for hookers. There is hope for the IRS man. There is hope for every person in society-- not because of a new class on offer at the university or because of a new John in the 'hood-- but because God can make good come out of the worst of situations.

Grace abounds where sin abounds. So Paul said in Romans 5.20 "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." God can and will override all the bad news the world offers, and bring us 'good' news. That's what Matthew and Paul and I and countless millions have discovered. Good news comes to those who believe in the Grace and Goodness of the Almighty. Even dark clouds have silver linings.

I'm counting on God just now in my life.
I invite you to count on Him just now in yours as well.
And I wish you a good 2017 because of the forgiveness and grace of God.

16 January 2017

Back to work

Our office was shut over the Christmas/ Hanukkah/ New Year holidays and we are grateful for the rest and repair afforded us. And now, we are back to work and welcoming shop visitors and your enquiries.
Ring 1.800.Messiah from here in Australia or +61.29388.0559 from outside Australia.

We hope your 2017 is full of joy and vigor.

03 January 2017

New year, really?

The fireworks displays in Sydney, Nashville, and villages and hamlets around the world have come, blown sky high, and fallen and collected into yesterday's rubbish bin. And the oohs and aahs, the videos on smartphones and the drunken revelry are a fading memory. Maybe a haunting shake of the head accompanies that fading. Across the nations hope was springing into conversations, filling resolution envelopes, and making some refuse their first drink, their first or third burger of the night. For whatever reason, the world stops and notices the timing and calendar-changing each 1 January.

People have been back to the malls for days since Christmas, exchanging their unwanted sweaters and toys, in hopes of finding another good gift to their satisfaction.

In Australia it's the middle of summer; in the US it's winter, just having passed the solstice. In Singapore the temperature never really cares what the calendar discloses. But whatever the season, we long for hope. Real hope. That's the stuff of superheroes and of Jane Austen novels. That's why we watch to the end of movies, and why we endured high school. When the boss tells you again about your failings, and yet doesn't fire you, and the next day you return to work, it's full of hope, that things might actually change. Things might be different.

I'm a hopeful golfer. That may be a redundant description. Why else do golfers return to the course week after week? Yes, once in a while we hit an exceptional shot, sink a long putt on an undulating green, and punch a recovery shot through some patch of trees onto the fairway. But most duffers like me, and that would include most of the people reading this blog, return to the golf course, hoping that the next 18 will be at least as good as last time, and maybe even better. We grab the 6-iron because that should land on the green and stick. We even wear the clothes that should keep us warm or dry enough no matter what happens during the next four hours.

However, hope among golfers is often dashed. Reality bites and we fall back to normal and less-than-better. The putt goes left instead of our anticipated right turn near the hole. The 6-iron sends the ball 15 metres further than the green, and deep in the back bunker. After all, we are just who we are. We are not Tom or Bubba Watson. We are not Jack Nicklaus. We are just us.

Still, hope makes sense. Not because 2016 was better than 2015. Not because 2010 was better than 2009. But because eternity is better than what we have on fallen earth. There will be a better place; there will be better days. On what do I base that conclusion? My own life? Today? Not even close. I'm in desperately despairing days just now. The hope I have is one based on the Messiah who looked at our being brought back into relationship with the Almighty, and went through hell to get us there. Literally. The pain and suffering Messiah endured was for a reason. Actually for many reasons.

God loved the world so much that He sent His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.

The Son loved us enough to go through the darkness of despair, of separation from the Father for the first and only time in history, taking our sins upon Himself to accomplish the Great Exchange. This exchange tops anything in any mall anywhere. It's written like this in Paul's letter to the believers in Corinth.
"God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5.21) That's what Yeshua (Jesus) did for us. Willingly. Fully aware of what would happen. And what is happening each time we turn in faith to receive the Great Exchange.

I count the Bible as trustworthy.
I count the Lord of Heaven and earth as trustworthy.
I have hope because of Him.
So can you.

Happy 2017.