Category Archives: Jewish Festival Holidays

The Circle of Life

Calendar Wheel2As I shared in my newsletter this month, the end of the period of the counting of the Omer is upon us and so Shavuot is soon.  It is kind of hard to believe that it is already May, but this month concludes the Easter season and the period of the Omer on May 19 with Shavuot and May 20 with Pentecost Sunday.

It is hard to underestimate the importance of this day as God brought to fulfillment everything He had promised in the Law and the Prophets.  The once-for-all sacrifice had been made, and on May 10, we mark the Ascension, as Messiah Y’shua went to the Father to advocate for us.  His disciples had been told to wait in the city until “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) as they waited “for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4).  That promise is at hand, as they gathered for the feast of Shavuot, and the celebration of God’s giving of Torah to Moses.  That celebration turned into the pouring out of power onto those who received the promise that God had made, salvation through the suffering Son of God!

God’s Spirit is poured out on us in our baptism, and we are empowered now to go and tell.  How then do we participate in this Great Commission to go and make disciples?  Simply by telling!  Those who receive, much like the Ethiopian Eunuch, will be baptized and taught all that our Lord has commanded us to teach.  We may not do the baptizing, or the teaching.  Someone else in the Church may do that, and we may never know.  But we do know whether or not we have told.  The Holy Spirit empowers us to tell, and the Holy Spirit fills those who will receive the promise.  So don’t be discouraged if you don’t know, but be encouraged that the Spirit has filled you with the power to tell.

Some in our ministry have spent the month of April telling in Israel.  That’s exciting and I can’t wait to have them come home from their journey, and to hear how God worked through them.  But those of us left here have been busy too.  Perhaps we don’t all take the opportunity to go to Israel, but God brings to us those whom he wants to hear.  And the teaching goes on.  The cycle of the Church year is wonderful to teach, and on the last day of May marks the near beginning of the story again.  The Visitation marks Mary’s trip to her cousin Elizabeth, and sometimes lost in the pageantry of the Passion and Easter season is the Annunciation, when (this year on Palm Sunday) we marked Gabriel’s visit to Mary when the story began again!  Tell the story, over and over again . . . that’s the circle of life!

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“It defies all reason…”

xbaptism-w-dove-624x340.png.pagespeed.ic.Mv9fTJT9hnLast month our family celebrated the birth of my fourth granddaughter, Penelope Joy.  And this month, we celebrated her baptism as her parents obeyed Christ’s command to bring her to the renewing waters.

The Sacrament of Baptism has been a stumbling block for many in our ministry.  More times than I can count I have been told that our Baptismal theology defies all reason.  I have been told this by both Jewish and non-Jewish people, and frustratingly, even by those who already believe in Y’shua as Messiah.  Many years ago, a “Messianic-Jewish” leader actually called me a heretic on his radio show because I believed in infant baptism!  What God gave us for our unity we have made a point of division, even in the Church.

Now truthfully, I understand, perhaps, why some Christians stumble over Baptism.  They have so far removed themselves from their Jewish context that for them, they have no pegs to hang that biblical teaching on, and so they woodenly receive the command as merely an outward expression of faith giving it no power of its own and rejecting what seems to be the clear teaching of Scripture.  (See 1 Peter 3:21.)

But what truly defies all reason is the Jewish believers in Jesus who reject the saving power of Baptism.  St. Paul makes a clear connection between Baptism and circumcision and equates the two.  Trust me, no Jewish family would wait until a boy has grown to an “age of accountability” before they would have him circumcised!  A Jewish lady asked me, jokingly, when we were having a bris for Penelope (I think she was commenting on the fact that I had another girl!) and I told her to come for her spiritual bris and to witness Pippa’s baptism.  (She did come too!)

That day the lectionary cooperated so well with me, as it often does.  The Torah reading for the First Sunday in Lent is Genesis 22:1-18.  This portion is the well-studied text appointed in the synagogue for Rosh HaShanah, called the Akedah, or The Binding of Isaac.  For Jewish people, it demonstrates Abraham’s faithfulness as he, defying all reason, follows God’s command to sacrifice his son.  God provided a substitute for Isaac in the ram, and He provided a substitute for us in the Lamb, His own Son.  How much easier it is to follow God’s command to bring our children to the waters of Baptism, than it must have been for Abraham to take Isaac to Moriah!  But God, who informs our reason through faith by the Spirit, leads us to those waters that cover us in Christ!

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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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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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Maundy Thursday: Passover–The Lord’s Supper

The Israelites, which have gone from Egypt with angel of death, are eating the Easter lambIllustration:  “The Israelites, which have gone from Egypt with angel of death, are eating the Easter lamb (Exodus, XII, 11-14),” by Marc Chagall, etching on paper, c. 1934.

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” (Matthew 26:26-28).

This is an account that we have heard many times in our walk. Let’s examine it through the eyes of Jesus at the Passover Seder.

Jesus sends His disciples ahead of Him to prepare the Passover, probably to check the house for any signs of leaven. Presumably, the person to whose house Jesus is going has already cleaned it and removed the leavened bread, but the disciples must be sure.

That night, Jesus is reclining. We recline at Passover to show that we are no longer slaves in Egypt, but freed men. He then began the meal. When he remarked about Judas “dipping his hand in the bowl” with Him, He is probably referring to either the karpas, which is dipped in salt water, or the horseradish with is sometimes dipped into the charoseth.

He then took bread, broke it and gave it to His disciples. Jesus declared this bread, the matzoh, free of leaven, free of sin to be His body. Then he took wine. The Apostle Paul remarks that it is the cup “after supper” (1 Corinthians 11:17-26). This would be the third cup of four cups of wine taken during the Seder. This cup is called the cup of redemption, and Jesus declared it the new covenant in His blood. Then the disciples knew that the covenant prophesied by Jeremiah 600 years before has come to pass (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Through this same meal, God offers us forgiveness for our wickedness, and remembers our sins no more. The cup of redemption has redeemed us all.

Prayer:  God of our fathers, thank You for this gift of Your blood and body, which You have given to redeem me. May it always strengthen me in faith for works of service in Your kingdom. Guard my heart that I may never take this meal for granted. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Tonight as you come for worship, go back in time to the upper room and see this meal the way that it was given. Pray that through Jesus’ eyes, this meal will have new meaning for you in the context of Passover.

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“Well, we had a good run.”  

Pesach tractI often joke that our Passover Seders are a bit like dinner theater, and if it were truly theater, that is what we might have said.  After more than 20 years “on Broadway” to sold out Seders, our Passover Seder this year was not well attended, 50 adults and 13 children, but we still had a good time.  The upside was that while we’ve never had less than 100 before, we had several new people who got a chance to celebrate Passover with us.  And of course, I led the Seder in three other churches this year, with about 200 people in those other three churches together, sort of “off Broadway,” and I got to go home from one with matzo brie.  So this morning, I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of leftover matzo brie and salmon.  Yum!

But it does leave me to wonder why we had less interest this year.  While I don’t believe that social media has that much impact on peoples’ opinions, the election not withstanding, it is interesting that this year there was so much on social media objecting to churches celebrating Passover.  Two prominent Lutheran theologians weighed in, agreeing with an article that was published in Christianity Today, written by two Jewish rabbis who contend that “Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal.”

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/march-web-only/jesus-didnt-eat-seder-meal.html

The rabbis’ contention centers on the fact that the traditions associated with the Seder meal were not instituted until after the destruction of the Temple, long after Jesus was crucified.  Yet in the same article they claim that Jews “have been celebrating the Passover Seder for millenia.”  That is plural, meaning thousands of years.  You see, the rabbis want to have it both ways.  What they are not telling you is that the Hagaddah and other rituals of Passover may not have been written down until after the destruction of the Temple,  but are part of the oral tradition that, according to them, goes back to Moses.  But it is convenient to disconnect anything Jewish with Jesus by playing the “destruction of the Temple” card, effectively removing Jesus and the early Christian Church from any Jewish ritual.

Apart from their faulty logic, the most disturbing thing from them is their charge of insensitivity by Christians who are appropriating their customs.  This is part of a larger arc on their part that seeks to deny Christians any continuity from the Old Testament to the New Testament.  The unstated claim is that the Old Testament belongs to the Jews, and the New Testament is Christian, and “n’er the twain shall meet.”  For this reason, ministries such as ours are deceptive by using Jewish symbols in worship, etc.

There are Jewish cultural symbols that are not biblical.  But there are many biblical symbols that Christians are allowed to use and explore, and truly, even in “traditional worship settings” (whatever that is), much of what goes on is Jewish.  Look around your sanctuary and you will see many things that come from biblical, Jewish, roots.  Seven-branched candelabra, eternal flames, albs and stoles, and Hebrew words like Hosanna, Hallelujah, etc.  You see, if you define adopting anything that is “Jewish” as being insensitive, you then are restricted from using any of the prophetic utterances of God that promise the Messiah and so clearly point to Jesus as Him.  And that is the honest agenda of these rabbis.

Sadly, even prominent Lutheran theologians fall into that trap.  One argues that the Passover Seder is akin to our practice of communion, and that those who celebrate the Seder “should be unified in their ecclesiastical community and in their confession of faith.  Call this ‘closed Passover.'”  I don’t hold that remark against him, but I also don’t expect him to understand the Jewish ethos.  In Judaism though, there is no such thing as a unified ecclesiastical community nor any corporate confession of faith.  Judaism is not that dogmatic.  The only true confession that Jews hold to be common is that “Jews don’t believe in Jesus.”  (Yes, there is Maimonides Thirteen Principles of Faith, but very few of those who celebrate the Seder even know these much less believe them.)

The worst thing that comes from this whole online discussion is the disregarding of the value of celebrating the Passover Seder.  Most objections by Christians about celebrating Passover lead from St. Paul’s counsel to Peter in Galatians 2:14, “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?'”  The operative word here for Paul is “force,” and leads to a fear of anything Jewish as being Judaizing the Church.  

But compelling and exercising freedom are two different things.  We become so afraid of being Peter to Paul that we forget how to be Paul:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

The Passover Seder encourages faith, teaches theology, helps some understand culture, and most importantly, points to Jesus.  And an honest reading of the texts make it very clear that Jesus did celebrate the Passover, along with many if not most of the traditions associated with it.  The rabbis argue for respect of their cherished traditions, but these are ours too.

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Passover–Deliverance

Multicolor clown

Illustration:  “Multicolor Clown” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1974.  (Shades of Godspell?–ed.)

“… you do not believe because you are not part of my flock” (John 10:26).

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23).

Sometimes the path we are on is lonely.  We see many on other paths.  They call out to us, urge us to turn from the foolishness we are following and join them.  They tell us to stop, don’t go on, that we are chasing a fool.  The closer we get to the cross, the more foolish this journey seems.

Jesus speaks to those who see the miracles of God and still do not believe. They say that Jesus is a fool, and that those who follow Him are even bigger fools. And they are right, because,  “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27).

How often do we see miracles and not believe? There are many who witness daily the miracle of creation, and yet still believe in evolution. They say that we are fools to believe that this world could be created in six days. They would say that we are fools to believe that God could part the waters of the Red Sea so His children could pass through on dry land. They would say we are fools to believe that God would sacrifice His Son for us, and raise Him again so that we can be forgiven and have eternal life.

Yes, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.

Prayer:  Dear God, if it is foolish to believe in You, then thank You for making me a fool. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Use today as an opportunity to show your own foolishness. Michael Card wrote a song called “God’s Own Fool.” The refrain is “And so we follow God’s own fool; For only the foolish can tell. Believe the unbelievable; Come be a fool as well.” Share this message with those today who would believe you a fool.

Here’s a youtube video for you to enjoy…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2sdeBWZ8bs

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