Shavuot: Festival of Grace

Tomorrow evening (May 23, 2015) begins the Jewish feast of Shavuot, which means “weeks”, commonly known in Christian circles as Pentecost. It is the only one of the three major Torah festivals that is not explicitly connected to a historical event. Pesach (English: Passover) commemorates the exodus from Egypt, and Sukkot (English: Booths) commemorates Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. While there is no event explicitly connected with Shavuot, the timing of the festival does mark the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, the Ten Commandments in particular. And so Shavuot became the time the people of Israel would especially remember the gift of his revelation to them.

Readers of the New Testament know Pentecost as the time of another of God’s gifts. For it was during its festivities that the earliest of Yeshua followers in Jerusalem experienced the outpouring of God’s Spirit in fulfillment of the promise given through the Hebrew prophet Joel hundreds of years before (see Joel 2 and Acts 2). The purpose of the Spirit’s coming had been explained to the apostles about a week earlier just prior to Yeshua’s return to heaven, when he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). A key function of the Holy Spirit therefore was to give Yeshua’s followers the ability to effectively testify on his behalf.

We don’t have time or space here to get into an extensive study of the Holy Spirit, but his role in empowering believers is central to his relationship to us. He empowers us to not only effectively explain to others what Yeshua did on our behalf, but he also imparts God’s holiness to us, resulting in godly living, and guides us in very practical ways. In other words, it is by the Spirit we are able to be the people God wants us to be.

This could be why the Holy Spirit was poured out at Shavuot. On the day commemorating the giving of God’s word, God saw fit to impart the ability to live by it. Prior to that extraordinary day, God’s ways were beyond human capacity to fulfill, the result being condemnation. But Yeshua’s sacrifice and his resurrection laid a foundation where we can be fully accepted by God through the forgiveness of sins. This then cleared the way for the Holy Spirit to be imparted to us and equip us to truly live as children of God.

This God-initiated, God-imparted empowerment is what the New Testament calls “grace.” I know this may not be how you are used to using this word, since most often grace is defined as “unmerited favor.” It certainly is unmerited, but by limiting it to favor alone gives the impression that it only has to do with God’s acceptance. This understanding of grace divorces the work of God in our lives from his work throughout our lives. Grace is not simply about God’s acceptance, it is the New Testament’s way of expressing God’s covenantal faithfulness to his people. Whether it is God’s saving us, providing for us, leading us, or using us – all this is based on God’s power – his grace – not on ourselves or our ability.

Long-Term Memory Loss

yellowstar01_480Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we remember the Nazi-inspired genocidal atrocity that took the lives of six million Jewish men, women, and children during World War II. Many Jewish people and others will take the time today to mark the loss of one third of European Jewry seventy years ago.

There are two reasons for Holocaust memorials like Yom Hashoah. First, they are designed to honor the memory of those who died. This keeps connection with our past and helps those still grieving after all these years. This is relatively easy to accomplish. We remember our loved ones by reciting their names, looking at their photographs if we have any, and telling their stories.

The second reason for Holocaust memorials is to prevent the kind of conditions that would lead to similar tragedies occurring again. This is not so easy, not simply because we lack the kind of control necessary to prevent such horrors, but because we have forgotten what we need to remember. We cannot learn lessons from the past, if we have forgotten the past. It’s not the historical details we have forgotten. Anyone can reacquaint themselves with the social conditions in Europe, Germany in particular, following the First World War or the underlying anti-Semitism prevalent in European society that Hitler leveraged for his hideous purposes. This is also easy to do, since we have ready access to the great amount of documentation from the period. We may not choose to do the research, but that’s a choice we make. The real problem is that there is a mental blindness that has created a chronic long-term memory loss preventing us from adequately remembering what we need to know in order not to repeat our difficult past.

It seems to me this blindness is because deep seated in the heart of most people today is a conviction that life is the product of meaningless randomization. Things happen because they happen and for no other reason. The universe came to be on its own and everything that exists emerged as a result of chance. Right and wrong are arbitrary. Value is perceived, not innate.

If we believe we live in a meaningless universe, all we have at our disposal for understanding human existence is desire and power. Look at the political issues of today. Most legislation is concerned about how to allow for the maximum expression of human desire while preventing as much short-term damage as possible. Society has lost any sense of long-term goals, higher purpose, and concern for the common good.

If this way of looking at life is correct, then how can we learn anything from the past? If we are victims of randomization, how do we protect ourselves from harm? We can’t call it tragedy, because that presumes a level of meaning that chance doesn’t provide for. Six million people from an identifiable group may have died amidst a set of circumstances, but giving these deaths a collective identity by calling it “The Holocaust” makes it like a special chapter in a story. However, if there is no story – only at best individuals’ own self-interest – there are no special chapters, just random results.

We cannot properly remember the Holocaust if life is not a story. This is why the Jewish people is a problem to contemporary thought. Whether it’s the Holocaust of seventy years ago or the State of Israel today, intentionally or unintentionally, the Jewish people challenge the notion of a meaningless universe. The plight and successes of Jewish people throughout history cannot be understood apart from a meta-narrative, the overarching plotline, established by God and revealed in the Bible. It is only as we remember this story that lessons can be learned from chapters such as the Holocaust.

Where Are You, God!

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I was recently asked to give a sermon on these words of Yeshua, spoken shortly before his death on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In the original Greek New Testament, both Matthew and Mark, the only two Gospel writers to report this, provide not only the translation of what Yeshua said, but also a transliteration. A transliteration is when the sounds of one language are written with the letters of another. That’s what is happening every time we write, “hallelujah,” which is an attempt to write the actual Hebrew using English letters. Translated into English, hallelujah would be “Praise the Lord.” Very few times in the New Testament the writers provide transliterations as they do in the case of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew’s rendering (slightly different from Mark’s) is “Eli eli lama sabachtani (the “ch” is pronounced as in “Bach”).

To the Greek or English reader, it is clear that Yeshua is quoting the opening words of Psalm 22. This should not be surprising as this is only one of several examples of references to that Psalm. But what is not immediately clear to the Greek or English reader is that “Eli eli lama sabachtani” is not a direct quote of the original Hebrew text. Instead it is a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, which was most likely the common Jewish way of speaking in those days (scholars debate the exact nature of the Jewish language of that time, but that doesn’t affect our discussion). Not directly quoting the Hebrew may be one of the reasons why those nearby didn’t realize what Yeshua was saying (see Matthew 27:47), and one of the reasons why Matthew and Mark went out of their way to report exactly what was said.

By not quoting the scriptural text, but using the common language of his day, we see how very personal these words were to Yeshua at the time. Nothing wrong with quoting Scripture, but Yeshua owned these words in a very intimate way. But what did they mean to him?

Some have taken “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” to mean that at that moment, God the Father abandoned God the Son due to his taking upon himself the sin of the world. That might very well be, but such a theological conclusion may miss the point, especially when we recognize the connection between the crucifixion and Psalm 22. For certainly in David’s case the Psalm is not about the actual abandonment of God, but rather the apparent abandonment of God. But actual or apparent, makes little difference to the one expressing such anguish. There is no cry more desperate than “Where are you, God?”

Only the one who truly knows God personally can utter such a cry. Atheists can’t, since they are settled in their minds about God’s existence: “I feel alone, because I am alone.” The agnostics, as they aren’t sure whether or not God exists, live with uncertainty: “I feel alone, because I might just be alone.” They may be confused about God and life perhaps, but not desperate. Even a so-called believer may not ever experience such desperation, because they can claim to believe in God, but not be convinced that he is personally interested in them or able to help: “I feel alone; it would be nice if God could or would help me, but, oh well, I’ll get by somehow.” But when you know that God is able and normally willing to help, but for reasons you don’t understand, has left you to fend for yourself, when you have tasted intimacy with God, knowing him as your loving father and best friend, but the forces of darkness have borne down on you and there’s no letting up in sight, then to cry “Where are you God?” is the most bitter cry of all.

What David went through in Psalm 22 and what you might be going through right now, is something with which Yeshua can completely identify. Yeshua experienced complete abandonment as he faced the full brunt of the effects of human rebellion against God: betrayed by a close associate, misunderstood by family, and abandoned by his close friends, even denied by one of them. In court, he was falsely accused, the victim of false testimony as he faced a corrupt and misguided justice system. He endured excruciating, unending pain as, all the while, his body was shamefully exposed. He was mocked and derided as a fraud as his faith was shoved in his face and his identity was completely undermined. And through it all, there was no one to protect him or help him with no relief in sight. But what made it way worse was that, all the while, he knew, better than anyone who has ever lived, that his help was right there – watching – able to do something, but doing nothing.

When we see this in the context of Psalm 22, we see that that Yeshua is identifying with the godly of the ages. For it is those who truly follow God who tend to experience this profound sense of abandonment – that the God whom we love and serve has abandoned us, when he hasn’t really. For whether or not Yeshua was truly abandoned in the particular moments in which he uttered these words, we know that in the end, God vindicated him by raising him again to life: the same expectation for all who entrust themselves to God in Yeshua’ name.

The experiences of Yeshua on the cross and of David in Psalm 22 remind us that those who truly love God will feel abandoned at times. In fact, it’s when we do God’s will that the likelihood of feeling abandoned increases. Both Psalm 22 and the crucifixion remind us that however difficult life may get, God will never truly abandons his people.

I wonder how many people who love God, but feel abandoned by him hesitate to cry out “Where are you, God?” out of a fear of being disloyal to him. You might be surprised at how God might answer you should you allow yourself to be honest with him and yourself.

I also wonder how many of us are afraid to stand up for God as did David and Yeshua out of an intense fear that we might have to stand alone. Because, and this might surprise you: it is when we allow ourselves to stand alone for God that we discover that we are not alone in God.

Purim starts tonight! – Are You an Esther?

Happy Purim!

The Festival of Purim begins this evening, Wednesday, March 4, 2015. The story of Purim is found in the biblical book of Esther, where we read how Haman, the highest level official of the King of Persia, plotted the destruction of all Jewish people out of his resentment towards one prominent Jewish man, named Mordecai.

As dark as was Haman’s insane hatred, so bright was the virtue of Esther, Mordecai’s cousin. Through divine providence the King of Persia married this young Jewish girl. At first she hid her Jewish identity, until Haman’s plot became known. At the urging of Mordecai, Esther revealed her true identity to the King, who then allowed the Jews to defend themselves against Haman’s threat.

At first Esther hesitated to approach the King. For it was the King’s custom that if anyone appeared before him without first being summoned, they could be executed. The only exception to this rule, which could not be known beforehand, was if he extended his scepter to that person.

Esther could have reasoned that while the rest of her people were in danger, due to her special relationship to the King, she herself might be preserved. Not so according to Mordecai, who sent the following message to her:

“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

Mordecai understood how dangerous Haman’s plot was. He knew that just because Esther was married to the King her protection was not guaranteed. While he was confident that God would deliver his people, it would most likely be at the cost of many lives including that of Esther and her own family (which would have included Mordecai as well). Yet Mordecai thought that God may have placed Esther in the royal household for the purpose of saving her people.

So Esther was willing to approach the King in the face of the possibility of execution. As it turned out the King was favorable toward Esther and granted her request, resulting in yet another time in history when the Jewish people escaped annihilation.

What about you? Are you an Esther? I wonder how many of us are in situations right now in which we are called to make a significant difference. We are living in a very critical time in history. Perhaps you think your life is just fine. But do you realize that the world is spinning out of control? Economic instability and the threat of terrorism engulf the globe. The moral consciousness of many, if not most, societies, have become corrupt beyond reason. Family life is broken, and almost everyone is obsessed with self and materialism.

How many of us may be in positions where we can make a positive difference by standing against the assault of wickedness before us? And if we do nothing? Will that ensure that we will escape the coming destruction?

Like Esther we may be intimidated by what it might mean to speak up. We know that to go against the flow of evil is risky. Yet, as Mordecai said, to do nothing is actually the greater risk.

We comfort ourselves with the thought that God will accomplish his purposes in spite of us. But is that really what we want? If we don’t take a stand, we will be swept away. And who knows but that we have come to our position, whatever that may be, for such a time as this?

God’s Epic Story in Maple Ridge Starts Tomorrow!

The more we grasp the Big Picture of the Bi-ble’s story, the better we will understand its details and find our unique place in God’s plan.

Too often people read the Bible as if it is a collection of heart-warming sayings. It’s not until we grasp that it is actually a grand epic story of God’s plans and purposes that it’s details begin to fall into place – and that includes the part that you are called to play.

Starting tomorrow evening, Friday, January 23, through Saturday afternoon, I will be presenting my Bible overview seminar, entitled “God’s Epic Story,” in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. If you are in the Vancouver or the Fraser Valley areas, it would be great to see you! Please let others know about this special event.

Location: Maple Ridge Community Church, 301-20450 Dewdney Trunk Road, Maple Ridge (between 203rd and 207th Streets, behind Save On Foods and beside Westgate Shopping Centre).

Dates and times: Begins Friday, January 23, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. Continues Saturday, January 24, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Cost: Individual: $10, Couple: $15, Family: $25

Contact: Pastor Duane Goerzen (duane@mrcchurch.com)

Vancouver Bound

At Ottawa International Airport, getting ready to take off for my fifth teaching tour in less than three years. I will meeting Devorah there, who will be with me the whole two weeks. Busy time ahead but looking forward to a blessed time of teaching and seeing old (and not so old) friends.

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The Last Days Indeed!

LastDaysIndeed-360Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:32)

Do you understand the times in which we live? Do you really know what’s going on? Do you think you know what’s going to happen? Do you think it’s the end of the world?

There are many people who think we are in what are referred to as “the Last Days” or “the End Times.” Pointing to Bible passages and current events, they claim that we are finally and absolutely in the twilight of time, the brink of destruction, as if Yeshua (Jesus) is going to return any day now, the precise details of which are subject to one’s eschatology. “Eschatology” means “the study of the last days.” The Greek word, “eschatos”, simply means “last” and refers to the final item in a succession of things or time. An example of this word relating to eschatology is 2 Timothy 3:1, where Paul, who is nearing the end of his own life, writes “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” This sentences introduces a description of “the last days,” which includes selfishness, greed, rebellion against parental authority, lack of self-control, and religious hypocrisy. Doesn’t this sound just like our own day? Certainly this is indeed the end of days!

Hold on a second! Peter uses eschatos when preaching to the crowds during the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost). He explains the strange phenomenon of Yeshua’s followers praising God in other languages. Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, writing in Greek, provides Peter’s quoting of the Hebrew prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Act 2:17). Peter is not speaking of a day afar off, but his own present time. He uses eschatos similarly in both his letters (see 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:3) as does John (see 1 John 2:18) and Jude (see Jude 1:18). In John’s case he describes the time in which he is living as “the last hour.” Did he expect the Messiah in less than sixty minutes?

But didn’t Yeshua tell his followers that troubled times would signify the end?

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24:29-31)

But while this may sound as if Yeshua said these things so that a future generation would recognize the time of his return, the context of these words, found earlier in the chapter, imply a different motive:

For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah (ESV text: ‘Christ’],” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake (Matthew 24:5-9)

Far from speaking about troubles to signify his return, Yeshua is teaching his followers (both then and now) to not be put off or distracted by the occurrence of such troubles. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Yeshua proclaimed, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). After his resurrection he would say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). Such triumphal language would understandably lead his followers to assume that troubles would melt before them everywhere they went. But no; trouble would remain. In fact, trouble would increase. Their troubles would increase. Just as Yeshua’s presence caused the evil of darkness to manifest itself, resulting in his suffering, his disciples should expect nothing less. It would be some time before the day of the Messiah’s final rescue and judgment, but until then, his people should not lose heart.

But don’t we live in unique times? Has not trouble increased to an extent such as never before – the wars, the disease, the moral decay? The end must surely be at hand. It seems, however, that this is how every generation thinks of itself. And every generation does exactly what Yeshua warned us against. We get discouraged by the problems of our age instead of staying focused on the mission he gave us. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for his return. Far from it! Being expectant of his soon appearing is supposed to fuel ongoing diligence to stay faithful to our Gospel mandate, which, rightly understood, is the proclamation of Yeshua’s kingship in every area of life. Are we closer today to the Lord’s coming than we were yesterday? Absolutely! But what difference is that supposed to make to seeking first God’s kingdom (see Matthew 6:33)?

Every time period since Yeshua’s first coming has been a mix of good and bad to varied degrees. In this age of Gospel proclamation, while we should expect trouble, we are to be encouraged by Yeshua’s victory over the world (see John 16:33). As Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem, as being in the last days, we live as recipients of the gift of God’s Spirit, poured out upon us to equip us to assail the gates of hell. Captives the world over are being set free and are joining the ranks of the redeemed, so they too can be used of God to break the curse’s chains.

While we don’t know the day of his coming, let’s keep focused on whatever the Lord has called each of us to. He will eventually and fully establish his kingdom, but until then, you never know what difference you will make.

All scripture references are from the English Standard Version.

Are You What You Do?

Who Are You?

How do you define yourself? Maybe this isn’t something you normally think about. Or you think about it all the time. If asked, you might give what you think is the right answer, such as “Child of God.” But really—who do you think you are?

Would you agree that most people define themselves like this: “I am a student”; “I am a carpenter”; “I am a stay-at-home mom”; “I am unemployed”? Yet we know we are much more than our occupations or lack thereof. At the same time, I don’t think we should be too quick to unidentify ourselves with our activities. After all, even though we are called human beings and not human doings, it isn’t possible to be without doing unless you are sleeping or unconscious.

We have been placed on earth by God to do, not simply to be. Our first parents were mandated to do things, including have lots of kids, rule over the animals, and cultivate the earth under God’s oversight. Every legitimate activity since then is an extension of these. Yeshua had no issue about doing. In fact, if I didn’t know any better,  these words of his sound as if they were spoken by a workaholic: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Not only did he take his doings seriously, he had to be pretty obsessed with them to call them “food.”

However, I am not trying to say that we should find our identity in what we do. It’s only that it is pretty clear to me that we aren’t going to discover who we really are by downplaying the role our activities have in our lives. Since doing is an essential part of being human, disassociating ourselves from our activities is impossible. Once we accept that our doing is an essential part of who we are, we still face the problem of over identifying with our activities. But instead of attempting the unhelpful tactic of trying to detach ourselves from our doing, let me suggest another solution.

God mandated human beings to serve his purposes on earth. Each one of us has a part to play in the fulfillment of God’s plans. The things each of us does should contribute to God’s overall purpose. Therefore what we do is not, or at least should not, be about us, but about God. Therefore, we should be able to take our doing seriously without our taking it overly personally. My work is something I do because of who I am, but my work is not me. We should be able to step back from our work as God did with his upon the completion of creation and say, “It is very good” (see Genesis 1:31).

It seems to me that a healthy understanding of the relationship of what we do to who we are is essential to how we relate our work to others. A parent who takes his or her parenting personally will tend to mold their child rearing according to the latest trends or the expectations of others. Retailers who are too concerned about the impression of others over and above the quality of their products and services won’t stay in business for long. Medical professionals who lose their objectivity when treating patients will find themselves overwhelmed with fear and depression. People who in charitable work who cannot separate their identity from their activities will mistakenly think that donations are personal gifts rather than the funding of their work.

Being in charitable work myself, I have a feeling that I am not the only one who struggles with this. The size and structure of the organization we are affiliated with plays a part as well. If the organization requires personal promotion and personal contact with donors, as mine does, it’s easy to confuse our work with ourselves. If this is the case, we might have to more intentionally clarify to ourselves and others that the funding of our work is just that, funding the work in order to provide the necessary resources to accomplish it.

Whatever the work we do, we may all need to take a step back and remind ourselves that we aren’t what we do, but we do what we do as an expression of who we are in God and our calling in him, whatever that may be. We are not called to simply be, but also to do in serving his purposes in this world.

Are You in Trouble?

I am currently reading For the Love of Zion by Kelvin Crombie, which chronicles the contribution of the world’s oldest evangelical Jewish mission to the restoration of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. CMJ (The Church’s Ministry among the Jews), was founded in 1809 as “The London Society for the Promotion of the Gospel to the Jews.” In the late 18th and the early 19th centuries British evangelicals were keen on the restoration of the Jewish people to both God and the Land. CMJ and its supporters were pioneers of what was called the Restoration movement, helping to establish not only the first Protestant church in the Middle East (Christ Church in Jerusalem in 1849), but also spurred the establishment of all sorts of other institutions, such as hospitals and schools. They tended to the needs of both Jews and Gentiles in the midst of very challenging circumstances. Against all odds, the vision to reestablish the Land of Israel as a Jewish homeland was embraced by Bible-believing Christians long before anyone else did, including the Jewish people themselves.

What has struck me while I have read this account is the great amount of trouble these believers endured. Physical dangers, including mortal illness and war, and opposition from fellow believers and non-believers, including disdain on the part of the very people they sought to serve. It is difficult to picture from our vantage point what it must have been like to initiate this venture, when there was so little interest outside of their circles, and the Land for which they had great hopes was desolate and hostile. Yet they persevered through every trial.

My reaction to their tenacity has caused me to see how much I hate trouble and how I do whatever I can to avoid and escape it. Should I also mention my futile attempts to wish it away? Yet trouble is something Yeshua guarantees: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33; ESV). He warns us about trouble, so that we would know peace in its midst, without downplaying its inevitability or its intensity.

I don’t think I am alone regarding my apprehension towards trouble. Many of us go to great lengths to make life as smooth and easy as possible. Ever since God cursed the creation we have been fighting a battle against the thorns of life, doing whatever we can to overcome them. The pursuit of comfort and convenience, which generates a huge percentage of our time, energy, and money, is nothing more than trouble avoidance and escape.

But thankfully that’s not what the early Restorationists did. Nor is it what most people in history who have made a positive, lasting difference have done. Rather than being put off by trouble, people who make a difference are those who are willing to do whatever it takes no matter what.

But it wasn’t trouble that motivated the Restorationists; it was the Scriptures. As they embraced God’s unconditional promises regarding the Jewish people’s return to God and the Land, these Christians ventured into unchartered territory with little else to encourage them. What difference should danger, sickness, death, and opposition make when one is convinced of God’s direction? Should the impossible get in the way of a God inspired vision?

The Restorationists understood God’s words through Moses: “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3; ESV). As I explain in a recent TorahBytes message (Overcoming Evil), sin entered the world because Adam and Eve failed on this very point, and sin continues to have its way for the same reason. We were designed by God to serve his purposes on Planet Earth by carefully keeping in tune with his voice. What Israel was to learn in the wilderness, we still need to learn today—we must not be driven by personal desires or circumstances, but rather be led by the Word of God.

Keeping attentive to God’s Word enables us to live effective, godly lives in the midst of trouble. Just because we learn to accept trouble’s inevitability doesn’t mean that we don’t confront it. On the contrary, God’s will is often related to confronting trouble on several fronts. Yeshua’s encouragement regarding trouble reminds us that sin and its effects have not been eradicated. We will continue to face the razor sharp edges of life’s thorns, but do so as we extend Messiah’s rescue mission to the nations. We should therefore not be put off by the difficulties we encounter as we follow him wherever he leads.

God’s Mirror

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But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25; ESV)

I always found the imagery of the mirror here intriguing. James tells us that a person who hears God’s Word, but doesn’t do it is like someone who after looking at themselves in a mirror forgets what they looked like. But what is it they’re seeing in the mirror? Mirrors reflect. When we look at a mirror, we see ourselves as we currently are. So what is being forgotten? Is it our intended actions based on what we saw—something akin to “Oh look, my hair is messy; I need to brush it!”—but then, for some reason, we leave the house having neglected to brush our hair?

That makes some sense. We read the Bible and see we need to make changes. Perhaps I have been holding a grudge against someone—a serious case of unforgiveness—and I say to myself that I should let it go, and perhaps call the person who offended me to apologize and treat them again with kindness. But it’s not long before the hurtful memories of the past burn afresh in my heart, and I let my brief resolve slip away. So while looking into the pages of God’s Word brought a certain level of conviction, I quickly forgot about it and did nothing about my condition.

While that might be it, what is it about the nature of this mirror that enables it to reflect who I am so effectively? We know the Bible teaches us about God and his ways and that through it we discover how to have a right relationship with him. This includes learning that we are alienated from God and that we need his grace through the Messiah to be reconciled to him. Then as God’s children we are called to worship him and live fruitful godly lives. I regularly quote 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

I like to point out that “all Scripture” here is the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, since the New Testament wasn’t written yet. These words apply to the New Testament by extension, but they primarily apply to the Old. That means that there’s something about the Hebrew Scriptures that equips us “for every good work.” The way James puts it we are to be changed by God’s “perfect law”. He may have meant the Five Books of Moses or the entire Hebrew Bible, but either way the point is similar. There is something about how God reveals truth that is designed to reflect who we are in order to initiate change in our lives.

So how is it that we see ourselves so accurately in this mirror? It’s not as if the Bible is a compilation of abstract philosophical musings over human nature. Not that there aren’t such comments here and there, but by and large we learn about human nature by reading about the experiences of others. Strangely these others are from cultures and contexts very different from our own. Yet as we encounter the characters of the Bible, we see ourselves—people just like us, struggling to be people of God. Not having what it takes in and of themselves, they can’t escape their calling as God’s chosen ones, who cannot find either peace with God or clarification of their mission in life apart from God’s grace.

Who are these people? Who are the players in this divinely-designed story through whom we see our own reflection? You know the answer, of course—it’s the Jewish people. You know the answer, but does it surprise you anyway to learn that you see yourself in them? Everyone, no matter what time or place they’re from, whatever their cultural or ethnic origin, sees themselves in the Jewish people. This is because God picked the perfect people group to whom all other nations would most be able to relate and from whom we all could potentially learn.

This might explain something I have wondered about for a long time. I have had trouble understanding why there is so much fuss over the Jewish people. There is so much going on in the world. But why is it that when Jewish people or the State of Israel is involved, it evokes so much interest. Could it be that the reflective function of the Jewish people isn’t confined to the pages of Scriptures, but that they continue in this role forever?

As far as Scripture is concerned the Jewish people play center stage in the unfolding of God’s plans and purposes. This is not only true for the Old Testament but for the New as well. As Paul said regarding the Jewish people: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29; ESV). The final book of the entire Bible concludes with God dwelling in Jerusalem with Jewish names embossed on its foundation stones and gates. The destiny of the Jewish people will have worldwide repercussions. The future of the whole of mankind is wrapped up in them. Could it be that somewhere deep inside all of us we know that? So whatever happens to them evokes all sorts of reactions.

I can’t say for sure that my psychological speculations are correct. But regardless, we cannot escape the reality of the biblical understanding of the Jewish people’s central role in God’s plan. To disregard that is to ignore what we see in God’s mirror.