24 February 2017

Bibi in Australia and preservation

After an exciting few days in Sydney, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is readying to return to Israel. He came from a one-day stopover in Singapore and carried on to big crowds and welcomes in political and religious circles here. Of course, not everyone was thrilled in his being among us. But most peace-loving and democratic Aussies were glad to welcome the Prime Minister. He was, after all, the first sitting Israeli PM to ever visit Oz. And we are the honored ones to whom he came. "Two vital democracies" he described our two countries. His entire message is here.

This article shows some hostility against Bibi by some few hundred protestors, but their voices are few and far between. Their agenda of pro-Palestine was a cover up to their real anti-Israel sentiment. They don't want a two-state solution. They want Israel gone. Sorry, that's not diplomacy; that's not democracy; that's racism and that's unAustralian.

God has preserved our people, no matter how many Pharaohs, or Hamans, or Hitlers rise against us. And He will continue to keep us His until the end.

Bibi was asked, "How does Israel do what it does?"
Bibi answered, "Two things: 1) a continual quest for the future with a deep regard for the past." He mentioned the combination of "tradition and innovation" as the hallmarks of the success. And we know it's about God, too, although He seemed to be left out of the conversation at Central Synagogue the other night. But we won't leave Him out here.

11 February 2017

Tu Bishvat and a missed opportunity

This is a Hebrew phrase, tu bishvat, and is the date of today's holiday (think "July 4th" or "MayDay.") And it's a very minor holiday we note and celebrate today. The name of the holiday is simply the date --"Tu" is spelled "tet-vav", and the letter tet has the value of 9 (it is the 9th letter in the Hebrew alphabet) and vav has the value of 6. Added together they equal 15. The "b" prefix means "in" so Tu Bishvat literally means "15 in Shevat".

This is unusual for numbering. Usually in most counting systems, one would employ the decimal method. So it should be 10+5 Bishvat. But note that 15 is not written "yud-hey" (10 + 5) because Yud Hey is one of God's Hebrew names. So that we don't use the name of the Almighty in a pedestrian (or vain) way, we use 9 + 6. Clever.

The meaning of the holiday, that is, the purpose of the celebration is that we note the "new year for the trees" since this is the beginning of the agricultural cycle in Israel. When I was a kid, this was a time to raise funds for tree planting in Israel. We would shake a can at old people and ask them to contribute so that we could plant a tree in the Holy Land. Not that as a youth I ever made it to Israel, but the money collected went to the synagogue and I imagined that the money did pay for some trees.

Tu Bishevat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. See Lev. 19:23-25, which states that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year's fruit is for God, and after that, you can eat the fruit. Each tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu BiShvat, so if you planted a tree on Shevat 14, it begins its second year the next day, but if you plant a tree two days later, on Shevat 16, it does not reach its second year until the next Tu BiShvat.

Where there is a law, there are lawyers, loopholes and more laws, so don't be surprised at this reckoning.

But let me get back to the 9 + 6 rather than the 10 + 5. I like that the legal minds of Judaism put a fence around the name of the Lord, so that we wouldn't use it for ordinary use. I appreciate their zeal for preserving the dignity of the name. At the same time, I think they might have missed an opportunity to highlight God's presence on the 15th of each month.

In the same way we put his name "El" in names of children and cities by attaching it as a suffix (Nathaniel, Ezekiel, Yechezkel, etc), where we almost invoke his name, we could be doing that each month on the Yud-hay of the month. After all, many Jewish holidays fall on the 15th (Passover, Purim, Sukkot) and we don't shy away from using the fullness of the moon to help us note those. Yud Hay Shevat would be a great way to remember that God gives us nature, especially trees, and asked us to keep track of their ages.

I like giving myself a chance to put God into the conversation, and into memorial places in my life. No matter what else you are doing today, take a minute just now, and ask God to be in your day, to guide you, and to strengthen you to His tasks. Sound like a plan?

07 February 2017

You don't always know...

The symbol Co at the end of the sign for "Sydney Theatre" was clearly an abbreviation for "Company." But what if you saw the letters, "C O" anywhere else? It could mean in care of, as in an envelope address "Martin Schwartz c/o Sylvia Goldblossom." What about the periodic table element Cobalt? There you go, seeing co could also mean "Colorado" the state in the United States. You don't always know.

Sometimes it takes context to know whether the letters ST are dealing with a Catholic saint or a street name, like St Catherine or Catherine St.

You don't always know what you think you know, you know?

Need more examples? How about clouds...Are these black clouds in a white sky...or white clouds clearing in a black sky? You just don't always know, do you?

All that to say this-- things we think we know, we don't always know. We think that we have this religion thing down, that our religion is fine, and that no matter what, we know what we know. But wait, there are times when we just don't know.

In fact, a wise man is one who knows that he doesn't know. Isn't that what the wisest man in the world, King Solomon said? "When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom." (Proverbs 11.2) In other words, a wise man knows he is unwise. A fool thinks himself smart, but is actually clueless.

So who really knows about life? The ones who admit they are learning!
What about you? Humble? Or proud? Our recommendation--- humility!

02 February 2017

22 years ago today...

...I love to tell this story. It happened here in Sydney, on our first trip to this sunburnt country. We arrived around Australia Day, 26 January, into Melbourne, and our good friend Kameel Majdali met my wife Patty and me at the airport. We were a bit travel weary having flown from Washington, DC, and having left there about 24 hours earlier. We had three boxes of good size, with books and CDs and pamphlets of all kinds. It was a discovery trip--- would the people of Australia want such an unusual group as "Jews for Jesus" to land on their shores and would we hear a Macedonian call? But that's not the point of this story.

On 2 February, 22 years ago today, my wife and I awoke in Sydney's eastern suburbs where we stayed in the home of a generous couple. After a walk on the beach near their house, we said our farewells, and went into the City. We met with another Jewish believer who helped us hand out some literature at the Queen Victoria Building that day. At about 11:30 he approached my wife and said, "Bob may not know this, but there aren't any Jewish people here. They are all over in the Eastern suburbs, like Bondi." In wasn't more than 20 seconds later when a young Jewish medical student approached my wife and inquired about what she was doing. She was wearing a "Jews for Jesus" t-shirt. She was handing out a leaflet titled, "Jews for Jesus." The irony was thick and enjoyable. She received the young man's details and we laughed about the coincidental timing later.

Just a few minutes later, as we were ending our sortie, a young Gentile woman approached me and asked about our faith. She was very open to the things of God and within a few more minutes she was praying with us, as we all held hands, professing her new faith in Jesus as Messiah. But that's not the point of the story either.

Patty went to a little shop nearby to purchase some mementos and souvenirs for the family back home, and we got to the airport easily to fly back through Los Angeles later that afternoon. We settled into our seats on United Airlines and the events of the day were still fresh and worthy of reviewing. Look at all we accomplished today. What a good feeling.

After a couple movies and meals and rest, we landed into LAX before transferring to our next flight to get home. We had to fill out the landing/ arrivals form for the US government, of course. The date we arrived was actually 2 February. You see, we had crossed the international date line, for our first time ever, flying east. That meant we got the day back again. We left at 3 pm 2 February in Sydney and arrived before we left! Our flight took us about 14 hours and we arrived at about 10 am on 2 February in LA! How funny!

But wait, 2 February in the US is Ground Hog's Day. Just a year before, we had seen the movie with Andie MacDowell and Bill Murray with that same title. It was a typical Murray comedy where he played a weatherman who was assigned to cover the events in Pennsylvania surrounding the prediction of the future weather. The story, no spoiler alert required, features Murray starting over each day, awakened to find himself again on 2 February. How ironic! That the first time we experienced the international date line eastbound was on such an auspicious day as Ground Hog's Day. And that we got to start over in the US, and see what the day held for us there.

Starting over, whether on Rosh Hashanah or on New Year's Day or any day, is really about getting a fresh start. Today, even right now, why not look up to heaven, or close your eyes, if that helps, and ask the living God for a fresh start in your life? You don't need an imaginary date line to start over. You don't need a Hollywood movie to help you start over. What do you need?

You need to trust that the Almighty, the One who created our world and the universes in which we live, has a love for you that is greater than any Valentine you might receive next week. His love is most visibly seen in the dying of His Son Yeshua on the Roman cross. That execution was purposeful-- to bring you and me back into God's presence. To forgive us our sins. To make us whole again. Look at what He accomplished that day. What a Savior!

28 January 2017

Summer in the City

Sydney is home to over 4.5 million people and during the holidays tens of thousands of visitors joined our ranks helping to flood the economy and the public transportation system. The retailers were happy; the restaurants overflowed with customers; it's a flourishing time. We chose this time to spend major resources to notify people about the Good News of Messiah. He is alive and well, and available to Sydneysiders and anyone else who hears our voices.

We called the outreach in December our Summer Witnessing Campaign. Here are some photos in an album.

And now it's end of January and summer continues, although the holidays are over. Australia Day came and went. Women's marches took place in cities and hamlets large and small. And for most folks, it's back to work.

What about you? How did you spend your summer? Are you still hitting the beaches and camping sites? When everyone is driving into the CBD for work, are you grabbing your golf clubs and enjoying 18? Or the 19th?

Life is for living, and some work to be able to afford the (other) pleasures of life. Some work because they cannot figure out what to do in life. Some work because what they do in their job is their life. Summer for most is about not working, and getting to do those things we have missed all (the rest of the) year.

I think even Yeshua took some time off from his ministry efforts. In Matthew 15 we read, "and Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon." (verse 21) Withdrawing. That's it. That's rest. That's holiday. That's what Yeshua tried to do between some busy preaching assignments and healing a child of a Canaanite woman. And if the Son of God needed some time off to withdraw, don't you think you do as well?

Shabbat shalom and have a great (rest of the) summer.

19 January 2017

What makes this a "Good" news book?

Tonight we began a long series again in our book shop. Each Thursday, even next week on Australia Day, we study the Bible together and this week was no different. Although tonight we started a new book, the Gospel according to Matthew. The word "gospel" means "good news" and the question is begged... what makes this book such good news?
Good question.

Then the book begins with a long list of names, Hebrew names at that, which no one since Jehoshaphat has used. There was the exception like Jacob and Ruth, but mostly names like Eliud and Zerubbabel. Didn't exactly roll off our lips. And that's not a great way to start a biography of this Yeshua fellow. Good news? Barely news at all.

Until we started investigating some of the unusual listings. Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, and Bathsheba, along with Mary, who was no Catholic. There were five women listed in a Jewish genealogy. That's rare times rare to the 5th power. Men are listed in Jewish listings. That's it. That's all we need. That's all we ever needed. Until Matthew.

And those women all had some serious flaws or hung out with guys who had them or came from some history of bad stuff. All involved sexual activity. Tamar, who pretended to be a hooker and snagged her father-in-law in a lie and a furious outburst against her. He had tossed her aside and dismissed her from their family. Horrible start.
Rahab is next-- another hooker, for real-- who took care of some Jewish spies in her apartment upstairs and by faith in the reports about the Jewish people, went against the mayor and the chief of police in her village of Jericho. Only her family was spared when the walls came a-tumbling down.

Ruth was from Moab, which today would be in Jordan. And her ancestor, Moab, was the product of incest between Lot, nephew of Abraham, and Lot's daughter. Moab was both the son and grandson of Lot. Not a good start to a family tree.

All three of these women were Gentiles, and participated in Jewish life in such measure that they made it into the genealogy of Messiah Yeshua. But wait, there's more.

Bathsheba was the wife of a man named Uriah, the Hittite. Hittites were one of the seven people groups who lived in Canaan when Joshua and the Jewish people entered after the Exodus from Egypt. The Hittites were to have been eradicated, but Joshua thought better of that. So here's Uriah, and in the story he turns out to be a righteous dude. But King David, usually a good guy in the Book, turns out to be a very bad dude. He sleeps with Bathsheba while Uriah is out on his military assignment. She gets pregnant. David has Uriah killed, and the guilt and shame are catching up with him. His good buddy, the prophet Nathan takes him to task about all this, and David acknowledges his sin in the famous 51st Psalm. Bathsheba has a kid with David, of course, and this is Solomon the king. And he's in the line of Yeshua, too.

Finally there's Mary, the teenager who was engaged to this man Joseph, whose genealogy is what we are reading. Before Mary and Joseph tied the knot and enjoyed the marriage bed, she is informed that she's going to have a baby, as a result of God making her pregnant. Seriously. Virgin conception. That's a miracle.

OK< so all five of these listed women have a bit of sexual impropriety in their lives, or so it appears. Why did Matthew choose to indicate this was 'good' news? For whom would this be good anyway?

I believe the key is found later in two places in the book. First, in chapter 9, Matthew self-describes as a tax collector. Those folks were not the best, not the most liked by either Roman or Jewish society. They were cashed up, to be sure, but his riches left him no pleasure, and no assurance of God's life being his. When Yeshua called Matthew to 'follow' him, immediately he left all that he knew, and did just that. Tax collectors, just like today's IRS or ATO, are unloved by the masses. In fact, we could safely say they were despised.

The other statement of note in this question of the listing of the sordid women is found in chapter 21.
Yeshua used a question about two sons, and which son did the will of his father to describe this single category of people. The father asked the sons to do something. One said, "no" and then later regretted his statement and went to accomplish his father's request. The other son said, "Sure thing," and then didn't follow through. Yeshua asked the people, "Which of the two did the will of his father?" Obviously the first one. And to whom does he compare that first son? To prostitutes and tax collectors. Wow, what a linkage!

“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him." (21.31-32)

Tax collectors were people of status; prostitutes had another, a lower reputation. But both were an embarrassment to proper Jewish society. That Matthew links the two classes of rejection into one, that's very telling. The listing of the 'bad' women in the genealogy says that Matthew says there is hope for everyone. There is hope for hookers. There is hope for the IRS man. There is hope for every person in society-- not because of a new class on offer at the university or because of a new John in the 'hood-- but because God can make good come out of the worst of situations.

Grace abounds where sin abounds. So Paul said in Romans 5.20 "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." God can and will override all the bad news the world offers, and bring us 'good' news. That's what Matthew and Paul and I and countless millions have discovered. Good news comes to those who believe in the Grace and Goodness of the Almighty. Even dark clouds have silver linings.

I'm counting on God just now in my life.
I invite you to count on Him just now in yours as well.
And I wish you a good 2017 because of the forgiveness and grace of God.

16 January 2017

Back to work

Our office was shut over the Christmas/ Hanukkah/ New Year holidays and we are grateful for the rest and repair afforded us. And now, we are back to work and welcoming shop visitors and your enquiries.
Ring 1.800.Messiah from here in Australia or +61.29388.0559 from outside Australia.

We hope your 2017 is full of joy and vigor.