- are under the authority of God and His word
- desire to honor Messiah Yeshua and
- are dependent upon the enabling power of the Holy Spirit
We commit to the following core values:
- Direct Jewish evangelism as our priority
- An apostolic lifestyle of availability, vulnerability and mobility
- Striving for excellence in all that we do
- Deploying only front-line missionaries who are Jewish or married to Jews (this and the next core value are discussed in the same article)
- Principle-based operations and practice
- Accountability to our mission family and the body of Messiah
- Integrity and faithfulness
- Creativity in our staff
- Stepping out in courageous faith and taking risks for God
There is an old Yiddish phrase, “Man drives but God holds the reins.” As Jews for Jesus we take that a step further, recognizing that we are dependent on God and His Word for all that we do. Apart from Christ and the power of His Spirit, we can do nothing. Yet we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. And through Him we can commit ourselves to certain values.
I think it is important for individuals and organizations alike to be mindful of the values that help define us. Recently, our Jews for Jesus staff articulated a “Core Values” statement to help us rally around our fundamental commitments. Core values don’t represent an exhaustive list of all our commitments, nor are they meant to serve as a doctrinal statement. They do point out key scriptural principles that serve to identify us and how we conduct our ministry around the world. Core values help define what makes Jews for Jesus unique. Our Boards of Directors around the world unanimously adopted our “Core Values” statement (please see list at end).
I wanted to share those core values with you, our friends and supporters of Jews for Jesus, to encourage you and to help you understand our basic commitments. First, we have a preamble to establish the foundation upon which each of these values rest:
Understanding that we at Jews for Jesus
- are under the authority of God and His Word
- desire to honor Messiah Yeshua and
- are dependent upon the enabling power of the Holy Spirit
- we commit to the following core values:
Then the statement goes on to list nine values. I don’t want to elaborate on each one here, but I would like to bring you into our thinking on the specific values over time, starting with the first core value: Direct Jewish evangelism as our priority. Some may wonder why a Jewish mission needs to state this at all. It seems rather obvious that a mission to the Jews should make Jewish evangelism a priority! Yet throughout history, many Jewish missions and missionaries who began by wanting to talk to Jews about Jesus have ended up talking to the Church about Jews.
It is difficult, even as a Jewish mission, to keep the focus on sharing Christ with the unsaved. Jewish evangelism is difficult. My people have a long-standing tradition of unbelief, and often view with contempt those who seek to share the gospel. The discomfort of being vulnerable and the pain of rejection that necessarily accompany effective missionary work can take their toll if not handled properly. If we don’t keep that vulnerability, that pain, in perspective, the natural desire to avoid them can slowly erode any commitment to direct evangelism. We seek to provide the encouragement and teamwork needed to keep ourselves visible, vulnerable and available so that Jewish people might hear the message of the gospel.
A second difficulty in maintaining the focus on evangelism is the fact that there are so many distractions. Whether it be leading tours to the Holy Land, conducting prophecy conferences or attempting to win support for the state of Israel, there are many worthy endeavors that simply do not add up to Jewish evangelism. No Jewish mission can afford to take on these endeavors at the price of neglecting to speak directly to the unsaved. Perhaps other organizations can, but not missions. We are committed to ministering to our brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:10). That is one reason we publish this newsletter. But you read this newsletter because we are witnessing to Jewish people. All that we say and do and write about in this newsletter flows out of that priority. I would hope that if we stopped doing that, you dear friend would let us know of your displeasure. If we stop witnessing to Jews, you should stop reading this newsletter!
Please note that we use the word “direct” in describing Jewish evangelism as our priority. This is important because many activities that pass for witnessing have very little to do with evangelism. Perhaps the most distressing example of this regards a program about which we continually receive inquiries: “On Wings of Eagles” by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Their stated purpose is to help Jews immigrate to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Many well-meaning Christians who give to this organization think they are supporting Jewish missions. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. The organization uses the word Christians in its title, but it is run by an unbelieving rabbi who is dead set against evangelizing the Jewish people. What’s more, the people who receive aid from this organization are turned over to the Israeli Ministry of Absorption, which is run by Orthodox Jews. They make every effort to indoctrinate these Russian Jews against the gospel. This organization not only doesn’t do evangelism, they work hard to make sure that those who are most open to the gospel are prevented from hearing the good news.
Some non-witnessing activities are carried on by Christians who seem to be misguided about the meaning of witnessing. Recently, I heard about a “Jewish mission” in Europe whose sole activity involves buying goods from Israel and selling them in churches. They quote from Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you…” and reason that they are “blessing Israel” economically through this arrangement. They might indeed be providing some kind of blessing, but it isn’t missions and it isn’t evangelism.
Then there are unquestionably worthy Christian causes that ought to be carried out, but nevertheless are not the same as missions. Many people talk about church planting as evangelism, but even something as important as church planting is not the same as direct evangelism. Church planting is the result of direct evangelism, and may eventually provide good opportunities for evangelism, but it is not the same thing as evangelism. Jesus didn’t tell us to go into all the world and plant churches. He said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Don’t get me wrong; I am not against church planting! I just want to be precise in our use of terms and in our understanding of evangelism. Direct evangelism occurs when there is a clear presentation of the facts of the gospel to the unsaved and an urgent appeal to receive salvation through faith in Christ. This is the best and only hope for a lost and dying world. This is the best and only hope for my Jewish people, indeed for all people everywhere.
That is why you will find us Jews for Jesus out on the streets and on college campuses handing out our gospel tracts. That is why you will see our full-page gospel ads, billboards and other forms of media in public places. That is why you will find us calling on the telephone and meeting in person with unsaved Jewish people. It is all part of our Jews for Jesus commitment to remain visible, vulnerable and available as we maintain direct Jewish evangelism as our priority.
When you hear the word “missionary” what image comes to mind? A white-skinned westerner wearing a pith helmet, surrounded by dark-skinned natives wearing loin cloths? Unfortunately, many Christians still imagine missionaries (and those to whom they minister) in terms of these outdated caricatures. And in the Jewish community, the word missionary evokes a decidedly sinister image. Rabbis and Jewish community leaders warn of the dangerous missionaries lurking on street corners to lure Jewish children away from home and family. Obviously, neither image is accurate. So how do we missionaries see ourselves?
We Jews for Jesus don’t shy away from the word missionary, but we like to describe our ministry as apostolic. That’s apostolic with a small “a.” The New Testament model of the apostolic band helps clarify what we mean when we say missionary: “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
God set apart apostolic bands comprised of missionaries like Paul and Silas, Barnabas, John Mark and others to go and preach the good news. Their efforts were supported by local churches so that they could devote themselves to the task full time. That “set apartness” for full-time evangelism helps define the apostolic lifestyle of missionaries. At Jews for Jesus, we see missionaries as those who are willing to have “bility”: availability, vulnerability and mobility. This view is so important to us that we spell it out in our core values statement: “We commit to…An apostolic lifestyle of availability, vulnerability and mobility.”
Availability means being ready whenever an opportunity presents itself. That means missionaries make house calls—and it means there is no such thing as regular office hours for missionaries! We must be willing to rearrange our schedules to meet whatever opportunities arise; to care for a needy person, to share the gospel with an unbeliever, to visit someone in the hospital. Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he encouraged young Timothy to, “Be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Vulnerability is very much akin to availability. Making ourselves available to people requires us to make ourselves vulnerable as well. This vulnerability might mean subjecting ourselves to a physical threat, as in the case of our outreach workers in the CIS. The fact that they openly identify as Jews for Jesus allows interested Jewish people to find them, but it also makes them targets of virulent anti-Semites.
Despite the physical vulnerability required to stand on the street corner handing out tracts, more often than not, our vulnerability is on the inside. Missionaries must cultivate a heart to care for the lost and to give themselves that others might hear and be saved. Such caring subjects us to disappointment. Indeed, disappointment is inevitable. The more time we invest, the more we care for people, the deeper the potential for disappointment. When we make ourselves vulnerable, we risk the pain of rejection—not merely personal rejection, but rejection of our message and our Messiah. The old gospel hymn that tells us, “millions are waiting, dying to hear” doesn’t quite apply to Jewish evangelism. It is certainly true that millions are dying, but most are not waiting and most do not want to hear. We have a saying at Jews for Jesus: reach out to many to win a few. We must keep reaching out to many despite the rejection, because it’s the only way to find the few who will receive the life-giving gospel. While we rejoice in the few, we still weep over the many. That is the vulnerability required of an apostolic lifestyle.
Finally there is mobility, which also overlaps with availability and vulnerability. Someone once approached Moishe Rosen at a Bible conference. She explained that God had called her to be a missionary to the Jews and she was seeking his advice. “Where do you live?” Moishe asked. “Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” she answered. “Well,” he replied, “You will have to leave Cedar Rapids.” Moishe was right! It is true that everyone can witness wherever they happen to be. Nevertheless, those of us who commit to the life of a missionary must be willing to be mobile. In order to make ourselves available to go to the specific people God has called us to, we need to be where they live and work. We can’t choose a place to live and then try to become a missionary there.
Most Jews live in and around major metropolitan areas; therefore Jews for Jesus is an urban ministry. Many people who might have joined our staff chose not to because it meant relocating to a major metropolitan area that they either feared or disliked. One missionary couple left our staff when they began to plan a family because they didn’t want to raise their children in a big city. These are choices that everyone has the right to make, but to live as a missionary means giving up those choices.
In addition to relocation, mobility means that missionaries need to be willing to be away from home when necessary. The Apostle Paul was a model of mobility. His three missionary journeys had him conducting more than eight years of his ministry away from home. That is a significant amount of travel time! Jews for Jesus currently has stations in nineteen cities, and only two full-time mobile evangelistic teams. But most of our missionaries are away from home on ministry business several weeks out of the year.
In fact, this month you may have received notice that one of our Jews for Jesus missionaries will be in your area presenting Christ in the Passover. We have staff all over the world traveling and ministering as they deliver this dynamic evangelistic message. If we are coming to a church near you, I hope you will be able to attend a presentation. You might even bring a Jewish friend, or any friend for that matter, who needs to hear about Jesus. Our three week Passover tours don’t exactly stack up to Paul’s missionary journeys, but we often meet people whom God has prepared to receive the gospel message—people we would not otherwise meet had we stayed home. God continues to bless us when we reach into areas where we don’t have established branches, and that is one reason why we continue to travel.
But mobility is much more than a travel schedule or a major move; it’s a mindset. This brings us back to availability. All of our staff are ready to go should an urgent need or opportunity arise. If there is a sudden outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a particular place and Jewish people become open to the gospel, that is where we want to be. All our missionaries keep current passports. Speaking of passports, next month our mobile evangelistic team, the Liberated Wailing Wall, will wrap up a 20 month tour with overseas ministry in England, South Africa and Australia. I can’t help reflecting back fifteen years, to the time when my wife Patti and I went overseas with the Liberated Wailing Wall. Like our current team, we also traveled to England, South Africa and Australia as well as to Israel. Back then we had no Jews for Jesus branches in any of those countries. Now we have branches in each and every one of those countries! Why? God’s grace, and the “bility” that propels us forward to do more and be more for Him.
If we are to continue making the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide, we need “bility”—availability, vulnerability and mobility. Please pray that God will grant us the courage and grace to maintain that apostolic commitment in all we do.
In recent months, we have been looking at our list of Jews for Jesus Core Values, examining them one by one. These values are fundamental to the identity, actions and commitments of our ministry. This month’s core value is: “striving for excellence in all that we do.” As I was reflecting on how to present this value to you, I remembered an article Moishe Rosen wrote years ago. His words deeply affected me at that time, and as I re-read the article, they still mean a great deal to me. I hope they will touch you as well.—David Brickner, executive director
He was a wise young man—a coal miner who became a lawyer by studying at night school. First he learned shorthand. Then he found work in a law office. Later, when his shorthand improved, he became a court reporter. He attended law school at night and passed his bar exams. Then he received a call from God for missionary service. He even knew the place—Burma.
She was the most popular girl in her class, but never took any of her suitors seriously. She too, had received a call from God. After high school she enrolled at a newly-founded missionary college in preparation for answering that call.
Each of them might well have been named “Most Likely to Succeed” by society’s standards, but they both had other standards in mind. They wanted to serve God above anything else. They met at that missionary college. It was inevitable that they should decide to marry. Together they prayed and looked forward to their missionary service. They were married the day after graduation.
Before their appointment to Burma came through, there was a small complication. He weighed 8 pounds, 4 ounces and was 20 inches long. When finally the appointment was made, her need to recuperate from an extremely difficult labor prompted them to postpone their acceptance for a year. But the next year brought a flu epidemic. It nearly took his life and did claim the life of their little son. The overwhelming medical bills caused another delay. To get out of debt, he became very much involved in his law practice.
The third year brought another baby. The new father, now a successful lawyer, was in the midst of a contested probate where a godly widow had left a huge sum of money to missions. Her ungodly children were using all kinds of legal maneuvers to keep that mission from receiving the funds. He felt he could not leave for Burma until the case was settled. He rationalized that he was fulfilling his call by serving as an attorney for God’s work, and that the delay in going to Burma must have been God’s will. That case took four years to resolve.
Once again he applied as a missionary, but this time only half-heartedly. He now had three small children, and with relief he accepted the mission board’s notification: they could not use him in the field. Burma had been closed to missionaries.
His law practice continued to flourish. His monthly donations supported several missionaries. He served on the board of directors for several missions, and through his generosity several churches were started. I attended their 45th wedding anniversary celebration and heard that very attractive older couple declare their happiness and sense of fulfillment and their love for the Lord and one another. They were never to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. She passed on and he became frail in health.
At that time I was a young missionary and greatly discouraged in my ministry, thinking that I might better serve the Lord in some other way. I considered “tentmaking” as Paul had done. The idea had always appealed to me. Because there is an onus on being a missionary to the Jews, it would be so much easier if I could continue to witness but say that I was a shoe salesman or a teacher—anything respectable—anything but a missionary to the Jews, which was not at all “respectable”!
I shared my burden with the elderly lawyer because I knew and respected him greatly. That was when he told me a shocking secret—one he had kept from even his closest associates. He confided it to me because I needed to hear it, and I have never forgotten it.
He said, “I’ve had a happy life, but not a joyous one. I’ve made and given away a fortune. I have the love and respect of many, but I did not fulfill my destiny. It’s easy to excuse myself by saying that circumstances dictated another call, but only in the last year of my wife’s life could we admit to one another that we had chosen to do the second best. I am not unhappy, but I am not fulfilled.”
Then he added something that helped me overcome my discouragement. He said, “I recognize that you are a man of destiny. You have a call from God. Don’t do anything less than what He has called you to do.”
He died shortly after that. He was a man who taught me many things. He was certainly a godly man. I can testify to that. He was happy and successful, but by his own admission, he had not fulfilled his destiny.
Some time back, I read Christian Excellence: Alternative to Success by Dr. Jon Johnston, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Discussing our success-oriented evangelical society, Dr. Johnston made a distinction between success and excellence. He described his own efforts to be a super-person, and how he had continually failed and concealed his failings. Then he had read a highly recommended secular book, In Search of Excellence. The book dealt with companies that did things right and made it big. As he read that book, Dr. Johnston realized that it was not describing excellence, but success.
He pointed out the differences. He said that success is cheap. Success might mean enjoying the acclaim of the crowd, having the keys to the executive bathroom and driving a Mercedes, but success does not necessarily last. Excellence, on the other hand, does. Excellence does not gain the applause of the crowd. Excellence does not produce popularity. Excellence demands more than success. Striving toward excellence requires striving to change one’s character.
After reading that, I wondered if Dr. Johnston was not just playing word games. Wasn’t excellence implied in success? If a person did an excellent job, then didn’t he or she succeed? If a person received recognition for being successful, wasn’t that success due to excellence? In our society that seems to be the case. Excellence, success and recognition seem to go hand-in-hand.
Then I realized what Dr. Johnston was saying, and it was an important lesson to me: in the Christian sense, excellence in serving the Lord is quite different. Christian excellence is motivated by a desire to please the Lord and to fulfill His purposes. Such endeavor is an act of worship, not to be applauded by human hands. Christian excellence entails offering one’s best to God. It cannot be snatched away by lack of human praise or augmented by human recognition or earthly reward. It seeks only the Master’s affirmation: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
I know from personal experience that Christian excellence can exist without “success” and without applause or fanfare. If you want to see excellence and godliness, come and sit at our Jews for Jesus mail table and read some of the mail we receive from friends and supporters. Sometimes the spelling isn’t correct; sometimes the handwriting is scrawled and shaky and almost illegible. But I look at those pages and see the reflections of godly people. I see hearts of love and praise to God. I see overcoming strength and victory in the midst of illness; trust in the midst of poverty. That is Christian excellence.
Excellence is better than success. It entails pleasing God—fulfilling one’s destiny as His child—godliness. Godliness does not lead us to strive for success, but to strive for excellence—to strive to accomplish God’s purposes, thus fulfilling our highest calling as His redeemed ones. How we love to quote Romans 8:28: “…all things work together for good.…” But we must be careful to remember the rest of the verse: “…to those who are the called according to His purpose.” And if you read the rest of that passage, you find that God calls us to be conformed to the image of His Son. We are not all called to be professional missionaries. We are not all called to be preachers. But we are all called to fill and fulfill a definite role within the Body of Christ. As those who have received the Spirit of Christ, we know what God asks of us, and we know when we settle for doing—for giving Him—something less.
That godly lawyer knew. He told me, “You are a man of destiny. You have a call.” He didn’t want me to settle for anything less. He exhorted me as one who had not fulfilled his own destiny. I, in turn, want to say to all blood-bought believers in Christ: You too have a destiny because you have a call, as does every believer in Christ. Your call is to do your part in accomplishing the purposes of our Heavenly Father. Once you realize this, you have the potential of excelling in the fulfillment of your destiny. And fulfilling your destiny will bring unmatched and lasting joy.
Deploying only front-line missionaries who are Jewish or married to Jews
Principle-based operations and practice
A man stood in front of his living room window early one Sunday morning staring out at the torrential rain pouring down. His son asked, “Are you trying to decide whether or not we should go to church in this downpour?”
“I already decided son,” his father replied. “More than 20 years ago.”
A woman needed a new dress and saw just what she was looking for at a very good price. But just about the only money left after paying the bills and buying groceries was money set aside for her church. “Go ahead and buy the dress,” her friend reasoned. “It’s on sale now and you can always give more money to the church next month.” The woman shook her head. “No,” she said. “This money is my tithe. It’s God’s money already. I’m not about to borrow God’s money to buy a dress, even if it is on sale.”
In those two very different situations, the man and woman had something in common. They responded to their circumstances based on principles to which they were previously committed, following through on choices they had made long ago. That is what commitment to one’s principles does—it rules out what may appear to be a choice, based on a past decision that takes precedence.
Since February, I have been writing to you about Jews for Jesus Core Values, elaborating on the list that our senior staff identified last year as being central to who we are as a ministry. For those who may have just begun receiving our newsletter, the first three values, (which we’ve already covered) are commitments to the following: direct Jewish evangelism as our priority; an apostolic lifestyle of availability, vulnerability and mobility; and striving for excellence in all we do.
Now I’d like to take our fourth and fifth core values together: our commitment to deploying only front-line missionaries who are Jewish or married to Jews and our commitment to principle-based operations and practice. The first is best understood in light of the second.
What does a commitment to “principle-based operations and practice” mean and how does it affect our work? Principles are standards, usually drawn from Scripture, from which we formulate our policies and practices. Principles are axiomatic truths that do not change. They help us to know what is right and how we should respond in a given situation.
The antithesis of a principle-based approach is what some refer to as “situational ethics.” This approach to life encourages people to adjust their decisions to fit whatever circumstances they are facing. Unfortunately, this approach usually deteriorates into an attitude of “principles shminciples, do whatever you think is right for you.” As circumstances change, so do people’s idea of what is right and wrong. This leads to a condition that some sociologists term “anomie” or normlessness.
Many people do not even realize they are living their lives in accordance with such situational ethics. They decide from one moment to the next how to respond to life’s challenges, based on how they may be feeling at the time or what is most convenient and causes the least amount of discomfort. Without principles, without commitments to a particular course of action, it is only natural for us to make self-centered or self-serving decisions. That is the quickest way to find ourselves adrift in a sea of indecision or moral ambiguity.
It takes forethought to be a principle-based individual or a principle-based organization. You need to think things through, to articulate your standards and commitments in advance. Then, when faced with a difficult circumstance, in most cases you have already made your decision and it is simply a matter of following through.
We at Jews for Jesus identify ourselves as being principle-based because we have prayerfully thought through our principles and standards and committed ourselves, in advance, to certain courses of action, even before we face the decision. We recount to one another the stories in which we found ourselves upholding these principles together, and that strengthens our commitment. I’d like to share one such story with you, going back to our very first witnessing campaign in New York City in 1974.
Opposition was fierce, and our people had to face some pretty scary threats of violence. But we knew before we ever got to New York that we would receive threats, so we had decided in advance that we would not back down in the face of such opposition. Backing down would only signal our opposition that their tactics were successful, and in so doing, we would encourage more threats of violence. We decided we would not back down on principle.
It did not take long for our resolve to be tested. It happened one hot, muggy afternoon when a team of Jews for Jesus was handing out tracts on 47th Street in mid-town Manhattan. For those who don’t know, 47th Street is known as the Diamond district, and many Orthodox Jews work there. Before long, a handful of young Jews for Jesus in their late teens and early twenties were surrounded by scores of Orthodox Jews. The crowd quickly turned into an angry mob. Just as our team members were facing the potential for real bodily harm, one of New York’s finest, an Irishman named officer O’Malley, waded into the midst of the crowd and began berating our team. “How dare you come here like this,” he shouted at them. “You come with me right now to the station.”
Our Campaigners were taken aback to say the least, but they dutifully followed officer O’Malley single file through the mob and down the block away from the scene. Just as the group was about to protest, the officer said, “You were lucky I came along. I would think twice before going back there.” And with that, he let us go. He had acted smart and fast to extricate us from danger.
The team made their way back to the office we had rented for the summer, happy to be in one piece, but uncertain about what to do next. Moishe Rosen was leading the campaign and he wasn’t at all uncertain. But he knew how frightened the team was, so he asked the entire group to make a decision. “We have a choice to make,” he explained. “We can either go back to that same spot this very afternoon, or we can pack up and leave New York City.” Moishe then took a vote by private ballot. The vote was unanimous to return to 47th Street, which we did—in much larger numbers. Together we upheld the principle of refusing to back down in the face of opposition. Our opposition realized that threats were not an effective way to deal with us, but the real victory was that all the Campaigners gained the courage to stand firm. God blessed us for trusting Him, for not backing down. That principle has served our ministry well in similar situations throughout our 25 year history.
Living by principles rarely wins you popularity contests. Some of our Jews for Jesus principles are easily misunderstood, including one of our core values: We are committed to deploying only front-line missionaries who are Jewish or married to Jews. Over the years, some have viewed our principle as elitist and have felt excluded. Now we don’t for one minute believe that you have to be Jewish in order to be effective in evangelizing Jewish people. But I still believe this principle is right for Jews for Jesus because, when your name is Jews for Jesus, you better maintain truth in advertising.
Many non-Jews serve in positions of great importance on our staff. But when it comes to direct missionary work and the public proclamation of the gospel, our ministry has a unique contribution to make. We are proof-positive to the world that you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. By maintaining our principle of front-line missionaries being Jews, we keep the integrity of our name and we demonstrate over and over again the words of Paul, “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5).
This principle does not make life easier for us. When I was serving as our director of recruitment, I felt the strictures of this principle most keenly. I would visit Bible colleges and seminaries and interact with young people who were bright and dedicated to the Lord. It would have been so convenient for me to recruit these folks as front-line missionaries. But because of our principle to deploy Jewish believers for front-line missionary work, the pool of potential people is much smaller and we have to work harder to find people to serve with us.
Of course it helps us to know that many key administrative staff and board members who are not Jewish fully support this principle. They willingly serve with us behind-the-scenes because they recognize the unique contribution that our ministry makes as Jews for Jesus, and we are thankful to have them serving with us.
Let me encourage you to consider, if you have not already, that core values are not only for organizations. I believe every Christian ought to carefully think through what principles, what commitments, are non-negotiable for him or her. Perhaps you might want to prayerfully make a list as we and many other ministries have done. I think you will find the exercise to be rich and rewarding. Even more, when you find yourself in a situation where you are challenged to make an important decision, you will be prepared to act according to your biblical commitments rather than allowing your circumstances to decide your response. The world tells us it’s okay to decide what is right for us in the moment, and all too often that boils down to what is expedient. May God give us all the courage to choose principles over expedience!
Many prominent ministries and churches have been scandalized by pitfalls such as moral failure and financial mismanagement. Behind most of these scandals lurks a common denominator—lack of accountability.
Our generation celebrates personal freedom and autonomy. Individuality and the right to personal privacy reign supreme in our society. The Bible talks about freedom and liberty too, but not in the same way that the world does. If we don’t exercise caution, we end up exalting our society’s values over God’s Word.
The Bible upholds the worth of the individual while clearly teaching that God expects His followers to be part of a community of believers. That includes accountability to the community and its leadership. This is the body of Christ. The Bible leaves no room for speculation on this matter: we need one another!
I marvel that I regularly meet Christians who do not consistently attend a church—and have no intention of doing so. Others attend church but remain so casual in their commitments that they are virtually unknown and unrelated to their brothers and sisters in Christ. This is wrong. It is not what Jesus intended for His church. One of Jews for Jesus’ core values speaks to this very issue: “We commit ourselves to accountability to our mission family and the body of Messiah.”
It can be difficult to accept that we are to be accountable to one another. After all, our primary accountability is to God. Our relationship with Him is personal at its very core. Unless we receive Christ as individuals, we haven’t really been born again. Yet once we are born again, God joins us to one another and makes us part of a new family in Christ. Those who prefer to keep their Christian commitment a private matter, do so not because the Bible teaches it should be so, but because our society does.
The Jewish community is a microcosm of society in many ways. My people reflect the attitude that matters of faith are private and personal, not something to be spoken of in polite conversation or around the office water cooler. While it is considered traitorous for Jews to believe in Jesus, our perceived “treason” might be overlooked if not for the fact that we are committed to making our personal beliefs public, committed to making the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue. This is looked upon as a violation of “the Jewish way” of treating religion as a very private matter. There is a sense of “What I believe is nobody’s business and if I don’t tell you about my beliefs, you should likewise refrain from telling me yours.”
However, the paradigm for relating to God in the Old Testament is the same as it is in the New. While there are certainly private aspects, the Jewish faith was always to be expressed in community. Israel stood before Mount Sinai and received the Law as a nation. Even today, the rabbis continue to insist on a minyan, a minimum of 10 people present, before a proper religious service can be held. God has set in place a fundamental spiritual truth for human beings. We need one another.
There are many benefits to living in community, not the least of which is accountability. Does God want us to have personal freedom and liberty? Yes! We are free to serve Him as individuals, according to our personal gifts and calling. We have much liberty in choosing how to express our love and service to Him. But freedom and liberty do not equal independence or self-sufficiency. We need checks and balances to make sure that we are exercising our freedoms in accordance with God’s will and His ways. We need input from each other—relationships of accountability—in order to live as God wants us to. Failure to seek out proper accountability in our spiritual life makes us prone to self-deception, prone to failure.
Yet accountability is for more than mere protection from error. It strengthens us and encourages us to keep doing what is right: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). That verse appears on the masthead of our internal Jews for Jesus communiqué, which is titled, “Staff-Wise Stirrings.” It is so much easier to do the difficult thing when you are in a community with others who are striving to do the same. We learn from each other, uphold each other, laugh together, grieve together.
It is one thing to do good deeds in secret. But generally speaking, God does not encourage secrecy in the lives of His children. The world says, “What I believe and do about my beliefs is none of your business and I don’t want you to make what you believe to be my business.” God in effect says, “What you believe and do is my business, and my business is a family business.” God wants us to be open enough so that others can see what we believe and what we are doing about it. That way, others can give glory to God when we are right, as well as see and correct us when we are wrong. We all would like to think we are right, but God wants us to care more about being right than thinking we are right—and that means being willing to hold ourselves up to the light for correction.
No one enjoys being scrutinized, but we need to have the attitude of being open to scrutiny. In a sense, as believers we are even accountable to our opposition, knowing that if we take a wrong step they will trumpet it to the media! This has been a great benefit to Jews for Jesus and helps keep us motivated to try to be above reproach.
Most of us have a natural resistance to accountability and that is why we need to commit ourselves to systems and groups. Such systems and groups can hold us accountable when we don’t feel like it as well as when we do (and isn’t it when we don’t feel like being accountable that we need it the most?). Jews for Jesus has internal and external accountability systems (see Related Content below)that protect us from scandal as well as enable us to be more effective as a mission.
Our accountability to one another is not an authoritarian hierarchy. We work hard on mutual accountability through a commitment to teamwork. Everyone has a chance to give input.
I deeply appreciate our Jews for Jesus staff because while I am responsible to hold them accountable, I know many of them would do the same for me. If I were inclined to say or do something contrary to the stated commitments of Jews for Jesus, my co-workers would be quick to point it out.
In addition to protecting us from error and stirring us to good works, accountability offsets our natural tendency to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. The very fact of accountability is a reminder that we need help from others in order to be what we should be. And in Jews for Jesus, our internal accountability prevents us from posturing ourselves as being smarter or braver or just generally better than we really are. You know the phrase, “Never kid a kidder”? Well, among our staff we know what it takes to do the difficult task of Jewish evangelism. Our body of shared knowledge and experience leaves little room for bluster or exaggeration. But it leaves much room for us to encourage and uphold one another to do those things that make for effective missionary work. We need one another.
Over the next number of weeks we will be out in force on the streets of New York, Paris, St. Petersburg and other cities because we have committed ourselves before God, one another and before you our partners in Christ to do just that. Even if we didn’t feel like doing it, we have made ourselves answerable for these intense times of outreach. And if ever you find us doing less than what we have promised, we need to hear from you. We will never be perfect this side of glory, but we do intend to remain accountable to one another and to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
If you should find yourself feeling disconnected or perhaps strongly tempted in some area of life, maybe it is time to take a look at your accountability factor. To whom have you made yourself answerable? Yes, we are all answerable to God, but He has made us His children and given us one another as brothers and sisters. We need each other. And when we realize how much we need each other, we will be ready to remind one another of how much we need the Lord as well.
We all know how upsetting it is to see a believer turn away from Jesus—whether it’s denying the faith outright or committing a grievous sin that shows that person’s heart has strayed far from the Lord. We wonder, “How could this have happened?” Often we find that long before a person showed outward signs of backsliding, his or her life had bent under the weight of temptation and sin. Internally, integrity was compromised, leaving the person drained of faith and of the fear of the Lord—and open to the deceitful enticements of the world, the flesh and the devil.
Have you noticed how the really crucial qualities become clear through testing and trials? Times of pressure and suffering challenge us to live up to our commitments. Like gold refined in the fire, the true nature of one’s character emerges when the heat is on. That is especially true with integrity and faithfulness—two qualities we’ve listed side by side as the seventh of our nine Jews for Jesus Core Values. You can’t have one without the other. Integrity describes a state of being while faithfulness refers to an active commitment or course of action.
The Hebrew word for integrity has the same root as the word thummim. Remember, the urim and thummim were worn on Aaron’s “breastplate of judgment” (Exodus 28:15), as part of his official High Priestly clothing. He used them to determine God’s will, to know what path to take. As believers in Jesus, we are God’s royal priesthood. We need to be clothed in integrity in order to function.
Integrity implies a certain soundness of judgment—knowing what is right and what is wrong and aligning ourselves accordingly—fitting pieces of our lives together in ways that reflect what we know to be true. It means knowing the way we should go and holding ourselves to that way. In our post-modern culture where relativism seems to rule the day, it is a struggle to maintain personal and corporate integrity.
If integrity is a state of being, faithfulness is the outworking, the feet that move us down the path of obedience to God. The Hebrew word for faithfulness, emunah, conveys certainty or assurance. Faithfulness relies on the promises of God. It means that we will discipline ourselves and build our lives around the spiritual realities that God has revealed in His Word. The converse is true as well; faithless actions demonstrate that our reliance on God’s promises has lapsed. Faithlessness results in attempts to meet our own needs or desires in ways that either disregard or blatantly disobey God’s ways. When we are full of faith and trust in God, we tend to see things His way; we have a much sharper awareness of how ugly sin is and where it can lead.
Like integrity, faithfulness rises to the occasion of trials and testing. Yet the two are also at work in quiet and modest actions that may even seem mundane. Faithfulness is the fruit of the Spirit. It is found in the little things. The ordinary, glamorless paths of faithfulness and integrity lead to God’s greater glory.
These values should be part of every believer’s “core.” We need to protect and nurture these values, because they certainly will be tried and tested through adversity, temptation, our own human frailty and the general erosion of society’s values.
If you want a model of integrity from the Hebrew Scriptures, look at Job. In a dialogue with Satan, the Lord said of Job, “And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him…” (Job 2:3). I imagine there were many strands of Job’s character in the weave which God described as integrity. Job was a God-fearing person whose life was marked by a sense of wholeness, a commitment to truth, regardless of other peoples’ opinions. His integrity shone clear under pressure. He refused to turn from the Lord or abandon his commitment to walking uprightly despite the terrible circumstances that befell him.
When testing comes, will we as Job, maintain our integrity? Appearances can cover inner erosion for a while, but pressures squeeze and temptations lure—and one way or another, the truth of what is within us comes out.
King David provides us with another important example concerning faithfulness and integrity. He often exemplified these qualities. We also have a striking record of their absence when it came to his adultery and subsequent cover-up involving the death of the loyal Uriah. Yet, when confronted with that sin, David admitted what was true, and he realigned his life, reestablished his integrity and renewed his faithfulness. That doesn’t mean that we should take lapses of faithfulness and integrity lightly. David and all of Israel paid a terrible price for his lack of integrity. Still it is important to remember that true repentance can lead to restoration.
We at Jews for Jesus would appreciate your prayers for us to be true to this core value of integrity and faithfulness, that each of us would continually be conscious of pleasing God, who sees everything.
Faithfulness is not only a matter of morality; it’s also a matter of enduring. Summer is always a time of trial and testing as many Jews for Jesus staff and volunteers are handing out broadsides (tracts) on the hot and humid streets of New York, London, Paris, Moscow and St. Petersburg. I’m joining them in New York for part of this month and I can tell you, standing out on the streets and in the subways four times a day to hand out gospel tracts is not a glamorous task. It is often mundane and boring and generally uncomfortable—though the discomfort seems to disappear when we meet people who really want to hear about Jesus. Campaigns are challenging times and we need you to pray for us to be faithful. We know that God honors faithfulness and will use it to bring about His greater glory as many people come to Christ.
Another area where we need prayer for faithfulness is in our families. We need prayer for integrity and faithfulness between husbands, wives and children and for purity among our single staff. But there is another area where we need to exercise faithfulness with our families, and that is in praying for and witnessing to unbelieving relatives. Some have been rebuffed for so many years that it is difficult to be faithful.
I am thankful for friends like you who have been faithful in your witness to our people. Recently, I spoke at a Mennonite Brethren church in Reedley California. Joshua Sofaer, one of our missionaries in Southern California, accompanied me. As Josh gave his testimony he encouraged the people to care and be involved in Jewish evangelism. He said, “You may wonder what you can do about Jewish evangelism living here in the central valley.” Josh then proceeded to tell about his wife, Annette, and her family, the Morgensterns.
Annette’s Grandfather Arthur Morgenstern was a doctor in Austria. He escaped Europe and came to America, sponsored by a synagogue in Fresno, where he and his family settled. Arthur was not allowed to practice medicine in America so he got a job selling feed to farmers, most of whom were Mennonite Brethren. One farmer in particular was a committed Christian and a faithful witness. Every time Arthur would call on him for business, this man had his Bible open and would share the gospel. Eventually this farmer’s faithfulness paid off and Arthur came to faith in Yeshua. His wife and the entire family likewise became followers of the Messiah. Josh concluded his testimony by declaring, “It is because of the faithfulness of that Mennonite Brethren farmer that my Jewish wife and I are serving the Lord in Jewish evangelism today.”
An elderly woman stood up during the question and answer time and said, “That farmer that Joshua mentioned was my father.” She then recounted the many times she watched her father meet with Mr. Morgenstern and told of the family’s joy in seeing him come to Christ. We had no idea that the man Josh cited as an example of a faithful witness had been a member of the very church we were speaking in that evening!
All of us can aspire to that kind of faithfulness. Only in heaven—where that farmer is rejoicing with that Jewish immigrant—will we fully understand how God uses His children’s integrity and faithfulness to accomplish His purposes. We will be tested and we will be tried. May God grant us the strength to walk in integrity and faithfulness all the days of our lives. Then, one day in glory, we will see all the fruit that has grown around the “core” of these values.
Have you ever walked into the middle of a forest and looked up through the trees to see the beautiful, deep blue ceiling of a sunlit sky? Can you picture the sunbeams reaching down like searchlights through the varied shades of green leaves? The light touches here and creates a soft shadow, it touches there and turns a leaf translucent. Or have you stood atop a cliff overlooking an endless expanse of ocean, breathing in the refreshing scent of saltwater as the mighty surf pounds out its never-ending symphony on the rocks below?
Our world is a canvas in the hand of the Master Artist, the Grand Designer, the Lord of the Universe. Through His creation, God provides us a tiny glimpse into His imaginative power, the wonder of His aesthetic sensibilities and His love for all that is truly beautiful. The psalmist said it most eloquently: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). What a marvel of creative mastery is this world in which we live!
That Master Designer also pours His artistry into human beings. We are the pinnacle of His creative work; we possess the capacity to reflect bits of His glory through our own lives. What arrogance it seems for us to imagine it so—but we need not imagine. Genesis 1:27 clearly states that we were created in God’s image.
I believe that part of being made in God’s image is our ability to share His creative nature. Some members of the animal kingdom have creative instincts. A spider can weave a beautiful web, but she does so for her survival. Human beings create for pleasure or to express our thoughts and feelings. In this, we seem to be unique among all of God’s creatures.
God creates, I believe, partly for His pleasure but also to convey His message. The pageantry of the Tabernacle and the Temple show God’s attention to artistic detail. While I imagine He took pleasure in the beauty of the carved gold, the artistic hangings, etc., He was also making a statement. The place of meeting between God and His people was holy, set apart. And part of the “set apartness” was its stunning beauty, created by God’s people who willingly parted with their gold and gave of their talents to make these holy places as glorious as they possibly could.
Think of the high drama that God used with the prophets, especially with Ezekiel. It wasn’t enough for Ezekiel to speak the Word of the Lord. He had to literally make a spectacle of himself. Our creative God conveyed His message in ways that were calculated to get the people’s attention.
There exists another rather creative being—Satan. He creates illusions, lies and counterfeits. He does not use his talents to proclaim the truth, but to distort it. Unable to create anything on his own, he twists God’s creations. He bends beauty, perverting it so expertly that it does not lose all of its appeal, but it loses its ability to reflect truth, to reflect God. Because we human beings are bent from the weight of sin, Satan’s work often appeals to the perverse tastes and pleasures of our fallen race. We hear his distortions in music that glorifies evil and violence; we see it in art that appeals to raw sensuality or in the pandering of Hollywood to any one of our baser sensibilities. Some of the most creative achievements of our culture do not reflect the glory of God but the distortions of Satan. The enemy of God is using every means at his disposal to disseminate his message of hate and rebellion.
That is why it is so very important for God’s children to employ God’s creative gifts in proclaiming the life-giving message of salvation in Christ. And that is why one of Jews for Jesus’ Core Values is creativity. Moishe Rosen once said, “It is a sin to bore people with the gospel.” God came up with an amazingly creative plan of redemption, and yet if we are not careful, we can turn our proclamation of it into dull religion. Not only that, but our Jewish people are raised to resist the gospel. If we are to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people who are committed to avoiding it, we must bring to bear every ounce of creativity we can.
We at Jews for Jesus want to be on the cutting edge of creative communications and that is not an easy task. We expend a good deal of effort to develop music, drama, art, writing and multi-media. Yet, it is easy to become complacent, to be satisfied with the status quo, to allow the sharp edge to become dull. But we must continue to push ahead and strive for that creative edge. One way we do that is by telling one another, “Good enough isn’t.” We have a creative and editorial process that puts every project through the wringer of critical examination. All our staff members know, “The only one who doesn’t get rewritten around here is God.” Yet that kind of quality control cannot produce creativity, it only hones it.
To keep our creative edge, we need to keep a couple of things at the forefront of our lives. One is the joy, the exuberance of our own salvation, that leads us to be almost playful in proclaiming the truth. The other is the pain, the anguish that we feel over the lost, that leads us to keep digging deeper to find some new way of challenging people to consider Jesus. These are the elements the Holy Spirit uses to guide and draw forth our creativity. When I ask you to pray that we in Jews for Jesus will continue to strive as a creative communications cadre, it is a spiritual request. Complacency is the enemy of both joy and anguish. It can dull our sensitivities and our edge—and it is inevitable apart from spiritual renewal. So, please continue asking God to renew us!
When I became the executive director of Jews for Jesus, I told our staff that I believe the best songs have yet to be recorded; the best books have yet to be written; the best literature has yet to be developed and the best methods of outreach have yet to be employed in proclaiming the gospel. The staff took that as a real challenge and I’ve been encouraged by the results. Some of you have read the new books, heard the new music, seen the new web site, etc. I still believe the best is yet to be. I only hope that we will be “tuned in” enough to what God wants, to have His inspiration and blessing in forging ahead.
When I compare our efforts to some of the brilliantly creative talent the world produces, I am thankful that God does not need slick, Hollywood-type productions to accomplish His purposes. I don’t expect that we’ll ever have a Shakespeare or Spielberg on our staff. But we do recognize the Lord as the source of all that is truly creative and good. We need to reflect His glory in all that we do. We have a long way to go, but we continue to strive and we continue to treasure that God-given creativity as a key component in making Messiah Jesus known.
The great artist Michelangelo produced an enormous cache of beautiful artwork. Yet there is an entire hall in Florence, Italy filled with his “unfinished work.” We will never fully “finish” our work either. Only the Master Creator was able to rest from His creation, and He has promised that He will one day bring to completion the good work He has begun in us. Then, and only then, will we fully and truly reflect His glory.
We haven’t had any martyrs in Jews for Jesus—not yet, anyway. Truthfully, most of us live in relative comfort. We don’t have to worry about our next meal. None of us is homeless; in fact, many of us have actually bought homes.
As I prepared to tell you about our final Core Value on the list of nine: “stepping out in courageous faith and taking risks for God,” I thought about our circumstances compared to some heroes of the faith like Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming and Ed McCully. Who can forget the courage that led to their martyrdom? I think of William Carey, who risked everything to bring the gospel to India, who lost his children to disease, but stayed the course and laid the groundwork for future generations of missionaries. These people epitomized the kind of courageous faith that takes risks for God.
No, I don’t think we Jews for Jesus are the most courageous or heroic people on the mission field. Yet courage and risk—taking are vital to us—so much so that we named them as core valuesÐbecause our mission would not exist without them.
Back in 1971, our founder, Moishe Rosen, had a comfortable position with the American Board of Missions to the Jews (the ABMJ, now “Chosen People Ministries”). Moishe believed God was calling him to reach out to young Jews in the counter-culture movement and he began stepping out of his comfort zone to do so. His superiors considered his efforts too “unconventional,” but Moishe knew that he had to risk being unconventional in order to effectively reach this group. Consequently, he got himself fired.
Soon, he had offers from several other Jewish missions—but he could not accept any of them. You see, before his termination from the ABMJ, Moishe and some of those young, Jewish, ex-hippies for Jesus had committed themselves to staying together, working side-by-side for 12 months. So with no certain source of income to support his wife and two daughters, Moishe took a risk—and Jews for Jesus was born.
Twenty years later, Avi Snyder was successfully leading a Jews for Jesus branch in Los Angeles. His ministry was thriving—and there was that sunny southern California weather. But Avi felt God calling him to go to the Soviet Union. Gorbachev had just introduced perestroika and Avi felt compelled to seize the sudden opportunity to proclaim the gospel. His wife, Ruth Esther, and their three small children were ready to answer the call with him. The Snyders spoke no Russian, had no promise of safety and no experience to call upon. Yet with the help of a Russian Jewish believer named Elizabeth T., they journeyed to Odessa. Because of their courage and willingness to take risks, today there are 30 Russian Jews for Jesus staff members in the former Soviet Union: in Odessa, Moscow, Kiev and Dnepropetrovsk. Most of those staff members came to faith through Jews for Jesus and we have seen thousands of other Russian Jews come to Christ.
Just this past summer, a newly married Israeli couple made plans to join our Witnessing Campaign in New York City. At the last minute, the wife was unable to secure a visa but they decided that the husband, Boaz, would come alone. Well, Boaz injured his knee during our training program. The doctor said it would heal and that Boaz could stand on it as long as he could endure the pain. Again, Boaz decided to follow through with his plans. Often, we would see him putting ice packs on his knee when he returned from handing out tracts. Then his wife called. It seemed his parents suddenly realized that this commitment to Jesus was not a passing fad. His father had threatened to disown Boaz—cut him off from the family—unless he returned immediately to Israel.
Now Boaz’s physical pain was equaled by the pain he suffered as he thought about his father’s ultimatum. Despite his anguish, Boaz believed that God wanted him to stay. What a courageous young man!
Most of our staff and many of our volunteers have faced situations that called for courage, that called for taking risks. It’s a “crossroads” kind of courage that sometimes determines the direction of one’s entire life.
More common, though, are the everyday little ways our staff is challenged to take risks for God. These continuous opportunities to be courageous never cease, because most of us are not especially brave. It doesn’t take courage to do the things you don’t fear. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to do our duty even when we are afraid. It is the choice to do the right thing in God’s sight regardless of the consequences or personal costs. I know that every time I go onto the streets to hand out gospel tracts, I feel a certain amount of apprehension. I need to pray for courage to stand—and I have been doing this for 22 years! Others on our staff face similar struggles.
On the other hand, have you ever known people who act as though they are courageous when they are actually foolhardy? Their risk-taking is not so much an act of faith as it is recklessness. The difference is sometimes difficult to discern, but usually, time will tell. Risk is reckless if it proceeds from improper motivations such as pride or ambition. Foolhardiness sometimes disguises itself as faithfulness or courage, but unlike those godly qualities, it chases after power and reputation and is quite concerned about “what people think of me.”
What motivates genuine risk-taking in evangelism? In large part, it’s knowing that those whom God called us to reach have far more to lose than we do. We may lose the good opinion of the world and even of loved ones who are part of the world’s way of thinking. We may stand to lose much that makes us comfortable here and now, but our losses are temporary. We have the promise of everlasting life. Therefore, we can afford to take risks to reach out to those whose eternal destiny hangs in the balance. It is the same with courage. God doesn’t promise to preserve us from painful or unpleasant experiences, but if we take a courageous stand for the gospel, He will meet our needs with divine resources beyond our imagination.
Another motivator is the precedent Yeshua set for us as the perfect example of courageous faith and risk-taking for God. He left the glory of Heaven to walk on this earth, to know hunger, to know rejection, to know pain. He risked it all, limiting Himself as He did, and He endured all the suffering and shame of the cross. Why? So that we might be forgiven of sin and made right with God. Now God calls us to follow His example. Doing so does not make us heroes. It just makes us loyal servants. Or could it be that’s what a real hero is? If so, then every Christian is called to be a hero.
You don’t have to be a missionary to have the kind of courageous faith that takes risks for God. Few of us will ever be martyrs, but in one sense we must all be martyrs each and every day of our lives. We must be willing to say with the Apostle Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Whenever we really live our lives this way, we will find ourselves stepping out in courageous faith and taking risks for God.