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A Note From David Brickner

In Loving Memory of Jhan Moskowitz 1948-2012

A week ago Wednesday I found myself sitting on a red eye flight to New York filled with shock and grief. As many of you know, Jhan Moskowitz—one of the founders of Jews for Jesus, and our North America Director—fell in the subway on Tuesday, September 4, receiving what turned out to be a fatal head injury. He passed into glory the next day. So the day that I had planned to write this message to all of you, I was in New York for his memorial service, then on to Chicago for the funeral. I could have written a message on the plane back to San Francisco (it would not be the first time) but it occurred to me ... why not let Jhan give you this month's message?

At a time like this, it's natural to wonder: how do we respond? In particular, how do we speak to those who don't yet know the Lord in the midst of such pain? My brother Jhan answered this question eloquently in an article that he wrote for our "Havurah" publication in 2002. I hope you will be blessed by his words.

Is It Ever Inappropriate to Preach the Gospel? by Jhan Moskowitz

The family and friends of the deceased have gathered in the small chapel; the service is about to begin. This death was an untimely one, and no one was prepared to say goodbye. There is so much pain in the hearts of each one there. A clergyman rises to the pulpit to speak.

What words will he bring? What can he say to bring real comfort and hope to those who are in such anguish? How would you advise him? Should he point out that the consequence of sin is death, and we are all under condemnation if we fail to turn and receive the Messiah Y'shua as our sin-bearer? Will this message bring healing to those in mourning? Is there a time when the preaching of the gospel is inappropriate? The answer is yes—and no.

There are many who say that it is unfair and even opportunistic to preach to a "captive audience" a message they did not come to hear. Some would go so far as to say that, at such a time as this, in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and waged war, the preaching of the gospel is offensive.

But if the gospel is the message of eternal truth about God and His love for humanity, then how could there be a time when that message is inappropriate? The problem does not lie in the message itself, but often in the messengers' presentation.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian congregation, said the gospel needs to be carried by broken and weak vessels so that its power can be displayed. At the very core of the gospel we confront a God who emptied Himself in order to bring His people back to Him. Those who carry the message of the gospel should reflect the humility inherent in its message.

It can still be argued that a funeral is not the appropriate place to speak that message, because of the great pain and sense of loss people are feeling. But if our message is that especially in times of pain and death, God is very aware of our suffering and wants to offer us peace, then what else can we say that will offer true hope and help? Sometimes it is only through the death of a loved one that we're forced to re-evaluate our beliefs. Pain often sharpens our perceptions about the meaning of life.

In Chicago, where I minister with Jews for Jesus, we had been involved in our Behold Your God campaign for three weeks prior to the September 11 attacks. The daily commuters had become so familiar with us they would sometimes greet us by name! When they saw our T-shirts, they knew they'd be handed a gospel tract.

On the afternoon of the tragedy of September 11, we were confronted with the question: Is it appropriate for us to be out on the streets, preaching the gospel? We prayed and grappled with the unexpected, tragic turn of world events, and realized our message was more appropriate and necessary than ever. But the presentation of God's comforting truth needed to be extended with the same humility a minister must exercise when speaking at a funeral.

The city of Chicago went into reverse—the commute into town suddenly became the commute out of town. The Behold Your God campaigners, a trained and committed team of evangelists who had one more week of campaigning to go, became more and more aware that God had gathered them together for such a time as this. We had been on the streets representing God and His grace to the people of Chicago for the past three weeks. Why stop now, when those very same people who had received our message were now thrown into fear and confusion?

We made placards that said "Prayer Station—stop here to pray and receive a free Bible." We set these stations up all over the city. Many passersby who had not stopped to talk us in the previous three weeks were now desperately seeking prayer and words of hope and comfort. We quickly wrote new literature in the form of a statement, instead of the usual tracts. To our surprise, many people stopped and thanked us for being out there, assuring them that God was still in charge and that He could be trusted.

However, there were some who were upset by the fact that our mere presence on the streets reminded them to grapple with the message that Jesus is the answer for both Jews and Gentiles. To these we responded, "If not now, when? When have you ever needed God's good news more than at such a time as this?"

"Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land" (Proverbs 25:25). In such tenuous days as these, we all need good news. God's message of love and grace is never inappropriate and it is always necessary, in and out of season, in every place in our world—that is our Great Commission.

Jhan could not have known ten years ago that the words he had written would apply to us, or that the clergyman at his own funeral and memorial services would be facing the very scene he described in his opening paragraphs. Was the gospel made known to those who gathered to remember him? Yes, it was, starting with the Scripture on the cover of Jhan's memorial bulletins.

"Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1).

Many hundreds of mourners who came to the memorial services in New York and Chicago saw that Scripture. Among those mourners who attended were relatives and friends of the Moskowitz family, many of whom do not yet know the Messiah. They heard the Scriptures read, the singing of Jhan's favorite hymn, "Crown Him With Many Crowns," and listened to the message of our hope of resurrection in Messiah. 

David Rosenberg, who presided at the New York City memorial, spoke from Isaiah 60, encouraging those present to be a light in their communities, just as Jhan had been. Dan Strull presided at the Chicago service and offered a hope-filled message on Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. 

Both Rosenberg and Strull are Jewish believers in Jesus. Their messages along with the many words of remembrance from friends and colleagues in New York City, Chicago and Tel Aviv clearly echoed Jhan's passion to see his people come to know his Messiah.  How God will use these powerful services remains to be seen, but we think Jhan would be pleased that he was honored in a way that honored the King he loved.

We will be processing and grieving our loss for quite some time, while also celebrating who Jhan is and what he's meant to us. You can visit his tribute page here.

Jhan is now among that cloud of witnesses cheering us on. From his heavenly home, he is enjoying his "Well done, good and faithful servant" and pulling for the rest of us to finish well. So we keep pressing on, and even amidst tears we can rejoice, as Jhan surely is, in what God is doing.

Is it Good for the Jews?

Rarely do matters of serious religious debate become central to discourse in today's society. Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ," has afforded one such rare opportunity for public discourse even before its release. From the cover of Newsweek magazine to the lead story on ABC television's Prime Time, this cinematic portrayal of the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus of Nazareth has propelled the ancient story into today's public eye.

For many of my Jewish people, the prospect of this movie raises fears over the ugly specter of anti-Semitism. Historically, the retelling of Jesus' crucifixion, especially in the form of Passion plays, often led to horrific violence against the Jewish people. Many presented vicious caricatures of Jewish people that whipped certain non-Jews into a frenzy of fear and hatred. Such caricatures fueled the fires of anti-Semitism and fed the propaganda machines of the Nazi Gestapo and still serve as fodder for Palestinian terrorists.

Even today in the United States there are some who refer to modern day Jews as "Christ Killers." We've encountered them on street corners while handing out our gospel tracts.

The depiction of Jesus' Passion touches on a deep wound that has been reopened again and again. You can understand why many Jewish leaders are asking one another, "Is this movie good for the Jews?" Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, has concluded emphatically, "If Mr. Gibson's 'Passion' reaches theaters as scheduled on February 25 in its present form, with its clear placing of blame for deicide on Jews, the ramifications of this film will reach far beyond Hollywood…(including) the possibility that it will fuel new anti-Semitism." Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said, "I can tell you this is a terrible film, a terrible portrayal of Jews and will cause tremendous harm and be a delight to all the enemies of the Jewish people."

If these fears are fact-based then we ought to oppose this film, boycott it entirely. But are such fears well-founded? I have yet to see the movie, but I can tell you that the book is a must read. And I believe that is the real issue.

In the lead article for the February 16 edition of Newsweek magazine, author Jon Meachem wrote, "The Bible can be a problematic source. Scripture is not always a faithful record of historical events. Gibson set out to stick to the Gospels and has made virtually no nod to critical analysis or context." In other words, Meachem feels the film is too accurate a portrayal of the New Testament account.

But if the film really does stick to the source, the concerns about anti-Semitism are misplaced. While it is true that anti-Semites twist whatever they can find to pander their hateful blather, it is also true that no faithful rendering of the gospel accounts will, by themselves, produce anti-Semitism. And there are some Jewish spokespeople who recognize this.

Writing for USA Today, Jewish film critic Michael Medved commented, the "movie boasts a Jewish hero (or Hero)—not to mention many other sympathetic Judeans, including Christ's disciples and mother. The fact that persecutors and bigots have distorted teachings of the New Testament for their own cruel purposes doesn't mean that those Gospel texts, sacred to all Christians, must be scrapped, revised or ignored."

Jewish author and radio commentator Dennis Prager stated, "A Christian who hates Jews today for what he believes some Jews did 2,000 years ago only reflects on the low moral, intellectual and religious state of that Christian. Imagine what Jews would think of a Jew who hated Egyptians after watching "The Ten Commandments," and you get an idea of how most Christians would regard a Christian who hated Jews after watching 'The Passion.'"

It is gratifying to hear these contemporary Jewish community leaders giving balanced statements about the Passion. But the most positive, salient and prescient commentary on "The Passion of the Christ" came from Jewish leaders hundreds of years before the Crucifixion occurred. These leaders never raised a doubt about who would be responsible for the tragic suffering and death of Messiah.

Writing some 700 years before the actual events of the passion, Isaiah predicted: "His visage was marred more than any man. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." Then Isaiah squarely places blame for this suffering, telling us, "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put [Him] to grief." Isaiah pointed his finger straight to God. The Passion was His idea. The Crucifixion fulfilled God's divine strategy. Through the suffering, death and resurrection of the Messiah, all who believe on Him can be forgiven, healed and saved. This stunning fact changes the entire debate.

My friend and colleague, Susan Perlman, wrote "An Open Letter to Mel Gibson From a Jew for Jesus." Her letter focused on what I expect will be the best thing about Mel Gibson's movie, *The Passion of The Christ.* I hope you will read her letter at:

So far Susan's letter has appeared on the back cover of "Variety" magazine (they upgraded the inside space we originally purchased at no extra cost due to the number of ads in that edition). Please read more about this letter and our "Passion outreach" after this article.

The most crucial thing to remember about the Passion is the very happy ending—the Resurrection. Jesus is alive today and that dramatically ends the debate about whom to hold accountable for His death. As Susan's letter says, how can you punish anyone for the death of someone who is alive?

On the other hand, there is plenty of guilt to go around. If Jesus truly died so that our sins could be forgiven, a person would have to be sinless in order have no part in the Passion of Christ. Who among us has never lied or cheated, or held bitter, even murderous thoughts in our hearts? We all have done things as well as leaving things undone—things that are sinful in the eyes of God. It was the sin of the whole world that nailed Him to the cross.

Yet, had God not intended it, Jesus' death would not, in fact, could not have happened. The Lord of glory would never be an unwitting victim of our misdeeds. He willingly endured the passion for our sakes. He said, "No one takes it (my life) from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10:18). Jesus died to pay the penalty for your sin and mine. He rose again from the dead so that we could be delivered from the power of sin and be assured of a place in heaven with God. It is because of the goodness of God and His love for us that these things happened. And God's goodness is always good for the Jews, and for everyone else.

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Nuancing the Truth

It's not that simple." This phrase is a commonly used argument to chip away firmly held convictions. You voice your convictions about the Bible and God's plan of salvation and someone tells you, "it's not that simple." They usually mean what you believe is simple and therefore unacceptable. Often the phrase is used to create an atmosphere of intellectual ambiguity. In today's postmodern world, such ambiguity is a warm blanket to cover those who wish to hold on to their own uncertainty.

Firmly held beliefs are often dismissed as simplistic in a complex world. Truth is considered elusive, subjective. Sophistication requires us to search for "nuanced" positions. To nuance means to make shades of color. When someone wants to nuance the truth, they want to avoid a black and white statement of truth. Gray is the most desirable dwelling place for some folks these days. Many people feel more comfortable asserting what they don't know than what they do. As Christians we need to avoid arrogant presumptions, but we also need to avoid arrogant omissions of the plain truth spoken in Scripture.

A music teacher stood before his class and struck a tuning fork. The sound echoed through the room. "That is an A," the teacher said. "It is A today. It was A five thousand years ago, and it will be A ten thousand years from now. The soprano upstairs sings off-key, the tenor across the hall is flat on his high notes and the piano downstairs is out of tune." Striking the tuning fork once again he concluded, "That is an A."

When it comes to God, some people don't want to hear the tuning fork. God knows everything that will ever happen before it occurs, right? But we are told, "It's not that simple." The Bible is God's holy and inerrant word to us. Again, we hear: "Not that simple." Jesus is the Messiah and Savior, fully God and fully man. "Not that simple," some protest. We must confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead in order to be saved. "Not that simple," some say, in all earnestness. Those who die apart from Messiah will face certain judgement. And again we are told, "It's not that simple."

The Apostle Paul saw this coming: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Paul predicts people's inability or unwillingness to hear truth. He describes a peculiar, pathological condition called "itching ears" whereby people determine truth as a matter of subjective opinion rather than objective revelation. They don't listen and decide what is true; they decide what they are willing or unwilling to accept as true, and select teachers who support their personal commitments. They make themselves the measure of who should teach them, and what teaching is acceptable.

People get intoxicated with heresies and novelties and faddishness. "Whenever Biblical faith becomes unpopular, ministers are sorely tempted to mute those elements that give the most offense," says John Stott. But when we refuse to sugar-coat certain doctrines we must be prepared for the results. We will be told, "It's not that simple." We will be told that we are narrow-minded, simplistic, intolerant. That is the price of sticking to the truth. But the price of nuancing truth is far greater.

Imagine driving down a highway where you encounter a sign that reads, "Dangerous curve ahead." You could slow down, maintain the same speed or speed up. Whatvever you do, you can't nuance the truth of that sign or what will happen if you ignore or reinterpret it. Or what about a traffic light? As you approach, do you question whether the red is the right shade to cause you to halt? Do you hesitate when you see green because it is too dark or light a green?

I am afraid that many are ignoring the plain signs of Scripture. The gray area is growing into a dense fog that blinds people to the truth. We have no liberty to invent a message we find more comfortable to proclaim or to otherwise nuance the truth. It is our responsibility to communicate the word that God has spoken. We are to love it, to proclaim it, to lift up our voices without fear of disfavor and boldly make it known. It is just that simple.

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The phone rang. It was Dan Sered calling from Israel, and he sounded very discouraged. Dan leads our Jews for Jesus branch in Tel Aviv. We were in the midst of our third Behold Your God Israel campaign and the opposition was heated.  But that wasn't why Dan was discouraged.

A reporter from "Yediot Achronot," the largest Hebrew daily newspaper in Israel, had interviewed Dan for an article.  Dan had called to tell me that the reporter not only failed to report what he said accurately, but the article and the sidebars published with it were full of distortions and outright lies, deliberately presenting a false portrait of Jewish believers in Jesus.  (Click here for a translation of this article

Aside from repeatedly referring to Jews for Jesus (and any other Messianic group) as a cult, the reporter stated that we take advantage of people who are impoverished or psychologically weak.  One of the sidebars was an outrageous "testimony" by a supposedly former Messianic Jew who said that Jewish believers in Jesus use young women to seduce men to "join" by offering them sexual favors.

What I told Dan was something I need to remind myself about regularly: we are actually blessed when these things occur—in fact doubly blessed, even though it may not feel that way.  Y'shua made this very clear in His Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12). 

Why did Jesus tell us to rejoice when others treat us reprehensibly?  Certainly we are not supposed to derive some sort of spiritually masochistic pleasure from being reviled. We want our light to shine in such a way that people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. Nor do we enjoy being the subject of false accusations. We are messengers of truth who rejoice when goodness and truth is proclaimed for others to hear.  So why are we to consider ourselves blessed when we are reviled and slandered? 

Two reasons come to mind: the first is identification.

Jesus said when we suffer these things for His sake, we are truly blessed.  Unfortunately, not all of our suffering is necessarily for His sake.  Years ago, Moishe was walking back to the office after lunch one day when a man punched his jaw so hard that it knocked him down.  Looking up from his seat on the sidewalk Moishe asked the man why he had hit him. The man casually replied, "I don't like the way you look." As Moishe told me the story he rubbed his jaw ruefully. "What a waste," he said, "being persecuted for just being me instead of being for Jesus." 

We all want our lives to count, and that includes our suffering.  No one wants to suffer for suffering's sake, but if we suffer because of our identification with Jesus, that suffering provides deep meaning for us as it did for Peter and John who rejoiced "that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41). 

Identification with Jesus is not merely honorific when we suffer for Him; it actually accomplishes something profound in God's purposes.  Paul tells us that in such suffering we "fill up... what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ"  (Colossians 1:24). 

Commenting on this, John Piper explained that Paul was not saying Christ lacked anything in what He suffered to secure our atonement.  But when we suffer for Christ, people who do not have the opportunity to see Him presently face-to-face have the opportunity to see Him in us and in our suffering; thus their attention is drawn to Him and to the deeper meaning of his own suffering.

The second reason I see to rejoice when these things happen is like the first; it brings us into a proper perspective.  Jesus reminds us, "For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  We have the blessing of seeing how we fit into of a long chain of God's servants who experienced similar reactions.  This is very important because it is easy to evaluate the validity of ministry based on how people respond. Should we expect to receive different treatment than the prophets did?  Do our expectations align with Jesus' words concerning how the world might respond to the preaching of the gospel? 

Leaving those questions "on hold" for the moment, I want to point out another article that came out about the same time as the article in Yediot Achronot.  This one, published in the Jerusalem Post, was a reflection piece from a woman who saw our Jews for Jesus campaigners in her favorite Tel Aviv "hummus joint."

The writer, an American-born emigrant to Israel who calls herself "Suddenly Sabra" didn't say anything false about Jews for Jesus; she simply expressed her honest feelings of disdain at seeing four of us clad in gospel T-shirts in a place that she obviously considered her turf.  (click here to read). 

Her major complaint seemed to be that people like us belong in the United States, not in Israel. She'd left a country where, being in the minority, she was often subjected to Christians telling her that she needed Jesus.  She didn't expect to have to hear it in Israel, where she feels at home being Jewish, and not Christian. My experience and expectations are such that I wasn't disheartened by her reaction. After all, most of us in Jews for Jesus have been right where Suddenly Sabra is when it comes to the gospel message. I could easily imagine myself having a meaningful conversation with Suddenly Sabra, one that might even pique her curiosity about Y'shua's claims.

Sadly, a fellow believer didn't see the Jerusalem Post article that way at all. He took Suddenly Sabra's negative response as evidence against Jewish missions in general and Jews for Jesus in particular. He expounded his own negative reflections about our motives and our message on his blog site, and his accusations were far more hurtful than those in the Jewish newspapers.  I have to admit, my first reaction was a desire to respond to him with a few angry accusations of my own.  But I remembered the example of our Messiah, "who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:23).  And I realized that regardless of the source of the revilement and false accusations, it will always be a blessing for us to respond like Jesus did. So instead of answering the criticisms point by point as I was so tempted to do, I prayed for God's blessing on my brother in Christ. 

It is always easier to be reviled by unbelievers than by fellow believers because we don't expect unbelievers to understand or support what we do.  But many who reviled Jesus believed they were serving God and serving the truth in doing so.  So it is with many who revile us.

Imagine how things might be if more believers were willing to be slandered for the sake of bringing the gospel to areas where Jesus is rarely named in public. Imagine how things might be in the body of Christ if more of us were willing to respond with prayer when we are misunderstood or even reviled, rather than responding, in kind, to hurtful remarks. God will bless us and give us the strength to refrain from our own natural impulses if we ask Him to. And when we are successful in that intention we can be encouraged in the midst of it all; we will indeed have cause to rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

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How Much Does Pentecost?*

How much does Pentecost?

Pentecost. Is it a denomination? A supernatural experience? A date on a liturgical church calendar? Perhaps it is the surname of a beloved Bible scholar? Actually, Pentecost is first and foremost one of the most important and least appreciated Jewish festivals in the Bible. And since it is coming up in just 2 weeks, May 28, I think it would be helpful for RealTime readers to become better acquainted with this Feast of the Lord.

The Hebrew Bible gives three names for this holiday; each is significant because each reminds us of a truth God wants us to understand.

Pentecost is best known by the name, Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks: "And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest" (Exodus 34:22). The Hebrew word "Shavuot" means "sevens" or "weeks." The name of the holiday does not describe its duration: it is not celebrated for weeks—or even one week. It is actually a one-day festival. Shavuot refers to the amount of time between Passover and this holiday. God commanded the Israelites to count seven weeks from the day after Passover until this particular holiday.

Pentecost is Greek for "the 50th day," describing that same period of time. "And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD" (Leviticus 23:15-16; see also Deuteronomy 16:9).

Whether you count in Hebrew or Greek—weeks or days—the countdown is the same, and begins the day after Passover. This process of counting the days emphasizes the theme of godly anticipation that is unique to this holiday. The sense of anticipation this holiday raises cannot be overstated.

Have you ever talked to a bride or groom-to-be who is counting the days and hours until the wedding? Or to a student who is counting the days until summer vacation—perhaps even graduation? All of life's activities begin to organize themselves around one special event and as anticipation grows, the count down intensifies.

The Feast of Weeks points to a principle: God wants us to eagerly anticipate the celebration of time spent with Him, to look forward to fellowship with Him and with those who love Him. No doubt this principle applies to our hope of heaven, but we should anticipate the times we set aside here and now to be in His presence and to worship Him with His saints.

A second biblical name for the holiday is "Hag ha bikurim." "Hag" means festival or pilgrimage and "ha bikurim" is Hebrew for the first fruits:

"Also on the day of the firstfruits, when you bring a new grain offering to the LORD at your [Feast of] Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work" (Numbers 28:26).

The Hebrew word "bikurim" is related to the root word "bekhor," which means first-born. The connection between first fruits and the firstborn is important because the Bible tells us that the firstborn, both humans and beasts, belong to God.

"Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, [both] of man and beast; it is Mine" (Exodus 13:2).

The Jewish tradition of "pidyon ha ben" (the redemption of the first-born), is based on God's claim in the above Scripture. In Numbers 3:40-51, we see that, after the Exodus, God required a census be taken and a price paid for every firstborn male of the children of Israel. This was a practical demonstration of His claim, helping His people understand what they owed Him, and what He was willing to accept, by grace, instead. We see this in the New Testament as Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to dedicate Him in the Temple in Jerusalem.

In the same way as God claims the firstborn, He tells His people that the first fruits of the ground also belong to Him. Thus this festival of hag ha bikurim—the festival of first fruits—speaks to us of the importance of dedicating our first and our best to the glory of God.

Scripture promises a direct connection between our dedication and God's provision. "Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine" (Proverbs 3:9-10).

This passage and the principle it expounds should not be abused to raise false hopes that prosperity is attainable in proportion to what we give. It would be foolish to calculate one's giving according to what one expects to receive in return. That is not giving at all. The key to this verse is to honor the Lord. When we recognize that all we have belongs to God, we honor Him. When we dedicate ourselves and the first fruits of what He provides for His use, we honor Him. When we trust that giving our first fruits for His special use will not leave us destitute, we honor the Lord. This leads to His blessing. He blesses us because we acknowledge that we and all we have are rightfully His, and He blesses us because in giving back first fruits, we demonstrate our trust that He will continue to provide for us. So how much does Pente cost? It costs our first and our very best.

A third biblical name for the Feast of Pentecost is "Hag ha kazir," which simply means the festival of the harvest. This is likely the first name given to the holiday. (See Exodus 23:14-16)

Most of us are far removed from the kind of agrarian society that the Israelites experienced during Bible times. Almost everything we eat has been at least partially prepared by someone else. We may be somewhat affected when a drought or flood ruins a harvest in one part of the world, raising prices for that particular commodity, yet we still manage, at least in this country, to have food simply by purchasing it. But in ancient Israel the cycle of sowing and reaping was absolutely central to the existence of the Jewish people; it was part of the day in, day out rhythm of life. The feast of Pentecost is an important juncture in that cycle. It commemorated the ending of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest in the land.

This harvest festival emphasizes the themes of God's provision and our gratitude to Him for His covenant faithfulness. But there is a strong connection to Passover—a link created by counting the days. This reminds us that had God not redeemed the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, there would be no land, no crops, no rejoicing over God's provision. According to tradition, it also marks the day when God gave the great gift of the Torah to Israel at Mt. Sinai. The Law was to show God's redeemed people how He wanted them to relate to Him, and to one another.

For Christians, the Jewish Feast of Pentecost is an historic milestone in the history of Jesus' followers. It is the day that God chose to send His Holy Spirit, which far surpasses the Law.  God's Spirit not only instructs us but also empowers us in our relationships with God and one another.

Through that Spirit, God continues to produce in us a harvest of righteousness in good times and in bad. His righteousness is a wealth of truth and wisdom and blessing to all who heed its instruction. In a season when many have faced a loss of wealth, a loss of employment or a whole host of other kinds of economic uncertainties, we can remember that the Lord of the Harvest promises to continue to faithfully bless us with every good and perfect gift, to provide "all our needs according to His riches and glory by Christ Jesus."  That is a comforting thought indeed.

Christ in the Feast of Petecost *Adapted from the book,
Christ in the Feast of Pentecost

by David Brickner and Rich Robinson.

A note from David Brickner

Shalom from New York City where I am presently taking part in our annual summer witnessing campaign (SWC)! It always energizes me to be here, out on the streets, telling people about Jesus. Since our ministry’s inception in 1973, every single summer but one, we've campaigned to reach New York City with the gospel. No one campaign is exactly the same but they all share the following features:
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Is Anne Coulter on to Something?

A media dust-up has been blowing over political commentator Anne Coulter's recent remark on the Donny Deutsch cable television show. Coulter told Deutsch, Christians want Jews to be perfected." He responded by labeling her an anti-Semite and various people began hurling verbal grenades in earnest.

In the midst of the furor we received a phone call from "Newsweek" columnist Lisa Miller, asking if we could explain what Ann Coulter meant by her remark. "
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Awesome Awe

If we assigned a word that's been overused and undervalued to each letter of the alphabet, A" would have to be for "awesome." This superlative is commonly used to express ordinary enthusiasm over just about anything: a favorite song, band, book or even a piece of clothing.

The Bible normally reserves the word "awesome" to describe God or something God has done. For example, "He has sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever: Holy and awesome is His name" (Psalm 111:9). The Jewish High Holidays are meant to reflect some of that "biblical grade" awe.

Right now, according to the Jewish calendar, we are in the midst of the Days of Awe, or "yomim noraim" as they are known in Hebrew: the ten days between Rosh Hashanah (the feast of Trumpets) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). These days are intended to be an opportunity to reflect, contemplate our sin and realize our need for atonement before God.

According to Jewish tradition, at the sound of the shofar (ram's horn) on Rosh Hashanah (which began this year at sundown on September 12) the Book of Life in heaven was opened. This same tradition says the book will close once again with the final sounding of the shofar at the conclusion of Yom Kippur (which begins at sundown on September 21). A traditional greeting among Jews at this season is “L’shanah tova tikatevu,” which means, "May your name be inscribed for another good year." The greeting is really a hope--and sometimes a prayer--that one’s name will be written once again in the Book of Life, signifying that appropriate reflection and repentance have occurred, insuring atonement from God for the sins of the past year.

Yet these days have lost most of their meaning in so many segments of the Jewish community. When I was leading our Chicago branch, actually located in the suburb of Skokie, Illinois, our offices were just down the street from the office of the B’nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League. Each year at this season as I would walk past their office door I was amazed to see a poster announcing their annual Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur cocktail party. Every year, they sponsored this event as a fund-raiser during the Days of Awe!

The sad fact is that a minority of Jewish people today take the Days of Awe seriously—and those who do have no assurance that their hopes and prayers for atonement will be answered. How I long for this to be a season of true awe and genuine awakening for Jewish people around the world. Those of us who know Y’shua realize that His finished work on the cross and the power of His resurrected life bring assurance of forgiveness for all our sins, not only for this past year, but for all time. We long for the salvation of those who don’t yet know this good news.

This does not mean that once we receive Jesus we no longer need days of awe. In fact, we need a lot more than ten a year! I don't mean that our forgiveness or relationship with God in any way hinges on these days. But properly understood, all the days of our lives ought to be "yomim noraim," days of awe. If we lived with a proper sense of awe toward God we might find ourselves living very differently than we currently do.

Proverbs tells us, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge," (Proverbs 1:7a). If we believe that God is as awesome as we say He is, our response should be to fear the Lord. Not the kind of fear that would scare us away from Him, but godly fear in which we realize that every moment of every day we are to live in the knowledge that He is the supreme Creator, the ever present Holy One. We are all responsible before Him for all we say and do each and every day of the year.

Unfortunately, most of us have many moments that add up to many days, even weeks or months in which we do not act as though God knows and cares about our thoughts, words and actions. It becomes easy to ignore or fail to take into consideration God's standards in our day-to-day lives, in the decisions we make and in the way we relate to those around us. I remember once telling my mother about some problems I was facing with a brother in the Lord who was behaving badly toward me and toward Jews for Jesus. My mom was becoming increasingly upset about all of this, not just because she's one of my biggest fans, but because she is one of God's biggest fans. Finally, in frustration and disappointment she exclaimed, “Where is the fear of God in all of this? Where is the fear of God?” In other words, this perplexing conflict was simple to her: Why would this brother not examine his actions in light of proper awe of God? If he did, he would change and behave rightly towards me and towards Jews for Jesus.

Mom got it right, not only for this disappointing brother, but for me, too, and for you, and for all of us. Fear of the Lord is a fantastic corrective to sin and relationships in need of repair. It straightens out our skewed views and creates a context for holiness, repentance and reconciliation. It makes us so aware of our own shortcomings and so grateful that God has forgiven us, that we have no heart for holding on to bitterness and anger over the sins of others. It floods our hearts with power, enabling us to let go of the pride that cherishes perceived hurts, disappointments and dreams of making others pay. Genuine awe of God brings us face-to-face with His amazing grace that not only covers our sins, but also the sins of those sisters and brothers who have offended us.

The fear of the Lord is also a great deterrent to all kinds of sin and temptations. Once I was checking into a hotel with a colleague. As we got into an elevator two women, obviously inebriated, expressed an interest in following us up to our room. My colleague politely informed them that we were both married, which didn’t seem to bother them, but at least they recognized that we were not accepting their invitation. When the elevator door closed behind them, I remembered a similar story told by an evangelical leader. He had been alone when approached by a woman in a hotel elevator with a similar invitation. He told her, “No, thank you. I believe that God is watching me all the time and He wouldn’t want me to do what you are asking me to do.” I liked that leader's answer. While it is good to let people know we intend to honor our marriages, I think it is even better to let people know that we fear the Lord.

The fear of the Lord, to be in awe of Him, is the beginning of knowledge, but it is also the beginning of a blessed and holy life. I want to live that way each and every day, don’t you? Let’s choose to make each day a day of awe and allow the fear of the Lord to guide our steps. Let’s also take this time to pray for so many Jewish people who are aware of this holy season, but don’t yet know God's provision of atonement in Jesus, nor how to live a life of forgiveness through the fear of the Lord and the power of His resurrected Messiah.

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A Difficult Decision

This month I postponed the Miami Behold Your God campaign that was scheduled to begin in just a few weeks. It was a difficult decision and I want to explain it to you, because it involves a principle that goes beyond a single evangelistic campaign.

We have set standards for our evangelistic campaigns and I became convinced that we were not up to those standards for the Miami campaign at this time. Specifically, we had not recruited the volunteers we needed, and especially Jewish volunteers to maintain the integrity of a Jews for Jesus" campaign. So we rescheduled the Miami campaign to take place a year from now. I hope and expect that we will succeed next year where this year we have not.

Telling you about this decision is almost as difficult as making it. I have to admit, I am embarrassed. After all, we announced to you and to the whole world that we would be conducting this campaign this month. We sent letters. People contributed money. Jews for Jesus has won the trust and respect of our friends and supporters for doing what we say we will do. I don't want to lose that trust and respect. So I am embarrassed.

More than that, I hate disappointing the many who were committed to working on this campaign. The volunteers that we did have lined up were terrific. Some had already raised support from friends and home congregations. Others arranged time off from work in order to be a part of the campaign. A wonderful church agreed to give us full use of their facilities for the entire campaign. It's difficult to tell each one that it is not to be, not now. I'm grateful and relieved that most have been very gracious despite the disruption to their plans.

Most of all, I am sorry that many lost souls in Miami won't be seeing Jews for Jesus tracts, billboards or bus shelter posters in the coming weeks, telling them God is waiting and wanting to hear from them. Of course, God is sovereign and we trust Him in this and everything else.

Still, the easiest thing would have been to go ahead with the campaign as scheduled. It wouldn't have been up to our standards, but in the end, who would have known? Would you? I'm not convinced that others would know the difference, but I would and our Jews for Jesus missionaries would. What is more important, God always knows. He deserves our very best.

It is always tempting and often less embarrassing to be satisfied with less -- to cut corners to get things done and checked off the "to do" list. However, I can't allow myself or Jews for Jesus to decide things that way.

The third of nine core values we hold to in this ministry is "a commitment to strive for excellence in all we do." Often "strive" is the operative word. Striving for excellence does not mean we will always achieve it. No one is excellent all the time, except for our Messiah Y'shua (Jesus). But do we have the integrity to acknowledge our failure to achieve excellence when that failure stares us in the face?

Here is the principle behind the postponement of the Miami campaign: IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO GENUINELY STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE IF WE AREN'T WILLING TO RECOGNIZE WHEN WE FAIL TO REACH IT. Standards devolve if we redefine our terms so that no matter what we do, it's deemed excellent.

Most ministries and missions are tempted to communicate "evangelistically" about accomplishments -- that is, to exaggerate so that everything sounds like good news, everything comes across like a victory. In fact, it's a human temptation that most of us face -- the temptation to care more about appearances than reality, to want to convince ourselves and others that we are better than we really are.

If we refuse to acknowledge mistakes and failures, we miss out on much of God's blessing. He desires to shape and mold our character and He often uses our mistakes to do so. The depth, power and passion of many of David's psalms grew out of his admission of stunning failures. The Apostle Peter denied Jesus three times. Yet the Lord chose Peter to preach that historic sermon on the day of Pentecost ( Acts 2.). The riches of wisdom found in the epistles of Peter no doubt sprung from the grace and forgiveness he received from Christ following his odious betrayal.

These Bible heroes are examples of how God transforms great weakness into greater glory for Himself. I think God gives us such examples, in part to inspire us to be honest with ourselves and one another about some of our own failures. The best lessons I have learned have come through my failures. Being honest about our mistakes and failures can be educational and in the end, quite liberating.

Maybe you have faced similar struggles in admitting failure. What better time than the beginning of this new year for all of us to think about standards -- and be able to face areas where we struggle and sometimes fail to measure up to our own commitments?

As far as the Miami campaign is concerned, I believe that canceling it now is the necessary choice if we are to upholding our standards. I think it will strengthen the effort we are planning a year from now. I am hopeful that our candor with you will not forfeit your confidence, but that perhaps it will even strengthen your trust. Certainly it will help you know how better to pray for us, for the Miami Behold Your God campaign and all of the other campaigns that are to come. Thanks for caring and for upholding us in our commitment to excellence in all we do. To God be the glory.

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Counting Down

A little boy approached me with brightness in his eyes, excitement in his voice and proudly announced, My birthday is next month. I will be five years old!" I smiled as he told me of his much-anticipated birthday. He was counting the days.

That's the kind of enthusiastic anticipation many Jewish people feel about the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, which begins at sundown on May 25. "Shavuot" is the Hebrew word for "weeks."

Shavuot is the only festival named for a countdown. The counting begins at the feast of First Fruits, which is observed in conjunction with Passover. From there we count seven weeks, which brings us to Shavuot, per Deuteronomy 16:9. The Greek name for the festival is Pentecost, meaning 50 days (Leviticus 23:16). So you can count days or you can count weeks, but either way, the count down is "what counts." In Bible times this countdown served to mark Israel's first spring harvest (the barley harvest) and it anticipated the arrival of the second spring harvest (the wheat harvest).

The children of Israel began the First Fruits celebration by making an offering to God. That offering was a sheaf of barley called the omer. As a result, the fifty-day period between the two holidays is called Sefirat ha-Omer, the counting of the omer. Each day is counted and marked with a special blessing in anticipation of the end of the barley harvest. The countdown concludes with the celebration of Shavuot and the offering of the first fruits of the wheat harvest.

Why did God make such a big deal about counting these days? It wasn't to teach Israel what crops to harvest when; they could figure that out on their own. But the Lord wanted His people to anticipate the harvest, to give thanks and praise to Him for His provision, as well as to look forward to the harvest yet to come.

The rabbis point out that in the Torah, God commanded a husband and wife to count the days of purification after her menstrual period until the day they could come together again. Just as the counting of days increased the anticipation of their reunion, so Israel's counting of days should build her expectation of worship and union with God.

God has set a rhythm of life in motion through His creative power. We human beings will never be able to dance to that rhythm unless we follow God's lead. Most people lumber through life's seasons with two left feet, spiritually speaking. Instead of counting our days as God wants us to, we end up simply marking time. Instead of anticipating His purpose and blessing, we strive in vain to create our own. As a result, most people are left feeling hopeless, bored and/or exhausted from the lack of purpose and blessing, and their frantic efforts to fill that void.

Moses prayed, "So teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12) God wants us to live our lives with a sense of holy expectation, of sanctified purpose and hopefulness, counting the days in anticipation of the all the good things He wants to bring into our lives.

There is a harvest ahead for those who seek God, who seek to do His will and not their own. Counting the omer was supposed to build anticipation, not so much for the harvest as for the Lord of the harvest. We focus too easily on the gift and not the giver. A heart of wisdom from the Lord helps us to long for the right things, to anticipate His goodness and grace, not merely the things that satisfy our temporal desires. Even those of us who know the Lord sometimes find it difficult to live our lives anticipating what He wants, rather than on our own desires.

What are you most looking forward to right now? What future do you believe God wants your heart to anticipate? Life holds forth many joys, but in the long run this life is too brief and too painful to truly satisfy our souls. God has set the longing for eternity in all of our hearts, though we are not often aware of it (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Ultimately, a heart of wisdom helps us to number our days on earth in anticipation of eternity, when time will be no more.

Our hearts should cry out, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus" with the same bright-eyed enthusiasm of a child eager for a landmark birthday. Those of us who know Jesus are among the first fruits of a harvest of souls that God wants to gather in. That harvest yet to come includes people we live with and work with—people we see every day. As we count down, anticipating the future God has in store for us, a heart of wisdom will teach us to long for that harvest that God wants to bring. A heart of wisdom will lead us to look continually for ways that God might use us to gather in the greater harvest for His greater glory.

We are in the midst of that harvest right now in Jews for Jesus, though it is still very gradual. We know that God intends to glorify Himself through us and many others who labor in the harvest fields. It is easy to lose sight of this when we forget to count down. But every day of our lives brings us one step closer to the final harvest of souls and I don't want to miss one sheaf of grain along the way, do you? Let's number our days. Let's work for the Lord of the Harvest. Let's look forward to the promise of all that God has in store for us. "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." (Galatians 6:9)

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