Credit to Whom Credit is Due

I have learned so much while studying the life of Hezekiah. I know that some would quickly dismiss the life of Hezekiah as “boring old history.” But in reality, it is anything but boring. I have been fascinated to see once again, God’s hand at work in the lives of his chosen ones.

Here’s one of the things God showed me during my study of the life of Hezekiah:

In today’s terminology, Hezekiah would be described as a go-getter, a doer not a dreamer, a real nose to the grindstone kind of guy. And all those descriptions would be accurate because Hezekiah was clearly a man on a mission – in every sense of that phrase.

I was excited to see that Hezekiah didn’t cautiously get himself adjusted to his new position as king. No, he got down to business, God’s business, right away. The temple was more than non-functional; it was, in fact, a disaster. Hezekiah’s father had essentially disassembled the holy instruments and remodeled the temple to something unrecognizable by biblical standards.

Second Chronicles 29 gets into the description of Hezekiah’s actions as quickly as Hezekiah apparently did: It gives us two verses of introduction to the new king, then verse three tells us that in the first month of the first year of His reign, Hezekiah opened the doors of the temple and began the repairs and consecration. But, since verse three is a summary statement, it might be easy to underestimate the quickness with which Hezekiah actually got to work. It is from 2 Chronicles 29:17 we learn that it was on the first day of Hezekiah’s first month in office that the consecration began. Wow! Talk about a quick starter.

The process of consecration was more than saying a quick hocus-pocus formula, splashing a little holy water and poof things were back in order. No, it was a physical process of removing and replacing all the unclean things that were found in the temple of the LORD and replacing them with the proper instruments. All of those unclean items were brought out to the temple courtyard, and from there the Levites carried them into the Kidron Valley for disposal.

After 16 days of hard labor at an apparently feverish pitch, the temple had been restored and was ready for re-dedication. Early the next morning, King Hezekiah, accompanied by the city officials, made his way to the temple to make a sin offering for the kingdom, for the sanctuary and for Judah. The animals were sacrificed in their particular order, and the sanctuary was restored.

Clearly, this is only a summary of that day’s activities; and it’s intentionally brief so that I can get to the main point of this post, which is this: Without question, King Hezekiah labored diligently, both in a personal sense and as a leader of leaders. His efforts were clearly honored by the LORD, but notice how the chapter ends: “So the service of the temple of the LORD was reestablished. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly (2 Chronicles 29:35-36).”

They rejoiced at what God had done. Yes, Hezekiah led the restoration labors and God got the credit.

Now, some will think I’m making much ado about nothing. But, I’m really not, and here’s why: In the circles I come from, it is quite common to hear of a man (and his wife) who went somewhere and started with nothing, and after a lifetime of labor, there stands a church, usually a large church, that wasn’t there when they arrived so many years prior.

Upon his retirement, the accolades generally follow this pattern: “Brother Church Builder came out here when he and the misses were barely old enough to get married. They started with just a handful of people, married the young, buried the old, and faithfully preached the gospel. They gave their lives here, and now, all these years later, look at the church that Brother Church Builder built.”

I’m sure that such kind words are never intended to rob God of His credit, but my question is this: Do they?

“…fearing those who were of the circumcision.”

“…for before certain men came from James, he [Peter] would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.” (Galatians 2:12)

“The mission against Jews” is a common way orthodox Jews refer to people in Israel, Jews or gentiles, who believe in Yeshua. And social pressure is one of the main weapons that orthodox Jews use in their battle against those whom they oppose. (See John 9:22 for another NT example.)

There are a few “anti-missionary” organizations that have the goal of protecting Jews from the “dangers” of believing in Jesus. Yad L’Ahim is the most well known, but there might be others. It’s hard to tell how many organizations there might be because much of their efforts are done anonymously as can be seen in the photo below.

Recently, one of these organizations placed flyers in the mailboxes of a particular neighborhood. On that flyer they included the photos, names and addresses of 5 pastors of Hebrew speaking, Jesus believing congregations in Jerusalem. The sixth box (outlined in red) contained a not so subtle warning: Your photo could be here. Often, such a warning creates a fear of “those of the circumcision” that for all practical purposes silences believers in Yeshua.

The fear of man is a very real fear both in the NT period and now, and it is something that fellow believers around the world should pray for Israeli believers to overcome. I know four of the five men highlighted in the flyer, and am confident that they will not be silenced. In fact, for at least one of them, this isn’t the first time his picture has been used in such a way.

As the local believing community continues to grow, the anti-missionary groups are becoming more determined to stop the message. And to the degree that humiliation doesn’t work, more severe means of opposition will be implemented. Just this year, among the lesser known actions, there have been some very headline grabbing attempts to resist “the mission.” Among those were the near assassination of Ami Ortiz, the son of a messianic pastor in Ariel. Ami, made the mistake of opening a Purim holiday package that had been left at his home. Inside that package of candies was a bomb. See one report here, or search YouTube for a variety of video reports and testimonies of that event.

In Or Yehuda, a small town next to Ben Gurion Airport, a bunch of Ethiopian New Testaments was gathered and burned in a public demonstration against “the mission.” This action was instigated by the deputy mayor of Or Yehuda. See the article here where the deputy mayor tries to get the toothpaste back in the tube.

Feedback

She approached me just before the service started and said, “I want to give you some feedback from what you said last week. It’s good to get feedback.” At that moment, I had that funny feeling in my stomach that said, “Oh boy, what did I say that needs to be corrected? And why now?” As everything went into slow motion, my mind worked overtime trying to figure out what I said that might have been controversial or problematic. I couldn’t think of anything.

Those who have been in ministry for any length of time, have probably had the same type of negative experience. You know, the kind where a person feels obligated to approach you and tell you that you didn’t say something well, or that they disagree with what you said. That’s what “feedback” usually means. And, this almost always occurs just moments before the service is supposed to start, or when you are in the middle of something that needs your undivided attention.

“Something you said last week has stuck with me all week. I was really challenged when you told us that we need to be conscientious of how we speak to God and others. I really needed that reminder. Thanks.”

In a rare use of the word “feedback,” she wanted to compliment and thank me for something I said the week before. Some days you just need that type of feedback.

Psalm 19:14 – “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (ESV)

What Would You Say?

What would you say if this 10 year-old boy told you “[bad] things happen to you because you don’t wear a kipa (a.k.a. yarmulke or skullcap) and eat kosher food”? That’s what happened to me.

I had occasion to be at his school and he befriended me while I was waiting for his principal. His school is a private, religious, elementary school with an enrollment of about 80.

To say that I was the odd man out would be a dramatic understatement. Although I made a special effort to dress in long pants and a hat before going there, I was clearly the outsider, with no chance of ever fitting in. However, he was friendly and conversational. The other kids mostly stared at me, much like I do a strange fish featured on the National Geographic Channel.

He told me that his class had just finished studying the book of Joshua, so I asked him to give me the short story version of Joshua. He started regaling me with a Midrashic story of Joshua beating up three thieves. He enjoyed doing karate chops and shadow punches as he mimicked Joshua’s clear and overwhelming victory over the bad guys. I enjoyed seeing his excitement, though I was disappointed that he didn’t include anything about Joshua from the Bible in his summary.

During our conversation, it was clear that, in spite of his willingness to engage me in conversation, he, like the rest of his classmates, viewed me as an outsider, too. I didn’t look like him, therefore, it was obvious that I didn’t eat like him either. His comments revealed that the two criteria he used to determine my standing before HaShem (God) were my dress (especially the type of head covering) and my food.

He was surprised to find out that we actually buy kosher food. (It’s not so hard in Israel. In fact, it is more difficult to buy non-kosher food here.) However, it only took him one more question to reveal that we don’t “really” buy kosher food: we don’t buy food authorized as kosher by his particular group. “If it isn’t [a particular kosher stamp], it is not really kosher. They just trick people like you with all the other kosher stamps,” he said with complete assurance.

Though the hat I had chosen to wear allows me entrance to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, it wasn’t an approved head cover in his world. After all, it wasn’t a black kipa like he wears. However, there is still hope for me: If I stop eating non-kosher food and wear a black kipa, bad things will stop happening to me.

While I wouldn’t expect a ten year-old to see the irony of this conversation, I didn’t miss it. When I asked him how many brothers and sisters he has, he said, “I have three sisters, but I only say two because the youngest [an infant] is about to go to heaven.” (I found out later that his youngest sister has a serious heart problem and he has 4 brothers.) The problems I was there to speak with the principal about weren’t even on the “problem scale” compared to the death of an infant.

It never occurred to him that the proper head cover and kosher stamp hadn’t prevented bad things from happening to his family. The only thing he could clearly see is that I was an outsider invading his world, which must be the reason for my problems.

Questions:
1. How would you respond to his conclusions? Would you challenge him or simply not accede to his position?
2. How would you offer him encouragement and hope regarding his sister’s health condition?
3. How would you share the gospel with him?

Don’t Be All Nice!

2 Timothy 2:24-26 – And a sevant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him; to do his will.

Once I received a call to help distribute New Testaments to convention goers in Tel Aviv. By God’s grace, “we” were able to distribute a couple hundred New Testaments (at least twice that many the previous night) before the professional anti-missionaries arrived. Still, before the pros got on the scene, we had a number of “negative” encounters with people who were angry about our activities.

One encounter, in particular, was with one of the civilian security guards. He was screaming all the usual things at one of the members of our group: “Get out of here with your foreign stuff! This is the Holy Land, land of the Jews not Christians. What you’re doing is illegal. I’m going to call the police.”

I usually learn something on these outings and God was generous to me once again. As I watched this encounter between “our guy” and the angry, armed-guard I noted a few things:

First, “our guy” spoke to the angry man in Hebrew, but the angry man always responded in English. Not because he couldn’t speak Hebrew, but rather to try to persuade the on-lookers that “our guy” was bringing a foreign religion to the Jewish people. This was a mostly unsuccessful, but interesting tactic for sure.

Second, “our guy” never raised his voice or tried to compete with the angry man. He simply smiled and spoke very calmly, responding to each of his complaints. The fact that “our guy” was calm and polite eventually caused the angry man to snap: In desperation, and apparently referring to 2 Tim 2:24, he shouted, “Don’t be all nice!!” “Our guy” simply smiled and walked a few steps away from the angry man.

If those who are vocally (sometimes physically) opposing our efforts are not professionals, they generally give up in frustration if we don’t engage them in loud arguments. Smiling really seems to take the air out of their sails.

At the same event mentioned above, I had a military security guard opposing me. He, too, was frustrated that I never got heated up. After about 20 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to persuade me, he moved to others from our group. He was supposed to be providing security for this event, but he spent about an hour trying to convince us how wrong we were for handing out New Testaments. Finally, in frustration he went and sat in the shade and pouted. Now that was a cute site: a soldier armed with an M16, sitting and pouting like a small child. His spirits lifted, though, when the “professionals” arrived.

Interestingly, it is not uncommon for bystanders who don’t agree with our message to defend our actions. What an interesting sight to see: unbelievers loudly arguing our case with those who oppose us. It seems that the more we smile and stay calm in the midst of being shouted at, the more unbelievers come to our defense.

We are to correct our opponents in a spirit of humility (2 Tim 2:25). Clearly, this is easier said than done. The flesh, my flesh, screams for the opportunity to send a zinger back at people who are saying all manner of filthy things against me and Jesus. (Grammatically the order of “me and Jesus” is wrong, I know, but I wanted to be accurate in portraying how the flesh sees things: ME first.) However, God desires, even demands that we respond to our opponents in humility.

The answer to this dilemma is found in Galatians 5:16-17: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”

Our objective in humbly correcting our opponents is to see them repent (2 Tim 2:25-26). Please note, however, that it is not us who brings them to repentance, but God who grants repentance. This is God’s work and he desires to use humble tools to accomplish His work. The emphasis should not be on our labor/efforts, but on God’s grace in bringing a sinner to repentance. Often, however, during large outreach efforts, one can hear “our guys” standing around conversing about the labor instead of God’s grace. Perhaps this is a sign that we are not as humble as we should be.

We must keep in mind that the “bad guys” are ensnared by the devil and are being held captive by him to do his will (2 Tim 2:26). And he clearly hates the distribution of God’s word/truth in any form. This is a spiritual battle.

By the Numbers

15,271 – The number of miles we have driven since
                  we’ve been in the States.
        30 – The number of pounds I’ve gained since we’ve
                   been in the States.
        21 – The number of hotels we’ve stayed in.
        16 – The number of states we’ve been in.
        10 – The number of homes we’ve slept in.
         9 – The number of outlet malls we’ve skipped.
         6 – The number of outlet malls we’ve visited.
         4 – The number of zoos/animal parks we’ve visited.

Isaac or Ishmael?

Eid al-Adha, sometimes called the Festival of Sacrifice is an important festival for Muslims around the world. It occurs in connection with the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, serving as the conclusion to the (at least once in a lifetime) required journey for all Muslims.

The point of the festival is to remember and commemorate the trials and triumphs of the Prophet Abraham. Some suggest that Eid al-Adha is the most important festival in Islam because God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son, who was ultimately replaced by a ram, was Abraham’s greatest trial and triumph. Abraham obediently took his son, placing him on the altar (Qur’an: on his forehead) and as he raised the knife, the angel directed him to replace his son with a ram that was nearby.

Whether the Festival of Sacrifice is the most important or not, the symbolism demonstrated in the festival activities is quite powerful. For me, the most memorable activity of the festival is the sacrificing of animals: camels, goats or sheep. And this might be the most memorable for many. In fact, for some 1400 people in Turkey this year, the sacrifice will be the most memorable part because they all ended up in the hospital emergency room as a result of wounding themselves in the process.

Sometime last year while preparing for a lecture on Islam that I was to give, I was reading the Qur’an and stumbled upon a very interesting (to me) discovery. I was reading Surah 37, as-Saffat, when I came upon the detailed story of Abraham sacrificing his son, which was mixed in with stories of several prophets, eight to be exact.

The names of those prophets named in Surah as-Saffat are: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Aaron, Elias, Lot, and Jonah. You will see that Ishmael’s name is missing. Why is this important? Because Muslims, during the Festival of Sacrifice, are commemorating the near sacrifice of Abraham’s son Ishmael, not Isaac as the Bible teaches. When I discovered the absence of Ishmael’s name, it was one of those explosive moments when one thinks, “I can’t be reading this right.” That being the case, I re-read the passage and Ishmael’s name was still absent. Then, I got a pencil and re-read the chapter, writing down the list of people named in as-Saffat. And, my first reading was still correct: Ishmael isn’t named. In fact, he isn’t named as (almost) being sacrificed anywhere in the Qur’an.

This has surprised every Muslim I have asked about it. Usually, the encounter goes something like this:

Me: Does the Qur’an say that Abraham attempted to sacrifice Ishmael?
Them: Yes.
Me: Do you know where it is written that Ishmael is the object of sacrifice?
Them: It must be in Surah Ibrahim. Let me find it. Hmmm, it’s not here.
Me: Perhaps you can look at Surah as-Saffat.
Them: Yes, here’s the story. Here it tells about Ibrahim who went to sacrifice his son.
Me: Does it say Ishmael there?
Them: Well…his name isn’t here, but it’s him. It must be written somewhere else. Let me look for it.
Me: I’m sure you will not find it because it isn’t there. Does it bother you that Ishmael’s name isn’t actually mentioned in a story so important to Islam?
Them: Well, I’m sure it’s somewhere else in the Qur’an.
Me: But it’s not.
Them: It must be…

It isn’t and I find that very interesting. Especially since one of the main places Muslims say the Bible has been corrupted is here, where Abraham agrees to sacrifice his son. The Bible says that son was Isaac, Islam disputes that. But the Qur’an doesn’t specifically name Ishmael within the story itself. I wonder why?

One gentleman that I spoke with asked his imam to call me and answer my question. When I posed the question to the imam, he said that I was correct: Ishmael’s name isn’t found in the Qur’anic version of this story. The understanding that Ishmael was the intended sacrifice is Islamic tradition, which is binding upon Muslims to believe. Therefore, all Muslims believe that even though not specifically named, Ishmael was the son whom Ibrahim prepared for sacrifice.

My question: What happens when tradition seems to go against the text? “Which is more authoritative,” I asked the imam. His answer: “Neither. It doesn’t work like that in Islam. The Qur’an is the Qur’an and the Tradition is the Tradition. They go together.”

For those wondering: NO, I wouldn’t embrace the Qur’anic version of this story if Ishmael’s name were specifically mentioned. I fully believe the Bible’s version and simply use this “irony” as a conversation starter with Muslims.

A Personal Psalm

Following is a personal psalm that I wrote ten years ago for the occasion of my ordination. It is based on the model of Psalm 136 and served as a wonderful opportunity to identify and proclaim the many ways that God has worked in my life. I commend the exercise to you for your personal edification.

A Psalm of Thanks

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for His mercy endures forever.
O give thanks unto the God of gods; for he is good: for His mercy endures forever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for His mercy endures forever.

To Him who alone doeth great wonders: for His mercy endures forever.

To Him who has given me loving parents: for His mercy endures forever:
Who have always been supportive even when they didn’t understand the direction of my life: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who gave me someone who would become a “best friend”: His mercy endures forever:
Who first invited me to church: His mercy endures forever:
And expressed a concern for my soul: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who sent a preacher with the message of salvation: His mercy endures forever:
Who preached with passion and love: His mercy endures forever:
And clearly communicated to me salvation in Christ: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who gave me men and women who would train me in godliness: His mercy endures forever:
Who opened the Holy Scriptures to me: His mercy endures forever:
And guided me in wisdom: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who allowed me to live in Zion: His mercy endures forever:
And gave me a family and ministry in the Holy City, Jerusalem: His mercy endures forever:
And set within my heart a love for his people, Israel: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who shall sustain me through trials and temptations: His mercy endures forever:
When the tempest shall rage about me, He is sure: His mercy endures forever:
When burdens are heavy, He is strong: His mercy endures forever:
Though darkness may encompass me, He giveth light: His mercy endures forever.

To Him who now sends me out by the laying on of hands: His mercy endures forever.

O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for His mercy endures forever.

Modeled after Psalm 136 by Craig Dunning – October 30, 1996

Friday Fotos – This Ain’t Jed Clampett

With the theme song of the Beverly Hillbillies playing in the background, I can say: This isn’t a picture of Jed and family making their way to Californy. Instead, it is me on the way to a festival. As you can see it takes a lot of stuff and a good bit of effort to make an impression at the festivals.

Everybody’s Talking About the Resurrection

Since Sunday, April 16, was Easter Sunday, you might not think my title is strange. Perhaps where you are, everybody is talking about the resurrection. However, here in Israel, even on Easter Sunday, everybody isn’t usually talking about the resurrection, unless, of course, you were one of 10,000 people packed into Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena on Sunday night.

One of the organizers, Yoni Kahana, happily described the evening as “an amazing turnout.” He went on to say that that “Everyone came away with renewed faith in the imminent coming of [the messiah]. He may not have come on Sunday night. But he will truly be revealed any second.” Wow, ten thousand people gathered together in Tel Aviv, Israel excitedly anticipating the return of the messiah. Now that is something that will even get a Baptist to shout “amen,” maybe even clap.

The interesting twist on this, however, is that on this Easter Sunday they weren’t talking about Jesus’ resurrection and imminent return, they were talking about the (hoped for) resurrection of the late Rabbi “Messiah” Menahem Mendel Schneerson, who died in Brooklyn in June 1994.

MessiahThis kind of resurrection talk isn’t new; it’s just different in that it is open and public. In the years since Schneerson’s death, particularly in the days immediately following, many of his followers proclaimed their belief in his identity as Messiah, but it was almost an “in house” discussion. A discussion that, at times, grew to more than a friendly discussion, which threatened to completely split the Chabad movement.

In recent years, though, I have noticed a growing number of posters along the highways proclaiming The Rebbe, as his followers know him, as Messiah. Some are more subtle than others, like the one on the right, for example: On this flag, the word Messiah (in Hebrew) is written under the royal crown. If you don’t have more background information on this campaign, it would be easy to dismiss this as a fervent, religious Jew simply flying his colors.

This poster (left), commonly seen all over Israel, King Messiahfits into the less subtle category as it says “King Messiah” under the photo of The Rebbe. I’m not certain that this particular poster was at the convention hall on Sunday night, but the sentiment certainly was. Rabbi Zalman Notik of the Torat Emet Yeshiva in Jerusalem spoke openly of Rabbi Schneerson as the messiah. Furthermore, he supported the missionary zeal for which Chabad has become known when he said, “…the most important mitzvah [commandment] is to publicize the idea that the Rebbe is messiah.” No wonder Chabad is often characterized as the Jewish evangelicals: They believe that Rabbi Schneerson is the messiah and that he is good for everyone, particularly Jews.

A religiously observant, Jewish friend once told me that he didn’t agree with Chabad’s or my desire to tell others about our faith. “I believe” he said “that what I believe is good for me, but not necessarily for everyone else.” I pointed out that that is one major difference between us: I believe that Messiah is not only good for everyone, but necessary. Apparently followers of the Chabad sect of Judaism believe more like I do about messiah in that regard. Our disagreement comes in the identity and function of the messiah, not the desire for others to know about him.

The Messiah is good for everybody.This poster (right) includes with The Rebbe’s photo the words, “Messiah is good for everybody.”

Rabbi Schneerson Quick Facts:
Date of Birth: April18, 1902
Place of Birth: Nikolaiev, Ukraine
Visits to Israel: None
Date of Death: June 12, 1994
Place of Death: New York, USA