Tag Archives: Life

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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Always remember, never again!

6a00d83453e66269e201b8d2863f46970c-320wiBlessed Easter Season to you.  April is a big month for our ministry, and I’ll plan to go into more depth in the newsletter, but April 1, Easter Sunday, is during Passover celebrating the deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  That’s no surprise as we know that Jesus’ death and resurrection were accomplished during this festival.  It is these events that are the fulfillment of the prophetic events of the Exodus.  Our Passover Seder this year hosted over 112 guests, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and both those who celebrated this fulfillment and those who as yet, do not believe.  At the end of every Seder, everyone joyfully cries out, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” expressing the ancient hope and the modern aspiration of returning to Jerusalem.  And those of us who have received the deliverance from sin that Messiah effected, express the sure hope that we will celebrate together in the New Jerusalem too.

But that doesn’t keep me from wanting to be in Jerusalem now.  It is a beautiful city filled with wonderful people and cultures.  But it is a city that is constantly reminded that the world and those in it are full of disdain for this city, country and people.   A Jewish lady who is a friend of mine often commiserates about the world’s antipathy for the Jews.  Her plaintive refrain is often, “Why does the world hate the Jews so much?”  And the only answer I can give is that the prince of this world, Satan, hates the Jews because it was the King of the Jews who gave him his greatest defeat.  Since that historic Passover, Satan has taken his rage out against both the ethnic and the spiritual family of Jesus.

April 11 is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The determined refrain of this day is “Always remember.  Never again.”  In Israel, sirens are heard and everything stops in remembrance of this tragedy that in many ways, led to the establishment of Israel.  It is a Jewish homeland that is thought to be a place of safety in the world.  Yet, the world’s attack on this place of safety is clear evidence of Satan’s rage, but he is more subtle than even this.  For he continues to blind many of those who survived and those of us who came after to the reality of a holocaust to come in the time to come.  We are blessed to be able to serve many holocaust survivors, though their numbers are dwindling.  Please keep praying that their eyes would be opened to the truth, that they would truly find their peace in Messiah Y’shua.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Messiah, Y’shua!

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Respite

Solar_eclipse_1999_4_NRToday I experienced a total eclipse of the sun.  My family and I drove 36 miles southwest of St. Louis to Washington, where there was the greatest amount of “totality,” a little over two minutes.

We got there early staking our place out under a tree, down by the Missouri River.  As people gathered, a sense of excitement grew as footballs were thrown, a barbecue grill was started, and a policeman walked around handing out free solar glasses to anyone who needed a pair while she laughed and chatted amiably with the folks.  We built two pinhole cameras to see the eclipse along with our ISO rated glasses.  The glasses were great, but there was something really good about the “old-school” pinhole cameras too.  A couple of guys even older than me had some awesome telescope shaped pinhole cameras.  As the morning went on, I had several good conversations with people who had gathered with us, one family from Oklahoma.

The eclipse started around 11:48, and suddenly, folks were getting their glasses, looking into the sun, and the air of expectation built.  It began slowly, but soon the quality of the light was different … muted somehow.  As it got darker, the shadows through the trees became crescent shaped, and everything grew still as if a curtain had been opened at a theater.  The lights of the town came up as the streetlights reacted to the light change, and the “orchestra” started as crickets and other insects started to chirp.  Suddenly, it was dark and people dropped their glasses and just stood quietly looking at the moon, with the sun’s corona shining around it–colors of pink, purple and magenta flashing–and an amazing sunset/sunrise effect over the river on the clouds.  Then, the crowd started to cheer, as if somehow they instinctively knew that God had presented us with this wonderful drama.

This might have been my first total eclipse.  I know that I remember seeing at least partial eclipses through those, then remarkable pinhole cameras.  But as I stood there marveling at totality, it truly filled us with a sense of awe.  I know my granddaughter Johnna was thrilled and amazed at such a sight, and we were struck with the sense of order that our Creator designed the universe with.  It is just this order of His that gives us the ability to predict such things with such accuracy.

After the past week of lunacy and disorder in Spain, Finland, Charlottesville, Boston, and other places, today was a much-needed counterpoint as we experienced God’s great order in His creation.  Even the people were pleasant!  Surely this is how God meant for us to live.

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Good Friday: Passover–Deliverance

CrucifixionIllustration:  “Crucifixion,” by Marc Chagall, lithography on paper, 1964.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

You have heard me say that God has deposited His truth in the traditions of His people. And there is much more to the unleavened bread than we have seen already.

Before the Passover, the bread is prepared in a very special way. It is rolled out into flat sheets and pierced by a large wooden wheel with pins in it. The bread has no yeast and therefore will not rise. It is pierced to allow the heat from the baking to rise through the bread and avoid burning.  It is only baked for 18 minutes, the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word Chai, which means Life.  The baking process gives it dark stripes between the rows of holes.

Prior to the Passover Seder, three sheets of matzoh are placed in a special linen which has three compartments. This matzoh tosh is a tradition for which no one has an explanation.   Some say it represents the patriarchy, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Some say it represents the temple, at which worship the Israelites, the priests and the Levites. Neither of these explains the source of the tradition, but the ritual itself is very clear.

As the Seder begins, the head of the house takes out the middle matzoh from the tosh and breaks it, puts half back in the middle compartment of the matzoh tosh, and wraps the other half in linen and and hides it away.

When Jesus says of this bread, “this is my body,” He is being very literal. His body is sinless, and on Good Friday is striped and pierced as He is whipped and crucified.   Dead now, He is wrapped in linen, and laid away in a tomb. Is the matzoh tosh somehow a picture of the Trinity, showing the second part, the Son, taken and sacrificed? Is God trying to teach His people even in this man-made tradition?

Prayer:  Lord of truth, You teach us by Your Word and open our eyes to the truths “hidden” in the traditions of men. May our eyes be clear to see, and our tongues be strong to teach others. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  As we grieve the death of our Messiah, even as we look forward to His resurrection, we also grieve the death of those who die without faith in Him.

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Why do it?

13-04-17-mishegoss1Last Sunday, Congregation Chai v’Shalom celebrated the installation of a new pastor, Rev. Brian Earl, who is serving our ministry in outreach.  He was one of my students in 2006 and continued to work with Rev. Brad Aldrich, who was serving our ministry then.  Following graduation at Concordia Seminary, Brian served a parish in Nebraska for five years, and then moved to St. Louis with his new bride Christa and while he is here serving a Chaplain internship, he received and accepted a call to serve our ministry to help in outreach.

He and his wife have been a blessing to our ministry.  Christa is a violinist, a linguist, and gifted in many other ways along with being from Colorado.  It is nice to talk to someone else who knows Denver!  She and Brian are young (so much younger than me!) and have a lot of energy, and Brian has faithfully been leading our monthly outreaches for some time now.  In addition to a bunch of other things that we do, we hold a monthly outreach on the 2nd Saturday evening of each month and go to an area of St. Louis called “the Loop.”  It is a shopping district in the midst of a vibrant Jewish community and a wonderful area university.

The night before his installation, Brian and I were on the Loop.  We are enjoying really warm weather in St. Louis right now, and there were a lot of people around.  Part of what we do is try to engage people in conversation, prayerfully leading to a spiritual conversation.  Between the two of us in the span of an hour, we had three conversations.  He met a woman who really refused to talk spiritually, and wanted to talk more about the election.  OK. . .that’s fair.  I met a “Hebrew Israelite” who wanted to talk spiritually, but she didn’t really help me understand what “Hebrew Israelite” meant, or what her faith was.  From what I could gather about her, she wasn’t Jewish per se, and not Christian either.  She did allow me to share who I was, and I gave her some literature from our worship service, and also told her where the nearest synagogue was when she asked.  At least we got to talk about Jesus, about whom she seemed to have no opinion!  That’s rare.

Our third conversation that evening was together with two young men who enjoy “intellectual dialogue.”  One said he is an agnostic and the other eschewed all labels.  Both believe in a higher power, but not the Bible or even a traditional understanding of God.  They sort of fell into the Aristotelian concept of the “unmoved mover.”  But when pressed, they chose a deistic approach to God who created everything, got bored, and moved on to another planet.  Yes, we did talk about “extra-terrestrial beings”, and at best we left them contemplating about why God would create all this, and how he chose to reveal himself to us.

All-in-all, an average evening on the Loop.  So, why do it?  The Loop is a snapshot of how badly the world needs Jesus, and how confused it is.  But at least all those who we talked to left knowing about our faith in Jesus.  Sometimes that’s the best we can do, trusting that God is working in these lives through the rest of His Church!

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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