Variations on the Freedom Theme…
Passover, the Feast of Redemption, is a great time to focus on God’s saving power. But what does that freedom mean after we’ve been saved? Following you will see two very different aspects of the freedom theme, as one of our missionaries passes on a lesson to a contact, and another receives a lesson for himself.
Now is Not the Time – Or is It?
By Avi Snyder, European Director
Years ago, I met a Jewish believer in Yeshua whom I’ll call Dima. Born in Tashkent, the capitol of Uzbekistan, he came to faith in the early nineties, then immigrated with his family to the US. When I met him he was in his mid-twenties and had recently started up an office supply business. As we chatted over a cup of coffee, I asked, So why do you think God redeemed you?”
He answered without a moment’s hesitation. “Because He loves me.”
“That’s true,” I agreed. “But what was His reason for bringing you to faith. Have you ever wondered?”
Dima thought, shrugged and took a sip of coffee. We shifted to more comfortable small talk, and then I asked if his business was going well.
He nodded and admitted with genuine modesty, “I guess you could say I’m pretty successful for my age.”
“So did you ever wonder whether God has something different in store for you?”
Apparently my question struck a nerve. He stiffened slightly as he said in a very measured voice, “I know that God wants me involved in ministry, but now is not the time.”
His words sounded very familiar to me. So I asked Dima if I might show him a few passages from Ezra and Haggai and he did not object.
Now is not the time…
The year was about 536 B.C. Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, had released us from a seventy-year long captivity in Babylon, in fulfillment of very explicit prophecies, such as the one found in Jeremiah 29:10. When Cyrus let us go, he gave us permission to return to our ancient homeland to accomplish a very specific task:
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia… Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel…”
Fifty thousand of us returned to Jerusalem to start rebuilding the house of the Lord. But opposition arose, and we stopped the work, using the time to build our own homes instead. We reasoned that the time hadn’t come for the Lord’s house to be rebuilt.
Finally, the Lord spoke through the prophet Haggai, throwing our words back into our faces.
“Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, “The time has not come, the time that the LORD’s house should be built.”’
Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?’” (Haggai 1:2-4)
I looked up from the text with a sympathetic half-smile at Dima. “Take it as a friendly exhortation,” I told him. “God redeems us for a purpose. If He’s given you a hint about what that purpose might be, it’s not wise to tell Him that there are other things you need to take care of first.”
Redeemed for His reasons, not our own
I remember that as a boy, growing up and celebrating Passover every year, we spoke about redemption from Egypt and about being “set free” in the same breath, as though they were one and the same thing. But they’re not. When God redeemed us from Egypt, He certainly set us free from a previous owner. But He didn’t turn us loose. He re-purchased us. In essence, He set us free from servitude to others so that we could serve Him.
Those of us who have been redeemed by Yeshua have been redeemed from a much greater bondage than slavery in Egypt or captivity in Babylon. We’ve been redeemed from our bondage to sin and death. We’ve been set free by God, but He hasn’t turned us loose. We’ve been set free to serve.
Larissa is another believer from the former USSR. She came to faith in 1992 at Passover, the season of redemption, just six months after the ministry had gotten underway in Ukraine. Within months after giving her heart to the Lord, she was standing with the rest of us on the streets of Odessa, telling anyone who’d listen about the Lord.
May God keep us all from ever forgetting why we’ve been redeemed. But if and when we become preoccupied with building the wrong house, may the words that God spoke to us through Haggai echo in our ears:
“Consider your ways…Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified” (Haggai 1:7,8).
A Liberating Lesson
By Yoel Ben David, missionary
One God. One gospel. It’s urgent that lost souls hear the only message that can save them. As a Jews for Jesus missionary I proclaim these truths daily, yet even evangelists sometimes forget how and why we do what we do.
Let me explain: My family and I left our post in Israel in mid December, 2008. We were headed for San Francisco where I was to be “shadowing” David Brickner, our executive director, for ten months. I’ve seen how other staff have grown from spending time with David and I was really looking forward to the experience.
As it is, I am in London and limbo. Visa problems.*
My life was put “on hold” leaving me to feel a little aimless. I wonder, what am I doing here? As disappointment rises, motivation drops and so does my evangelistic fervor.
What happens when a missionary is too ensnared in his own sorry situation to submit to the power of the Spirit? The following is what happened to me.
I was not feeling enthusiastic as I went to Golders Green Underground station to witness with Barry, a fellow missionary, and a first-time volunteer called Duncan. The moment I exited the tube, the sounds and smell of buses charged my senses. There were lots of people; lots of Jewish people. I watched Duncan engaging passers-by in conversation. I was both encouraged and dismayed. He, a volunteer, seemed at ease with the task while I, a trained missionary, struggled.
I felt trapped within myself; a hostage of my own discontent. I needed to pray, so I popped into a local cafT for a few quiet moments. I closed my eyes and asked God to release me from everything that was holding me back, so that I could witness freely.
Within thirty seconds, a Jewish man saw my T-shirt and approached me. Alan began asking me questions and I invited him to sit down with me. As he lowered himself into the chair he declared, “Well you know I am pretty convinced of my Jewishness, you aren’t going to convert me.” I chuckled to myself over the familiar disclaimer that so many Jewish seekers feel obligated to make. I assured Alan that I only wanted to explain my beliefs as I thought silently that the rest would be up to God.
As we talked, I felt my heart fire up; my passion for the gospel was rekindled. I saw Alan pondering the challenges I’d set before him; he knew that he had some soul searching to do. God was working; I was smiling. The words I’d spoken to Alan were exactly the words I needed to hear. I left the cafT overjoyed that God had set me free.
The encounter reminded me that when we feel trapped by our feelings, God does not magically zap us with the feelings we want. He gives us opportunities to engage our problems, to come out of ourselves by serving others.
Before Messiah came into my life I was bound by my own sinful-desires but in Him I am free to choose good works. No matter what the situation or the pressures, I can trust in God who has already freed me by the blood of Yeshua.
Trust means I can turn to Him in the trial; I can confess my sin of self-centeredness; I can choose to step out in courageous faith. So can you.
I don’t need a visa to be where God wants me to be. “The powers that be” might be able to curtail my comings and goings, but the power of the Holy Spirit transcends every situation. We can choose to focus on the constraints of situations beyond our control, or we can trust the One Who is truly in control and focus on what sets us—and others—free: One God. One gospel.
*While this was written from London, Yoel eventually got his visa after a ten month “layover.” He and his family are now in San Francisco. ^ BACK
Avi Snyder is a veteran missionary and director of the European work of Jews for Jesus. He pioneered Jews for Jesus’ ministry in the former Soviet Union, before launching works in both Germany and Hungary. He will share with you what is happening in Jewish evangelism in Russia and Eastern Europe. Avi received his theological training at Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Ruth, have three grown children, Leah, Joel and Liz.