Spring is a season of growth and promise—illustrated by singing birds and blooming buds. During this time, nature is filled with hope as new life lays ahead. Yet, in this very moment of supreme opportunity, Jesus perceives something ironically debilitating his followers—worry.
Every Friday night, many Jewish families gather and welcome the Shabbat, or Sabbath. At this weekly traditional gathering, God is thanked for his provision, specifically with blessings related to two elements—the wine and the bread. This is, because the entire meal in biblical and Jewish tradition can be summed up by those two things—wine symbolizes drink and bread represents food.
It can be argued that the spread of Christianity was empowered by its universal message, making it highly compatible in many cultures and languages. Yet, that strength can also be a weakness, when the shifting winds of culture and language blow back on the original biblical meaning and context. To safeguard the gospel message, a robust relationship with Hebrew and Greek are essential for the future of the Evangelical church.
Today, Israel is in the midst of a five-year drought. As we are ending this year’s short window of the rainy season, consistently below average rainfalls threaten to dry up the legendary “Land of Milk and Honey.” Historically, drought births famine, as lack of rain destroys agriculture and instigates starvation.
This past week we ended the holiday of Hanukkah or “Dedication” that commemorates when Judah Maccabee restored the purity of Jerusalem’s temple after having been desecrated by Gentiles with their pagan sacrifices. Among other things, Judah’s forces tore down the altar that had borne the blood of pigs, and rebuilt a new one in its place. Having completed the remodeling, Judah celebrated this rededication for eight days at the end of 164 BC. At the heart of Hanukkah is restoration of pure sacrifice.
There is only one story in the gospels where Jesus reads from the Scripture when he was in his hometown synagogue. At some point after the destruction of the First Temple in 587 B.C., Jews first began meeting in synagogues every Sabbath—or Shabbat—and reading from the five books of Moses. Those first books of Hebrew Scripture—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—also known as the Torah, formed the core scripture readings in the synagogue every Shabbat.
The writer of Lamentations sits astonished. The unbelievable has happened. It is the 6th century B.C. and the holy city of Jerusalem is no more, and its temple—the House of God—is razed. The city of the Judean kings is plundered and left bare. David’s descendants have been murdered, raped, and enslaved. Bodies of old and young lie in the road; like an apocalyptic nightmare, the famished survivors wander the ravaged streets like zombies, even eating their children.
We all know the story. A rich man dies and goes to an afterlife of suffering. He returns to warn his equally avaricious “brother” about the torment to come. These rich men have spent their lives worrying about “the bottom line” while ignoring the needs of those around them. They have grown wealthy by their tightfistedness to the detriment of others.
This week the UN held a first-ever summit on the 65.3 million refugees and migrants in the world. During this conference hosted in New York City, President Obama met with leaders of Jordan, Mexico, Sweden, Germany, Canada and Ethiopia, along with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in hopes of gaining $3 billion in pledges for the refugee work.
As the World Trade Center Towers in New York City fell on September 11th fifteen years ago as a result of Islamic extremist attacks, those of us still living then knew the world had suddenly entered a new era of fear. While the annals of history have always been scribbled in the blood of millions who have died in war, 9-11 has proven to be a portent of the 21st century’s slippery struggle with an elusive enemy.
On September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush declared a "War on Terror" in the aftermath of the Islamic extremist group, Al-Qaeda’s, September 11th attacks on the United States. Interestingly, similar words were first used by the Reagan Administration in 1984 when it called for a “war against terrorism” in reaction to the bombing of the American and French barracks in Beirut which was linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In ancient Jewish tradition, you could have more than one father. Yes, you had your birth father, the one who raised you, but if you followed a sage, a rabbi, a teacher, he also became your father. He was the one who mentored you in ministry. He discipled you over 2,000 years ago. You left all and followed him.
Pharaoh said kill them all—every newborn Hebrew son. This was either an eventual genocidal plot or a temporary population control measure for Pharaoh’s Hebrew slaves. Either way, those that survived in that generation of Hebrew boys would be forever marked in their society as exceptional, their lives precious, and their future choices held to a higher standard.
Over 2700 years ago, the Prophet Isaiah recorded a time when an oppressive darkness swallowed his land. At that time, the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III, had conquered the northern tribes of Israel and taken many into exile. Judah and its capital, Jerusalem, had survived after making a preemptive treaty with Assyria.
We are all witnesses to a seismic moment in modern history. It is being called the greatest refugee crisis since World War II as hordes of desperate men, women, and children from lands of chaos and conflict seek safety and hope in Europe. The news over the past weeks has been dominated by apocalyptic scenes of crowds swarming razor wire fences and overwhelmed police trying to contain the tens of thousands.
Recently, two famous churches on two different continents were attacked within hours, or possibly even minutes, of each other. One attack was against the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a historic African American church. On Wednesday evening, June 17th, Dylann Roof entered the church joining a Bible study for about an hour before opening fire around 9 p.m. killing nine people.
Last week, Israel celebrated its birth. Following the Jewish calendar, on the 5th of Iyyar, 67 years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben Gurion and the Jewish National Council declared the establishment of the modern Jewish state. Yet, before every birth, there are labor pangs, and before those travails a fetus has slowly developed in the wake of conception. The modern state of Israel’s birth was much more than one miraculous day.