Friday, November 6, 2015

He Brought Light to the City: A Tribute to Morris Zeidman

This fall, The Scott Mission will publish More Than Miracles, my new book on the story of this beloved downtown ministry:  "The Miracle on Spadina."  The book provides some very special insights from the late Elaine Zeidman Markovic, the daughter of its founders, Morris and Annie Zeidman.  But the first section focuses on the accomplishments of Elaine's remarkable father, Morris.

Morris Zeidman (1894-1964) was one of the most revered and visionary Hebrew Christians of the 20th century. In the spring of 1912, he arrived in Toronto from Poland, wandering through its teeming, poverty-stricken Jewish district, a penniless immigrant. No one could have foretold that he would rise from obscurity in one of the most WASP cities in North America to be acclaimed by his city and his country as “Canadian Citizen of the Year” half a century later.

How did Zeidman earn such respect? It's surprising that his primary identity was "your missionary to the Jewish people"—yes, that’s how he described himself frequently, and that was his original calling as a Presbyterian clergyman for almost 40 years. But he became best known as a leading public figure providing for the needy from the earliest days of the Depression and then creating one of Toronto’s great faith ministries to the poor, The Scott Mission.

Zeidman came to faith through another important figure—Rev. S.B. Rohold, the son of a rabbi, who was raised in Jerusalem. Rohold’s ministry in Toronto pioneered free medical care, prescription medicines, English instruction and practical assistance to the city’s Jewish immigrant community at the turn of the century. He created the Christian Synagogue, with a congregation that Rohold proudly identified as a “Presbyterian Hebrew Christian church.” As a Hebrew Christian pioneer, Rohold was elected in 1915 as the first leader of the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America.

A sign in Yiddish proclaiming “The House of the Good Tidings of the Messiah of the Children of Israel” caught the attention of the 17 year-old immigrant Morris, lonely and seeking English lessons as he walked through Toronto’s Jewish district. He stepped inside, met Rohold and began his faith journey. A local pastor with a great heart for young people, Rev. Dr. John McPherson Scott, also nurtured Morris’s vision. With Scott’s prayerful support, the young man courageously completed high school courses, entered the University of Toronto and prepared for ministry at Toronto’s prestigious Knox College seminary, completing a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1925. (In 1920 Rohold left Toronto; called to Israel to serve in a new ministry in Haifa. Dr. Scott passed away in the same year.) The newly graduated Morris, together with his bride, Annie, whom he had met and worked with in the mission, officially took over the work.

As the effects of the 1929 Crash and the impact of the Depression began destroying livelihoods of men across the country, many climbed aboard railway boxcars, seeking work elsewhere. Many got off in Canada’s financial center—Toronto, walking north from city’s main train station into the area bounded by factories and warehouses—the old “Ward” area that was once the Jewish district.

Hungry, dispirited and sometimes in desperate need—they knocked on the door of the local mission. They often arrived at the back door during meal-times when Morris and Annie were sitting down to eat with their young children and the Zeidmans did not have the heart to refuse them.

Like many of the Jewish missions of the day, Morris’ mission had been founded on practical support for the poor. People came to them out of need at first, and then stayed because they found an unexpected blessing.  No religious commitment was ever expected in exchange for assistance.

In late October 1930, with winter fast approaching, Zeidman saw the growing number of men on the streets was going to be an urgent city problem. He wanted to start a soup kitchen but didn’t have the means. In the office of a local newspaper editor, John “Black Jack” Robinson of the Toronto Telegram, he was explaining these plans when a call came in from a local department store. They had leftovers from their Thanksgiving dinner: 130 gallons of turkey giblets. That was a cornerstone gift for a ministry that began to feed and clothe thousands of transients beginning in the Depression years—and still does today.

Zeidman was dedicated to prayer and faith. It’s often said he built his ministry one miracle at a time. One of the most touching stories found Morris on a train, praying that he might find favor with the owner of Canada’s leading department store, the T. Eaton Co. As he looked up, a gentleman had been seated at his dining car table. “Are you Mr. Eaton?” Zeidman asked. “Yes, Mr. Zeidman” came the reply. It was R.Y. Eaton, the president of the company. “What can I do for you?” It was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.

Sadly, over time, the leaders of the local church presbytery became least supportive of Morris’ work. He was often subjected to nitpicking complaints about his expenses—largely because he raised such large amounts of support, which he generously gave to those for whom it was intended, the poor. His own family lived in barely adequate housing, but Zeidman was renowned for scrupulously directing gifts to those who were desperately needy.

In 1941, as winter again approached, he gave up his position and founded, with Annie, The Scott Mission. The work had long been named the Scott Institute for his mentor, Rev. Dr. Scott. Now that name would live on as an independent ministry to the poor. The work grew and eventually became one of Toronto’s best-known outreaches to the poor with the slogan: “The Gospel of Hope to All.”

An aspect of Zeidman’s work that is less well remembered was his startling bravery in a time when the scourge of anti-Semitism was still common in Canadian church life. He personally experienced this when he brought new Jewish believers to church with him. Christians didn’t want to take communion with Jews.  His sister, a devoted believer, was refused entrance into a local ladies’ Christian organization. In 1935, one of the leading evangelical pulpits in the city invited North America’s most virulent anti-Semitic Protestant preacher, Rev. Gerald B. Winrod of Wichita, Kansas. Morris was outside that church (which today faithfully supports the mission) leading the protests.

Begninning in the 1930s, Zeidman began actively to promote the concept of indigenous, independent Hebrew Christian churches. That dream was not realized in his lifetime. However, the modern Messianic movement brings that vision to life and his grandson, Andrew, is one of the contemporary Messianic leaders in Toronto.

He also served as General Secretary of the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America from 1934 to1944. After the war, he made a heart-breaking return to his native Poland, dispensing aid as possible and listening to the many stories of cruelty that had destroyed 6 million of his people, including much of his own family. On his return, he earnestly helped many Holocaust survivors who came to Toronto.

Zeidman’s success was built on qualities of a sterling character. People trusted him. But he also knew how to promote the work—through weekly radio programs, streetcar advertisements, newspaper fundraisers and strong visibility in the community.  His weekly ministry updates in the local newspapers, eventually called "The Good Samaritan Corner," played a key role in keeping both donors and the wider public aware of the people he served and their needs.  In More Than Miracles, selections from those columns over the decades show the heart and passion for people that were evident as a powerful witness of God's unfailing love for the poor, the transients and the suffering.

Before his death in 1964, Zeidman received multiple honors from his city and even the church that had once snubbed his ministry. One of the most remarkable of these was Canada's "Citizen of the Year" in 1961. He was particularly pleased to receive an honorary doctorate by his seminary and, in response, granted them the gift of a Torah scroll which still sits in the center of its great library. Many evenings, as a student there, I admired the Torah scroll and thought of his legacy. As a student I also wrote an extended paper on the Scott Mission (it has been referenced in other scholarly research on the mission) and met Morris’ son, Alex. Tragically, Alex Zeidman passed away in 1986, but members of the Zeidman family continue to take a leading role in the Mission.

Today, the Scott Mission is a remarkable facility: expansive, with great storage rooms and large kitchens. Hundreds pass through its doors each week receiving help in a variety of languages. Hundreds more receive instruction in the Bible in their mother tongues. All are welcome and the ministry continues to exude the vision and care of the founders.

The book includes many selections of poetry from Annie Zeidman and Elaine Markovic, but I’ll close with a quote from one of Annie’s poems that exemplifies the spirit of their ministry:

Bethlehem is far away, far, and long ago…
But just down the street, perhaps around the corner,
Is Bethlehem in poverty, Gethsemane in tears,
Nazareth misunderstood, Calvary unpitied—
May we dare to seek Him there?
Friend, let us go!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why the Holocaust Matters: A Presentation at Tyndale University and Seminary Nov. 10, 2014

I want to begin by talking about the audacity of evil.  In the spring of 1931, Adolf Hitler was interviewed by Richard Breiting, editor-in-chief of a right-wing Leipzig newspaper (Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten). The notes of those interviews were later reprinted in a book, Unmasked, published around 1968.  The book reveals not only that the Fuehrer’s plans for the destruction of the Jewish people were not only fully formed by this time, but that he didn’t fear the interference of any of Germany’s considerable scholarly, political or religious leaders, nor did he fear much outside interference either.  He boldly stated that he’d carry out his program and none of the nation’s moral or intellectual leaders would interfere –and if they tried, they wouldn’t stop him. He was right.
The audacity of evil continues to surprise us. Germany considered itself the heart and intellectual leader of Christian civilization—how did the enormity of hate so completely consume its people that the shame still hovers over them? That nation had 500,000 Jews out of a population of 70 million—less than .01%  of the population.  Despite the insistent propaganda of the Nazis, the Jewish population in Germany held few great positions of financial or industrial power.  How were the German people convinced that all their problems—indeed the world’s problems all could be hung on this one people who even today number only.0022 per cent of the world’s population (15 million out of 7.125 billion people). 
It is now 76 years since Kristallnacht and almost 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz--the murder of six million Jews and millions more who were identified as inferior or degenerate races--yet anti-Semitism is growing again as a world-wide phenomenon.  
Why should these events matter to followers of Jesus of Nazareth –Yeshua our Messiah and Lord, those who were born generations later?
It should matter first of all because the Canada in the 1930s was a participant in this crime. As the Nazi leader had foreseen, countries like Canada and institutions like the Vatican were complicit in their original plans.  In 1933, the Vatican made a pact with the Germans declaring that their priests would not interfere in German politics as long as the Church could continue to function—a treaty that eventually did nothing but compromise them—even as their institutions were slowly destroyed.  Protestant leaders were equally marginalized with their moral declarations, even as they insisted that they were not trying to overthrow the Nazis. And countries like Canada also did nothing, and even refused to receive any of the fleeing Jewish refugees.
During those years, Christians were quite open to hearing Nazi propaganda. One of North America’s best known promoters of anti-Semitism was Rev. Gerald B. Winrod of Wichita, Kansas.  On Easter weekend in April 1935, People’s Church promoted his presence in the Saturday papers as a major speaker at a missionary conference.  Because of the prejudices of Henry Ford, every Ford dealership distributed an anti-Semitic newspaper. The St. Louis, a German ocean liner with 915 Jewish refugees was denied entry to Cuba, the United States and Canada.  Attempts by Canadian academics and clergy to give them entry were rebuffed by Canadian immigration officials and the Prime Minister refused to intervene.  The ship returned to Europe and at least a quarter of the passengers perished in the Holocaust. 
The Toronto of the 1930s had gangs of hooligans emboldened by the Nazi example, who commonly tried to intimidate Jews. There were public signs around the city declaring that Jews were not welcome—and major institutions where Jews couldn’t enter. It was well known that Jews were able to get teaching degrees but no Toronto high school would ever have more than one Jewish teacher—if that many.  There were quotas for Jewish students in professional schools for medicine and law. Until 1955, in Canada you could refuse to let a Jewish person buy your property.  In fact, the Ontario Superior Court upheld the law—it was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada.  When the Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand was told that having a Jewish neighbour would devalue any adjoining property, he asked whether having the pianist Artur Rubinstein or Albert Einstein as a neighbour would devalue property. And this decision was not handed down until 10 years after Canadian soldiers had died to free Europe.
Fear held people in line.  Almost every community in Germany had members taken away to concentration camps. If the Jews were marginalized and paid the price of the anger and hate of the Nazis—who entered the schools and began asking the children what their parents thought of the Nazis and began subverting the entire culture with their fascist agenda—well the Jews could be sacrificed. 
How is it that the enormity of these lies overwhelmed every other basic Biblical instruction? Not just the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or the covenant blessing to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you and all nations will be blessed through you,” or even “You are your brother’s keeper,” but all of it.
How could Christians and so-called Christian societies turn their backs on everything that Scripture taught? How could they stand by and watch the destruction of the Jewish people from whom they had received the Scriptures and the Messiah, and whom they had seen God sustain despite 1600 years of persecutions?
Consider the power of fear.  In Germany, it was fear of the Nazi authorities who had pervasively overwhelmed the population with anti-Semitic hate propaganda.  In North America, even among Christians, there was a widespread acceptance that the Jews must be responsible for all the hate which had been projected upon them.  The victim must be responsible for the crime.  It was also common for Christian voices to express doubt about the extent of the persecution that was taking place.  One of the most famous Dispensationalist voices of that era, Arno C. Gaebelein, questioned whether the Nazis were so evil until he went to Germany himself in 1937.  Seeing the oppression first-hand made him publish feverishly about the Nazi program—but it was too late.   
             In Canada, the excuse that refused to allow Jews into the country out was the Great Depression.  It birthed the fear that Jews would come and take jobs away from Gentiles. Later, when the government reconsidered its policies, they feared that there might be a popular backlash if they allowed Jewish people to come.  And there was a fear because no one else was willing to do anything—so what if all the Jewish refugees came to Canada?  In the end it was decided that keep the door closed was the safest policy.  We did nothing and for generations all that Canadians remembered about the Holocaust was their involvement of freeing Europe from Nazi domination.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who resisted Hitler’s agenda and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. His most famous quotation still makes us pause:  “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
When you read these words in the New Testament, in John 11, you are hearing the same attitude:  49 But one of them, Kayafa, who was cohen gadol that year, said to them, “You people don’t know anything! 50 You don’t see that it’s better for you if one man dies on behalf of the people, so that the whole nation won’t be destroyed.” (CJB)
Against a common public culture of lies, deception, fear and ignoran   ce the Nazis also pointed back to church history.  They could point to the early church that had separated out Jews and condemned them for the death of Jesus.  Church history is rife with anti-Semitism. Consider the declarations of the Council of Nicea, 325: “We ought not to have anything in common with the Jews…we desire, dearest brethren to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews…” A major focus at that council was to separate forever the celebration of Easter from the timing of Passover.
By the fifth century, successive acts by church councils led ultimately to the declaration of the Jews as second class citizens in every Christian community. Until the Enlightenment, Muslim treatment of the Jews was often considered relatively enlightened by comparison with Christianity. Gregory of Nyssa (331-396 CE) called them: “Slayers of the Lord, murderers of the Prophets, enemies of God…”  The accusation of Jews as Christ-killers was one that I grew up with in Toronto. 
John Chrysostom (347-407 CE), later the Archbishop of Constantinople, denounced the synagogue as “a place of prostitution” and “a house of idolatry.”  He declared, “The Jews live for their bellies…In shamelessness and greed they surpass even pigs and goats…you should turn away from them as the pest and plague of the human race.” His famous eight sermons against his Jewish neighbours—Adversus Judeos—were popular reading for Christians until this century and the basis of a continuing church bias about Jews as inherently evil.  Before the original Crusaders got to the Holy Land of 1000 years ago, they were determined to cleanse Europe of its Jewish population and almost succeeded. It was common for Jews to summarize the attitude of Christian neighbours as this: “they hate Jews.”  The Nazis could simply say that they were only doing what the early church had already done before them.  
The death of six million Jews is one of the strangest crimes in world history.  For the perpetrators it wasn’t a crime. It was seen as a necessary ethnic cleansing—the very presence of Jews in the world was seen as a contaminating influence on the whole of society.  As the great Jewish philosopher, Emil Fackenheim, pointed out: Jews were guilty of being too communist and too capitalist at the same time. In this sense, the Nazi accusation against the Jewish people was not simply their existence but that they had so thoroughly assimilated into German and European society.  Thus, the murder of those who had even a single Jewish grandparent was deemed necessary.  The murder of some 200,000 Messianic Jews (or Hebrew Christians as they were then known) was accomplished in the same brutal ways without any compunction.  And we have pictures of concentration camp guards pausing in their duties to receive communion from a local priest.
And even when Jews were able to provide palpable proof to the British and American military commanders about what was going on in the death camps, the Allied Bomber Command refused to spare even one plane to bomb the tracks leading to Auschwitz.
After WW2, many of the Jews who tried to return to their former homes in Eastern Europe were not only rejected but when they showed up, some were killed.  The British government declared that the Jewish people hadn’t suffered any more than anyone else during the war and the allies kept the surviving Jews from the death camps in camps that were practically next door to the death camps. 
Finally, when the members of the United Nation Special Committee on Palestine went to the camps and asked the refugees why so many of them wanted to go to Israel—the universal answer was that they had learned that they had no nation—they were strangers everywhere else.
As leaders in Christian communities, there is a lot of time spent on being relevant—being in touch with people and where they are—but unless we are radically Biblical in challenging our society, it is easy to be swept away in the lies, deceptions and fears of the people who surround us and they will have to look elsewhere for moral leadership.
My questions about God and the Holocaust met a radical confrontation while I was studying philosophy and English at the Univ. of Toronto. My older brother brought a Bible home and out of pure sibling rivalry I went out to find one for myself. Reading the Bible in contemporary language brought me face to face with some of the most powerful literature I’ve ever read. In addition, I was fascinated by reading philosophers and thinkers who actually believed in God, including the French mathematician Blaise Pascal. When I read John 14:6 I realized Yeshua is saying he’s God and I shut the book on him. But I was unable to shut out the God who I’d encountered.
In early March 1976 I was walking across the campus of the UofT when I saw a sign advertising a speaker called Art Katz, a former Marxist who had become a committed follower of Jesus. I went to hear him and I heard him say all the things that I’d been thinking about for the past year. 
When I confronted him about the Holocaust: he confronted me with this question: “What are you going to do about the Holocaust in your own heart.” I understood immediately, “What will do with your own impulse to evil?”  Had I been born in a different time and place, would I have had the courage to confront evil and choose to pay the price of doing what was right?  And where would that courage come from?  I had no answer to that and turned away, but he called me back, and said: “You’re ready to come.”
In front of my Jewish friends who knew me as fearless searcher of truth, I said, “Yes.” Art immersed me six months later in Minnesota and I came back to Toronto and became a founding member of Canada’s first messianic congregation. I later was called to go to seminary and have been involved in many different ways in ministry to my own people.
Much of that work has been growing and building Messianic congregations here in Canada and around the globe through my work as a pastoral leader, writer and publisher. But I recall how I was discussing Messianic Judaism with a Jewish man, a documentary film-maker who had made a film about Jewish followers of Yeshua, and he said to me, “The Christians have done everything else possible to destroy us. Is this just another way to destroy us with love?”
This year, Canada will mark Remembrance Day with a new sense of purpose.  I was a member of Canada’s military Reserve and wear my poppy proudly.  But I have a larger task within a historical arc that I have seen work its way through our national story:  to understand how the Gospel must provide us with a deeper understanding of God’s call on my life and the life of others in my faith community who are committed to a Biblical perspective.  To engage in meaningful debate with others so that we can sharpen one another’s understanding—even if we disagree, to make a commitment to a meaningful life according to our calling and our faith. 
The events of the Holocaust remind us what takes place when we let our society dictate to us how to think, how to act, what to fear--who to hate. Paul wrote to Gentiles in Romans 11 warning them about their arrogance toward Israel--a common prejudice among Romans--to remind them that they had been grafted into the “Olive Tree” of Israel in order to benefit from all that God had given his chosen people.  He wrote:

 16 …And if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you — a wild olive — were grafted in among them and have become equal sharers in the rich root of the olive tree, 18 then don’t boast as if you were better than the branches! However, if you do boast, remember that you are not supporting the root, the root is supporting you.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes

Two notes. Two notes in a symphony ended one era and began another. The first two notes of Beethoven’s third symphony marked the end of the Classical period of music and began another—the Romantic; a highly formalized art form gave way to one rooted in emotional expression.

That’s how revolutions begin: a student dreams of changing history; a composer is hammering at his piano in a hidden room; a single gunshot ignites a battlefield. In 1880, when Edison got the first contract to electrify homes in New York City, he hadn’t yet solved the problem of the light bulb—and then he also had to invent the whole system of generating and delivering electricity to homes and streets. Two years later, in September 1882, they turned his system on at 3 in the afternoon. Within a few hours, the city watched as darkness fell and never came, pushed back with a steady, unblinking light unlike any that had come before.

Today, it’s hard to recognize when such a transformational event takes place anymore. We’re so used to tectonic shifts in technology and communications. But what you find in Matthew 5—the Sermon on the Mount—is no less a revolution: whatever followed those words of Yeshua could never be the same as that which came before.

The photo above is a view of Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) from the heights over the lake. The scenery is in direct contrast with Israel’s grand Messianic visions, yet there is something remarkably fitting about this setting:
not the splendor of Jerusalem but a hilltop view of Kinneret;
no gathering of sages and scholars, but talmidim (disciples) from the ranks of the am ha’aretz (common people);
none of the ranking men of the Sanhedrin to hear his words, but “lost sheep” of Israel in search of a shepherd.

The image of Yeshua is fascinating. Surrounded by those who have followed him and those who’ve been seeking him out; he arrives and does not stand to make an address. He sits down—in the custom of the rabbis—and begins to preach with absolute authority; unlike the rabbis, however, he quotes no one as his teacher except His Father in Heaven.

Many observers see Yeshua presented here by Matthew as the new Moses. He has already spent forty days in the wilderness seeking God—not unlike Moses spending 40 days on Mount Sinai before bringing down the 10 commandments. Furthermore, the opening words of the Sermon are not new commandments—but a powerful testimony of God’s new relationship with His people.

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the Land (earth).
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NIV; Matthew 5:3-12)

That word “blessed” is translated in the Greek text that scholars use as makarios (μακαριος)… which is certainly not what Yeshua said; he may have used Aramaic or Hebrew; the word in Hebrew is asher, which is much closer to our word, “blessed.” But the English word “blessed” always seems a bit ambiguous (rooted in the word “blood”—as in consecrate by sprinkling with blood). Blessing can be any number of acts or statements:

• Pronouncing something holy: “And God blessed the seventh day”
• To confer a promise of happiness or prosperity: “We bless you from Zion”
• Express our wishes for happiness: “Bless those who persecute you”
• Invoke or confer spiritual benefit on an object or person: The blessings for a meal
• To extol or glorify with spiritual intent: “Bless the Lord, O my soul…”
• To be esteemed or accounted as a recipient of spiritual benefit: “All peoples of the earth will be blessed through you”

But here the word is translated in its simplest form as “happy.” How inadequate. It’s not only happiness, but all the benefits of blessing. Of course, Yeshua is not simply speaking to his followers of a prescription for being “happy.”

Are these conditions in which we would like to find ourselves?

Blessed are the poor in spirit / for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn / for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek / for they will inherit the Land (“earth”).

The poor in spirit are those whose poverty is overwhelming; but it is not a question of being financially destitute, but spiritually bereft by the knowledge that our human nature is itself weak: weakened by sin, by life’s interminable struggle, by a sense that we feel overcome by one problem, one challenge after another.

Those who mourn are not only mourning for personal loss, but the sheer spiritual vacuum of hope for life in a time of oppression, when Israel’s hills are covered with crosses and the world seems rife with injustice.

The meek are not simply those whose vulnerable state comes from weakness of personality or circumstances—but those who have been weakened by hurt, shame and the knowledge of that they are weak and vulnerable at the core of their being.

Then consider the answers:

The poor in spirit are on the verge of the kingdom of God: they are about to enter the rich abundance of all God’s blessings: personal, spiritual, physical and in its fullest manifestation on earth.

Those who mourn will receive a comfort that will restore their broken hearts and refresh the soul.

The weakest among us will not simply inherit the “earth.” This is a lame translation which I’m sad to say that Gentile interpreters have used to obscure its more pointed reference to Eretz Yisrael—the Land—the “promised land” that God gave to Abraham and which he promised through Moses to Israel. Instead, Yeshua declares here that Israel’s land will ultimately be claimed by God’s people because it belongs first to Him and then to those to whom he has chosen for an eternal inheritance.

What does this say about us?

Are we poor in spirit? Do we know how weak we are to sin?

Are we in mourning for a humanity that is lost and in abject spiritual poverty? And are we of any comfort to them?

Do we trust in God’s provision, or are we so assertive of our own way that we are running over those must be nurtured? Are we able to exercise a character that “meekly” trusts in our Lord?

The next three “blessings” lead us to further question where are we spiritually:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness / for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful / for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart / for they will see God.

How many of us feel spiritually dried up because of the shallowness of our religious life. God calls His spiritual leaders to love and nourish those people who are searching for him; but do people feel that our religious institutions have nothing to offer but hypocrisy and their own self-satisfaction?

Are we genuinely merciful in heart, living amongst others with real “lovingkindness;” knowing others heart to heart, given to whole-hearted relationships that are no longer superficial.

And what of those who have sought to live with purity of heart—that includes those who are truly ashamed of their sin; those who have committed to live prayerfully but fallen short; tried to live faithfully but failed. There are those who live among us with such transparency and accountability—even while they admit they can’t always win this battle.

Yeshua declares a great hope, but it’s not in the current state of Israel’s religion—and it remains just as difficult to find in our religions as well.

It’s true, the pure of heart truly do see God everywhere—but a time will come when they will see Him face to face and the struggle will end.

Those who want to have relationships grounded in the merciful, forgiving heart of God will find that this is the heart which embraces them fully and allows them to embrace others.

And those who are seeking to know and understand the Word of God and hear what God has to say to them will be fully satisfied; their deepest questions will have been heard and understood—even as they will hear and comprehend fully what God has to say to them.

The last three blessings are about the cost of discipleship:

Blessed are the peacemakers / for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness / for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The peacemaker is the one committed to bringing God’s shalom—His perfected peace in its most genuine form into the world.

The one who is persecuted for the sake of righteousness is one who sacrifices everything for the God and will surely see the fruit of their sacrifice.

And finally Yeshua applies this prophetic truth to his followers and it’s written here for the larger community of faith in Messiah: words written for those who have followed him faithfully over the past 2000 years ago: how many have endured insults, persecutions and been reviled for the simplest, heartfelt act of trust in Yeshua; such has always been the lot of those who speak with prophetic power to religious institutions that are unwilling to respond to the Spirit of the living God.

Rabbi Yeshua is “stringing these pearls” for us: each is more precious than gold or diamonds. It’s not a set of rules so much as a spiritual vision of the restored heart and mind of those who have trusted in Him.

Some fear these words—they are so powerful—what if they were a set of principles by which a believer could actually obtain the Kingdom? That’s why some theologians like Darby and Scofield insisted they weren’t for our time—they belonged to a future Kingdom.

But I believe that the kingdom revolution is for right now—in the hearts of those who trust Yeshua as Messiah. There is to be no more satisfaction with religion unless it frees us to love and trust God in this way.

And there is a warning here for those spiritual authorities who claim leadership by serving their own ends. The public acts of piety which were so common in Yeshua’s day are singled out for warning: the public prayers and acts of charity or fasting. None of it will be considered adequate for admission to the Kingdom. Yeshua not only warns us of those whose lives bear bad fruit, but those who will later use his name for evil. Those words are just as applicable to TV preachers in expensive suits as they were to ancient teachers in elaborate prayer shawls—to hypocritical deacons as much as to P’rushim (Pharisees) and Ts’dukim (Temple officials.)

There is a power waiting to be released into the lives of those who have gathered round Yeshua—whether it is on a hilltop in Galilee or the local urban jungle: it is the radical power of the New Covenant promise of the Kingdom of God.

There is a tremendous authenticity to this moment: the birth of the Kingdom of God is about to take place. Yet it won’t be a movement that transforms the nation into a mighty army for God, but in the hearts of those who are crying out for God’s reality now.

If there is any familiarity to the scene it’s because in some ways it reflects the very situation in which many of my generation came to faith: the dissatisfied youth whose parents tried to build on the self-satisfied prosperity of the post-war period and instead left their children frustrated with materialism and their lack of spiritual grounding. This is the setting in which revival transformed the world landscape—many of the most powerful global religious movements in many religious traditions were affected: the movements whose leaders are Christian, Jewish and Islamic all date back to this period. Parallel movements took place in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In Yeshua’s time. Israel was also experiencing a time of radical dissatisfaction with its religious leaders: the national leadership, the Sanhedrin, was dominated by two self-satisfied groups—the P’rushim who held sway over Israel’s economic life and the Tsdukim, who were prospering from the Temple. Their king was the nasty, weak-willed Herod, the son of an evil genius who was not even considered a Jew. To add to their shame, the High Priest bought his position every year with a hefty bribe to the Romans.

If we truly take these words of Yeshua to heart, we know that nothing in our lives can remain the same. But each of us needs a catalyst for change. We need the reality of Messiah to confront us.

In the 1740’s, the American colonies had become places that were mired in the remnants of a calcified, Puritan faith. The children and grandchildren of those whose faith had driven them to seek religious liberty in a new country—were now content to live out the appearance of being religious without any particular change of heart. The New England preachers and ther most devoted followers knew it; they’d become an unhappy, dissatisfied lot. Life was easier but the most important values of their faith appeared to be lost on the new generation. Preachers found they were no longer ministering to people of faith; they were talking to the self-satisfied grandchildren of believers.

In July 1741, Jonathan Edwards took the pulpit of his church in a small town in Connecticut and began to preach. His sermon was called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

Most of the sermon's text consisted of ten "considerations", which Edwards posed and justified through a combination of observations and hellish imagery. They are based on one major principle: “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”

There was an outcry from the elders. The congregation, disturbed and upset, could barely keep their seats. But finally, one of the young women stood up, convicted and grieving, she cried out for God’s mercy. Numerous other young people followed suit. When Edwards finished, nothing was the same.

A revolution broke out—preachers found a way to stir people up. A revolution of preaching the Gospel swept the globe with a series of revivals that transformed the spiritual landscape.

A generation ago, a discouraged missionary from American Board of Missions to the Jews got tired of being irrelevant to a prosperous new generation of American Jews who didn’t appear to have any interest in spiritual values. He took his message to the streets seeking to reach a new generation. He was having a bit of success and then one of his tracts washed up onto a pier where a drug addled young Jewish man who had recently become involved with believers, a man called Mitch Glaser, was contemplating what to do with his life. Mitch convinced a group of his friends to join this guy, named Martin (later "Moishe") Rosen and after awhile, they gave themselves the most irritating name possible: Jews for Jesus. But that’s another revolution.

The next revolution belongs to you.

The gateway to your revolution isn’t in me: it’s not in the preacher; it’s in you. And I don’t know how it can be fulfilled by our efforts, as grandiose and purposeful as we may choose to be, but only by our surrender.

What rights do we have to claim the kingdom of God? None. We are:
• impoverished in spirit
• mourning for sin
• hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

What are you seeking? God’s mercy; a pure heart; greater understanding of yourself before God?

This is the path of faith. It’s not a glory road: it’s a path toward the cursed tree. But it’s your path. Your own revolution.

I have great affection for this story about the composer, Johannes Brahms—he’d written two symphonies and now he had to write a third—and all he could think about was those two notes of Beethoven’s iconic Third Symphony. In his lonely room where there were only two things on the wall, a crucifix and a picture of Beethoven, Brahms drifted into despair. Finally he took a holiday—and while he was in the mountains he fell in love. The melodies poured out of his heart.

Love changed what all his striving could not do.

Fear or love. Whatever path you choose—there is a revolution waiting to happen in our lives. It will change you. It won’t make you popular, or cool. But imagine what it would be like to do something that will leave a mark for God—for the Kingdom.

That’s your life waiting—the one Yeshua was describing on a hill 2000 years ago.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Entebbe: Thirty Five Years Later

“My life and death belong to me,” Yoni Netanyahu once told his younger brother, Benyamin, during an argument. Their unit was assigned to an operation and Yoni argued that he should take part—despite strict orders prohibiting brothers from joining in the same dangerous mission. Yoni lost that fight; it didn’t happen often.

As a rule, Lt. Col. Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu did not yield authority easily. Although we don't know how he might have deferred to a brother who became Israeli Prime Minister—twice. Not that Yoni lacked authority or power. He rose to command Sayeret Matkal, the elite corps of the Israeli army. And his death, which he contemplated with the same cool frankness that he used to measure any other enemy, gave his life a resonance that has been a touchstone for a generation.

Netanyahu might have remained unknown to the world. The crisis that vaulted him to fame was not unusual for its time. On June 27, 1976, an Air France jetliner on its way to Israel had been commandeered by the PLO (who called the perpetrators “a splinter group,” but their orders came directly from the highest PLO military leadership). It landed in Idi Amin’s Uganda. Faced with the type of ruthless gang that murdered most of the Israeli contingent at the ’72 Olympics, and given that the hostages were guarded by one of the world’s most brutal dictators, the Israelis appeared to have no options except give in.

A rescue team was assembled by the Israelis, but, as Iddo Netanyahu explains in his exhaustive and sometimes controversial account of the raid (reprinted in English under the title, Entebbe: A Defining Moment in the War on Terrorism) such missions were often aborted. The potential for failure was too great; losing elite soldiers might be compounded by another potential Munich-like massacre, in which a rescue mission by the Germans failed and all the hostages died.

The mission should not have included Yoni. He had just returned from an exhausting training exercise. But without him, it probably would not have happened. Only 48 hours before the raid, the Israeli cabinet had voted to give in to the terrorists.

It was Yoni’s stature, the respect he commanded both on the battlefield and at the highest levels of Israel’s military command that brought the plan to life and then kept it alive; although it bears mentioning that the entire team was much larger than his unit and they were assisted by some of the most skilled and dedicated pilots of the Israeli Air Force. Hours before the mission, Netanyahu was summoned to the office of the Defense Minister, Shimon Peres. Peres wanted to look him in the eye and ask if he could he pull it off. Yoni convinced Peres that it could be done and the minister took that confidence to the cabinet table. Following a lengthy debate, they agreed: if the mission failed, all would resign.

After completing the training of his men (the first few run-throughs of the mission made success seem unlikely), cramming countless details into their heads in the 24 hours before the raid, Yoni addressed his soldiers. His words “touched your heart,” said one. Alex Davidi, one of the men who confronted the terrorists, said, “It was a speech I’ll never forget. He gave us the confidence that we could do it.”

On July 4, 1976, a team of about 100 soldiers and support personnel in four C-130 Hercules aircraft, flew down the Red Sea and across Africa, no more than a height of 30 m. to avoid radar detection. Three of them landed undetected at the edge of the Entebbe air field; one remained circling overhead. The attack unit led by Netanyahu was only 29 men. Within 30 mins. they had freed 101 hostages, killed the terrorists and were loading them onto the transports. Sadly, three other hostages in the terminal died; a fourth who had been hospitalized was later murdered. Within 52 mins., they had fought off a counter attack by the Ugandan army, destroyed the immediate Uganadan air force planes that might have followed them and taken off. Four of the attack unit were injured; Yoni was killed, possibly by a Ugandan army sniper.

Thirty years later, Entebbe remains Yoni’s legacy. The Netanyahu family is sometimes accused of inflating the role of the commander—but they are hardly at fault for sharing what is obvious from the testimony of the men he led and repeated by his peers. Yoni was one of the great fighters in Israel’s history and the success of his unit not only stunned the world, it struck a blow against terrorism that still reverberates today.

And in time, he has become more—an inspirational figure to a generation for whom Zionism was not a tarnished ideal but a singular decision—an act of holding onto our identity in a world where every other choice is an unbearable compromise.

Has anything changed? Beset on every side, challenged by an unsympathetic chorus of nations who remain ambivalent about our survival as long as we survive, there is no greater encouragement than a figure whose courage, devotion and intelligence remind us of the cost that has been paid and why Israel goes on—though not, we confess, by the tenacity of even the bravest soldiers, but only by the grace of HaShem.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When Did the Church Stop Being Jewish?

When and how did the church lose its original identity as a Jewish religious sect? This is a question that attracts more and more attention from Christians, but the answers are often wrong or misleading. The essential question is this: what happened to the Jewish followers of Jesus and their congregations? They wrote almost all the books of the New Testament (except for Luke/Acts); they planted all the first congregations. Where did they go and why did they disappear?

Recently, a pastor who is a friend of mine sent me this quote. One of his elders had used it during a Bible study in order to explain why the Jewish followers of Jesus faded out of Church history:

“Although persecuted by the Jews (I Thess. ii, 14) the Christians in Palestine long remained a group within Judaism. But the break became inevitable. A sentence in Suetonius' Life of Claudius could mean that as early as 50 AD rioting between Jews and Christians had broken out in Rome. In Judea the Jewish Christians kept the bridges open as long as they could, but they were severely harried and about 85, to make sure of their exclusion, a formal anathema was incorporated in the synagogue liturgy: 'May the Nazarenes and the heretics be suddenly destroyed and removed from the Book of Life.'” Owen Chadwick, The Early Christian Church, (Penguin, 1967) p. 20.

My friend wanted to know if the facts were correct and if the imposition of this “formal anathema” actually was a marker signifying the inevitable end of a Jewish presence in the church.

Here’s my answer, expanded for this space:

Thanks so much for your note. I appreciate that you are wrestling with this important issue of the separation of the church from its Jewish roots. Your elder used a credible source of information, but I think the information is misleading if not completely wrong. And here’s the problem: there is a common assumption that the original Jewish believers in Yeshua died out and no other Jews wanted to follow Jesus. But the facts are otherwise: historically, the Jewish believers in Yeshua disappeared because they were disowned and disinherited by the Gentile Christians who were instructed by Paul to honour them as “a remnant chosen by grace.” (Rom. 11:5; of course, the church so twisted this instruction by Paul, they eventually taught that Romans 11 had nothing to do with Jews, even though it promises the future salvation of "all Israel.")

The problem with the quote from Chadwick is that he begins with the commonly held assumption that Judaism and Christianity were already fixed as divided cultures. In fact, Judaism and Christianity were both very fluid in the first few centuries after Yeshua's death and resurrection; they had many different forms, and were not so hierarchical, nor did they answer to many authorities. Consider all the early heresies that existed during the first centuries of Christianity—from Marcion (rejecting the Jewish Bible as Scripture) to Arius (denying the divine nature of Yeshua) that would have completely transformed the nature of our faith. Judaism was equally fluid during the same period—and a single proscription from the synagogue doesn’t explain the full scope of historical events or attitudes of that period.

Besides, why would a wide ranging number of communities of Jewish followers of Yeshua—spread through ancient Palestine and North Africe—give up their identity? I have seen credible estimates that somewhere between 15-20% of all Jewish people in the first century after Yeshua became believers. They had their own congregations. In fact, their communities continued throughout the Holy Land region for centuries after 85 CE. According to the highly respected historian, Eusebius, there was a tradition of Jewish leaders of the church in Jerusalem until 132 CE, when all Jews (including Jewish followers of Yeshua) were expelled from the city by the Romans.

After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Judaism was transformed by the Jewish leadership in order to survive the loss of the sacrificial system. During this time, they were also fighting to resist the theological influence of the minim who were one of the few Jewish groups to survive after the Temple's destruction, an event which Yeshua had predicted! That term, minim, refers to Jewish believers in Yeshua and means, in Hebrew, “believers,” although Jewish authorities regularly translate the term in this context to mean “heretics”.

Meanwhile, the communities of Jewish believers in Yeshua continued to thrive. One of the leading Messianic Jewish authorities on this issue (my late mentor and former Prof. of Systematic Theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto) Jakob Jocz, points out that the insertion of the curse on the minim into the liturgy of the Eighteen Benedictions around 90 CE is probably an indication of “a new surge” in the growth of the Messianic community after the fall of the Temple (see The Jewish People and Jesus Christ, Baker, 1949), p. 55. In other words, Chadwick’s proof of a diminishing or a disappearing Jewish believing community is considered by other historians as a sign of its resurgence.

The key turning point comes in 132 CE, when all the Jewish communities in the region of Palestina rose up to resist the newly imposed laws of the Emperor Hadrian (who, among other things, wanted to outlaw circumcision, a horrific act of mutilation from the Roman perspective). The uprising was widely joined by the minim communities. But then the spiritual head of the revolt (132-135 CE), Rabbi Akiva, declared their military leader, Bar Kochba, to be the Messiah. At this point, the minim—who gave their messianic allegiance only to Yeshua—left the fight.

After the revolt failed, the devastation among the Jewish communities throughout the region was horrific; Hadrian had most of the Jewish population sold into slavery or exiled as well as destroying what was left of the Temple and sowing Jerusalem with salt. However, as Arnold Fruchtenbaum points out in his book, Hebrew Christianity, Its Theology, History and Philosophy (Baker, 1974, p. 46—the book is now outdated, but the history is useful here), the communities of minim persisted throughout the region until the Arab conquest is the mid-7th century. In fact, the original father of church history, Hegesippus (born c. 140 CE) is a member of that community—his five volume work has been lost but he is quoted extensively by another famous member of the minim community, Eusebius. There continued to be prominent Church leaders from among the minim, including Epiphanius, Bishop of Constantinople, even into the time of Constantine.

So, if the Jewish believers persisted, why did they eventually disappear—apart from the rise of Islam which swept before it all other religious groups? Why didn’t they integrate into the larger Christian culture with other ethnic Christian communities? It has nothing to do with their exclusion from the synagogue. The real reason was the onerous, racial prejudices of the early church fathers who deliberately chose to purge all evidence of Jewish roots from Christian theology.

Consider the declarations of the council of Nicea, 325: “We ought not to have anything in common with the Jews…we desire, dearest brethren to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews…” A major focus at that council was to separate forever the celebration of Easter from the timing of Passover.

By the fifth century, successive acts by church councils led ultimately to the declaration of all Jews as second class citizens in every Christian community. Until the Enlightenment, Muslim treatment of the Jews was often considered relatively enlightened by comparison with Christianity. The source of these calumnies can be placed at the feet of the church fathers who fixed in Christian theology the perspective of Jews as “Christ killers.” Gregory of Nyssa (331-396 CE) calls my people: “Slayers of the Lord, murderers of the Prophets, enemies of God…”

Nevertheless, many Christians tried to maintain contact with their Jewish roots—they may have read Paul’s letter to the Romans and sought to do what he instructed: not to be "arrogant” (11:20) but instead, recognizing that the Jewish people are still “loved [by God]” (11:28).

In Antioch, the local church had sympathetic ties with the Jewish community, attending Jewish festivals and praying with them during the Sabbath. (Some think the local body included Jewish believers; it’s a matter of discussion.) But then a new pastor arrived, a monk called John Chrysostom (347-407 CE) who was later the Archbishop of Constantinople. He castigated the congregation for their behavior. Famous for his preaching (his name means “golden mouth”) he denounced the synagogue as “a place of prostitution” and “a house of idolatry.” He declared, “The Jews live for their bellies… In shamelessness and greed they surpass even pigs and goats…you should turn away from them as the pest and plague of the human race.” Those ancient sermons, in popular circulation for centuries, remain the basis of a continuing church bias about Jews as inherently evil.

It is this inhospitable climate that destroyed the relations between the church and synagogue—and devastated the relations between Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua, even as the church literally outlawed any continuing spiritual contact of Jews and Christians—forbidding shared worship on the Jewish Sabbath and definitely not at Passover (councils of Antioch, 341 CE and Lodicea, 434 CE.) Finally, these councils declared as heretical the remnants of the Messianic Jewish congregations in North Africa, often called Ebionites, which included the last remaining members of Yeshua's own family. (See Olivier Melnick’s book, They Have Conspired Against You: Responding to the New Anti-Semitism, 2007).

Much of our own perspective on this issue is so tainted by these old, ingrained prejudices that we don’t even recognize them. This is a point emphasized by my friend, Daniel Gruber (author of The Separation of Church and Faith, Copernicus and the Jews (Elijah, 2005). He asks, why do our Bibles not translate the word “Christ” in the New Testament? What is a Christ? Many people think it is the last name of Jesus—Christians know it is a title—but there is no content to it, except as the Greek translation of a Jewish term: Messiah. We don’t translate it “Messiah” because the term points to us as “Christians.” But more important, the term “Messiah” inherently suggests Yeshua’s Jewish identity, so it is rarely used. Gruber asks more pointedly: name a major creed which refers to Jesus as a Jew or as the Jewish Messiah?

The original New Covenant congregations began as Jews who followed the Holy Spirit in reaching out to Gentiles. But the Greek and Roman cultures were very anti-Semitic. They thought that the God of Israel wasn’t invisible, only ugly; they certainly couldn’t understand the Jewish dislike of pork—their visions of heaven had pigs literally jumping onto roasting skewers and I’ve already mentioned their view of circumcision. Within a few generations, this cultural divide led the early church fathers to deny the Jewish origins of the Gospel and then erase them with disdain.

Paul tried to get the early churches to understand that the unity of Jews and Gentiles was evidence of Messiah’s transformative power. In Eph. 3:4-6, he states that the “mystery of Messiah” is revealed by the Spirit of God uniting Jews and Gentiles in the Body of Messiah-but the positive attitudes he worked so hard to promote, particularly in Romans 9-11, were subverted. A new awareness of the mystery has revived with the rise of Messianic Jewish communities around the globe—but it’s still hidden from many Christians who have no knowledge of our significant growing Messianic community, particularly in Israel.

To summarize, it was not historically inevitable for Jewish believers in Yeshua to disappear from the ranks of the larger body of Messiah. There may well have been a large gap between Jewish and Gentile cultures-and between the Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua. But one single proscription from the Jewish community did not determine the fate of the Jewish followers of Messiah. Nor did it justify the negative attitudes towards the Jewish people which appeared in successive Church councils. But as those Christian attitudes were ingrained over the centuries, the very idea of a Jew believing in Jesus became as peculiar to Gentile Christians—who worshiped the Jewish Messiah—as it was to Jews.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Stuxnet Virus—A Hidden Battle for the Future of Israel

(The information below is largely based on an article that appeared beginning on page one of the Sunday New York Times, Jan. 16, 2011.)


In the 1970’s, the Dutch were working on a new machine to enrich uranium. A Pakistani metallurgist working on the project, Dr. A.Q. Khan, stole the design and returned home to build his country’s first generation of uranium centrifuges which led to their development of an atomic bomb. Afterwards, Khan sold similar technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Iran’s development of a nuclear program has been in the works for at least a decade, but came under new pressures with the rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elected president in June 2005. He has, of course, repeatedly voiced his determination to destroy Israel and even suggested he’s a divine instrument for that purpose. No threat is more intimidating to Israel than Iran’s attempt to build a nuclear arsenal under the direction of this ruthless, single-minded fanatic.

Repeated attempts to restrain the Iranian nuclear program, including trade sanctions by other governments, have not stopped them from developing a massive, highly sophisticated nuclear generating and enriching facility in the Iranian desert near Natanz (two hundred kms south of Tehran) where the underground facility is over 350,000 square feet covered by thick protective coverings of concrete and earth. For added protection, the Russians have installed and maintain advanced anti-aircraft missile batteries to ward off the threat of Israeli or American air attacks.

Nature of the threat

The Israelis have long insisted that the Iranian program was on track to develop nuclear warheads by 2015 or earlier and sought American aid to address the problem with air strikes. This follows their strategy used in June 1981 to destroy the Iraqi nuclear facility (“Osirak,” a joint Iraqi-French project)—an attack that was widely denounced by Americans, Europeans and of course, the UN. Later assessments were somewhat more appreciative that the Gulf War was not complicated by Saddam Hussein having nuclear weapons. There has been a more recent, less known, Israeli attack on a Syrian site in 2007 where the North Koreans were preparing an unauthorized nuclear reactor.

While both these attacks were capably carried out by the Israelis, attacking Iran posed many more challenges for success. The problems of distance and overcoming the Russian missile system would have stretched the Israeli air force to its limits and possibly provoked open war in the region.

With some of those concerns in mind, a 2008 request from the Israelis to President Bush for “bunker busting” bombs was refused. Meanwhile, the Israelis admitted that a successful strike might only push back the Iranian nuclear program by three years. However, when they presented the Americans with an alternative approach, a computer virus attack on the Iranian facility, Bush gave an initial go ahead; later, President Obama urged a speedy development of a stealth virus attack.

Preparing for attack

The complex worm secretly developed by the Israelis and Americans (initially denied by both governments) began with the growing awareness that the computerized controllers of the Natanz program were the most obvious weakness to be exploited. These controllers are separate computer components which oversee operational systems and computer programs. In this case, the controllers were operating the hundreds of uranium centrifuges inside the Natanz facility.

Both the Americans and the Israelis were aware of the types of centrifuge being used and called on various experts—including retired Israeli nuclear technicians. In preparation, both the Israelis and Americans built similar devices to figure out the best means of sabotage. Eventually, they learned how to speed up (or alternatively, speed up and slow down) the internal rotors causing them to wobble and then destroy themselves from the inside.

Avoiding Attention

The initial appearance of the Stuxnet virus in June 2009 did not attract much attention—it didn’t seem very active. One of the first to examine it in more detail was Ralph Langner, an independent computer security expert based in Hamburg, Germany. He noticed that the worm had only one specific aim: to attack a particular type of computerized nuclear facility and even more precisely, the computer control systems.

The ingenious nature of the virus was evident from its two major capabilities: First, programs to get nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control until the machines literally self-destruct. Second, potential to send signals back to the control system indicating that the machines were doing fine—fully allowing the first part of the program to complete its destructive course without interference.

On further examination, Langner found added layers of sophistication:
1) the worm kicked into gear only when a particular array of controllers was found, i.e. those running a centrifuge plant, and it was even more precise, attacking a specific number of centrifuges: 984.
2) the dual aspect of the worm allowed the program to lie dormant for long periods of time. However, this dormancy was actually used to develop the second part of the program. The program used this down time to secretly record the normal operations of the nuclear plant. Once the centrifuges began running out of control, these same signals were played back to plant operators, preventing them from interfering before the destructive phase was completed.

In Langner’s view, “The attackers took great care to make sure that only their designated targets were hit. It was a marksman’s job. It is about destroying its targets with utmost determination in military style.”

Did the attack succeed?

Not until November 2010 did Iranian President Mahmound Ahmadinjad mention the virus attack, saying there had been minor problems but his experts had discovered it. A more accurate account of the Stuxnet’s success comes from the private, Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, which issued a lengthy report. They noted that the Natanz facility suffered a series of failures in mid-2009 that led to 984 machines being put out of service.

The report concluded that the failures were a major problem for the Iranian program. While the attacks were not successful in halting the entire program and parts of the Iranian operation remain active, other areas have been stopped. Security experts note that the worm continues to circulate and may launch again in future since it can update itself off the net.

Recent statements by Israeli officials (as of Jan 2011), including the retiring head of the Israeli Mossad, have confirmed the view that the Iranian program is no longer an imminent threat. Israelis are confident that at least another three years has been gained—they have “postponed the timetable”—with at least the same effect as a direct hit on the Natanz facility by Israeli fighter bombers.

As the Israeli pilots returned from the successful operation on Osirak in 1981, their commander led the pilots in recalling this passage from Joshua 10:12-14:

On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
So the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped,
till the nation avenged itself on its enemies,
as it is written in the Book of Jashar.
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.
There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a human being. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yeshua and the Torah: Lord of the Sabbath

Want to know how to become wealthy? Don’t win the lottery. A surprising number of lottery winners squander their wealth away. Here are a few of their stories.

Michael Carroll, an unemployed 26-year-old Brit lost a £9.7 million jackpot he won in 2002 (about $15 million) and hopes to get his old job back as a garbageman. At first, Carroll lavished gifts on friends and family, but soon started spending on himself. "The party has ended," he recently told the UK Daily Mail, "That's the way I like it. I find it easier to live off £42 dole than a million."

After winning $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988, William 'Bud' Post might have had it made. He died in 2006 living on a $450 monthly disability check. "His problems," said The Washington Post, "included...a brother who tried to hire someone to kill him and his sixth wife and a conviction after Post fired a shotgun on a debt collector."

Evelyn Adams of New Jersey won the state lottery twice—and used up her $5.4 million on a compulsive gambling habit. She now lives in a trailer.

West Virginian Jack Whittaker won a $315 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas 2002 and lost everything he valued. Everyone around him, including strangers demanded some of his fortune and he retreated into alcohol. He also lavished gifts on a 17-year-old granddaughter Brandi, whose life spiraled out of control. Whittaker's marriage disintegrated as he became a notorious philanderer. Two years after winning his fortune, his granddaughter died of an apparent overdose. With the bulk of his jackpot gone, Whittaker, who had been a hard-working contractor, told reporters: "I wish we had torn the [lottery] ticket up."

What is wealth? I like this definition: Wealth (that is, material wealth) is a measure of your ability to do what you would like to do, when you would like to do it - a measure of your breadth of immediate available choice.

Certainly, by that standard, one of the greatest gifts to humanity came at Mt. Sinai through the fourth commandment:

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Ex. 20:8-11)

God intended the Shabbat to be a day to invest in our spiritual wealth and well-being. This is a weekly gift of 24 hours to be free, totally free, to do nothing else but seek a higher spiritual plane and develop closer relationships with family, friends, and those in our community of faith. Above all, each one is encouraged to apply their heart, mind and soul in freedom to be themselves before God and explore that relationship without any greater effort than the study of God's Word.

The word "Shabbat" comes from the root Shin-Bet-Tav, meaning to cease, to end, or to rest. The word we translate work is “Melachah”—which generally refers to the kind of work that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over your environment.

This commandment was a transformative gift not just to Israel—but through the influence of the Scriptures, has affected much of humanity, including Christians who have adopted a Sunday Sabbath. No civilization before Israel was ever so generous with its people: giving them one holiday every week. In fact, the Greeks considered this to be a sign of Israel’s laziness.

For Messiah's followers, one of the best ways to honour this gift is to follow Yeshua's example. He attended the synagogue with other Jews. We read in Luke 4:16: “on the Sabbath Day he attended he went into the synagogue which was his custom…” This chapter shows how he attended two different services: one in Nazareth, another in Capernaum. Nor is he simply there as an observer: he reads the Scriptures, he speaks and is engaged with the community.

In Matthew 12, Yeshua is accosted by some of his opponents on the Shabbat. Since he has grown more popular, and as his teaching has grown in authority for the common people, his qualifications as a teacher are being challenged by the P’rushim (Pharisees-who scrupulously adhere to the Torah and the Oral Law, which includes Israel's traditional interpretations of how to practice Torah) and the experts in the law; those we call the Scribes. (The term “Scribe” actually doesn’t refer to those who simply copied out the Scriptures; Scribes were often experts in law, often acting publicly in a legal capacity.)

The challenge to Yeshua is not unusual and could happen among any gathering of Jews when a question comes up and it’s debated—sometimes hotly. After all, on Shabbat, debating the Torah is encouraged.

Among my Christian friends, it's commonly understood that Matthew 12 provides evidence that Yeshua was giving his followers license to dispense with the Jewish traditions of the Shabbat. But I believe that Matthew presents a very different type of issue. He is actually presenting Yeshua’s credentials as an authoritative rabbi in Israel.

Matthew 12: Two Sabbath controversies

"At that time Yeshua went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, 'Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.'" (Mt. 12: 1,2)

At the time of Yeshua, there was an ongoing discussion about the same situation which confronted his disciples. As they walked along, they were hungry. Rather than stopping, they grabbed some fast food: grain off the stalk rubbed with the hand (i.e. with no other tool) and eaten. This was not forbidden, in fact, it was actually prescribed by the rabbis.

But some had decided that this was too lax; an example of a standard of holiness that descends into “legalism,” a new rule for the sake of making more oppressive rules. (If you've noticed, the rule-makers usually make these up for other people.) These rules certainly work for those who don't have to travel any distance to a worship service and cannot prepare food before they set out. But it creates an oppressive penalty on those who are not so favoured.

Yeshua later makes a similar point about such increasing legalism in Matt. 23:2-4: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat [i.e. as teachers of the Torah for the people]. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."

Matthew 12 gives Yeshua’s immediate response in some detail:

1) He refuses to have his disciples intimidated by someone else’s standard of Sabbath observance, so he identifies the central issue and gives a comparable situation from Scripture. "He answered, 'Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.'" Matt. 12: 3,4.

2) Continuing on the theme of the Temple and its priests, he then provides an example to supports his disciples' actions: Matt. 12:5: "Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?"

3) He then applies the priestly rule to those who minister to him, and lays out the Messianic priorities for his followers: a) “Mercy, not sacrifice;” b) his status as “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:6,7):

"I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice' (Hosea 6:6), you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

This "ruling" or instruction is completely in keeping with the expectations of Israel that when Messiah came, he would indeed provide greater clarity and focus for a proper adherence to the teachings of Scripture and the Law of Moses.

When Yeshua declares that he is “Lord of the Sabbath,” it is comparable to the name of Messiah given in Isaiah 9:6, “Prince of Peace” (Saar Shalom). It does not impose any new authority over Israel, but properly suggests that the Sabbath itself finds a further Messianic fulfillment in him: after all, the Shabbat looks forward to the Messianic kingdom when HaShem, humanity and the natural realm will be at complete peace. Thus Israel is called to look to Messiah in order to comprehend the character, purpose and meaning of Shabbat.

The controversy of the Shabbat is a microcosm of the larger issue: Is Yeshua the Messiah? Having taken a stand against him, even Yeshua's miraculous signs become an excuse for further complaints as we see in Matt. 12:9-12

"Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"
He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

Yeshua exercises the power of his Messianic authority through a powerful sign (v. 13): "Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other."

Of course, with their minds already made up, the Pharisees not only reject this sign, but treat his actions as a provocation (v. 14). But nowhere in this chapter does Yeshua deny that he has altered the principles of the Shabbat or no longer respects its importance.

What happened to the Shabbat?

When I was a cub scout, I remember one of my friends complaining to me: “You Jews don’t honour God according to the Scriptures. You're supposed to worship on 'the seventh day' and you worship on the sixth day." I was pretty young at the time—I thought he was right—and so I went home and looked at the calendar and found that the Gentiles' "seventh day" was the first day of the week.

But it’s no accident that Church-goers think of Sunday as their “Sabbath.” The Westminster Confession states that God literally changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.

In most of North America, the battle for the Sabbath has been lost. We’ve largely given up the fight—there's little honour or holiness attached to our Sabbaths. But in Yeshua’s time, Israel was well aware of its importance. After all, squandering wealth is one thing; provoking the Giver is worse. The prophets had warned the nation that God would bring judgment on the land for Israel’s careless disregard of the Sabbath.

Jeremiah 17: 27: "But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses.' "

Nehemiah 13: 17: "I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, "What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? 18 Didn't your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath."

So, the rabbis had become very scrupulous to safeguard the seventh day. In order to do so they created a “fence around the law” for Shabbat: regulations that were meant to safeguard its holiness.

Using the principle that all work on the Temple in Solomon’s time had to cease during the Shabbat, they developed a list of all actions to be forbidden. Most of us are used to seeing lists like this as a sign of Israel’s overzealous attitude towards Torah; however we would be cautioned instead to see how seriously the rabbis took the warnings of the prophets.

1. Sowing
2. Plowing
3. Reaping
4. Binding sheaves
5. Threshing
6. Winnowing
7. Selecting
8. Sifting
9. Kneading
10. Baking
11. Shearing wool
12. Washing wool
13. Beating wool
14. Dyeing wool
15. Spinning
16. Weaving
17. Making two loops
18. Weaving two threads
19. Separating two threads
20. Tying
21. Untying
22. Sewing two stitches
23. Tearing
24. Trapping
25. Slaughtering
26. Flaying
27. Salting meat
28. Curing hide
29. Scraping hide
30. Cutting hide up
31. Writing two letters
32. Erasing two letters
33. Building
34. Tearing a building down
35. Extinguishing a fire
36. Kindling a fire
37. Hitting with a hammer
38. Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in the public domain.

(Mishnah Shabbat, 7:2)

The Sabbath then became a battle ground for preserving the sanctity of Israel after the Exile. And it was a precious gift to be protected, though sometimes over-zealously. But it was not a gift that the Gentiles, either Greeks or Romans, wanted. The early Church Fathers didn’t want to be people of the seventh day.

There are only five references in the New Covenant to the believers worshipping on the first day of the week. None of them refers to it as “the Lord’s Day,” a term which later came into use to suggest that Yeshua had become “Lord” of some other day than Shabbat.

However, it's evident that the Gentiles created a separate custom and tradition, which interpreted New Covenant teachings to suggest that the day of worship for Yeshua’s followers was the first day of the week as a remembrance of the resurrection. Some insist this is a further sign of the anti-Semitism of the Church Fathers. However, in itself, the adoption of another day of worship, which was also done by Islam, is not so much an act against Israel, it only shows a curious but not untypical disregard for the content of the Scriptures. In summary, the Church Fathers dispensed with the Jewish legalities—which they had no interest in following with the insistence that Yeshua himself held that view—and brought in their own.

The Messianic Jewish Problem

So how do Messianic believers celebrate the Shabbat? Do we follow it as Jews or as Christians? There is a variety of perspectives given to us from the leading teachers in our movement.

Baruch Maoz: Don’t have anything to do with the rabbinical teachings and rituals for Shabbat.

Arnie Fruchtenbaum: Focus on celebrating in a way that reflects the Biblical instruction and not the rabbinical injunctions.

John Fischer: We have no other Jewish context except that of the rabbi’s but we can follow their traditions (as Yeshua said) while maintaining the anticipation of Messiah.

Dan Juster: “Shabbat is a special ‘sign of the covenant’ between Israel and God, so it is a priority. We don’t object to the Gentiles having moved it; but it must be a Jewish priority to preserve it and to maintain our Jewish inheritance.

Gershon Nerel: Make the Shabbat priority one of spiritual and personal renewal.

Barney Kasdan: Emphasize Jewish tradition and the freedom of Shabbat and the joy of Creation apart from the constrictions of legalism because our salvation is in Yeshua.

I think that Kasdan's instruction is helpful. We actively participate in both those meanings of Shabbat when we recite kiddush (the prayer over wine sanctifying the Sabbath or a holiday). Friday night kiddush refers to Shabbat as both zikkaron l'ma'aseh bereishit (a memorial of the work in the beginning) and zeicher litzi'at mitzrayim (a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt).

We have the freedom to follow our hearts and be faithful to Yeshua without the constraints of legalism, yet understanding that some are uniquely called to express themselves both as voices for the freedom we have in Yeshua and his Jewish identity as Messiah who has fulfilled Torah.

Do we fully grasp the wealth we have been given?

Sometimes, people wonder about the price they’ll have to pay if they give their life to Yeshua. I can tell you—you don’t know what life is until you walk with Him.

But I want you to think for a moment just how much you already owe to God for gift of the Sabbath. When have your best memories been made? Did you build your most meaningful relationships during busy workdays or the weekends?

If you look back into the lives of each of those people who squandered those lottery millions, you’ll find that almost all of them were spiritually hollow. But neither does our society understand how much it has squandered away when it lost sight of the Sabbath rest-days which have now been squeezed out of our lives so that we can keep shopping.

Sometimes people want to know what price I paid for believing in Yeshua. They wonder if I have one of those dramatic testimonies where I was cut off by my family for my faith. As many of you know, the opposite took place. But you also need to know that my parents—both of them traumatized in different ways by the Holocaust—were challenged when I stopped being a young, self-centred agnostic. Out of the blue, they saw me leaving every Friday evening in a clean pair of jeans for Erev Shabat services. Then one night my mother stopped me: “You know, we have Erev Shabbat here, too.”

And so, I watched my parents, who had struggled to communicate with each other over the years, come together over the Shabbat candles, the Kiddush and the traditions. That was how Shabbat came into my parents’ home, and for years afterwards the ritual of Shabbat sustained them. I also saw the healing power of the Shabbat—because they knew so little about spiritual rest—and had suffered such a deep, overwhelming poverty through losses no one could have fully understood. The blessings of tradition reminded them that God is still with Israel in all her trials, all her losses—and they too were linked to generations that kept trusting.

So when we say, "More than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel," I can affirm its truth. And if people want to suggest that Yeshua has in any way diminished the wealth of my heritage—I can tell you plainly—he has given far more to my Jewish identity than I could have ever hoped to acquire otherwise.

You and I have a special call to fulfill in freedom, grace, but also obedience. Yeshua must be Lord of my Sabbath for I have no peace—no true shalom—except in Him.