How to Be a Supermom (Remix)

In Jewish tradition, Mother’s Day is a weekly event. Every Friday night, Jewish husbands return from synagogue to celebrate Sabbath, and begin by singing Proverbs 31 to their wives, the biblical text about the woman of valor, or the woman of noble character. Each week, Jewish families honor the value of a godly mother.

Although that’s the indispensable tradition in which I was raised, I was wondering, what does the New Testament add to our understanding of godly motherhood? It doesn’t teach that moms must be perfect or as powerful than Wonder Woman or outdo even Martha Stewart at home. But it does reveal these two principles of how to be a supermom. They’re both from 2 Timothy and relate to Timothy’s mom.

First, supermoms model faith for their kids.  In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul is in the midst of thanking God and he explicitly mentions that he is grateful because he clearly recalls Timothy’s, “sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois, then in your mother Eunice, and that I am convinced is in you also.” Timothy’s grandmother and mother practiced generational discipleship—the transference of faith in the Messiah Jesus from one generation to the next. Godly moms need to have their own genuine faith walk with Messiah Jesus and they’ll become godly role models for their kids.

Remember more is caught than explicitly taught. All kids want to be like their parents, carefully observing them and then emulating them. That’s why little girls want to dress up in Mom’s clothes or where their makeup. It’s why little boys want to cook or bake with Mom. My boys, when they were toddlers, had a little broom that they used to sweep the floor, when their mom would sweep the kitchen. This role modeling grows. so that the role of godly motherhood extends beyond common chores to exemplifying a daily walk with God.

In my life, I always remember my own Mom’s faith and obedience to God in the midst of adversity. She remained devoted to the Lord, even during her time in a Nazi concentration camp. So when I face difficult times, I remember how my Mom dealt with hardship, and she remains a role model for me. I also remember, how, as she entered her senior years, even in poor health, she practiced hospitality, opening her home, caring for fellow believers, especially those who needed a place to stay or a meal. That remains a godly example to me.

Second, supermoms teach the Scriptures to their kids.   In 2 Timothy 3:14-15, Paul tells Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing those from whom you learned, and that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Messiah Jesus.” Obviously, Paul had taught the Scriptures to Timothy. But that’s not where Timothy’s biblical education began. It started with his mom—that’s how Timothy knew God’s Word since childhood.

It is so crucial for moms to teach their kids. Moms begin with story books and songs, and as kids mature, it should proceed to daily time in the Word of God with their kids.  My wife Eva is the ultimate example of this. She has taught our now adult sons so much. She has taught them to love old movies, Shakespeare’s plays, the beauty of plants and trees, the wonder of wildlife. She has given them many lessons, but most of all, she has taught them the Scriptures. She read them Bible books, taught their Bible classes at congregation (along with teaching lots of other kids), discussed the Word around the dinner table, and lived it before them every day.

Just a word of encouragement to moms whose adult kids may be off the track right now. Remember, if you modeled faith and taught the Scriptures to your kids, you’ve done your part. Now keep strong in the Lord, trust Him and let Him do His part in the life of your kids. The good Shepherd cares for the sheep more than we ever will. He loves our children and will work His will in their lives. We can trust the Lord to bring them back to Himself. Happy Mother’s Day!

Why Gentile Christians Must Care about Antisemitism

Chabad Community Center Poway, CA

Last week, a gunman entered the Chabad Synagogue of Poway, CA, near San Diego, and began shooting, killing one person and wounding three others. Were it not for the brave actions of several in the congregation and that the weapon jammed, it would have been far worse, as bad as the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue of Pittsburgh was, just six months ago. Now reports about the shooter in Poway indicate that he was raised in an Orthodox Presbyterian church and his manifesto complained of the old Antisemitic trope that the Jewish people are all Christ killers.

Also last week, the International Edition of the New York Times, the great paper of record, ran a horrific Antisemitic cartoon, worthy of the Nazi rag, Der Sturmer. The paper did not immediately apologize, but instead called running the cartoon a mere “error of judgment.” It took a storm of criticism for the Times to take a second stab at addressing the controversy and offer an actual apology for their Antisemitic cartoon. They blamed it on a single editor not the normalizing of hatred of Israel so common in the New York Times. It took one of their own columnists to identify that as the cause.

These events are both reflections of the radical increase in Antisemitism in the United States and around the world. Most people would be surprised to learn that for years now, the number one target of hate crimes in the United States are Jewish people. The Anti-Defamation League released a report last year showing that Antisemitic incidents increased in 2017 by 60% and just last week, they announced that Antisemitic incidents in 2018 remained at these historic levels.

What is most surprising to me, since I teach and serve in the evangelical Christian sub-culture, is that most Christians don’t recognize that this should have any effect on them. It’s certainly not that they endorse this hatred but many question whether it should matter to them in any special way. Why should Gentile Jesus followers care deeply and act boldly to protect the Jewish people in our midst?

One reason we need to care about Antisemitism is that all followers of Jesus have Jewish roots. In Romans 11, Paul uses an illustration of an Olive Tree, a picture of the New Covenant, that Gentile believers are grafted into. He writes that if the root of this tree “is holy, so are the branches” (Rom 11:16). The root refers to the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The point is that Gentile Christians are branches grafted into a tree with Jewish roots. We need to care about Antisemitism because we stand on Jewish promises made to Jewish patriarchs.

But that’s not the only reason. We also need to care about the hatred of the Jewish people because we have a Jewish redeemer, the Lord Jesus the Messiah. In Romans 9:4-5 Paul lists many of the blessings God has given the Jewish people and a special one is that “from them, by physical descent came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever.” The Messiah who died for our sins and was raised again and who forgave us, is Jewish. Despite the New York Times and a US Congresswoman recently declaring that Jesus was a Palestinian, nothing could be further from the truth. Our Lord Jesus, whom we love and serve, is Jewish. We not only stand on Jewish promises but we have a Jewish savior.

Yet another reason to care about Antisemitism is that we serve a Jewish king. It’s not just that Jesus is Jewish, the Bible identifies Him as “the Son of David.” Paul calls the Lord Jesus a “descendant of David” in both Romans1:3 and 2 Timothy 2:8. His point is that Jesus is the royal heir to the Davidic Covenant. The Messiah Jesus isn’t just our redeemer—He’s our King. If the Lord Jesus were not the true King of Israel, then He would not be the King of the World. Therefore, we must care for the physical family of our king.

A final motivation to stand with the Jewish community against Antisemitism is that one day we will stand before a Jewish judge, the Lord Jesus Himself. In 2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul reminds us that we will all stand before the Bema seat of Messiah, when He will judge our works. Not only that, the Lord Jesus Himself said that He would judge the Gentile nations at the end of the Tribulation (Matt 25:31-46). The basis of His judgment would be how the nations treated the Jewish people during that terrific time of Antisemitism. The Lord receives some into the Kingdom because their actions reflected their genuine faith. He says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me” (Matt 25:41). Although this verse is applied in many different contexts, its primary meaning is that “these brothers” refer to the Jewish people.

Too often Gentile Christians think Antisemitism is bad but it’s not really any of their business. But the Scriptures remind us that we need to resist Antisemitism because of our relationships. It is not just someone else’s problem—  our roots, our Redeemer, and our Ruler should cause it to be one of our core concerns.

What a 2,600 Year Old Clay Seal Has to Do with Us

“(belonging” to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King”

Last Sunday, Israeli archaeologists announced the discovery of a 2,600 year old clay seal with the words in ancient Hebrew, “belonging to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the king.” This seal is the most recent of many that have been found, and they are called “bullae.” A bulla is a small round piece of clay that was used to seal a scrolled document. The author would then press their seal, like a signet ring, into the clay to identify who it was that sent the document. When Jerusalem was destroyed and burned by the Babylonians, the fire was so intense, it functioned like a kiln, baking these clay seals and thus preserving them. Many of these bullae have been found in the same area. Let’s talk about this important find from last week and how it relates to you and me.

The seal was found in the City of David, the original city of Jerusalem, as established by King David. It lies just South of the Old Walled City of Jerusalem, having been mistakenly left outside the walls when they were rebuilt in the 16th century by Suleiman, the Turkish Sultan. The city of David is part of the original mountain, and it slopes downward to the pool of Siloam.

Another important archaeological find there was by archaeologist Eilat Mazar. She reasoned that if it were indeed the original city of David, that if she excavated near the top of the city, just below the Temple Mt, she would find the remains of David’s palace. So, she dug there, and found a very large stone house, much larger than a ordinary person would have. The ancient shards of pottery found there confirmed that the large stone house was from 1,000 BC. She concluded that this indeed was the palace of King David. Of course there are Bible skeptics who say that King David is a mythic figure, like King Arthur of England. And since Mazar did not find a nameplate saying, “King David’s Palace,” it can’t be his house. But in light of Bible history identifying David as king from 1010-970 BC and the location of this large stone house, it seems that Eilat Mazar’s conclusion, that this is indeed David’s palace, is correct.

In the past, other finds in this area confirm that this was a royal governmental area in the kingdom of Judah, before the captivity that began in 586 BC. For example a seal was found with the name Gadaliah, son of Pashhur and another with the name Jucal, son of Shelamiah. They are both mentioned in Jeremiah 38:1, as servants of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, in the 6th century BC. They were both involved in a plot against Jeremiah.

This most recent seal, with the words, “Belonging to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King,” seems to relate to 2 Kings 23:11, where Nathan-Melech is identified as a royal official of King Josiah who reigned from 640 to 610 BC.

So what does this have to do with us? It’s just another archaeological confirmation of the truth of Scripture. In John 17:17, the Lord Jesus prayed for His disciples and asked the Father to “sanctify them in the truth. Your Word is truth!” Too often people want to minimize the truth of Scripture by saying it’s only true when it speaks of spiritual matters but not when it addresses history or science. But when the Lord Jesus said that God’s Word is truth, He was affirming that it’s all accurate, that everything the Bible affirms as true, is true, down to the historical details. That’s why we can trust the Bible for spiritual truth—because all of it is true. We don’t have archaeological confirmation for everything in Scripture, but consistently archaeological finds support the words of Jesus and show that the Bible is really God’s Word. It it is true, and we can depend on it for everything in our lives.

God’s Boundaries Are For Our Good

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of talk about borders and boundaries today–what politicians are calling “border security.” But the idea of borders and boundaries can also refer to a term used in the Bible about God’s regulations. It’s the Hebrew word “Choqim” and it’s frequently translated “statutes.” The word is derived from the idea of “engraving” or “scratching.” It gives the picture of an inscription. The idea of a statute may have developed because in the ancient world, rulers would often inscribe their rules and regulations on stone. But, it came to be thought of as a boundary or a border, a marked out line in the sand. And when used in Scripture, it refers to the boundary lines that God has established for us.

So often when we consider God’s statutes, people think of them as somehow designed by God to keep us from having fun. As if God’s boundaries mark out the land of good times and says, “Don’t cross that line—God may catch us being happy.” But that’s not how Psalm 119 understands the boundaries that God laid down. Here’s just a few of the ideas associated with God’s statutes in Psalm 119.

First, God’s boundaries bring us delight. Psalm 119:16 says, “I will delight in Your statutes; I will not forget your wordd.” The word for delight in this verse is one that means the happiness that’s derived from having fun. In Isaiah 11:8 it’s used of the fun a child has while playing.

Also, God’s boundaries are joyful. The psalmist declared, “Your statutes are the theme of my song during my earthly life” (Psalm 119:54). The image is of someone so joyful that they sing of God’s statutes.

Further, God gave us boundaries for our good. Look at Psalm 119:68, which links God’s goodness to His giving us boundaries. It says, “You are good, and You do what is good; teach me your statutes” God knows what is best for us and He has prescribed boundaries that keep us in the realm of His goodness.

Additionally, God’s boundaries keep us safe. In Psalm 119:117 it says “Sustain me so that I can be safe and always be concerned about Your statutes.” There God’s regulations are associated with our safety. This was a concept I tried to help my kids understand when they were teens. Just as their curfew and our rules about using our car were designed to keep them safe, in the same way God wants to keep His children safe and gives us boundary lines. Staying within them keeps us secure.

Another idea from Psalm 119:124 is that God’s boundaries are a reflection of His faithful love. That verse says, “Deal with Your servant based on Your faithful love; teach me Your statutes.” God is loyal to us and in His kindness and concern for us He has laid out boundaries.

One final idea is that God will show us favor when we stay within His boundaries. Psalm 119:135 prays, “Show favor to Your servant, and teach me Your statutes.” The literal prayer asks God to “shine His face upon” His servant. The psalmist sees God’s boundaries as His “look of love” upon us.

But is this just propaganda for God’s boundaries? Are they really for our good and safety? I thought about all the good that would come about if we stayed within God’s prescriptions. If we did there’d be no broken homes with hurt children, no sexually transmitted diseases, no accidents because of drunkenness, no shattered lives and families from drug addiction. I could go on and on. God has given us great freedom to enjoy His good creation and enjoy life. But He’s also provided boundaries so that we can enjoy life to the full.

It made me think of cold winter days—Eva and I so enjoy having a fireplace in our living room. We put a few logs on the fire, pull out a good novel, and enjoy both the physical and emotional warmth of the fire. But I want that fire to stay within the fireplace, within its boundaries. If it crosses that line into my living room it will lead to disaster. That’s why the Psalmist loved God’s boundaries and we should too. They are God’s way of keeping the fire in the fireplace.

O Hold Them Back

In one of the most egregious examples of doublespeak ever, New York State has passed the Reproductive Health Act, a law that allows abortion up to the moment of birth, allegedly only to sustain the health of the mother. Allowing late-term abortions of this sort has nothing to do with reproductive health—it is essentially reproductive death to a full term baby. Multiple physicians have stated a caesarean delivery would provide for the health of a mom far better than any late-term abortion. And worse, to avoid the federal ban on partial birth abortion, abortion providers would need to “induce fetal demise” prior to removing the baby—this is nothing but infanticide. This new law has nothing to do with health but rather it is all about ideology. It is part of the radical attempt to guarantee all abortions on demand.

Although every abortion kills a living pre-born baby, somehow it seems far worse to take a viable, healthy child and murder it moments before birth. This is even contrary to the Roe V. Wade ruling which only allowed abortion for babies that were not yet viable outside the womb. This new law seems so horrific, that when I told a mom about it yesterday, she burst into tears. She understood the feeling of holding a newborn baby in her arms and to her, this law merely legalizes the murder of the most precious and helpless of all. God spare us.

A dear friend of both Eva and I wrote to me yesterday, saying she had been weeping all day after hearing the news of the New York law and asking if I would address this today. I encouraged her to go back and listen online to the Opening Word from last week, in which I laid out the biblical reasons for preserving life. But in light of this horrifying new law, I want to focus on another issue—why we need to act and what to do.

The reason we can’t ignore this law is found in Proverbs 24:11-12: “Rescue those being taken off to death, and save those stumbling toward slaughter.If you say, ‘But we didn’t know about this,’ won’t He who weighs hearts consider it? Won’t He who protects your life know? Won’t He repay a person according to his work?” We can’t sit by passively and just bemoan the degenerating state of the world. We must stand up and act in defense of life, doing all that we can within the law to preserve these precious unborn children.

So what can we do? Foremost, we should use our rights as citizens to oppose this law. When the apostle Paul was facing false charges and a corrupt trial, he used his rights as a Roman citizen, to appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:10-11). As citizens, we can push Congress, in both the house and the Senate, to pass laws banning late-term abortion. Federal law takes precedence over state law, and a federal ban on late-term abortion would not violate Roe V. Wade but would supersede this atrocious New York State law.

Also, we need to pray for the people of New York State, to do what is morally right even if the abortion of a late-term child is legally permissible. I am praying that God would work in the hearts of all pregnant women there, that He would strengthen their maternal instinct and convict them of their need to preserve the precious life growing in them. I’m asking God to work so that whatever inconvenience or difficulty a mom may be facing, she would still prioritize caring for her yet unborn but beloved baby.

Beyond these steps, we need to use our money to support Crisis Pregnancy Centers, in our local areas, but now also, in New York State. These centers are at the front lines of helping pregnant moms find the financial help and emotional support they need to protect their unborn children. We need to give so they can work in the lives of moms who need guidance and help. We are living in a challenging time in the United States. There is a growing disillusionment with faith and God. Militant atheism is on the rise and morality is decreasing. Believers seem less loving of those who need the Lord the most. So I’m praying for revival here. I’m asking God to make Jesus followers into salt and light so that we can impact our culture for the gospel. May we proclaim the good news of Jesus with love and tact but also fearlessly and boldly. I’m praying that God will open hearts to the message of Messiah Jesus and that people will trust in Him. It seems to me that’s the best way to preserve the lives of unborn children.

Choose Life

Tomorrow, it will be 46 years since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States. Just what does the Bible have to say about taking an unborn life?

Since Roe V. Wade was decided in 1973, there have been over 60 million babies aborted in the United States. That number takes my breath away. Abortion has become so acceptable that no long ago, I saw a Christian leader use social media to defend an organization that has performed over 8 million abortions. His tenuous grounds for the defense was that this organization does so much other good for women.

So what does the Bible say about abortion? There isn’t a specific command about life in the womb. Yet biblically, we can deduce from a number of passages that God considers a baby in the womb to be fully human and alive. To begin, Scripture clearly states that God is the designer of life in the womb. Psalm 139:13-16 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” These words remind us that God forms, sees, and ordains life in an unborn baby.

Not only that, God also sets people apart for service to Him even from the womb, as He did Jeremiah (Jer 1:5) and Paul (Gal 1:15). If they were not living persons while in the womb, that wouldn’t be true. Moreover, it’s possible for God to work spiritually even in an unborn baby’s life. Luke 1:15 says that John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb.” Luke goes on to say, that the Spirit prompted John to leap while in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when Mary, pregnant with the Messiah Jesus, visited (Luke 1:41). It’s plain from Scripture that an unborn child is a fully human living person, made in the image of God and therefore precious to God Himself.

Taken together with the Scriptural prohibition of murder, as in Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder,” it’s plain that God forbids abortion. Some might object that since abortion is legal, it’s only forbidden for people who actually believe the Bible. But abortion is a moral issue, not a personal religious decision. We can’t very well say “I’m personally opposed to murder or rape because the Bible forbids it, but I don’t want to impose my biblical values on others.” That’s because murder and rape are moral issues, not personal religious ones. And for all who say that abortion is a decision made between a woman and her doctor, don’t forget that there’s a third person involved, the unborn baby. Who will speak for the child? Who will protect the one who is unable to save herself? Followers of the Messiah Jesus need to be the ones who speak publicly, act sacrificially, and give generously, in fact, we need to do all we can within the law, to protect unborn children.

This is not the first time I’ve ever addressed this issue. Whenever I do, it seems I’m asked if abortion is the unpardonable sin. Jesus sid “People will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matt 12:31). However, the Lord was not speaking about abortion but rather the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. According to the context, the blasphemy of the Spirit is declaring the miracles of the incarnate Son of God, works of Satan (Matt 12:24-28). In essence, this is finally and fully rejecting Jesus as the Messiah and Redeemer of humanity.

The Bible teaches that there is no sin so heinous, so terrible, that it’s beyond the grace of God. Romans 8:1 says, “there is no condemnation for those in Messiah Jesus.” All our sins, past, present and future, are forgiven if we believe Jesus died for our sins and rose again and put our trust in Him. And what if someone who already is a follower of Jesus, has an abortion? The scriptures teach that even that person can be restored to fellowship with God and experience true pardon. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). There is no sin greater than God’s ability to forgive and restore, and that includes abortion.

Years ago, when I first started answering questions on Open Line, a young woman called and asked what the Bible has to say about abortion. As I began to go over the biblical data, I realized she wasn’t asking a theoretical question. She was contemplating having an abortion. My answer quickly shifted from a calm, theoretical statement of the facts to an urgent and passionate appeal for her to preserve life. I don’t know what she decided. But if you happen to be listening today and you’re facing a pregnancy that you think is a burden, there are people who want to help you. God wants to sustain you. Please listen to the words of Moses: “I have set before you life and death . . . Choose life that you and your descendants may live” (Deut 30:19).

O How I Love Your Instruction Book

It seems that every small appliance I buy has an instruction booklet that I take out of the box, drop into a file drawer, and only pull it out when I need it. For example, this past year Eva and I purchased a new drip coffee maker and the only time I used the instructions was when I was trying to figure out how to program it to start brewing before I woke up. Similarly, when we bought a new air conditioning unit, we ignored the instruction booklet, plugged it in and hit the on button. But then, a few months later, an annoying little red light came on, telling us to clean the filter. So I cleaned the filter but couldn’t get the red light to turn off. I then had to spend about a half hour looking for the instruction booklet, five minutes or so looking for the answer, and then about 10 seconds following the instruction in the booklet to turn off the warning light.

As the year is ending, I’m thinking about how we ought to view the Bible in the upcoming year. As it is, too often, we treat the Bible as if it were God’s instruction booklet and too often we use it as I use the instructions for small appliances. We keep it around (someplace) and pull it out to be read only if and when we need to address some issue in our lives. That’s not how God intended us to use His Word.

Psalm 119:97 says, “Oh how I love your Law (Torah), it is my meditation all day long.” This verse emphasizes what our attitude and action should be towards God’s Word. First, we should love the Bible. The first words of the verse surprise us because we think of the word “Law” as a harsh, cold set of rules. How do we love that? But the word “Torah” actually means “instruction” or “teaching.” In fact, the HCSB translates this verse as “How I love your instruction.” It captures how we’re to consider the Bible—as God’s instruction for life. It reveals wisdom, gives warnings, commands obedience, offers hope, shows godly examples, provides promises to claim, and teaches truths about God. God’s instruction book contains all this and more. No wonder the Psalmist declares his love for it. And if we recognize the Bible as all that, we will also love it.

And if we love God’s instructions, the Psalmist reveals what action we should take. He says it is his daily meditation. The Hebrew word used for “meditation” (shiakh) refers to deep thought or long contemplation. The psalmist is saying that because he loves God’s instructions He spends time pondering it every day and all day. It’s not enough to make grand declarations of love for the Bible—we need to also take concrete action to input the Bible into our minds, hearts and lives. So how do we do that? Here’s some suggestions for 2019.

First, if we love the Bible, we’ll read it daily. This seems so obvious but we too often, we neglect this principle. I was asking my friend Larry, who has read the Bible every day for the last 46 years (without missing a single day), what was the key to his faithfulness. His answer was straightforward. He said, “Since the God of the universe chose to reveal Himself in His Word, it makes sense for me to listen to what He says every day.” (I’ve linked a copy of the Navigator’s Bible in a Year reading plan that I find so helpful.)

Second, if we love the Bible, we’ll study it regularly. This is in addition to our regular reading of the Word. It might be, like Tricia, Open Line’s producer, to be  part of a small group Bible Study that requires weekly preparation to participate. Or for me, in order to teach the Bible, I need to put the time in to study it in greater depth. Another example is my wife Eva, who regularly chooses a Bible book and then studies it, using commentaries, dictionaries, and lexicons, She doesn’t do this only so she can teach—she studies to develop a deeper knowledge of God’s Word. For some it might be carefully studying the message that we hear at our weekly worship services. Whatever approach we choose, it’s not enough only to read the Bible—we need to study it as well.

Third, if we love the Bible, it will occupy our thoughts even when we’re not reading and studying. That’s what meditation means. Having read and studied the Word, we need to contemplate where it fits in our lives and what steps we need to take to adjust our behavior to its teaching. No matter how much we may read the Bible, it’s insufficient if we fail to let it speak into our lives. It’s dangerous to traffic in unlived truth. And to apply God’s Word, we need to spend time pondering it.

The Bible isn’t an instruction booklet that we pull out when something breaks down or when a warning light goes off in our lives. Instead, we need to view the Scriptures as God’s instruction book that guides us in every area of life. It needs to fill our thoughts every day and all day. If that’s our view, then we’ll agree with the Psalmist, “Oh how I love your instruction, it is my meditation all day long.”

The Jewishness of Christmas

My father never liked Christmas. When our family would drive into the Italian and Irish neighborhoods of Brooklyn, to look at the Christmas lights, he refused to join us. He couldn’t understand how anyone could believe in a virgin birth. Moreover, he associated the celebration of Christmas with the anti-Semitism of his small village in Poland where he was born. He also linked Christmas with the Nazis, who not only persecuted him and murdered his family, but also zealously celebrated Christmas every December.

Although I could understand my Dad, I never shared his antipathy. Even growing up in an observant Jewish household, with a family that didn’t keep Christmas, I always enjoyed the season. I watched the tv specials, from Charlie Brown to Perry Como, and never missed the various versions of A Christmas Carol that aired all night long on Christmas Eve. I would go to Manhattan to see the department store displays, and drink hot chocolate while watching the skaters in Rockefeller Center under the twinkling lights of that huge Christmas tree.

But I lacked something. While I enjoyed the “feeling” of Christmas, I didn’t believe in its central features: the virgin birth, the incarnation, a baby born king of the Jews. I thought if only all this were true, then I could really join the celebration and not just watch it from a distance.

Then in 1972, I discovered that the star that shone over Bethlehem so long ago, was actually a Star of David and that it signaled the birth of the promised Jewish Messiah. When I put my faith in Yeshua (or Jesus), my heart sang out in harmony with the old Christmas carol, “born is the King of Israel.” But before too long, I realized there were not too many singing along with me. People too often fail to recognize how Jewish Christmas really is.

To begin, the Christmas story has all sorts of Jewish ceremonies. Luke’s gospel mentions the circumcision of Jesus (2:21), Mary’s days of purification according to the Law of Moses (2:22 based on Lev 12:6-8), and the redemption of the first born (2:23 based on Exod 13:2, 12).

Additionally, the Christmas story reveals events that took place in Jewish geographical locations. For example, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, in “the hill country of Judah,” (Luke 1:39) and the baby Messiah was born in fulfillment of prophecy (Micah 5:2) in Bethlehem of Judea, the hometown of King David (Luke 2:4). Afterwards, wise men from the East arrived in Jerusalem, the ancient capital of Israel, for an audience with Herod (Matt 2:1).

Also, the Christmas story reveals that this child would be the fulfillment of all Jewish longing and hope.  The angel Gabriel told Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:32-33). Mary responded by worshiping the Lord who “has helped His servant Israel . . . just as He spoke to our Fathers, to Abraham and descendants forever” (Luke 1:54-55). Even old Zechariah, when he was finally able to speak, recognized that his own son John would announce the arrival of the long awaited Jewish Messiah, saying “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, just as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets in ancient times;  salvation from our enemies and from the clutches of those who hate us” (Luke 1:69-71).

Finally, the first ones to celebrate the birth of Messiah Jesus all had a Jewish connection. The Jewish shepherds were likely those who cared for the lambs and sheep to be used for Temple sacrifice in Jerusalem (Luke 2:8-15). Simeon, was an old Jewish man, looking for “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25).  The aged widow and prophetess Anna, having seen the child, spoke “about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). And the Gentile wise men from the East came seeking “He who has been born King of the Jews” (Matt 2:2).

There is no question that God intended the birth of the Messiah to be a great event for everyone, that it was intended to begin God’s work of redemption for all peoples in all the world. But let’s also remember Simeon’s reminder, that the Messiah Jesus was not only to be “A light of revelation to the gentiles” but also, “the glory of [God’s] people Israel” (Luke 2:32).

The Public School that Expelled Christmas

We’ve all heard of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. But have you heard of The Public School that Expelled Christmas? In Elkhorn, Nebraska, Jennifer Sinclair, an elementary school principal, issued a memo banning virtually all recognition of Christmas at her school. According to the Omaha World-Herald,

Banned items listed included Santas, Christmas trees, “Elf on the Shelf,” singing Christmas carols, playing Christmas music, candy canes and reindeer,            homemade ornament gifts, Christmas movies and red and green items. Regarding candy canes, the notice said, “the shape is a ‘J’ for Jesus.” An ornament? “This assumes that the family has a Christmas tree, which assumes they celebrate Christmas. I challenge the thought of, ‘Well they can just hang it somewhere else.’ ”

After receiving a letter from the Liberty Counsel, the school board rescinded the ban. The principal sent a note of apology and has been suspended with pay, giving her an extended Christmas break.

To be fair, Ms. Sinclair was acting with good intentions, desiring to be inclusive to those who don’t celebrate Christmas. Ironically, I was first alerted to this situation by a Jewish blogger, Jeff Dunetz, who found the principal’s ban of Christmas to be silly. What Dunetz saw was that this principal, in the name of inclusion, was excluding the vast majority who do celebrate Christmas. She misunderstood that the separation of Church and State does not require the exclusion of Church from the State. To be inclusive, public schools generally include symbols and celebrations of all winter holidays, from Chanukah, to Kwanza to Christmas. And no one is forced to eat candy canes or Christmas cookies or to wear a red sweater with a green skirt.

Nevertheless, this small victory in the war against Christmas, is a great reminder that even the inclusion of Christmas in public settings is still secular. Even if a candy cane is shaped like a J and represents Jesus, most people remain unaware of that. We need to double down in our families to focus our celebrations on the incarnation, that God became a man. Here’s a few suggestions that I have found helpful in family settings.

First, focus on the Christmas story not Santa Claus. Santa is fun but he’s not essential to the wonder of Christmas. How exciting  to think of presents delivered by a chubby guy in a red suit in a sleigh with flying reindeer. But it is awe inspiring to consider that the Creator of the universe condescended to be born as a helpless infant who would grow up to be the Redeemer of the world. So, we always smiled and laughed about Santa but we never expected our kids to believe in him. The amazing message of Christmas must always be about the incarnation of the Son of God (Phil 2:6-9).

Second, we need to choose ways to celebrate the incarnation so kids can understand it. My wife Eva always strings a “Happy Birthday” banner across the mantle of our fireplace, to celebrate the birthday of the King. She also always bakes a birthday cake, with the words, “Happy Birthday, Yeshua” on the cake. When our kids were small, Christmas morning was the one day a year when they could eat cake for breakfast. And before any present is ever opened, our family always sits together and reads the gospel Christmas narratives (Matt 1-2; Luke 2).

Finally, de-escalate the importance of gift giving. I’m no Grinch and I like getting and giving presents as much as the next guy. But this celebration ought to be about thanking God “for His indescribable gift” (2 Cor 9:15).  Don’t overwhelm them with gifts and help them see the joy of giving to others. Let them know about our special Christmas gifts to church and to various ministries. We need to focus on God’s great gift to us not the accumulation of a pile of presents that will be forgotten by Valentine’s Day.

So here’s a shout out of thanks to Principal Jennifer Sinclair. I am grateful to her for reminding us all that we need to keep our families focused on the Messiah Jesus this Christmas even if public schools don’t really do that. Merry Christmas Jennifer.

The Christian School that Expelled Chanukah (Rewind)

We’ve all heard of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. But have you heard of The Christian School that Expelled Chanukah? You may remember that a couple of years ago I told the following story about some friends of mine and how they encountered the suppression of Chanukah. But, since Chanukah begins tomorrow night and this story is just as relevant, I thought it would be okay to tell it again. So here goes.

A committed young messianic Jewish couple sent their first child to a Christian school for kindergarten. The kindergarten teacher asked several Moms to help with the class Christmas party by bringing cookies. This Jewish mom who loves the Lord Jesus, volunteered, saying she would also bake and bring Chanukah cookies. This makes perfect sense since Jewish followers of Jesus generally observe both the festival of Chanukah and the birth of the Messiah Jesus. After signing up to bring Chanukah cookies, the kindergarten teacher sent this loving mom an email, writing that since this is a Christian school, only Christian holidays are allowed to be observed. In other words, keep your Jewish Holidays and Chanukah cookies out of our Christian school. Even after trying to explain the significance of Chanukah for Christians, the teacher, backed up by the school administration, remained adamant, these children would not learn about Chanukah or eat Chanukah treats. This well intentioned teacher is emblematic of what is all too common among Christians: A failure to understand the Jewish roots of our faith and a determined desire to remain ignorant about the Jewish people.

So, why would Chanukah cookies be appropriate for a Christian school or any Christian family? Why should Christians learn about or even celebrate Chanukah? Well to begin, the events of Chanukah were predicted in the Hebrew Bible. In Daniel 8:23-26, the prophet predicted the rise of “an insolent king, skilled in intrigue” who would “cause terrible destruction” and “destroy the powerful along with the holy people.” Additionally, “He will stand against the Prince of princes, Yet He will be shattered—not by human hands.” This is a prediction of Antiochus IV, who attempted to destroy the Jewish people and the observance of their biblical faith in 167 B.C. He was opposed not just to the people of Israel but to their future king, the Messiah Himself. And Daniel 11:31, also speaking of Antiochus, says that He and “his forces will rise up and desecrate the Temple fortress. They will abolish the daily sacrifice and set up the abomination of desolation.” This refers to the Antiochus’ offering of a swine to Zeus on the altar of the Holy Temple and his prohibition of worship of the true God of Israel.  Daniel 11:32 says that “the people who know their God will be strong and take action.” These are the Maccabees, who rose up and by the hand of God,  defeated that army of Antiochus and rededicated the Temple for worship, resulting in the establishment of the festival of Chanukah. In fact, the word Chanukah means “dedication” and remembers this rededication of the Temple by the Jewish people, faithful followers of the God of Israel.

But fulfilled Bible prophecy isn’t the only reason for Christians to learn about Chanukah. Another motivation for understanding the festival is that it is a reminder that without Chanukah, there would be no Christmas. Antiochus was a genocidal maniac, who wanted to destroy all the Jewish people (he was not the first, nor was he the last). If he succeeded, then Jesus, the son of David and the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1) would not have been born. The events of Chanukah reminds us that God preserved the Jewish people so that the Jewish Messiah could be born. The angel told Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:22-23).

Beyond these reasons, one more remains. We often ask what would Jesus do? Well John 10:22-23 tells what He actually did. It says, “Then the festival of Dedication (Chanukah) took place, and . . . Jesus was walking in the Temple complex . . .” Jesus left Galilee to celebrate Chanukah in Jerusalem. It was there He revealed His own deity, declaring, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30).

Certainly there are good reasons for followers of Jesus, even those who are not Jewish, to learn about Chanukah, perhaps to celebrate it, and yes, even to have kindergarten kids in a Christian school, enjoy some crunchy and sweet Chanukah cookies.