Category Archives: Olive Branches


ExodusIllustration:  “Exodus,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas.  This work was begun in 1952, and completed in 1966 .

“And if a stranger sojourns among you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its rule, so shall he do. You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native” (Numbers 9:14).

God’s Word never limits deliverance to the Jewish people. His works of grace bring salvation to all who believe–whether alien or native born; wild or natural olive branch.  God chose the Jewish people to be a blessing to the gentiles, bringing forth the One who would be sacrificed for all people.

It is clear from Scripture that there were aliens living among the Jews who celebrated the Passover.  This has led to another tradition in Jewish homes. As a child, my family often invited a non-Jewish friend to share the Passover Seder with us. It was our attempt to include the “alien among us.” Often this friend was a Christian. Many who ate with us said they were blessed by the meal and the remembrance. When we finished the meal saying, “next year in Jerusalem,” that was a prayer of hope for the coming of Messiah. And yet, not one of these believers ever shared with us that He had indeed already come.

The first evening of Passover falls on Good Friday this year.  But we will remember that meal Thursday night as we  remember Jesus’ “new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).  As we come closer in our walk to this festival meal, we come closer to the truth that the Passover story also foretells the truth of Jesus as the Messiah. He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  How much more could we love people than to share that truth with them?

Prayer:  Father in Heaven, as we prepare for the last Passover your Son will eat, prepare our hearts to come to the table and receive his gifts. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Are you perhaps the alien who has been invited to a friend’s Seder? If so, find ways to share the rest of the story. If not, how about inviting them to a Seder of your own.



White CrucifixionIllustration:  “White Crucifixion,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1938.

“The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti (Esther 2:17).

The warfare between Ahasuerus and Vashti does not end in harmony. Though God is grieved when His children hurt each other, He is able to use the evil for His purposes. Ahasuerus grows lonely and desires a new wife, and there in Persia lives a young Jewish woman named Esther. She is a victim of the exile, and is living there with her uncle Mordecai, who is caring for her in the place of her parents who have died. She is beautiful and Ahasuerus chooses her to be the new queen. On Mordecai’s advice, she does not tell Ahasuerus that she is Jewish. Perhaps Mordecai desires better for his charge than he can provide, and fears that if Ahasuerus learns of her ethnic identity, she will be discriminated against and persecuted.

Jewish people have lived for centuries with the fear of persecution because of their faith and ethnic identity.  Haman’s plot, Syrian conquest, Muslim invasion, Spanish Inquisition, English Crusades, Russian pogroms, and Hitler’s Final Solution. All efforts to destroy God’s people. But God has reigned over evil, and has preserved His people. The root of faith has been guarded zealously by God, who patiently waits for his people to realize  that He has sent the Messiah for them.

There are many who would persecute those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah as well. The Pharisees, the Romans, the Muslims, Stalinists, and “modern society.” Persecutors try to deny God’s people the faith that God has given them.  But God reigns over this evil, too. The root of faith nourishes all who believe in Jesus, gentile and Jewish. And in the face of persecution, the root sustains faith and gives strength.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, guard my faith in the presence of persecution. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  We have many opportunities today to deny our faith in the face of discrimination and derision. It has become politically correct to support activities that defy God’s Word. But politically correct is neither political, nor correct. It is spiritual and a denial of truth.

Sukkoth–Thanksgiving for the Church

St. Mark and St. MatthewIllustration:  “St. Mark and St. Matthew” by Marc Chagall, vitrage (All Saints’ Church, Tudeley, Kent, England), 1978.

“For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:24).

We’ve traveled a long way together. Some days have been easier than others. Along the way God has given us rest, and He has fed us. We have built our Sukkah out of the branches on our path and in that God has given us shelter. While the Sukkah is a picture of God’s provision and protection, it can also be a picture of the Church. And for that, too, we have much to be thankful.

Nehemiah instructed the people to build the Sukkah out of branches from olive and wild olive trees.  St. Paul used this imagery to describe the Church in his letter to the Romans. The root of the Church is the covenant God made with Abraham when He promised to bring the Savior through his descendants.  The natural branches are those of Jewish descent who have grown from the root. Some of those natural branches have been cut off because they did not believe in Christ.  Gentiles are “wild shoots” because they are not descendants of Abraham.  However, Paul says that  the Gentiles who believe in Jesus as their Messiah have been grafted into Christ. Jewish people who come to believe in Jesus are also grafted back in. So, the root, promised to Abraham, fulfilled in Jesus, now supports both wild and natural olive branches, you and me.

Our Sukkah is the Church. A structure commanded by God and built of both wild and natural olive branches, the Church, like the Sukkah, may seem shaky sometimes–but it is not. It has God’s covering, and is built on the rock that is Jesus the Messiah. In the Church we dwell, and grow, and serve, and prosper.

Prayer:  My Lord, thank You for the gift of the Church. Give me strength to minister to those who are broken in the Church, and when I am broken, help me to seek You in church. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  It is often tempting to turn away from the Church, especially when we have been hurt by someone within it. But even though the branches that God uses to build the Church are sometimes bent, and gnarled, and brittle, together, we are very strong indeed. Thank God today for His gift of the Church and share that thanks with others in your congregation.

A Remnant Remains

Olive treeIllustration:  “Menorah of Zechariah’s Vision (Folio 316v)” from the Cervera Bible illuminated by Joseph the Frenchman, Spain, 1299-1300.  Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment.

“For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:24).

Peter said God made us living stones to build a temple. In this passage from Romans, Paul describes God’s work in us by pointing to the tree of Abraham, the root from which all of God’s promises have been fulfilled. Gentile Christians—people who believe in Jesus but are not descended from Abraham—are “wild olive branches,” which God prunes and grafts into the tree of Abraham. By faith in Messiah, these Gentiles are the adopted children of Abraham and are saved by the same promise God gave Abraham and his descendants.

God has not forgotten the natural sons of Abraham, the Jewish people. The wild branches do not replace the natural branches, but increase the fullness of the tree. Although Israel’s hard hearted disbelief caused many of them to be cut off, God will use your joyful life in Christ to make Israel envious for what they have forsaken. When they do believe, God will graft these natural branches back into the tree of Abraham.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for giving me faith. Show me how to live so that others will see Jesus. Amen.

As We Wait: God keeps His promises, to the children of Abraham and to you. Always live as His child, expecting the best from your Father!

The tree of Abraham… the Way, the Truth and the Life!

Olive treeMembers of our congregation have attended the Sabbath services and Torah study at synagogues here in the St. Louis area.  I have tried to keep my hand in on occasion too, and my students all attend at least one Sabbath service at an orthodox synagogue close to the office here.  We attend to keep or make connections in the Jewish community, and to learn about what is going on in the area.  Also there is great blessing to observing orthodox services, the reverence that some still have for the Word.  But there is a sadness that overwhelms when you realize that this community sees God through a glass more darkly than even we (1 Cor. 13).  Other faith traditions are so far away from God that it is easier to talk to them, but our Jewish friends are so close, yet still so blind to the truth.

Many argue about truth.  Today some opine for truths that are relative to individuals as we’re all familiar now with the arguments of “post-moderns,” a phrase that is itself now “post.”  Our President, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast likened truth to faith as he urged us to not be “so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.”  And our Jewish friends are no stranger to this popular notion of truth.

This month in the St. Louis Jewish Light, it was reported that a couple from St. Louis were awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for the Advancement of Inter-Religious Understanding by the province of Manitoba.  The wife of the couple was quoted as remarking “Around our Pesach table, we had clergy of all faiths–yogis, gurus, Protestant ministers, Catholic priests, nuns.  Our kids just grew up that way.  We’ve always had an open door policy.”  And their kids have grown up.

Their son is the rabbi of a congregation that one of our members attends.  Once upon receiving a “Jewish New Testament” from our member, he remarked that he was willing to take this, but that this man was not to share anything about Jesus with the members of his congregation.  Even having grown up with this open door policy, he was still wary about someone else’s truth.

What makes Jesus so scary?  Because He is the truth.  And to truly come face-to-face with Him means that our notions of what is acceptable in our society must come into question.  And shouldn’t it?  January saw the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the massacre in France at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.  Atrocities are the way of our world.  Jesus is it’s only hope.  This month, for Tu B’Shvat (the new year for trees), plant a tree in Israel ( symbol of hope) for a Jewish friend, and plant the truth in their heart about Jesus, their only hope.

(For more on this illustration, see my blog entry for January 5, 2015.)

Rhode Island, Touro Synagogue, and Us

ImageI spent some of this month on the East coast, where I have helped serve Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Smithfield, Rhode Island. This year, the pastor was on sabbatical, and he had arranged for pastors to serve the congregation during, so I was able to go to church as a worshipper. I haven’t done that in a long while and it was truly a blessing.

I had forgotten just how comforting it is to be able to go to church, know the liturgy (apart from a couple of obscure hymns!), and just enjoy worship from the pew. It truly gave me a fresh perspective on the “worship wars” we are suffering in the Synod right now.

But while I truly consider our traditional liturgy a blessing for the Church, it was also wonderful to get back to Chai v’Shalom, and worship in our traditional way, Hebrew/English with hymns and messianic music. There is certainly a place for both in the Church, and I hope we can still honor the freedom we have to worship as we will, for some of us in our own heart language. For me, traditional Lutheran liturgy is my heart language, as much as our traditional Hebrew service is! Who knew!?

I did get to talk to one of the elders there, and we chatted a little more about a summer mission in the Newport, RI area and how our ministry might be involved with that. Smithfield is about 45 minutes from Newport, and there is not a Lutheran church close to Newport. Newport is the site of the first synagogue in America, and there is still a considerable Jewish presence in that part of RI. As you drive into Newport, one of the first things you see on your right is a large and very historic Jewish cemetery. Please pray about how we might be able to start a branch in RI along with this summer mission.

While I was relaxing in RI, our Michigan branch was very busy. They hosted a well-received seminar in Detroit, distributed “Stand with Israel” signs all over central Michigan, and through that evangelistic effort, Suzanne was able to pray with a Jewish man for faith! In addition to all that, we nailed down some of the details for the trip to Israel next year, and planned a bit more for the retreat that LIJE is hosting in September in North Carolina. The wonders of modern technology…it allows us to get so much done, even while on vacation. Believe it or not, that is a a good thing!

Symphony in the Flint Hills

shapeimage_2One of the things I really enjoy doing is to help other congregations with outreach ideas and training. This last month, I had the opportunity to help a group of churches in Eastern Kansas with an outreach they wanted to do during the “Symphony in the Flint Hills.”

It seems that every year, the Kansas City Symphony has a concert somewhere in rural Kansas. This year they played in the Flint Hills region of Eastern Kansas, with a concert that they titled “Music on the Prairie in harmony with Nature.”

Thousands of people come to these concerts, so it’s a good opportunity for rural churches to get the message out to the visitors, as well as to those local people who attend. One of my former students is a pastor in McFarland, KS, and he, along with four other churches, put together an outreach initiative that they accompanied with an opportunity to spread the gospel with an event they called, “Preaching on the Prairie.” They invited Rev. Wallace Schultz to preach, and invited me to write a couple of gospel tracts and to send a team to help them with the weekend.

So I wrote a tract for the “Preaching…” event, and one for the “Symphony…” event. (Both can be seen on our website if you are interested.) I had already been scheduled somewhere else for that weekend, but I sent Rev. Brad Aldrich and a team of volunteers to Eastern Kansas to help. (It is so nice to have other staff to rely on when I am not available!) Brad is an evangelist called to Lutherans in Jewish Evangelism, and helps coordinate outreach events here in St. Louis with our congregation. He and his team handed out about 2000 tracts during the weekend, and Brad engaged in “street preaching” during a festival in Alta Vista, KS that weekend.

All in all, it was a good opportunity to show how ministries can work together to accomplish outreach goals. Brad is continuing to work in Eastern Kansas, partnering with campus ministries there to reach out to students, and I will be going back next spring to lead a regional Seder there. If you have any interest in doing something similar for events in your area, give me a call, and let’s talk about how we might work together for the sake of sharing the Gospel in your community. Be blessed and stay cool!

Winter Blues

shapeimage_2If you know someone who is Jewish, or if you were brought up in a Jewish home, you know that the Jewish New Year actually begins in the Fall, on Rosh HaShannah.  But wait, in Lev. 23, Rosh HaShannah (the Feast of Trumpets) is “the first day of the seventh month.”  How can the first day of the seventh month be the beginning of a new year?

Actually, in Judaism there are many new years, just as in America there are many new years.  Jews celebrate a new year for trees at Tu B’Shevat (see the January issue of The Burning Bush in our archives), a new year for the tithing of animals in Elul (just before the celebration of Rosh HaShanah) and of course, in Exodus 12, in the Passover narrative, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.”  That is Nissan and on the 10th day of Nissan we take the lamb into our homes to be cared for until the 14th day , when they are sacrificed.”  Everything is counted from Nissan 1, as the first month, but the years are advanced at Rosh HaShannah at 1 Tishri.

In America we mark new years as fiscal years, school years, and calendar years.  But, January seems the wrong time to celebrate a new year…gray skies, cold temps, short days (at least here in St. Louis), all three make for a season that makes you long for a truly new year, which in my mind begins in March!  Maybe even March 17 to be precise!

But this nice long season between Christmas and Lent (longer this year than most) is a good time to stay inside, get reorganized and catch up on some much needed planning.  Yesterday, my daughter and I sat down to begin planning worship services and the festival calendar for 2011.  As I looked at my calendar, I realized how much I will be traveling in March and April.  So many Passover Seders, and so few weeks to do them in.  Of course, it is during the season of Lent that many churches want me to come and celebrate a Passover Seder with them, and most churches who want to schedule a Seder with me do it a year in advance.  And suddenly, January seemed like a great time to celebrate a new year, because if gives us a runway to run on before we need to take off.  (And I just received a phone call from a pastor in rural Nebraska who wants to do a circuit-wide Seder this year…the only time available is the last week in February, before Lent even begins.  The season is getting shorter!)

In our climate, the “outreach season” is March to November.  Of course, we continue to try to spark conversations in coffee houses and malls around St. Louis, but nothing matches getting out in nice weather and talking to strangers about Jesus.  Fortunately, our Florida/Georgia branches have a different climate and a different schedule, but the same is true, regardless of the time of year, we want to get out and talk to people.  But Seders are also great opportunities to share the gospel with your friends and neighbors.  Check out our calendar and see if there is a Seder happening in your community, call the church and make reservations.  Our congregation’s Seder is always on Palm Sunday, and it would not be too soon to make reservations for that, if you’d like to attend and bring a friend.  And if nothing is happening around you, make it happen next year.  Just call the office and let’s talk.  I would love to come and celebrate Passover with you next year!

And of course, Purim is late this year too but you can have a great Purim party at your church with very little planning and it’s a lot of fun!  Purim falls during Lent on March 19 and it is a great time to share the gospel through the little read book of Esther.  Give me a call and I’ll tell you how.

The Sunflower State et. al.,

shapeimage_2I think I have been “short-sighted” about a few things during the course of my ministry. I’m sure there are many other things I am short-sighted about, but one that glares at me recently is the desire for our ministry in many places around the country. Let me explain…

Our ministry has a long-term goal of a branch of our ministry in every city in the U.S. with a Jewish population of over 20,000. I know that this is an artificial number and that all Jewish people everywhere are in need of the gospel, but we had to start somewhere. What this left us to “start” with is 39 cities in the United States. Currently, we have four branches in four of those cities. Obviously, we have a long way to go.

But, what I have been short sighted about is the desire for learning and outreach in other than those 39 major cities. As an example, we have a partner church in Western Kansas that wants to start a branch of our ministry. Trust me, Western Kansas is not on the list. But in their own words, “hey, we go to Denver for shopping, dining and football games, why not evangelism?” Denver is definitely on the list! And since I have had a tough time getting ministry going in Denver, why not from Western Kansas?

I was reminded again by a church in Waterloo, Iowa last weekend. Iowa doesn’t even show up on the radar of most demographic studies where Jewish people are concerned, yet I met several people who know Jewish people and want to learn how to share the gospel with them. One such lady shared with me that a member of her family had converted to Judaism and asked me to pray with her about this family member.

What this all tells me is that while I need to focus on the larger areas of the country, I can’t forget those wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ who want to start work too! In Iowa, we’re starting a “Messianic Friendship group” (basically a small-group bible study) where they will start learning about Jewish people and better ways to share. I’m excited! Would you like to start one too?