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.

What Thanksgiving is All About (Remix)

Recently I heard of a family that has a common but meaningful Thanksgiving tradition—they go around their Thanksgiving table and each one states what he or she is most thankful for. The only issue is they don’t want to offend anyone by talking about being thankful to God so they are just generally “Thankful.” To me, that seems to miss the point of Thanksgiving. The holiday was always intended to express our thanks to our Creator.

So I did a word search on my computer Bible program. I punched in the words “give thanks” and I found that the Bible tells us who we should be grateful for. The Scriptures repeatedly uses expressions like, “Give thanks to the LORD” (Psalm 33:2) and “I will give thanks to your name, O LORD” (Psalm 54:6). Also, “We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks” (Psalm 75:1) and “give thanks to His holy name” (Psalm 97:12).  The New Testament adds more specificity: “We give thanks to the God, the Father of the Lord Jesus the Messiah” (Colossians 1:3). The Bible is clear—our Thanksgiving should not just be a nebulous feeling of gratitude but a clear expression of thanks to our Creator, the God who made us and loves us.

But besides telling us who we should be thankful for, the Bible also tells us why we should be thankful to God. Here are some examples.  We should give thanks to God because “He is good” and “because His faithful love endures forever.” Also “for His wonderful works” (Psalm 107:8, 15) and because God “has answered me” (Psalm 118:21) when I prayed. Other reasons given are for God’s “judgments” (Psalm 119:62) found in the Bible, for God’s “truth” and for God’s “word” (Psalm 138:2), because God forgives and “comfort[s]” (Isaiah 12:1), because God “accomplished wonders” and fulfilled “plans formed long ago.” Psalm 116 is an entire song of Thanksgiving because God spared the psalmist’s life. The apostle Paul adds that we should be thankful to God “for His indescribable gift” a reference to the Lord Jesus and His provision of salvation (2 Cor 9:15). Here’s what the Bible is saying—our thanksgiving to God must be specific and precise. We need to ask what the Lord has done for us and then thank Him for it specifically.

My little word search taught me another aspect of biblical thanksgiving—how we should express our gratitude to God. We need to thank God wholeheartedly (“with all my heart” says the Psalmist, Psalm 9:1), by singing (Psalm 30:12), and by declaring God’s praise “to all generations” (Psalm 79:13). We also thank Him by offering gifts of gratitude or thanksgiving offerings (Psalm 54:6) and by worshiping the Lord in community, what the Psalmist calls “making known His deeds among the peoples” (Psalm 105:1) and praising Him “in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1). Another way to express gratitude is by teaching our own children to give thanks. Hezekiah said, when declaring his gratitude to God, “a father will make your faithfulness known to his children” (Isaiah 38:19). We should take all these specific actions to say thank you to God.

As I read through all these passages, I also learned when I was to be grateful. Repeatedly, the Bible says “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” Paul adds, “in everything give thanks” (1 Thess 5:18) and “we ought always to give thanks” (2 Thess 1:3). From now to eternity, thanksgiving should be on our lips. In good times or bad, in times of plenty or in times of loss, when our lives are terrific or when we are struggling, God remains good and worthy of our gratitude. C. S. Lewis put it this way: “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

The most interesting lesson I learned from this word search is that thankfulness should not be limited to a specific day or holiday. Rather, a thankful heart needs to be part of who we always are. Let’s not limit our gratitude to Thanksgiving Day but instead give thanks to God every day, especially for His indescribable gift.

Messianic Jews Are Not Antisemitic!

One of the mini-controversies to erupt in the wake of the horrific Antisemitic murders in a Pittsburgh synagogue was a candidate inviting a Messianic Jewish leader to pray at a campaign event at which Vice-President Pence was present. Afterwards, both in the media and on social media, Messianic Jews were characterized as Antisemitic. Are Messianic Jews hateful of their fellow Jews?

At the outset, I don’t want to comment on the wisdom of having a Messianic Jew pray at a political campaign event or even if such an invitation should be offered or accepted. That’s not my concern. The question is, are these public characterizations of Messianic Jews as Antisemitic fair or true?

Some Gentile Christians are shocked that anyone would make an accusation of Antisemitism against Messianic Jews because Gentile Christians often don’t know or understand the history of Christian persecution of the Jewish people. That’s why Messianic Jews are vilified this way. Nevertheless, the history of the past does not make this charge true in the present. Here’s why it’s a mistake to call Jewish followers of Jesus Antisemitic.

First, Jewish people who believe in Yeshua (Jesus) do so out of conviction not convenience. In the past, some Jewish people adopted Christianity to avoid the persecution that came with being Jewish. In some cases this provided protection from Antisemitic mobs while later on it offered opportunities to advance in society without the social stigma of being Jewish. But these are not motivations for contemporary Messianic Jews. Most of us, having grown up in Jewish homes, valued our culture and heritage. And by studying the Scriptures, we have become convinced that Yeshua is the fulfillment of the messianic hope of the Hebrew Bible. Our faith is the sincere outworking of the promises God made to Israel. We are convinced that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah and our faith in Him does not eliminate our identification with the Jewish people. In fact it enhances it.

Second, Jewish people who believe in Yeshua identify with the love of Yeshua not the past hate of so-called Christians. While many Christians today are unaware of this history of Christian Antisemitism, most Jewish people are equally unaware of Yeshua’s love and concern for the Jewish people. As Yeshua taught in the synagogues of Galilee, He looked at the crowds of Jewish people around Him, “and He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:35-36).  In the very next chapter of Matthew, when Yeshua sent out His disciples, He instructed  them to “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10:6). It wasn’t only the impoverished Jewish masses that Yeshua loved. When he met an affluent leader of the Jewish people, Yeshua looked at him and “loved him” (Mark 10:21). Yeshua even loved the Jewish leadership that opposed Him. He wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) and said, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matt 23:37). Yeshua loves the Jewish people in a special way and so do His Jewish followers who identify with Him as their Messiah.

Third, Jewish people who believe in Yeshua stand in solidarity with the Jewish community not with the vile haters of the Jewish people. Messianic Jews have always been subject to Antisemitism not proponents of it. When the Emperor Claudius expelled all the Jewish people of Rome, Jewish followers of Yeshua, like Priscilla and Aquila, were expelled with the rest of the Jewish community (Acts 18:1-2). In the modern era, Jewish followers of Yeshua in Germany and Eastern Europe went to Hitler’s ghettos, concentration camps, and gas chambers as did the rest of the Jewish people there. Messianic Jews not only suffer with the Jewish community but they also boldly oppose Antisemitism. Jewish followers of Yeshua are some of the most outspoken supporters  of the state of Israel, defending it against the legion of haters that attack it. And when there is a terrorist attack there or one in a Pittsburgh synagogue, Messianic Jews weep and are just as brokenhearted as the rest of the Jewish community.

It is mistaken and false to label Messianic Jews as Antisemitic. In their desire to be sensitive, Gentile Christians should not be taken in by these charges. C.S. Lewis had a special insight into what it meant for a Jew to believe in Yeshua because he married such a Jew, Joy Davidman Gresham. Lewis said the Jewish follower of Yeshua “is the only normal human being in the world. To him, in the first instance, the promises were made, and he has availed himself of them. He calls Abraham his father by hereditary right as well as by divine courtesy. He has taken the whole syllabus in order, as it was set; eaten the dinner according to the menu. Everyone else is, from one point of view, a special case, dealt with under emergency regulations … we christened gentiles, are after all the graft, the wild vine, possessing ‘joys not promised to our birth’; though perhaps we do not think of this so often as we might.” It would be a good idea for traditional Jews and Christians to adopt this perspective.

Antisemitism Unmasked (Repost)

In light of the horrific Synagogue shooting and murder of 11 Jewish people on Saturday, October 27, here is a repost of my blog from last Spring about Antisemitism.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) announced on Tuesday that Antisemitic incidents were up by 60% in 2017 compared to 2016.  This is the single largest annual increase of expressions of hatred of the Jewish people ever and the second largest number of occurrences recorded since the ADL began tracking this in the 1970s. The sharp rise was partially caused by the dramatic increase in Antisemitic episodes at college and university campuses. The incidents included physical assaults, attacks on Jewish institutions, and vandalism. For the first time in more than ten years, Antisemitic attacks were reported in all 50 states.

One especially grievous example took place in Charlottesville, VA in August, 2017, the evening before the so-called Unite the Right rally. It was Friday night, and the local Jewish community gathered to pray and welcome the Sabbath. There had been Neo-Nazi calls to burn their synagogue, so, as a precaution, they had already removed the Holy Scriptures, moving their Torah Scrolls to a safe location. Still they came to pray, but when they arrived they saw Nazis gathered across the street. Each of the Nazis was carrying a torch and a semi-automatic rifle. Swastika banners were being waved and this group of haters were shouting “Seig Heil,” “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil.” Some held signs saying “The Goyim Know,” a slur implying that Gentiles know the alleged insidious plots of the Jewish community, while others had signs that said, “The Jewish media is going down.”

Although the police did arrive, they didn’t disperse those menacing the synagogue. Rather, they arranged for the 250 praying Jewish people to skulk out of the back door, to avoid potential attacks by those who hate them. It was hard to believe that this was not in 1938 Nazi Germany but it happened in Charlottesville, VA, right here in the United States of America and only about 100 miles from Washington, DC.

So what should followers of Jesus, those who love His Word, think about this issue? Psalm 83 gives us some insight into Antisemitism.

The psalmist identifies hatred of the God of Israel as the true source of Antisemitism. In Psalm 83:2-3a it says, “See how Your enemies make an uproar; those who hate You have acted arrogantly. They devise schemes against your people.” It is because they hate the God who chose Israel (Deut 7:7-8) and called the Jewish people His “firstborn” (Exod 4:22) that they conspire against Israel. They resent that God chose to give gifts and call a particular people to represent Him and to accomplish His purposes. They are embittered that God has promised to love the Jewish people (Jer 31:3) and protect them forever (Jer 31:35-37).

Psalm 83:3b-5 also recognizes genocidal Antisemitism as an attempt to hurt the God who loves the Jewish people. “They conspire against Your treasured ones, They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation so that Israel’s name will no longer be remembered.’ For they have conspired with one mind; they form an alliance against you.” The word that describes the Jewish people as “treasured ones” is literally “hidden ones.” It refers to something that is so precious that it is hidden away to keep it safe. Every attempt to destroy the Jewish people, from Pharoah, to Haman, to Hitler, to Hamas, is in reality an attempt to attack the Lord by hurting His loved ones. Just as in the book, The Count of Monte Cristo, where the villain attempts to cause the Count to suffer terribly, not by killing him but by shooting the woman he loves, so those who hate God want to hurt Him by attacking the Jewish people He loves.

The psalm also reveals the ultimate destiny of those who hate the Jewish people with its prayer in the last stanza: “Make them like tumbleweed, My God, like straw before the wind. As fire burns a forest, as a flame blazes through mountains, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm . . . Let them perish in disgrace. May they know that You alone—whose name is the Lord—are the Most High over all the earth” (Psa 83: 13-18). This prayer calls for God to bring destruction on those who hate His people. It will be fulfilled at the last battle, when the nations gather to destroy Israel once more, and the Messiah Jesus, returns to deliver them.

This past Wednesday, Jewish people around the world observed the feast of Purim, the celebration of God’s deliverance of His people from the hands of Haman, as revealed in the book of Esther. Purim is a joyous and uproarious party, but sadly it only celebrates one occasion of deliverance. Many more Hamans have arisen in history and continue to rise. The Passover Haggadah says, “For more than once have they risen against us to destroy us; in every generation they rise against us and seek our destruction. But the Holy One, Blessed be He, always delivers us from their hands.” That is the promise God has made about Anti-Semitism. He will always arise to the aid of His people. Will we be like those Gentiles in the book of Esther, “who allied themselves with [the Jewish people]” (Est 9:27) to fight Antisemitism and celebrate its defeat? That’s what the Holy One, blessed be He, would want of us.