Category Archives: Witnessing

Divine Appointments

imagesI re-read the June newsletter, after I sent it (unfortunately), and I thought to myself, “What a pretentious twit I am!”  Comparing myself to Luther at the Diet of Worms was kind of ridiculous in that he was looking at the business end of a torch when he made his stand, and while, at worst, I guess I could be martyred, likely not here in St. Louis.  In my defense, I did say that “if I am entrenched, I pray that my entrenchment may be like Luther,” in that, when it comes to culture’s denial of the clear Word of God, all I want to be able to do is stand on that.

But, since I’m comparing myself to great religious figures in history now, I’m going to compare myself to Moses, who in the Jewish culture is considered the great Law-giver.  Comparing myself to Moses is all about the law.  Moses was asked to serve God and his response was, “couldn’t you find someone else?”  OK, this is a paraphrase of Exodus 3-4, but when God called Moses, Moses voiced four objections before he said, in Ex. 4:13, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”  The text goes on with “Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses…”

Has God ever called you to do something that you just didn’t want to do?  Today, I had two meetings with Jewish people that, for whatever reason, I really didn’t want to have.  In fact, I was tempted to call the first and make some excuse for why I couldn’t meet with him.  As I was looking for a good excuse, two presented themselves that were very reasonable.  One, I considered, would have been very pleasant to do, and the other, if I wasn’t careful and attentive to it, would cost me some money.  I didn’t need four objections to the task, two seemed sufficient.  Fortunately, I fought through the temptation, carried through with both meetings, and they were so wonderful, almost, may I say, miraculous!  Both have opened the door to a greater relationship, both were substantive conversations about faith and one even about Jesus.  We prayed together!  On my way back to the office, I was praising God for making me do what I didn’t want to do!   I’m not sure that God’s anger was kindled against me, but I am sure that His Holy Spirit was nudging!

Mo’adai (מועדי ), these are “divine appointments,” that God makes with people and they are set.  The only question is who is going to be there.  What a joy to make it to the appointment and watch God at work!

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The Circle of Life

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

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

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

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

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Come and see…

UnknownThe Gospel reading for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany this cycle is from John, Chapter 1, verses 43-51.  It deals with the calling of Philip by Jesus, and then Philip going to his friend Nathanael, and telling him about Jesus.  As you know, Nathanael has some strong ideas about people, especially those from Nazareth, but he responds to Philip’s simple “Come and see,” and Jesus reveals himself to him.

Jesus’ revelation to Nathanael was, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  And for some reason, with that revelation, Nathanael proclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”

His sitting under a tree got me to thinking about trees, especially with Tu B’Sh’vat coming up on January 30 at sundown.  Tu B’Shvat is the “new year for trees,” and trees were really important to people in Israel.  Of course, we know that the Garden was filled with trees in creation, but the fruit of one tree brought Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden.  The ground became hard and tough to work.  Planting trees was important for shade, fruit, and rich soil.  Abraham, following the birth of Isaac, began to establish his home in the land God had promised.  In Genesis 21, we see that he dug a well and planted a tree, consecrating the ground to God.  And planting trees is still important in Israel.

It is a harsh land.  When Jewish settlers purchased land from the Ottoman Empire, the land was barren and dry.  So they planted trees, irrigated and worked the land.  And they are still planting trees.

Tu B’Sh’vat is a great time to plant a tree in Israel, especially honoring one of your Jewish friends.  You can do that treesfortheholyland.com.  And prayerfully, though the fruit of one tree brought us expulsion from Eden, the fruit of another, the one Y’shua was hanged on, will bring them back into the Garden eternally.  “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed”  (1 Peter 2:24).  Come and see.

Ho Ho Homoousios!

UntitledAmen!  Come, Lord Jesus!  A familiar refrain during this wonderful season of Advent.  And this is a great time to share the gospel through the imagery of Christmas that is all around us.

Our first opportunity is, of course, December 6, where we can wish everyone a “Happy St. Nick’s Day!”  December 6 is the feast day for St. Nicholas, and his legacy appears to have made his entrance at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Yes, Santa Claus is a great opportunity to share the truth about St. Nicholas.  Nicholas was born in 270 A.D. and was raised by devout Christian parents in what is now Turkey, likely a legacy of faith planted by St. Paul as he planted churches in Asia Minor.  Born to wealthy parents, Nicholas was orphaned early but he lived by his parent’s teachings to sell what he had and give to the poor, and Nicholas was known as one who shared his wealth with anyone who had need, with particular care for children.  He became a priest, and then  Bishop of Myra.

During his time as a Bishop, heresy was permeating the Church and the Emperor Constantine convened the First Council of Nicaea to address the Arian heresy.  Arius argued so vehemently during that council for the subordination of Christ to the Father, essentially tearing apart the doctrine of the Trinity, that Nicholas, legend has it, became so angry with Arius that he punched him in the nose!

Not the best way to settle theological disputes, but I get it.  There have been many times that I have been provoked by the profaning of the Messiah that I have wanted to punch someone in the nose.  Fortunately, physical violence is not in my nature, and it is much better to withdraw into prayer.  But the deity of Y’shua, his being of the same essence as the Father, is unequivocal, and essential for our salvation.  God’s sacrifice of Himself in our stead is the only penalty that can pay for our great sin, and Y’shua’s resurrection is the foundation of our hope, especially in Advent.  So, we have another greeting early in Advent…Ho Ho Homoousios!  (The Greek word expressing one nature in the Nicene Creed.)  You can get a great t-shirt with this Christmas greeting here. It would make a great Christmas present for your pastor!

Also, if your interested in our Advent devotional, you can find it on our Facebook page at the link below.  Blessed Advent, Happy Chanukkah and Merry Christmas!

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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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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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