Lights: Blinking or Blazing?
What do Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Mitch Glaser have in common? We’ve all been on the road to Singapore.” Only I wasn’t singing and dancing and ogling Dorothy Lamour. Well, actually, I did do some singing and just a little dancing…but the only thing I ogled was some magnificent scenery. I was just one of many proclaiming devotion to the Bright and Morning Star—Yeshua.
Singapore, the crossroads between the West and “the other two-thirds of the world” was the perfect location for the Younger Leaders’ Conference, an event sponsored by the Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization.
I was one of 40 North Americans invited to attend. It was as though I had fallen asleep on a New York subway, missed my stop, and wakened to find myself somewhere around 125th Street in Manhattan! My Yiddishe punim was conspicuously “anglo-ish” amidst the sea of brown, black, Asian, and (with my limited experience in foreign affairs!) oftentimes unidentifiable faces! Jesse Jackson would have enjoyed this “forever rainbow coalition.” Only the common cause which brought us together was not political; we had a commitment to a different kind of candidate. We all wanted to make Yeshua known as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
We prayed, worshipped and studied Scripture together, striving to understand our various roles in advancing the Kingdom of God throughout the world. We saw racial and cultural barriers knocked down…it was an experience of spiritual unity in Yeshua that I will never forget!
At the same time, being with such a nice variety of Gentiles gave me a profoundly enjoyable sense of being Jewish. A sense of destiny, of obligation…a most “peculiar” feeling came over me. But then God has called us to be his “peculiar” people (Exodus 19:5). My perception of Isaiah 42:6 plummeted from the lofty heights of rhetoric to the concrete duty of day-to-day living in accordance with God’s expectations.
“I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations.”
That sounds very picturesque, but what are we supposed to do about it?
“Since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed…” (Genesis 18:18).
I don’t know about you, but I must confess, until recently, “the nations” were not much on my mind, nor did I think very much about what I could do to bless them! Phrases like “all the nations of the earth” had little meaning…until the Younger Leader’s Conference, when I found myself surrounded by real people who were quite literally from “the nations of the earth.” I discovered I actually believe God expects Jews who know the Messiah to be a beacon of light to the world—and to set an example for our Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ.
Maybe you doubt the significance of our tiny movement compared to the momentous, magnificent and extensive workings of the Holy Spirit among Africans, Koreans, and South Americans. Yet they don’t doubt the great significance of the messianic movement! I was amazed to find a number of delegates who pray regularly for the salvation of the Jewish people. Many had never even met a Jewish person, yet they believe in Romans 1:16 and consider themselves indebted to the House of Israel. They don’t seem to have any trouble understanding that God intends the gospel to go “to the Jew first.” Christian leaders from around the world were thrilled to hear of God’s work among the Jewish people, especially in the USA. I hope you will be as encouraged as I was to hear the following remarks from around the globe:
“I believe that Jewish evangelism is important because we have to witness first to the members of our own family, to our relatives. And there are no closer relatives to Christians than Jewish people.”
Jorge, Program Director for Trans World Radio in West Germany
“I believe Jewish evangelism is important because Jews are still the people of God, and I believe deeply that God has a special concern for them. So, we should be praying, we should do more in our countries for the ministry of Jews for Jesus and other ministries like that.”
Normando, pastor of one of the largest growing Baptist churches in Lisbon
“Jewish evangelism is important because it is God’s mandate…to the Jew first.”
Sara, A Kenyan serving with the Navigators
I was especially moved by the prayers of my fellow ministers as we met in small groups during the two week conference. We frequently discussed ways they could reach the Jewish people in their countries. I was touched by the sensitivity of their prayers for my family. They are experiencing formidable opposition toward the preaching of the gospel in their own countries; yet they were praying earnestly for us, that the Lord would give us his strength to endure the opposition we encounter. Their interest and enthusiasm bore story to their awareness of who we are and the fact that, as Jewish believers, we have a key role to play in evangelizing the world. Never doubt that others are eagerly watching to see how God will use us!
Another significant conference in which Jewish believers had an important role was the July Congress on the Holy Spirit and World Evangelization. This nation-wide gathering drew believers from most denominations and Christian traditions. Sandwiched in among sessions for Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists and many more were the Messianic Jewish sessions.
Susan Perlman attended the conference and felt that the Messianic Jewish series had an impact which was far beyond the number of messianic participants…which compared to the other 30,000 or so people there, was comparatively few! The hundreds of Jewish believers in attendance represented multitudes of denominational backgrounds and Messianic congregations. The very fact that we Jewish believers had set aside denominational concerns was a witness to the rest of the Body of the unity made possible in Christ.
Bob Mendelsohn, who organized the Jewish track, reported the book tables of the Messianic groups were the busiest of all! Many were crowded with Christians eager, to learn how they can tell their Jewish friends about Jesus. Bob gave the Aaronic benediction to conclude the entire conference. Afterwards, the enormous crowd sang “Trees of the Field” and “Awake 0 Israel.” We should take heart and appreciate the keen interest which has been taken in Jewish people…it has not always been so in the church’s history!
We belong to a people God created to be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3). We need to be spiritual “pace -setters” for the rest of the Body. But how? By not allowing ourselves to become ingrown! As in toenails, spiritual “ingrowth” causes pain and hampers our pace. When we stop looking at ourselves and look to the Lord, we gain His holy view of the world around us and of our chosen purpose.
We can move from the picturesque to the practical by considering ways to shed light and be a blessing to “the nations.”
Jewish people know how to be a minority, but our Gentile brethren have never learned to believe in the power of the “few.” As a result, the church has been practicing a triumphalism which looks ridiculous to the unbelieving majority of the world. Imagine a rag-tag bunch of kids, marching down the street to the tune of rousing Sousa marches on their kazoos, pretending they are a big brass band in the Rose Bowl Parade. What is worse than pretending is really believing it! Churches and ministries parade around with similar delusions, and it’s downright silly. Until Yeshua brings about the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, the church had better learn how to function as a minority. So what if we are small and weak within ourselves…it only took twelve Jewish believers, by God’s grace, to turn the world upside down! God has never needed a majority to accomplish his work in this world. He seems to prefer using a remnant who trust Him.
Jews have always known how to get a lot done with only a few people. What war did we ever fight in which we were not outnumbered?! Survival by the grace of God in the face of insurmountable odds is the key to our very existence. We have learned how to move fast and to move far, and part of the secret is not carrying a lot of baggage. And there is a lot of baggage the church insists on schlepping around.
Much of that baggage is the cultural trappings of the Gentile environment, designed more for comfort than practical use. Our Jewish grandparents put their money into jewelry rather than land because they knew they might have to leave in a hurry. It seems like today’s churches want to build cathedrals to stand and admire rather than tabernacles to carry the presence of God through the wilderness of 20th century existence. We Jews know the value of “righteous restlessness.” We know we don’t belong; we can’t allow a sense of belonging to this world to delude us. We must remember the value of mobility and maintaining a minority voice so we can help our Gentile brothers and sisters speak prophetically to the unbelieving majority.
Aesthetics and Fun
Doesn’t it seem like Jews have more fun? Of course, we also have more complaints, but that’s because we allow ourselves to feel more, to do more, to reach out more. Our awareness of the transitory nature of life has taught us to seize the moment and make the most of every opportunity—including opportunities to enjoy! The apostle Paul knew how to he abased as well as how to abound. He did not regard “abounding” as proof of his faith, nor was being abased an indication of a lack of faith.
It is the Jewish way to realize that life holds a certain amount of pain and a certain amount of pleasure. We are not embarrassed to seize hold of the pleasure and we are not surprised by the pain. This outlook has given us a certain zest for life which some of our Gentile brothers and sisters have missed. I’m not saying we should give the church lessons in hedonism. But I do think God would nod his approval if, as a “light unto the nations,” we helped them to “lighten up” a little, and enjoy the art, music, food, humor and other good things which reflect God’s creative and generous nature.
A Secret Safety Valve
Along the same lines, Jewish believers can teach other believers not to take themselves so seriously. Of course, we should take God seriously! He deserves our every effort to please him. On the other hand, we are not God; we should not be impressed by our strength or despair over our weakness. We need to have more realistic expectations.
Western Christians seem to be awed by suffering, not because they have suffered for their faith, but because most haven’t. They imagine the pain to be greater than it is. We Jews have suffered and even died for being Jews, yet we have learned to relieve some of the pressure with a secret safety valve—a sense of humor about who we are and what we are.
If we are to share the secret of that safety valve—not taking ourselves too seriously—we must keep remembering to use it ourselves! As Jewish believers we can’t afford to let ourselves despair over rejection or respond to abuse by throwing ourselves a pity party.
If the majority of the Jewish community does not like us, so what? When has the majority of any people ever been right about anything of any consequence? If most of the Jewish people were right most of the time about what God wanted, why in the world did we need prophets to continually admonish our forefathers? How do we respond to the pain and confusion amidst our families when we are rejected for the sake of the gospel? Do we spend the energy we owe to the Messiah on trying to prove to our fellow Jews that we are just as Jewish as they are? What kind of signals do we send to the rest of the body of Christ?
Yeshua is the one who makes us kosher. He is still the King of the Jews. As long as we remember to take him more seriously than we take ourselves, we can teach the church an important lesson.
Commitment to World Evangelization
Louis Talbot, after whom the Talbot Theological Seminary was named, stood in the pulpit one Sunday and said, “Jews make the best Christians.” He meant that when a Jewish person comes to Christ, it means giving up earthly ambitions and family security. It means putting total trust in the Lord. Dr. Talbot added that most Gentiles do not have to “count the cost” to the degree that Jewish people do when they accept Jesus. He named several Jewish believers who have pioneered mission fields—Michael Alexander, the first Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem; Bishop Schereshevsky, the translator of the Bible into Mandarin and many more. He concluded by saying that since apostolic times, Jewish Christians have always been the diamonds on the cutting edge of evangelism!
We have so much to give, and men of God like the late Louis Talbot, former pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles, have recognized it.… So how come we often end up behaving like a bunch of followers instead of taking responsibility and becoming the leaders we should be? We tend to be very critical of ourselves and one another and sometimes we forget all the gifts and strength God has given us.
The other extreme which can keep us from being diamonds on the cutting edge of’ evangelism is religious “me-ism.” The tip-off is usually conversation centering on what God did for me, what I did for God, why my congregation is the best, etc. Our story should underscore who God is rather than making a big deal about who we are. If we keep our focus on him, we can be a blessing and a light to the nations.
I just finished reading the manuscript of a new book entitled Jesus for Jews. It contains testimonies of 15 Jewish believers from varied backgrounds—doctors, lawyers, business “chiefs,” a cantor, a policeman and the beloved wife of this writer. I hope each of you will get this book as soon as you can; you won’t be able to put it down. But what thrilled me the most was realizing these 15 testimonies barely scratch the surface. There are probably 3,000 times that many equally interesting stories of equally exciting people that could be told to the edification of the whole body of the Messiah.
We’ve got something to give and you better know it. The apostle Paul gave a dramatic description of Jews finding Yeshua as being “life from the dead” (Romans 11:15). Yes, there is a futuristic aspect to this passage; still, every Jewish person who accepts Jesus today is a sign to me of the great things God has planned for that coming Day. Doesn’t that make sense to you? Am I the only one who actually believes that salvation of the Jewish people is the holy springboard for world evangelization?
To whom has the torch passed? World evangelism began through the Spirit-empowered ministry of a few Messianic Jews…and history will conclude in the same way. But what about now…today? Where are the light-bearers among Jewish believers who will count all things as loss for the sake of the Messiah? Our witness can ignite the story of the nations when the flames of our passion for Yeshua burn brightly enough for them to see.
I’ve dreamed of seeing every Jewish believer gathered together in one place like Yankee Stadium, all singing the praises of Yeshua at once. But it would probably be such a glorious event that ordinary life afterwards would seem unbearably mundane. What I could handle doing, and I wish it were possible, would be getting together with each of you—all 20,000 of you who receive this Mishpochah Message. I’d look you right in the eye and when you looked back into mine you would know that I mean it when I say, you are of great value to God. Don’t waste yourself doing what is ordinary!
Dear mishpochah, let your light shine. Jesus never said, “Let it blink.” Let us become a blazing light and bless the nations to the glory of God, for this is our heritage and our destiny.