For everything under heaven…

IMG_1952November brings an end to the celebrations of the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.  While the whole year was a build-up to this years’ Reformation Day celebrations, I don’t think 501 years is anything to sneeze at!  But we do all like round numbers, don’t we?

I do love the cycles and seasons of the church year.  Risking being repetitive, back in September I mentioned the Pete Seeger song “Turn, Turn! Turn!” based on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  Of course, this song was made most popular by the folk-rock group The Byrds, who had a #1 single of this song in 1965(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZEYW2ROKK8). Whenever I read Ecclesiastes, I find it difficult not to start singing this song in my head as I read.  This month I was preaching at Trinity Lutheran Church in Northfield, MN, where they had a wonderful banner in their narthex.  It was four panels illustrating the Church Year with the quote from Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything under heaven, there is a time and a season.”  Of course, in my head I started hearing that distinctive 12-string Rickenbacker that Jim McGuinn played.  I don’t know if that is good or bad, but music has a way of penetrating so deeply into the human memory.  This month also brings to an end the current cycle of the Church Year.  November 26 is “The Last Sunday of the Church Year.”   Then the paraments change from green to blue, and Advent is begun.  Music being what it is, I always look forward to hearing all those wonderful Advent hymns of the season.

I think it is interesting that Thanksgiving Day, at least here in the U.S., falls on the fourth Thursday of November.  I’m sure this had nothing to do with the seasons of the Church Year, but what a wonderful opportunity to gather on Thanksgiving Day and give thanks…including thanks for the Church Year.  The last Sundays of the Church Year focus on Christ’s return, and what that means for believers and unbelievers alike.  That focus is good, and leads us into the season of anticipation of Christ’s first coming in the wonderful ways that cycles and circles go.  For everything under heaven, including those who do not yet know Jesus, there is still time to tell!  Give thanks and Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Trinity in Lev. 23?

unspecified-19-1Tonight begins Sukkoth.  Sukkoth, the Feast of Tabernacles (“Booths” in the ESV), is the third of three autumn pilgrimage festivals appointed by God in Leviticus 23.  This particular festival is the celebration festival of the autumn calendar.  The first two, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are solemn, but Sukkoth is festival of rejoicing.

I was on the radio this week, and the guy on the board was talking to me during a break and relating that he saw on Facebook the admonition to not wish Jewish people a “Happy Rosh HaShanah,” because Rosh HaShanah is anything but happy.  It is a solemn memorial.  But to wish Jewish people a Happy Sukkoth would not be untoward.  (Truthfully, I don’t know many Jewish people who would take offense at their friends wishing them a happy Rosh HaShanah, but the usual greeting is La Shana Tova, literally, “A Good Year,” referencing the greater greeting of “May your name be inscribed for a good year,” that inscription being in the Book of Life.)  In our Detroit branch we gave away many baskets of apples & honey with that greeting.  You can see those on the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ChaivShalom/?ref=bookmarks).  But as Sukkoth is a festival of rejoicing, rejoice!  Happy Sukkoth, or even better, Chag Sukkoth Sameach!

We built our booth, or Sukkah, on Sunday afternoon following our service.  (You can see a picture and video on our Facebook page too!)  The Sukkah is a relatively flimsy booth built with a roof of branches that do nothing to keep the rain or the sun out.  It is a reminder of the booths we lived in in the desert as we schlepped from Egypt to Israel following God’s deliverance of his people from bondage.  The message is that anything we build with our hands is flimsy indeed compared to the building that God is providing for us.  A time of remembrance and a time of rejoicing in God’s constant care and provision.

In many ways, and I preached this during Yom Kippur, the three autumn festivals are a picture of God himself and are very Trinitarian.  On Rosh HaShanah, God the Father blows a trumpet to get our attention off of ourselves and onto Him.  Then he shows us our deliverance on Yom Kippur as God the Son takes on flesh and blood and becomes the sacrifice for our atonement.  These are solemn acts indeed and our response is one of quiet solemnity.  But at Sukkoth we rejoice as God, the Holy Spirit, is poured out upon us and shows us His sacrifice, His love, and His provision.  All three persons of the Godhead are there in these three festivals!  What a joy to share this truth with those who cannot see.

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To everything there is a season…

UntitledSeptember brings what I call “learning season.”  Yes, of course, learning is year-round, but the Autumn brings a new crop of students.  This semester I have 15 high school-aged students that I tutor in Classical Conversations (www.classicalconversations.com), and 6 new seminary students who are learning to share their faith in a Jewish context.  Additionally, I have had opportunity to write for a new book coming out by Concordia Publishing House called The Christian Difference, and work with LCMS Witness and Outreach on their new missions curriculum Every One His Witness.

All of this stuff, in addition to the mission society and the congregation, keeps me pretty busy.  But it all serves the mission of the Church, so I am happy to do the work.  But, nothing brings instant gratification!  Everything in missions takes time and perseverance.  The book isn’t coming out until 2019 and I rarely hear from the students that I work with.  So it was with great joy that I received the following e-mail:

“Hi there–remember me?  My husband and I are in SC now.  We started a church here 12 years ago.  We have about 40 members now.  I have become friends with a really interesting Jewish lady who makes me think of you and times I spent with your church.   She came to our Christmas eve service in 2016.  We have had several discussions and she is now willing to take classes with Keith to become baptized and join our church.  Thought you might be interested in hearing about her.  Her parents escaped the Holocaust and came to New York City.”

This dear Jewish lady, Carol, is 77 years old and was baptized in August.  What a blessing!  The pastor and his wife were involved with our ministry while he was a student at Concordia over 17 years ago.

Back in the ’50’s, Pete Seeger wrote “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” (Judy Collins sings it here) an almost verbatim rendition of Ecc. 3:1-8.  We have a Hebrew lithograph of that text on the wall of our sanctuary.  I look at that on occasion and have to remind myself that God’s timing is always perfect, so I just have to wait.  And occasionally, He blesses me with a glimpse.  He did that through that e-mail!  Keep Keith, Judy and Carol in your prayers, as they walk together in Y’shua, especially during this High Holy Season. Now Carol’s name is truly written in the Lamb’s Book of Life!  Shalom, Peace.

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Respite

Solar_eclipse_1999_4_NRToday I experienced a total eclipse of the sun.  My family and I drove 36 miles southwest of St. Louis to Washington, where there was the greatest amount of “totality,” a little over two minutes.

We got there early staking our place out under a tree, down by the Missouri River.  As people gathered, a sense of excitement grew as footballs were thrown, a barbecue grill was started, and a policeman walked around handing out free solar glasses to anyone who needed a pair while she laughed and chatted amiably with the folks.  We built two pinhole cameras to see the eclipse along with our ISO rated glasses.  The glasses were great, but there was something really good about the “old-school” pinhole cameras too.  A couple of guys even older than me had some awesome telescope shaped pinhole cameras.  As the morning went on, I had several good conversations with people who had gathered with us, one family from Oklahoma.

The eclipse started around 11:48, and suddenly, folks were getting their glasses, looking into the sun, and the air of expectation built.  It began slowly, but soon the quality of the light was different … muted somehow.  As it got darker, the shadows through the trees became crescent shaped, and everything grew still as if a curtain had been opened at a theater.  The lights of the town came up as the streetlights reacted to the light change, and the “orchestra” started as crickets and other insects started to chirp.  Suddenly, it was dark and people dropped their glasses and just stood quietly looking at the moon, with the sun’s corona shining around it–colors of pink, purple and magenta flashing–and an amazing sunset/sunrise effect over the river on the clouds.  Then, the crowd started to cheer, as if somehow they instinctively knew that God had presented us with this wonderful drama.

This might have been my first total eclipse.  I know that I remember seeing at least partial eclipses through those, then remarkable pinhole cameras.  But as I stood there marveling at totality, it truly filled us with a sense of awe.  I know my granddaughter Johnna was thrilled and amazed at such a sight, and we were struck with the sense of order that our Creator designed the universe with.  It is just this order of His that gives us the ability to predict such things with such accuracy.

After the past week of lunacy and disorder in Spain, Finland, Charlottesville, Boston, and other places, today was a much-needed counterpoint as we experienced God’s great order in His creation.  Even the people were pleasant!  Surely this is how God meant for us to live.

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Jerusalem & The Temple Mount

shapeimage_3I grew up in a Jewish home, so the State of Israel has always been an important part of my life. However, I have tried to balance my understanding of Israel’s importance to me personally, with a scriptural view of the State of Israel’s place in God’s economy.

In the Jewish community, at least early on, there was dispute about whether or not the State of Israel was truly the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  Many in the Orthodox community believed that the reestablishment of the State of Israel was not of prophetic importance because Messiah has yet to come.  More recently though, the dispute in the Jewish community is less about Messiah, and more about the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement and the liberal agenda of Israel as “occupier” and the Palestinians as an “oppressed” people.

In the Church, there is also dispute, though all would agree that Messiah has  come.  But it is “end-times” prophecy that gets us all in a stew, seasoned with just a pinch of continuing (and perhaps undiscerned?) anti-Semitism.

Last month we observed the 50th anniversary of the 6 Day War and the return of Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount.  This month though, we observe the anniversary of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the First Temple with an annual fast day known as Tzom Tammuz.  This year, on July 11, it is 2604 years since that event.  This is the beginning of a three-week period of mourning leading up to Tish B’Av, at sundown on July 31, which is the same day that the 1st and 2nd Temples were destroyed, 655 years apart from each other.  Needless to say, Tish B’Av is a day considered by many to be a day of calamity.  What calamity should we expect this year?

For those of us who care enough to want to share our faith with Jewish people, we often find ourselves stuck in this intersection of opinions, looking around wondering who has the right of way! And no matter what, while everyone seems to have an opinion about Jesus, everyone also has an opinion about Israel.  It is becoming harder and harder to talk about Jesus without talking about Israel.  The question posed above is often asked during this time.  And while no answer seems sufficient, pain and suffering is best accompanied by a promise of hope and healing that comes with Messiah Y’shua.

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(For more on Tish B’Av, see my post from August 16, 2016)

The Six-Day War, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham!

UntitledYom Yerushalayim was last month on May 23 in Israel.  Otherwise known as “Jerusalem Day,” it is an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem, which happened following the Six-Day war.  Because of the differences between the Jewish calendar and the Gregorian calendar,  we mark the observance of Jerusalem Day in May (this year), but June 5-10 marks the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day war.  I can’t believe that it has been that long, and I remember it like it was yesterday. We, the American Jewish community, were sure that this was the end of Israel, and yet, much like our dreidel proclaims at Chanukkah, “a great miracle happened there!”

Many people debate about whether Israel has any historical right to the land that they are in.  Some make a biblical argument based on God’s promises to Abraham, others refute that and base their refutation on theological arguments and spiritualize Israel as only the Church and the promised land as “heaven.”  (Certainly Paul, uses Israel to refer to the Church, but also to the land and to the ethnic people…see Romans 9-11.)  Still others refute such a right because they see Israel as an oppressive government that has displaced an indigenous people, the “Palestinians.”  No matter what, Israel is a lightening rod that draws a lot of opinion, anger and attention.

While this is not an excursus on Israel, I just have to say that regardless of all the opinion out there,  there is a modern, historic foundation to Israel’s right to the land that is hard to refute.  It started on November 29, 1947 when the United Nations adopted a partition plan for Palestine following the British withdrawal from the region in 1948.  Effectively, the United Nations gave the area a “two-state solution” that we hear so much about today.  Israel and Palestine were created and the Jewish Agency for Palestine accepted the plan, despite the fact that the newly created Israel would have “indefensible” borders.  But the nations that surrounded Israel, Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq and Syria, along with the newly created “Palestinians,” rejected the plan and attacked Israel.  Anyone who believes a two-state solution would bring peace to the Middle East just needs to study history!

A dear friend of mine was an American military observer in Israel during the Six-Day war.  I remember him saying that the Israeli victory was nothing short of miraculous, that with God there is no such thing as “indefensible” borders, and clearly God is not done with His Jewish people.  These observations are also hard to refute.  Thank you for helping us share the Gospel here and in Israel!

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Memorial Day for whom?

00000563This morning I had the opportunity to sit in on a Lincoln-Douglas Debate.  Their debate prompt was “Resolved:  Rescuing great cultural and artistic achievements from theft or destruction is worth risking one’s life.”  I’m sure part of what prompted this prompt was the destruction and theft of cultural artifacts in Iraq, Syria and Libya by ISIS.  The concern on the part of the students is the fact that with such destruction comes the loss, change or intentional rewriting of history that accompanies it.  Certainly, in the Middle East, ISIS is attempting to eradicate any evidence of the Church’s history in those areas.  But are we in America any better?

Ironically, the Lincoln-Douglas Debate format is based on the 7 debates that Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held between August 21 and October 15, 1858.  Of course, the coming Civil War was the forefront of those debates.  And here we are today, with the debate still raging as communities attempt to rewrite our history by removing Confederate monuments.  Our new mayor in St. Louis is intent upon removing a Confederate monument in Forest Park because “it’s an emotionally charged issue…that is hurtful to so many people.”  Perhaps we should remove Douglas from the tableau at Lincoln Douglas Square in Alton, IL?  That’s probably coming.

What a ridiculous concept that if we have “hurt feelings” because of history, then we should just rewrite or eradicate that history, rather than learn from it.  This is the same logic that Holocaust deniers and historical revisionists use because there are people who are uncomfortable with the truth.  And where does it end?  Memorial Day emerged from competing Union and Confederate observances eventually becoming Memorial Day by 1882.  Shall we now make distinctions between those Americans who lost their lives in service to our country, but only those Americans who fought for ideals that we agree with?  Vietnam?  The Gulf wars?

Churchill once said that “History is written by the victors.”  But history is rewritten by the those with “hurt feelings.”  Progressive culture really wants to rewrite the Church, who, it seems, from their perspective, is oppressive.  Individuals and our feelings have become our idols.  And I am still awed by the fact that He, who knew no sin, became sin for us, and as Y’shua endured that pain, He was not a victim, but victor who cried out to His Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

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Easter Sunday: Passover–Deliverance

EasterIllustration:  “Easter,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1968.

“But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:5-6).

He is risen, He is risen, indeed! We can imagine the shouts of both women as they ran throughout the city. Jesus the Messiah has risen from the grave and is alive today! Because of this, we have the promise of eternal life. Hallelujah!

This should be the final message of the Passover meal. It is for this that the entire story of God’s deliverance is passed on from generation to generation. It is for the coming of the Messiah that God’s people pray in this meal. This meal should end with shouts of joy.  Our redemption is won!  He is risen indeed!

Sadly, that truth is still hidden from the hearts of most of those who share this meal. Every year they set a place for Elijah, and pour a cup of wine for him. The door is left ajar, and the children are sent out to see if he is coming. God’s Word tells us that Elijah will be back and announce that Messiah is come. But every year, the wine is untouched, the children are disappointed and the meal is finished on a note of empty hope. Maybe next year? Next year in Jerusalem?

What a joy that you can announce to them, “Elijah HAS come!”  Jesus declared that John the Baptist was “he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you…and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come'” (Matthew 11:10,14).  That “Elijah” came to do one thing:  Point us to the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

It is my prayer that this series, and the artwork of Marc Chagall, has given you some things to meditate on and has blessed you.  I pray that through you many will be blessed.

Prayer:  Our Father in Heaven, thank You for this journey. Guard my steps as I walk on, and help me to be your witness to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path: Pray with me that the families who share this meal tonight and tomorrow will come to know that Elijah has come and that all people will believe in Y’shua our Messiah. For Jesus has made you His witness. Our journey is not yet at the end, for there are many on the path ahead of us.

If you would like some help in sharing your faith, call us at Burning Bush Ministries (or Congregation Chai v’Shalom) at (314) 645-4456. We have a gospel tract written especially for Jewish people who are celebrating Passover and other resources that you can use on your journey.

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Passover and the Easter Vigil

The descent from crossIllustration:  “The descent from cross,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1968-76.

“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.  And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away” (Matthew 27:57-60).

There is more to examine in the tradition of the matzoh tosh. Our walk is not yet finished. Jesus has paid our penalty, but the tomb remains sealed.

In the Passover Seder, half of the middle matzoh has been removed from the matzoh tosh and has been wrapped in linen and hidden away. This is called the afikomen, which means “that which comes after.” This has been interpreted as the last thing that is eaten at the Passover meal.   It is traditional to hide this linen-wrapped bread somewhere in the house and during the meal all the children search the house for the afikomen. (The one who finds it and presents it to papa receives a gift, but the child must wait 50 days to receive the gift, which is presented at the festival of Shavuot. The gift is usually their first Hebrew Scriptures.) Then papa takes the afikomen and unwraps it, breaks it and distributes it with the third cup of wine after the meal. It is the afikomen and the cup of redemption that symbolize our redemption by God from slavery.

It is likely that the afikomen  was the bread that Jesus shared on His last night at the meal.  After all, whose body is it that lies hidden away, wrapped in linen, waiting to be found by those who would search? Those who find Jesus will receive a gift at the festival of Shavuot, which is also called Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit comes into those who believe in Jesus.

Prayer:  Abba, Father, thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit. You have guided me on this walk, and blessed me through Your Son, my Messiah. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  As we look forward to the glorious resurrection, remember  someone who has never seen the empty tomb.   Invite them to join you on your walk tomorrow.

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Good Friday: Passover–Deliverance

CrucifixionIllustration:  “Crucifixion,” by Marc Chagall, lithography on paper, 1964.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

You have heard me say that God has deposited His truth in the traditions of His people. And there is much more to the unleavened bread than we have seen already.

Before the Passover, the bread is prepared in a very special way. It is rolled out into flat sheets and pierced by a large wooden wheel with pins in it. The bread has no yeast and therefore will not rise. It is pierced to allow the heat from the baking to rise through the bread and avoid burning.  It is only baked for 18 minutes, the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word Chai, which means Life.  The baking process gives it dark stripes between the rows of holes.

Prior to the Passover Seder, three sheets of matzoh are placed in a special linen which has three compartments. This matzoh tosh is a tradition for which no one has an explanation.   Some say it represents the patriarchy, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Some say it represents the temple, at which worship the Israelites, the priests and the Levites. Neither of these explains the source of the tradition, but the ritual itself is very clear.

As the Seder begins, the head of the house takes out the middle matzoh from the tosh and breaks it, puts half back in the middle compartment of the matzoh tosh, and wraps the other half in linen and and hides it away.

When Jesus says of this bread, “this is my body,” He is being very literal. His body is sinless, and on Good Friday is striped and pierced as He is whipped and crucified.   Dead now, He is wrapped in linen, and laid away in a tomb. Is the matzoh tosh somehow a picture of the Trinity, showing the second part, the Son, taken and sacrificed? Is God trying to teach His people even in this man-made tradition?

Prayer:  Lord of truth, You teach us by Your Word and open our eyes to the truths “hidden” in the traditions of men. May our eyes be clear to see, and our tongues be strong to teach others. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  As we grieve the death of our Messiah, even as we look forward to His resurrection, we also grieve the death of those who die without faith in Him.

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