Category Archives: Rosh HaShanah

A truly perfect day is coming…

shofar-slichotOn Saturday, September 15, we experienced what many are calling a “perfect Dogtown Day!”  I’d have to say that it was certainly one of the best.

On the previous Sunday evening, we observed our Erev Rosh HaShana service, with our Ba’al T’kiah ushering in the season with the shofar.  Ba’al T’kiah is Hebrew for “master of the blast” and it is the person who blows a specific series of tones on the shofar, or ram’s horn.  Trust me, it’s not that easy, but we are blessed to have a young lady who is a trombone player, and she gives us the clarion call to usher in the High Holy Days.  Those are then followed by ten days, called the Days of Awe, where observant Jews pray, fast, repent and do good works, hoping for some sense of redemption on Yom Kippur.  On Erev Rosh HaShana, Genesis 22 is read in the synagogues, and while we admire Abraham for his faithfulness and are grateful for the substitute ram given for Isaac’s sacrifice, if we’re at all sincere, then we have to be hoping for a substitute for ourselves, even if on the surface it is just our own works.

Of course, works don’t cut it for redemption.  Isaiah tells us that with regard to redemption, all our works are filthy rags.  So, in the midst of these Days of Awe, we had our “perfect Dogtown Day.”  We had a Family Festival, with a “Half-way to St. Patrick’s Day” celebration, our monthly Dogtown Craft Walk, and that was all topped off by the Great Forest Park Balloon Race that happens every year in the park that borders our community.  So there were a lot of people around that day, and we took the opportunity to engage them as our same Ba’al T’kiah manned her craft booth for the kids, and I wrote a gospel tract to hand around, challenging some of the Jewish people, and hopefully giving pause to think for some of the rest of the folks around.

High Holy Days Internet

You see, while good works don’t cut it for redemption, good works flow from the faith that God pours into us when we receive the substitute that He provides for us, the work of Y’shua on the cross.  The Holy Spirit moves us to do and tell the Gospel, and I am so grateful for those who respond and share their faith with our Jewish people and with all people, today, tomorrow and until that day when the Shofar blasts and Y’shua returns    (1 Thess. 4).  Then a truly perfect day will come!  Gut Yontiff (Happy holidays) and God bless.

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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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Yom Kippur–The Lamb’s Book

Tree of LifeIllustration:  “L’Arbre de Vie (‘Tree of life’– sketch to vitrage in Chapelle des Cordeliers in Sarrebourg)” by Marc Chagall, 1974.

Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6).

On our journey to the cross we have visited two festivals, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and these two festivals have shown us two aspects of our Christian walk. At Rosh HaShanah we looked at the call to faith God gave us, and how He continues to call us to service and worship. And as we traveled with Jesus to Yom Kippur, we saw the completeness of the sacrifice which Jesus made for us, the sacrifice which make us worthy to respond to God’s call.

At Rosh HaShanah, Jewish people send each other a greeting. “La Shanah Tovu Tiku Teivu,” which means “May your name be inscribed for a good year.” The prayer is that your name will be inscribed by God into His Book of Life. But at Yom Kippur, the obvious question remains unasked. “Is It?” Is the work you have done  sufficient to appease a God who cannot abide with sin?

You have God’s promise that your name is indeed inscribed in the Book of Life.  What makes you different from those whose names are in the Book of Death?  God has called you to the path of Life, and by His grace you know that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross is the only way to pay for your sins.  God has saved you, and He has written your name in the Book of Life.

As a believer in Christ, your journey is on the less-traveled road with Jesus.  There may be obstacles and temptations to turn to a side road, but this is the road of Life.  The easy road without Him is a smooth journey to death.

Prayer:   Lord God, you sustain me through the hardship in my life. Thank you for calling me to faith and for sending your Son to walk with me through the weeds of sin. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  As you stumble and fall over the weeds and ruts of your sins, your Traveling Companion is there to help you up. Look around you. Is there anyone else at the crossroads who looks confused. Share your path with them.

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Rosh HaShanah–a Call to Blessing

Jew at Prayer

Illustration: “Jew at Prayer,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1913.

“And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice'” (Genesis 22:15-18).

Abraham received God’s blessing for the third time. This is the last time the Bible mentions that God blessed Abraham in such a way. Abraham’s descendants did number as many as the stars in the sky. Because of Abraham’s faith in God, all nations have been blessed as well.

One modern tradition of Rosh HaShannah (not mentioned in the Bible) teaches that when the trumpet blows, God opens three books: the Book of Life, the Book of Death and a third book, which we will call the Book of Waiting. The Book of Life is for those who are especially righteous. The Book of Death awaits those who are especially wicked. And everyone else waits…10 days until Yom Kippur. These are the Days of Awe. Jewish people spend these days praying, fasting, paying and forgiving debts, rebuilding damaged relationships, and doing good deeds in vain hope that God will write their names in the Book of Life for another year. On Yom Kippur, the trumpet will blow again, the books will be closed, and each person’s name will be written to either Life or Death.

The road ahead has split into three paths. We walk the path of Life, but a wider side road invites us to try another way, to try to do good works to earn eternal life.

The tradition of the Days of Awe is a false hope. There is no one who is righteous. The prophet Isaiah said, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). Everyone’s name is written into the Book of Death. We live because through Abraham’s offspring all nations on earth have been blessed. Y’shua, our Savior, is a descendant of Abraham. Everyone who believes Y’shua is the Messiah is written into the Lamb’s Book of Life. For believers in Christ, the trumpet is a celebration of victory over death.

Prayer: Lord God, You are indeed the Author of life. Thank you for writing my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path: The only path to life is through Jesus, who paid the debts and rebuilt our relationship with God. Share the blessing that you received through the blood of Y’shua.

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Rosh HaShanah–A Call to Action

Abraham and Isaac on the way to the place of Sacrifice, 1931Illustration: “Abraham and Isaac on the way to the sacrifice,” by Marc Chagall, gouache, oil on paper, 1931.

“But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’  He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me'” (Genesis 22:11-12).

 

Abraham trusted God. He knew God’s promise. And he obeyed God with his actions. It was not enough to take his son to the top of the mountain. It was not enough to bind him and lay him on the altar. He drew his knife and raised it over his son’s head, preparing to do what God had commanded.  He knew that somehow, even if he must kill his own son, God would be glorified and God’s promise would be fulfilled.

God stayed Abraham’s hand, and provided a substitute, a ram caught by his horns in a thicket.  And the ram’s horn would forever trumpet victory over death.  That is why, at Rosh HaShanah, a ram’s horn is used to call God’s people to the temple to worship.

But the death of the ram is not the final victory.   The ram was only the substitute for Isaac. People were still  slaves to death until God lead his own Son to the mountain, bound and whipped. God laid his Son on the altar, a roughly hewn cross to which He was nailed. There was no substitute for Jesus; He is the substitute for you and me.  His death assures us of life.  Now the trumpet calls for us, and it calls us to action. As we continue our journey struggles and temptations to wander from the path await us.  But we have no fear, for we hear the trumpet and remember God has won victory over death for us.

 Prayer:  Thank you Father for your provision for me. Take the roadblocks from my path and guide me in your way. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:   What action is God calling you to? Consider writing down  your obstacle and placing it in the offering.  Pray that God will strengthen you to truly give to the Lord that obstacle.

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Rosh HaShanah–A Call to Sacrifice (The First Sunday in Lent)

Sacrifice of IsaacIllustration:  “Sacrifice of Isaac” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1966.

“He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you'” (Genesis 2:22).

The tradition of reading the “Akedah” is followed on Rosh HaShanah. The Akedah is the story of the binding of Isaac. God commanded Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, up on the mountain and sacrifice him as an offering.  As we read this story, we look to the road ahead of us and see on the map a large obstacle in our way. The obstacle can easily distract us from focusing on God.

Perhaps God knew that Abraham was placing his faith in Isaac, rather than in Him. So he told Abraham to sacrifice his only son on Mt. Moriah. God wanted Abraham to trust Him, the Promise Maker, instead of Isaac, the object of the promise.

Abraham faced the obstacle on the road before him and could have taken the detour, just as he had before.  But he learned from his experience with Hagar.  The detour of self-reliance is a dead end, but God’s promises can be trusted.  So Abraham trusted God, was willing to sacrifice his son, and focused his faith back on God.

Sometimes even God’s gifts become obstacles, taking our eyes off of God and God’s will for us.  But Jesus always keeps His eyes on God, even in the darkest hours.  On the night before he was arrested, Jesus prayed to His Father, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

 Prayer:  Our Father, guide me through the obstacles in my life, those things on which I rely and which distract me from You.  Help me to rely on you for all that I need. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  What might be the obstacle in your path? Perhaps it is money, a car, or a friendship  you depend upon more than you depend on God.  Today, set those things aside and focus your eyes on God.

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Rosh HaShannah–A Call to Trust

Over the Town (trust)

Illustration:  “Over the Town” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1918.

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (Genesis 16:1-2).

God had promised Abraham that he would be a great nation, that his descendants would number as many as the stars in the heavens.  He and his wife, Sarah, did not have any children and she seemed too old to bear any.  Abraham wandered onto the path of self-reliance.  Not believing God’s promise could be fulfilled through his union with Sarah, Abraham had a child with her maidservant Hagar.  But this was not God’s plan.

When Abraham was one hundred years old, God gave him a child with Sarah.  “And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him” (Genesis 21:2).  One hundred years old!  God does fulfill His promises, at the very time He promises.  Abraham learned that God was worthy of his trust.

God has been fulfilling promises since the beginning of time, including His promise to provide a Savior for the nations.  When Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, God promised that a Savior would come from their offspring.  Approximately 2000 years later, God promised Abraham that a Savior would come to the world through his descendants.  About 2000 years later, Jesus Christ, our Savior, was born.  Now 2000 years later, God is keeping His promise to you.  The Savior is for you.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank You for keeping Your promises.  Today, give me an opportunity to share the promised Savior with someone else.  In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path: God’s promises are worthy of trust!  How is God calling you to serve Him and spread the Promise?

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The Lamb’s Book of Life

bookoflifeLast month I had the opportunity to preach at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  It is the home church for our branch in the Detroit area, and they have often invited me to preach in the autumn for the season of Rosh HaShanah/Yom Kippur.

Mary Lou Temple is our branch director there, and she and a group of volunteers put together small baskets with apples and honey in them, and the invitation to the congregation was to take those baskets to their Jewish friends, neighbors and relatives, with a greeting for Rosh HaShanah.  It is a simple and easy way to connect, and some left the names of their friends for us to pray for.

The traditional greeting for Rosh HaShanah is “Shana Tova,” meaning for a good year, but that is just shorthand for the greeting of “May your name be inscribed for a good year.”  That greeting is appropriate because the tradition of this season is that on Rosh HaShanah God opens three books with everyone’s name in them.  By Yom Kippur (this year it is October 11), God chooses either life or death for you, so the hope of this greeting is that God will choose life for you.  For those with a little more chutzpah, I encourage them to greet their friends with the greeting “May your name be inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life.”  After all, that is the only way that God will choose life for us.

While the Jewish tradition of God opening these books is that, the books themselves are not just tradition.  The Torah tells us that God keeps these books, and Moses pleads for the Israelites as he cries out to God “please forgive their sin–but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Exodus 32:32).  This reference to blotting out is carried throughout the Scriptures.  David cries out for his sins to be blotted out (Psalm 51) and for his enemies to be blotted out of the book of life (Psalm 69).  Paul refers to the book of life in Philippians 4:3, and of course John in the Revelation, talks much about the Lamb’s book of life.  Whatever it may be, from a human perpective, God is keeping a record, and “only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will enter “the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God”  (Revelation 21).

Another theme that came up during this year’s sermon in Michigan was the theme of seasonality.  Just as there are seasons for planting and reaping the harvest, celebrated in the final days of these autumn festivals (Sukkoth), it seems that there are seasons for outreach too.  In the Spring, with the spring festivals of Passover and Sh’vuot (Pentectost), it is a great time for planting seeds of faith.  The long, hot and dry summer is a time to cultivate, water, and feed faith so that by the autumn the Holy Spirit can reap the faith that is grown.  48 names were given in Michigan.  Please pray that many of them will be added to the Lamb’s book of life.

For more on the High Holidays, www.archives.kfuo.org/mp3/FAF/FAF_Sep_29b_2016.mp3

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