In 1986 I was invited to be a part of a team ministering in Israel. The team’s mission was to provide a children’s ministry for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ). The ICEJ began some years before when, as the founders put it, they realized how world turned cold hearts against Israel, none acknowledging Jerusalem as the Capitol of Israel.
[Aside: Interestingly, President Trump is the first to begin the process of moving the Ame rican Embassy to Jerusalem. No wonder so much trouble has been stirred up against him. I’m convinced most of the world hates Israel. But those who bless Israel shall be blessed, though perhaps they’re persecuted first.]
The annual Festival of Succoth was chosen as a time to gather as many Christians as possible from around the world to join in celebration. Rosh HaShanah begins tonight, Yom Kippur follows in 10 days, and then Succoth. As it was when first I went to Israel, so it is today: A time thousands of Christians gather in Jerusalem to Celebrate The Feast.
I fell in love with Israel, and in particular with Jerusalem. The work with the ICEJ was incredible and in the company of other volunteers, I was able to spend time touring the Biblical sites throughout Israel.
In 1987, I returned to Israel for The Feast, and to again work with the children’s ministry of the ICEJ, I did so planning to stay on in Jerusalem. Many other Christians that worked as volunteers for the Celebration Festivities did also. I became friends with a number of people that continued volunteer work in Jerusalem. One women provided full-time, live-in nursing care to an elderly woman, for instance. One man volunteered as a carpenter/fix-it man at a small village that had been turned into an asylum for the mentally ill, many of whom were Holocaust “survivors.” (I mean no disrespect by using quotes around survivors, for I those in that village sadly didn’t fully survive, though they lived.)
These people I met worked hard, long hours. If anyone needed a break, it was them. Like the disciples of Yeshua mentioned in the Gospel According to Mark:
“. . . [Yeshua] said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” v. 31
Responding to their need for a break, I was blessed to be able organize and secure financial assistance for a variety excursions. One particular trip to us, a group of about eight, to a monastery located above the town of Jericho. While the monks not always allowed visitors, we were blessed to be able to spend several hours simply relaxing atop that mountain, viewing the valley and town below. We ate in Jericho, then returned by bus late in the afternoon to Jerusalem.
A small group of us whet to Cairo, Egypt, for a few days. No, Cairo doesn’t fit the bill of a quiet and solitary place. But it was an adventure we shared together, and thoroughly enjoyed. We visited a few museums, a huge bazaar, and toured inside a pyramid. While we’d all spent a lot of time traveling in buses in various countries, one of the most interesting experiences was the buses of Cairo. They never stopped. To enter or leave, one would grab a handle on the doorway, and simply jump aboard. Just to ensure people didn’t fall as they entered, there were large scoop-shaped doors that protruded from the side of the bus. I was a pretty incredible thing to do. Returning to Israel we were able to easily get new visas, which was a good thing, as we were at the end of our short-term visas.
One of my favorite places to take groups was through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. A brief mention is made of it in 2 Kings 20:20:
“[Hezekiah] made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city”
While I suppose it’s changed today, but in the mid-1980s it was a very low-key adventure, and it was free. Then there were no signs even marking it’s entrance, until just before the stairway going downward. The story I was told is that King Hezekiah had engineers dig a tunnel from the springs located outside the city walls, to bring water within the city. It was especially useful when foreign nations attempted to take Jerusalem. Two teams of engineers were used, one from each end. Somewhere in the middle of the tunnel there is a sharp bend where it is said workers from one team could hear the sounds of the other team, and began their cut in that direction. It was mere feet between them at that point, and they soon met each other. Each of the groups I was privileged to lead carried candles, a tradition we were told, and trod through the icy waters the 583 yards (533 m) the tunnel runs through solid rock from the spring to the Pool of Siloam.
For all of us that felt called to go to Israel, felt called to show compassion upon a people that asked none, but so richly deserved it, we gladly served as able. Our various trials and difficulties in the doing of this service was offset by our travels in a beautiful country, rich in history, and filled with marvelous people. Certainly, those time we retreated to solitary places renewed within us the Spirit of G-D that enables us to continue our work.
It’s been a long time since Israel, and some faces of friends met there have faded, places have, likewise, become foggy in my mind, but other images are crystal clear. I hope they remain that way until the next time I am blessed to once again set foot upon the Promised Land of Milk and Honey.
“And the child grew and became strong in spirit and was in the deserts until the day of his showing to Israel.”(Luke 1:80 MKJV)
A few weeks ago we celebrated Succoth, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles. Jewish people, along with Messianic Jews (who are also believers in Y’shuaJesus) remember and celebrate forty years of desert wandering after the exodus from Egypt. There are Christians who celebrate Continue reading “Flowers Grow in the Desert”→
Saturday evening begins the ninth day of the fifth month in the Jewish calendar, which is “Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which have occurred on the ninth of Av,” according to Judaism 101.
“Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.).
“Although this holiday is primarily meant to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, it is appropriate to consider on this day the many other tragedies of the Jewish people, many of which occurred on this day, most notably the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and from England in 1290.” —Judaism 101
There is another tradgedy that concerns the ninth of Av. “The year is 1313 BCE. The Israelites are in the desert, recently having experienced the miraculous Exodus, and are now poised to enter the Promised Land. But first they dispatch a reconnaissance mission to assist in formulating a prudent battle strategy. The spies return on the eighth day of Avand report that the land is unconquerable. That night, the 9th of Av, the people cry. They insist that they’d rather go back to Egypt than be slaughtered by the Canaanites. G‑d is highly displeased by this public demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years. — Chabad.org
Those things happened a long time ago. More recently,”World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, was actually the long drawn-out conclusion of World War I that began in 1914. And yes, amazingly enough, Germany declared war on Russia, effectively catapulting the First World War into motion, on the 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av.” — Chabad.org
So, how long must we remember things of the past? As long as it takes that they are not repeated.
Chabad.org put it this way: “What do you make of all this? Jews see this as another confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history isn’t haphazard; events—even terrible ones—are part of a Divine plan and have spiritual meaning. The message of time is that everything has a rational purpose, even though we don’t understand it.”
A scribe approached Him and said, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go!” Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. Matthew 8:19,20
It is an appropriate blog post this week. For this evening begins Sukkoth, also called the Feast of Tabernacles (or booths). The celebration of Sukkoth isn’t at all the same here in America as it is in Israel. The closest an American might come to visualizing the scene in Jerusalem would be if he or she is old enough to remember Christmases when many front lawns and parks had small tent-like structures within which were displayed nativity scenes. The celebration of Sukkoth is the celebration of remembering that once the Jewish people wandered in the desert. While not all celebrate the Feast by sleeping the entire night in the small tents that line the streets of Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel, most will at least eat a meal in the tent during the evening. This Feast is one in which giving extra to charity is emphasized, and often a stranger is entertained in a tent.
There is a local church here in north Georgia that holds a festival of sorts that has the youth group sleeping outdoors. Each year the youth group is tasked with going out into the community to beg for food, as food drive. The young people then return, hopefully with bags of groceries, or at least pledges. Toward evening, they build cardboard huts in which they will spend the night. There are adult chaperones, and a meager meal is served to those who’ve brought back food that will be shared with actual homeless individuals.
In her post, Ms. Martin tells of her anguish at reading a comment by a “Christian pastor explaining his opinion that people who are poor are reaping the seeds of irresponsibility and poor decisions, and the Church is not expected to physically care for them.” This pastor suffers from an excessive dose of Calvinism, in which those who are truly saved display that fact by being very prosperous. I suppose that love isn’t enough to display that we are Christians. So does that mean the song, “They will know we are Christians by our love. . .” ought to be changed to “They will know we are Christians by our riches. . . ” Huh! Yeah, I agree with Ms. Martin. And I agree with the church that is doing something to build some sort of empathy within its youth group for the plight of the homeless. And plight it is.
Being homeless is like ending up in a hole, whether or not it is one fallen into or one that a person digs for him or her self. Once in deep enough, it cannot be escaped without help. In the mid eighties I worked with a wonderful man who was homeless. He, along with his wife and two children, were living in a small settlement of homeless. The pastor had built a community out of old military barracks removed from a nearby military post when it was closing down some of its training areas. That pastor taught some of the men to fish, buying three fishing boats. He tried to work with those that were able to get them back into the mainstream. Some were not able. Some too burned out, too empty of self-esteem. To emotionally broken. But those that could, were able to get out, on their feet, and make it. My friend eventually became a music professor at a well-known university, and his wife a teacher and artist.
Think about this: If you are applying for a job, you need an address. If your driver license is expiring, you need an address. No address, no job, no identification. How do you get a job? Oh, sure, just rent a place to live, then you will have an address and you can apply for a job. But without a job, how do you pay for a place to live? Okay, some ingenuity and you use the address of a shelter until you get a job, save some money, and move into a place of your own. But getting a job takes money, too. Clothing, for instance, that isn’t rags, is a basic necessity. It’s just hard. The homeless need help. And, as Ms. Martin points out, it’s not helping them if a Christian just passes them a tract to read. What churches can do is look around the community within which it resides, and say, “What needs are there here?” Then supply them.
While working psych ambulance in California’s Silicon Valley, I went into a lot of board and care facilities for mental health patients. I also transported a lot of elderly people to and from residential facilities. Most of these places were really bad. But there was one, just one in all of the Santa Clara Valley, that was incredibly nice. It was in the back parking lot of a Mennonite Church. Being also a journalist in my though process, I asked about the senior care facility and was told that church members discovered there was a real need in the community for senior citizens, old people, to have a place to live, to be cared for. The parking lot was huge, and the city allowed the church to build a facility.
Like the pastor that built a community for the homeless, like the Mennonite Church, churches can spend more time looking to their own communities’ needs than to building fancy buildings and additional classrooms, or funding mission trips to other countries. While those things may seem important, the guy on the corner carrying a sign that says “Vet needs help,” might, with a little love and help, get on his own feet. In the meantime, that homeless man provides a witness against the church for its lack of commitment to Messiah Y’shua, who tasted life on the streets.
As the sun dropped below the horizon last night, New Years began. These days are now days to look inward, repenting of thoughts that are impure, and deeds that we did wrongly. As the these Holy Days proceed, we really are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are called to righteousness in Messiah Y’shua. And we are saved, and need not work for our salvation. But we are responsible to allow our Lord to cleanse our feet from our dusty journey of this past year.
Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
who do his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility. . . Zeph 2:3
Yesterday and the day before, by mid-afternoon, a brilliant sun pierced the clouds that had hovered over our heads here in Georgia. Similarly, the sun broke through what might be my clouded thinking. I’d been thinking, and wrote, about renewal, a refreshing wind of the Spirit that blows upon us now and then. I’d not thought there was anything we could actually do to bring upon us this Spiritual Bliss. Yet maybe there is something that will contribute, be pleasing to G-d such that He brings us into His Rest, even if just for a sampling of the Rest we will enjoy with Him eternally.
It also occurred to me that there is a desire within us all to enter into this Rest with our Lord. I don’t suppose it is thought of like that to most people, though. This desire is a yearning that is born out of a tearing away within our souls, within the soul of humankind. It happened way back when. . .
. . .the LORD God sent [Adam] out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
As a people, we’ve been trying somehow to regain the loss of Eden. When us older folks look back on the 1950s and say that those were simpler times, safer, filled with harmony, we are longing for Eden. Eden is Paradise. It is a place in which we put aside our daily lives of toll and receive for free the fruit of nature for which we don’t have to work. It is Rest for our lives.
This yearning for the Garden manifests itself in many ways. One of them is thrill-seeking adventures. Whether that takes us to the highest mountains or the most distant shores, makes no difference. It is yearning after some peace. It is an itch that we try to scratch through various ways, yet always it returns, unsatisfied.
Eden’s call prompts us to metaphorically clasp our hands to our ears. We drown of at least dull the sound with various addictions: alcohol, drugs, sex, even power and money, and more.
We see the yearning for Eden in the dreams of utopia. A place where people live in harmony with one another, a place of peace. We sse it in what once took place in America, a flight of city folk migrating into rural areas to get away from the hustle of a non-sensical (in my opionion) way of life with its constant demands and its constant hassles.
This yearning affects those of us that don’t acknowledge the Lord Y’shuaJesus just as it affects those who do. But we, as Believers, have been granted a time weekly in which we can participate in G-d’s Rest: The Sabbath.
In their booklet, The Sabbath: Entering God’s Rest, Barry & Steffi Rubin tell of us about the traditional practice of observing the Sabbath. No, not going to church on Sunday, but the real Sabbath, the G-d ordained Sabbath. The day the commemorates the Rest G-d observed after creating the world. It begins a sunset on Friday night and continues until sunset Saturday night.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
And the LORD said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you.
Okay. I can hear your objections. We are Christians. We come under the New Testament. This stuff is Old Testament Law. Y’shuaJesus said He came to fulfill that Law. Am I right? Of course. That’s what you think. Is that really what G-d thinks?
Throughout Israel, Y’shuaJesus called people to Follow Him. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath to pray and to teach. The Apostle Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, went on the Sabbath to the synagogue to pray and to teach. And got thrown out of a few, too. True, the vision of the Sabbath that the Pharisees held was not exactly the vision held by our Lord.
The Sabbath is a day we purpose to set aside. Not only do we put away our daily toll, but we complete our weekly work BEFORE the Sabbath. Begin by setting aside Sabbath to do good. Not Sunday, mind you. Set aside Friday night until Saturday night. Try it!
Do it! See if you can put aside the Sabbot from Friday night until Saturday night, dedicating it to the Lord. See whether or not you are blessed for it. I know you will be.
If you were to enter a synagogue today, Chabad.org has a guide to what to expect. It includes: “You may also notice that many people are wearing white clothing, and some are even wearing a white robe called a kittel. This is because on Yom Kippur we are likened to angels. The angels do not eat, and neither do we. The angels devote themselves to praising G‑d, and so do we. The shroud-like kittel also reminds us that all life on earth comes to an end.”
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It’s history and significance is as follows (also from chabad.org):
“Forty days after they received the Torah at Mount Sinai and committed to be G‑d’s chosen people, the Children of Israel worshipped a Golden Calf. Moses pleaded with G‑d not to destroy His errant nation, and on the tenth of Tishrei G‑d said, “I have forgiven.” Ever since, we observe this date as the “Day of Atonement”—a celebration of our indestructible relationship with G‑d. It is the holiest day of the year, when we reconnect with our very essence, which remains faithful to G‑d regardless of our behavior.
“Yom Kippur is a fast day: from sundown on the eve of Yom Kippur until the following nightfall, we do not eat or drink. We also abstain from certain physical pleasures: wearing leather footwear, bathing or washing, applying lotions or creams, and marital relations. It is also a “day of rest,” on which all work is forbidden (as on Shabbat).
“The greater part of the day in the synagogue we engage in repentance and prayer. There are five prayer services: 1) The evening prayers, which begin with the solemn Kol Nidrei. 2) Morning prayer. 3) Musaf, which includes a description of the Yom Kippur Holy Temple service. 4) Afternoon prayer, during which the Book of Jonah is read. 5) Ne’ilah, recited as the day wanes and the verdict for the new year is sealed. The first four prayers include a (private) confession of sins to G‑d. Ne’ilah concludes with the congregation calling out the Shema in unison, and then a blast of the shofar signals the end of the day.
“Yom Kippur is followed by a festive meal. We rejoice, confident that G‑d has forgiven our sins.”
The author of the “New Testament” letter to the Hebrews wrote about the yearly sacrifice offered at the Temple to atone for the sins of the People of G-d.
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.