Category Archives: Witnessing

Jerusalem & The Temple Mount

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Six-Day War, Nes Gadol Hayah Sham!

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

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

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

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

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Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

The RevolutionIllustration:  “The Revolution,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1937.

“Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me … ‘” (John 10:25).

God is in the miracle business. We have been given the miracle of life, the miracle of breath, and the faith we find in answer to yesterday’s questions is the greatest miracle of all.

Chanukkah is a time to remember miracles. It was certainly a miracle that the small army of Jewish soldiers were able to overcome the vast resources of the Syrian war machine, and it is a great miracle that Jewish people are still today seeking the Messiah in the miracle of Chanukkah.

For centuries, conquerors, kings and popes have sought to destroy the Jewish people. But God sustained them. During a dark time of the church, Spanish inquisitors tried hard to destroy the Jews in the name of God, forcing conversions at the point of a sword. But God’s miracles were remembered through a simple child’s game called Dreidle. The dreidle is a top inscribed with four Hebrew letters which are an acronym for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Disallowed by the Church of that day  to celebrate their festivals, Jewish people remembered the miracle of God’s deliverance in this game.

Today, the Church remembers God’s grace and love, and prays that the Jewish people would again be delivered, not by the point of a sword, but by the work of the true Messiah–Jesus.

Prayer:  Dear God, remove from the Church those who would persecute Your people. Give us Your truth that Jesus is the Way for all people, including Your Jewish people. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Has God placed any Jewish people along your path? Share this study with them and tell them about the Messiah.

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Sukkoth–Jesus at the Feast

CrucifixionIllustration:  “Crucifixion,” by Marc Chagall, lithography, paper, 1960.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The seventh chapter of the Gospel of John gives an account of Jesus’ participation in the Feast of Tabernacles.  Jesus traveled to the temple at Sukkoth.  His brothers invited Jesus to attend with them and “show Himself,” but instead He traveled there secretly to hear what others had to say about Him.  It was a lonely path.  But Jesus discovered how others were responding to His message.

If you could overhear what others thought about you, what might you hear? “He is a good man.” “No, he deceives the people.” These are the things that Jesus heard. No matter what miracles he performed, or what testimony he shared, the response to Jesus was the same–mixed. Yet, Jesus persevered. He began to teach the people. And the result of his teaching is that his walk to the top of Mt. Calvary was very lonely. By the time of his crucifixion, Jesus had been completely rejected by almost everyone.

Does that sound a little bit like the response you get when you share the message of Jesus with your friends, relatives and co-workers? Those who will listen might conclude that you are a good person who loves the Lord. Those who reject the message, however, might say that you are a “Jesus freak” or a bigot.

Jesus is the one who is rejected, not you. He is the one who was crucified so that you would not have to be. God raised Him up and His message continues to be heard. And people come to faith through your willingness to risk rejection and share the message of Christ. When you hear those who seem to reject your message, think of it as a wonderful opportunity to teach, that many others would join you on this journey to the cross and the empty tomb.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, thank you for Your message. Give me the boldness to risk rejection and share Your word, that many would believe in you. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  It is easy to keep our mouths shut, and just say “O ur actions are our witness.”  But people need to hear the good news of Christ.  word. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Share the message today!

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A Temple That Can Never Be Destroyed!

western-wallHere we are in 2017!  Wow. . . our ministry has survived 35 years, largely thanks to you!  Thank you so much for helping us through what was a tough year, yet a year blessed with opportunity.

This month brings new opportunities for us to share our faith, not only with our Jewish friends, but with all the nations too!

Asara B’Tevet (the tenth of Tevet) is January 8 and is a minor fast day in Judaism.  It commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.  On 10 Tevet 3336 (425 BC), Nebuchadnezzar’s armies laid seige to Jerusalem and the siege lasted 30 months, until 9 Tammuz 3338, when the city walls were breached.  Then on 9 Av 3338, the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were exiled to Babylon for 70 years.  You can read about these events in 2 Kings 24-25.

During this season, some of our Jewish friends and relatives may be thinking about the destruction of the Temple.  Certainly, because of actions by the U.N., we are thinking about the Western Wall of the Temple, which the United Nations recently declared as “occupied Palestinian territory.”  While I lament such a designation, and remember well my visit to the Western Wall, it is a good time to remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 when he prophesied the destruction of the Second Temple (of which the Western Wall is all that is left), and upon which lies the Dome of the Rock.

But Jesus did more than prophesy the destruction of the Temple, but his own death and the resurrection (John 2:19) that would make us the living stones of a temple that cannot be destroyed! (1 Peter 2:4-5).  No work of man can overcome the will of our God.  It is comforting to us, and critical for those who have not yet received Messiah.

This month also has our ministry hosting a table at the 6th Annual International Women’s Tea in Detroit.  I’ve written a new broadside for that event, which you can see below. Please pray for the ladies that they would be encouraged to share their faith among the nations!

womens-tea-color

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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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Tish B’Av and Unfaithfulness

189094_3296672This year Tish B’Av falls during the month of August.  This is a day of mourning to commemorate many historic tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people.  While it is hard to call this a holiday, by the traditional meaning of the word, it is . . . a holy day to remember primarily the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem.

It is a day of fasting and is the culmination of a three week period of time that begins with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which commemorates the first breach of the wall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

Tish B’Av literally means the 9th day of the month of Av, which falls this year on the 13th day of August.  Though not observed by most Jews, it is considered the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and believed by many to be destined to be a day of tragedy.  Interestingly, on the 9th day of Av, many calamities have occurred.  The first of which, according to Rabbinic tradition is the night the people cried out after having received the spies report about Canaan in Numbers 13–14.  Because of the lack of faith the people showed that night, God decreed that the 9th of Av would become a day of mourning and tragedy for all their descendants.

And that date has certainly been a date of mourning.  On the 9th of Av, 3175 (587 BC), the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and burned through the night until the 10th of Av.  On the 9th of Av 3830 (70 AD), the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans.  On the 9th of Av 3892 (135 AD), the Bar Kochba Rebellion was crushed and the Temple site in Jerusalem was subsequently plowed under by the Romans.  So, during the 9th of Av, Lamentations is read as the people lament the destruction of the Temple.

But there is more.  On the 9th of Av 5050 (1290 AD) the Jews were expelled from England; on the 9th of Av 5066 (1306 AD) the Jews were expelled from France; on the 9th of Av 5674 (1914) Germany entered WWI, which ultimately led to the Holocaust; on the 9th of Av 5701 (1941), Himmler received approval for the “Final Solution;” and on the 9th of Av 5702 (1942 AD), began the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka.  There is so much more that happened during this time on the 7th and the 10th but you get the idea.  This time of year is a calamitous time for the Jewish people, all beginning with a lack of faith.

We received a note the other day from someone passing by our building.  Anonymously, they wrote:  “You people are an abomination.  How dare you defile Judaism?  If you believe Jesus was the son of god (sic), you are a Christian!  Leave us out of it!  As a Jew, I find you offensive.”  It is so sad.  They are expressing their anger, distrust, and fear, and I wrote my own note expressing the love of Jesus, and encouraging them to not allow culture and history to keep them so unfaithful that they would not see God’s consolation where God “will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress” (Isaiah 65:19).  Isaiah 64 and 66 are the “little Bible’s” Revelation, and all the Law and the Prophets testify to Him who brings such consolation, Jesus.  Pray they come and see to the end that they might believe in Him.

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“To Seek and save the Lost”

droppedImage_2I was having a conversation with a good friend and one of our board members about a benefit golf tournament I played in recently for the Kiwanis. The chapter that hosted the tournament is a service organization pledged to reduce or eliminate neonatal tetanus (NT). NT occurs in many countries where deliveries take place in unhygienic circumstances, and would be eliminated by immunizing mothers with a tetanus vaccine that is cheap and very efficacious. In 1988, the World Health Organization estimated that 787,000 newborns died of NT and by 2013 that number had been reduced by 94% to 49,000. Kiwanis International, which has 660,000 members, is committed to serving children and their needs, and is making quite a difference in that area of need, as we see the reduction in NT worldwide. As I was talking about Kiwanis to my friend, he asked, “are you a member of Kiwanis?” I said no, but I answered that I am a member of the largest service organization in the world, the Church.

Last Sunday, our gospel reading was Luke 10:1-20. This is the text that we began our St. Louis ministry with in 1996, as we prayed about how God was sending us into “His harvest.” 2 by 2, with no apparent means of support, we wrote our “mission and ministry plan,” and called it the Luke 10 model of church planting. Since that time, while we have yet to plant another church, we have planted several new mission stations and are prayerfully keeping our focus on the mission of the Church, which is, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, “to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10).

I think the Church, unlike Kiwanis International, may sometimes lose focus in the face of such need. There are 7 billion people in the world, and 2.2 billion Christians by the last Pew report. “The harvest is plentiful,” but today are there few laborers? One would think that with 2.2 billion Christians in the world, we could no longer say that the laborers are few. But so much of the activity of the Church is not directed toward the mission of the Church, to seek and save the lost. We get caught up in social ministry, administration, or education. These things are important but only useful if it serves our mission. May the Church, in all that we do, keep our focus until that day that our Lord returns!

Our ministry still suffers from few laborers. We are blessed by 4 in Detroit, 2 in Atlanta, 3 in Florida , 2 in Kansas, 2 in Wisconsin, 40 in St. Louis. I’ve just written my quarterly letter to the members of our ministry’s congregation Chai v’Shalom, and noted that over the course of the next quarter, we have 34 opportunities for outreach and fellowship on the schedule already, including Sunday worship services.  And while I don’t really consider worship services an outreach opportunity, they better serve the mission by helping us keep the focus on the mission of the Church and preparing us to go into His harvest! These are all among many opportunities to focus on our mission, to seek and save the lost. May all that we do serve that mission, and may we all rejoice that our names are written in heaven.  Peace to your house!

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Walking around blind

UntitledThis past month I had the opportunity to drive 11 hours west to speak at a church in Western Kansas.  They have been friends and supporters of ours for many years and are truly a blessing to our ministry.  We have known each other now through two pastors, we have done outreaches together, and we even took a congregational field trip to The Creation Museum with them several years ago.  I never dreamed that I would be willing to drive through Kansas for anyone, but for them, it’s a privilege.

Actually, though, there was a time when Kansas was a state I just had to close my eyes (metaphorically), grit my teeth (actually) and just get through.  I’m from Colorado, right in the foothills of the mighty Rocky Mountains, and for reasons I can only guess (namely, meeting my wife), I attended an old family school “back east” in Ohio.  So many times I found myself driving through Kansas, eyes closed and teeth gritted.  Flat, featureless and really, really long!  And it doesn’t help that once, while still in high school, my mother, grandmother and I drove to that same college to attend a building ground breaking, and on the way, broke down.  We were in a 1970 Toyota Corona with two Israeli flags emblazoned across the back window, when we broke down in Mankato, Kansas. (My mother would never take the highway.) The fellow at the station said, “Well, I’m gonna have to go all the way to Salina to get parts for this” (you fill in the accent).  A week later, we were finally on our way, and somehow still made the ground breaking.  But my disdain for Kansas was born that week!

Since then, I have become a believer in Jesus, and have learned to see beauty in all of God’s creation.  And since my friendship with Redeemer Lutheran Church in Atwood, have gotten to drive through Kansas many more times.  I’ve driven through the Flint Hills in blizzards, through rain and drought, and even with blazing fires all around me!  Every time I marvel at the beauty of the region, along with the high plain and the beautiful prairie.  This last time was in the season of that “New Spring Growth Green,” and it was just as beautiful as always.  How could I have taken this for granted?

I wonder how many times we’ve gone through our lives busy, disdainful, taking the things around us for granted.  This isn’t just about beauty in nature, but beauty in people too.  It is so easy today to look around and see nothing but rotten, no good people.  But we have to remember that in every one of those people all around us, there is the breath of God.  Psalm 33 reminds us that “The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.”  This is the same God that “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  Please don’t take them for granted.  And God sends us to give them the truth, He who is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus!  Don’t close your eyes and grit your teeth.  Just look around.  Otherwise, you may miss something beautiful.

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“How can God know?”–Ps. 73:11

12871472_776424932490172_5789234763924058942_nThe outreach season is in high gear as the weather starts to warm up.  Starting with our annual St. Patrick’s Day outreach, we have begun our regular outreach opportunities at the University City Loop, and I am so grateful for the help that our new outreach minister is giving me.

I have already introduced him to you through the newsletter, but I’ll repeat myself now…Rev. Brian Earl was a student of mine many years ago and worked as a volunteer with our ministry under our then evangelist, Rev. Brad Aldrich.  He served a parish for six years, and now has moved back to St. Louis and is serving as a chaplain with the Veterans Administration.  He has transferred to our congregation, and we have voted to call him as our Associate Pastor and Outreach Minister for our local branch here in St. Louis.  He serves, as all of us do, bi-vocationally, raising his support through his work at the V.A.  He has a wonderful wife, Christa, and they are a true blessing to our ministry.  He has already made the connections necessary with our regular volunteers and has had many substantive conversations about Jesus with people that he meets here in Dogtown and up in U. City.  Toward the end of this month we will have a booth in Forest Park for St. Louis’ Earth Day celebration.  Perhaps you’d be interested in volunteering?

Along with the connections that Brian is making, the rest of us keep doing what we do.  Because St. Patrick’s Day was a Thursday, Brian couldn’t be here, but we had 20 volunteers helping us out that day, one of whom was the pastor of a church in Illinois, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, that I met doing a Passover Seder in his congregation.  He, his son, and two of his elders came over on St. Pat’s and worked the day with us.  It is really important to have volunteers, especially on St. Pat’s, because I have to work my “civic duties” as I help pipe the parade that day.  But the place was in good hands, and one of the stories from that day will be in our next newsletter.  But I had an interesting conversation with a man who is just starting to warm up to the name of Jesus and the Christian faith.  He has begun to read his bible, and of course, that reading has lead to many questions that he continues to come to me with.  The most recent of his questions was “Where did Cain get his wife?”

A common objection by people who refuse to believe the creation account in Scripture, Bill is not asking to deny the faith, but legitimately wonders and needed an answer.  What was so fun about this particular question is that I had addressed this with my home-school students, because of the movie “Inherit the Wind” where the question was posed, and we (24 of us, including students, friends, parents and siblings) all schlepped out to Cincinnati for an overnight field trip to the Creation Museum.  They just happened to have a little booklet entitled “Where did Cain get his wife?”  I picked some of them up, and had one for Bill, as well as for others.  We had a great conversation.  I just love it when God anticipates my needs like that!  He is so good.

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(By the way, I am taking applications now for next year so if you would like more information about home-schooling or Classical Conversations, give me a call–(314) 645-4456.)