Category Archives: Rosh HaShanah

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 (  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.


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 (, 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.

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.



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.

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.


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.



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?

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,

Divine Appointments

shapeimage_3-1In Levitcus 23:44, the phrase el mo’adai Yahweh occurs as a conclusion to a chapter where Moses has “announced to the Israelites the appointed festivals of the Lord (Leviticus 23:44).  These “appointed festivals” are the Sabbath, Passover (along with the Feast of First Fruits), Sh’vuot (Pentecost), Rosh HaShanah (trumpets), Yom Kippur (atonement) and Sukkot (booths). If you’d like to know more about these festivals, I’ve written a LifeLight Bible Study for Concordia Publishing House called “Bible Feasts.”  There is a link to that study on the Resources page of our website (see below).  And of course, Rosh HaShana is coming soon, and we will be observing the High Holidays here in St. Louis with a service on Oct. 2 for Rosh HaShana, and Oct. 11-12 for Yom Kippur.  As I said in a recent newsletter, this year we are observing our 20th Yom Kippur service in St. Louis.

But this phrase mo’adai  has come to mean more than just the appointed festivals of the Lord.  When I came to faith in Y’shua as Messiah, I became acquainted with the phrase mo’adai to mean a “divine appointment.” Certainly, all the festivals of Leviticus 23 are divine appointments in and of themselves, but God makes other appointments in our lives for many reasons.  Anytime someone comes to faith, it is because of divine appointments in their life.  I had such a divine appointment recently, that I pray will bring someone face-to-face with our Lord, Jesus, where they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and faith.

It came about in tragedy as I was attending the funeral of one of my students who was serving a dual-parish in Wisconsin.  He was my field worker as a student at the Seminary, and we were close to his family as my wife and I were asked to be the godparents to two of his now five children.  When I was asked by my granddaughter Johnna how the funeral was, the only thing I could come up with was that it was a good one.  She responded quizzically, because really, how could any funeral of a 38 year old father of five be good?   But Mike’s funeral gave us time to grieve, yet, surrounded his wife and all of us there with so much hope in Jesus.  I came away wondering why everyone is not Christian, for our faith is the only one that provides so much hope in tragedy.

During the luncheon afterward, I happened to sit next to Mike’s campus pastor, who is still a campus pastor at an area university in Illinois.  We had a great conversation together and shared business cards.  That was that.

But, that evening, as I was visiting another friend of mine in the ministry in the Green Bay area, he “happened” to mention how his wife first got into Jewish evangelism.  It was a Jewish co-worker of hers at a university where they were both professors and she was looking for ways to connect with him and came to our ministry.  Again, he “happened” to mention that this friend of his wife’s is now working… guess … at this same university where this pastor whose card was in my pocket served.  I put them together for another divine appointment! http://www.facebook/chaivshalom

5776! Is this a time to celebrate dependence on God?

maxresdefaultI just got back from Detroit, where I was preaching at a large church in a strategic area for our mission.  Cross of Christ Lutheran Church is in Bloomfield Hills, and is surrounded by synagogues, a Yeshiva, and of course many Jewish neighbors.  I was there to preach a sermon about prayer and about the Jewish New Year.  (You can hear this sermon, if you’d like, by clicking here.)

In addition to my preaching, our branch there prepared fifty baskets of apples and honey to give out to the peoples’ Jewish friends and neighbors as an opportunity to share their love for their friend, and perhaps to talk about Jesus.  It is a great blessing that all 50 baskets were taken, and we have the names of those who took a basket, and the names of their friends who will receive them, so we can pray for them.

Following the service, there was a deli luncheon sponsored by Thrivent, and a good bunch stayed for two hours to ask questions and learn other ways that they might share their faith in this community.  All in all, a great way to begin 5776.

Yes, it is the year 5776 in the Jewish calendar, and Rosh HaShannah is the Feast of Trumpets, and most recognized in the Jewish community as the Jewish New Year.  This is the time of year when our Jewish friends, neighbors and relatives are most receptive to a discussion about forgiveness.

The rabbis teach that on the eve of Rosh HaShannah God opens three books, a book of life, a book of death and an intermediate book.  Those especially wicked will be written into the book of death, those especially good will be written into the book of life, and all of the rest of us into this intermediate book.  Then for the next ten days, called the Days of Awe, we, by prayer, fasting, repentance and good deeds will make our atonement before God.  On Yom Kippur, Sept. 23 this year, God will close the books and our names will be moved from the intermediate book, to one of the others.  Trumpets bookend all of this activity.

Most of us would never presume that we were good enough for the book of life, and if we’re wicked enough to be in the book of death, we don’t care.  So we figure we’re all somewhere in that intermediate book, and if we listen to the rabbis, then we’ve got 10 days to act.  But when the trumpet blows, how will we know?

That’s the rub.  We begin hearing about the Binding of Isaac, and we end beseeching God for more time.  Clearly, the 10 days is not enough!  The only way we can know God’s peace is to know God’s Son, Y’shua.  He is the lamb that God himself provides, and it is his blood that atones for our sins.  May it be to you a sweet year and may your name be written into the Lamb’s book of life.

“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,  and its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:22-27).