Mice in the Cookie Jar
Almost every time I speak at a church, Christians come up and thank me for helping to clarify the Jewish roots of their faith or for giving them ideas on how to witness to their Jewish friends. But at one church I sadly found a set of different responses.
It was a large mainline denomination church near the downtown district of a big city. I was looking forward to being there. I had never ministered in a church of that particular denomination, and I would get to speak four times that morning! In the worship services I shared my story, but during the Sunday school hour I opened a forum for questions and answers. The discussion turned out to be quite lively.
I began by telling the group they were under attack by opponents of the gospel who wanted them to believe that Jews did not need Jesus. I was clear in describing the Jewish community’s plea just to be left alone” by Christians. That is the sociological attack. But there is also a theological attack that in an exaggerated way goes like this: Jews have a covenant with God through Abraham. Gentiles were pagans riding naked on horses and worshiping under oak trees. They had no covenant with God and didn’t know Him. Therefore, God sent Jesus for the sake of those pagan Gentiles. Faith in Jesus is good, but only for the Gentiles. Again the punch line is always the same: Leave the Jews alone about Jesus!
As the questions flew, one woman, who was married to a Jewish man, said that she didn’t believe some were saved and some were not. She felt that such an assumption was arrogant. Certainly people from remote parts of the world would not be condemned if they didn’t know Jesus. One Jewish woman, who had come to Christ as a child, said she couldn’t understand the name “Jews for Jesus.” She did not feel particularly friendly toward it and had many questions about identity. Another Jewish woman, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, told me she was a believer in Jesus, having gotten interested in Him through something called “A Course in Miracles,” which is a modern cultic approach to faith in Christ.
I expressed my one complaint with the “Course in Miracles.” It leaves out any notion of sin and a need to be forgiven through Christ’s atonement.
“Oh,” she said, “I don’t believe in sin. I think the problem is all in our minds.”
It became clear to me that this person either didn’t know what the Bible says or was purposely choosing to reject it.
It struck me that so many people in that church were regular worshipers there but had no understanding or faith in the Person and work of Christ. Normally I do evangelism out on the streets or in people’s homes, not in churches. But there I was, giving the basics of the gospel to that Sunday school class.
I thought of a comment Corrie ten Boom used to make that her father had once said about church goers: “Just because a mouse is in the cookie jar, that doesn’t make it a cookie. So just because people go to church, that doesn’t make them Christians.”
The same principle also holds true in a Jewish context. Just being born a Jew doesn’t make a person right in God’s sight. We Jews cannot say to ourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” as if that were all it takes to be acceptable to God. No, for both Jews and Gentiles salvation is a matter of personal faith in Yeshua, the One who came and died for our sins, was resurrected and is soon to return.
North American Director
Stephen's grandparents immigrated to America from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, ultimately settling in the Chicago area. As a boy, Stephen enjoyed sports and excelled in school. In his high school years he began to question the values he had been raised with, and instead of focusing on academics, began to spend all his time playing guitar and harmonica. Over the next few years he searched for answers to his many questions about life, eventually becoming a follower of Yeshua. Three weeks after receiving his bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Illinois, he got married and began to work with abused and neglected youth in a residential treatment center in Chicago, which he did for 10 years (taking one year out to live on a kibbutz in Israel). He received his master's degree in social work from the University of Illinois in 1984. He and his young family attended a messianic congregation for 13 years, where Stephen served as the worship leader. In 1989, Stephen began missionary training with Jews for Jesus and now serves as North American Director. For 12 years he oversaw our work in Israel and still continues to be involved with our work there. Laura and he have four children, three of whom are married. He received a master's degree in intercultural and Jewish studies from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1997. Stephen is known to be a warm-hearted and engaging teacher and a good listener.