Why celebrate new beginnings? They create a sense of wonder and anticipation of what might be. New beginnings are promising; they give us something to look forward to. Yet they also help us reflect on the past, to thank God for the goodness we have experienced by His hand and to turn from past attitudes and actions that have displeased Him.
New beginnings are paradoxical. They make us joyous yet solemn. They propel us forward and at the same time they cause us to pause. That is because embarking on a new venture includes assuming responsibility, taking stock of what needs to be done and committing ourselves to a course of action. There is an appropriate sense of obligation in beginning anew, and shouldering responsibility produces sober thoughtfulness as we consider the consequences of our commitments.
Sundown, September 8 marks Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when we, along with our fellow Jews will mark the beginning of the New Year 5771.
Rosh Hashanah is a joyous time of celebration and at the same time a season of reflection and solemnity. The blast of the shofar calls us to humble ourselves and recognize our need for God’s grace. This is apparent in some of the traditions associated with the festival. Jewish people greet one another by saying, L’ shanah tova tikatevu,” which means, “May your name be inscribed for a good year.” The “inscribing” refers to the Book of Life, which according to Jewish tradition, closes ten days later as the Day of Atonement comes to an end.
We Jews for Jesus know that our names have been forever inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life, written indelibly in His own blood. Nevertheless, we choose to look back and reflect, not only on the past year, but also all the way back to the launching of Jews for Jesus 37 years ago this month.
Forgive me if I seem to be boasting, but if I am, let me boast in what the Lord has done. Frankly, God used Moishe Rosen and a small band of committed believers to change the course of Jewish missions. Never again will the informed, honest observer see Jewish evangelism as a futile enterprise. Under God, we have overcome fortified defenses and have cut through the barbed wire objection: “Jews don’t believe in Jesus.” Jewish leaders can no longer say that with credibility. Our very existence proves the objection false by declaring, “We are Jews for Jesus, now you must reckon with us.” We have received an enormous legacy from the Lord through Moishe Rosen, and I for one am deeply, deeply grateful.
Our victories are the Lord’s victories, and they have brought joy to our staff and to our supporters. And while we work hard to do the ministry, we have fun along the way. God has called us to a weighty task, and we take the gospel very seriously, but we have learned not to take ourselves too seriously.
Moishe illustrated this principle in a way that surprised and delighted me. Shortly after I was elected executive director, we held a consecration service. Many who took part in the service offered me sobering admonitions.
Moishe took his turn, saying he didn’t have a mantle to give me except his parking place at headquarters, the executive office and the staff. But he did want to bestow a symbol of authority, and he felt it should be something that had belonged to him during his tenure as executive director. We waited in suspense as Moishe described how he had pondered what he might give. He felt it should not only help me face my new responsibilities but, if the Lord tarries, he wanted something that will someday also help my successor. Finally, he reached into his pocket and pulled out something that someone had given him long ago—a shiny, gold-plated yo-yo.
He proceeded to explain that while a yo-yo is a fun toy, it also illustrates some key principles. For example, the yo-yo can only function when it is in the hand of its master. In order for a yo-yo to work, it must be in motion. Sometimes that motion is downward, but the harder the yo-yo goes down, the quicker it comes back up into the palm of the master’s hand. The lessons of the yo-yo are helpful when dealing with the ups and downs of leadership and life in general.
Nevertheless, during this time of new beginnings, we Jews for Jesus must address the serious side of reflection as well. We are grateful for our tremendous past, we are hopeful for a great future, but we recognize more than ever the need for God’s grace and wisdom as we move ahead.
We dare not gaze at our past through rose-colored glasses. We have made our fair share of mistakes. It is important to learn from those mistakes and to prayerfully seek God’s grace to strengthen weak hands and feeble knees. My prayer for the new year and my prayer for Jews for Jesus is that our staff reconsecrate ourselves. May we be marked by a new level of holiness unto the Lord in our personal lives and in our ministry service.
We must never compromise the quality of our commitment. We must not allow ourselves to be shaped by the weakness of the flesh or the standards of the world. We must be clay in the hands of the Master Potter who will glaze us in the kiln of fiery adversity so that we resist being shaped by the forces of society.
More than ever, I would ask that you pray that God would grant us the strength to be and do all that God wants.
Jews believe in an annual judgment day. The blast of the shofar at Rosh Hashanah is a call to repentance, but for those of us who know Christ, it reminds us of His return. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1Thessalonians 4:16).
God has called us to sound off, to call our Jewish people to reflect on eternal matters. We do not know how much time we have before the Lord returns. It will be a day of alarm to those who do not believe, and so we must redouble our efforts, we must be prepared to make new sacrifices. We must be prepared to go to new places and learn new things so that more people will hear before it is too late.
One thing that I can promise you for the new year: I will strive for excellence in proclaiming the gospel. But it is not mere striving that will enable us to maintain our standards of excellence, and so I ask once again that you join with us in asking for God’s grace because “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).