Monthly Archives: June 2014

The PCUSA’s Divestment Dilemma

The Presbyterian Church USA recently approved an initiative to divest stock holdings in companies allegedly profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.[1]

This decision, as well as others that were made at the 221st General Assembly held last week in Detroit,[2] demands a response from followers of Jesus and especially from Messianic Jews like myself – Jewish people who believe Jesus is the Jewish Messiah for all.

However, one needs to look at the divestment vote of the PCUSA holistically. When this is viewed as one decision among many, it is easier to see what is at the heart of this vote.

Reasons for the PCUSA’s Divestment

Let’s start with some good points. The 310 delegates who voted in favor (303 voted against) of the PCUSA divesting their stock holdings in three companies – Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar – probably did so with noble intentions.

Most of the delegates probably believed this symbolic gesture; removing about 21 million dollars in invested funds might cause Israel to reconsider its approach to the current conflict.

The PCUSA delegates who voted for the divestment measures believed their vote is an expression of Christian ethics, affirming the dignity of all humanity created in the image of God, and that true Christians are called to support the oppressed and withstand the oppressors. The assumption of course is that Israelis are genuinely oppressing Palestinians – an assumption that may be heartfelt, but naïve.

I would also assume that those who voted for divestment did so out of a sincere heart of love and compassion for Palestinians whom they believe are victims of Israeli aggression. The PCUSA also affirmed Israel’s right to exist. However, this is especially challenging today because of the decision by the Palestinian Authority to unite with Hamas, who persistently deny Israeli’s right to exist. Unfortunately, the PCUSA statement ignored the linkage between the Palestinian Authority and this known terrorist group.

I speak in many PCUSA churches, and believe that there are many sincere and devoted believers among the 1.8 million members of this great historic church body. However, I question whether or not the pro-Israel PCUSA voice is being heard, as so many have simply given up and left the denomination.

Flaws in the Rationale for Divestment

Let me suggest a few reasons why the PCUSA’s decision to divest is faulty.

First of all, the delegates have chosen to believe the Palestinian narrative of the conflict and therefore – despite the PCUSA’s claim that they have not sided with either Israel or the Palestinians – they have. The PCUSA has decided to accept the charges against Israel by the Palestinian side and have acted upon them. This includes measures taken by Israel in Gaza and hotbed areas of the West Bank to prevent further acts of terrorism. The profound role of terrorism has not even been addressed in the PCUSA decision to divest.

The PCUSA has also “paraded” a few left-wing Israeli peace activists to demonstrate that there are Jewish Israelis who agree with their position. According to the Times article,

Of more influence was the presence at the church’s convention all week of Jewish activists, many of them young, in black T-shirts with the slogan “Another Jew Supporting Divestment.” Many of them were with Jewish Voice for Peace, a small but growing organization that promotes divestment and works with Palestinian and Christian groups on the left.[3]

This effort to show Jewish support is a tactic practiced by the Palestinian media machine and has now been evidently adopted the PCUSA as well. Israel is a free country and dissent may freely be expressed there, as in the United States. The PCUSA should have asked an Israeli government official to speak, or at least had had someone representing the mainstream views of average Israelis. The event must be seen as heavily orchestrated towards persuading delegates to pass the divestment measures.

I just returned from Israel, where Palestinian spokespersons for Hamas and other similar groups reported that the three Israeli boys who have recently disappeared were not kidnapped, but are merely missing – though the evidence is virtually decisive that they were kidnapped and may have already been killed. The Palestinian media machine claims that the Israelis are using this as an excuse to “crack down on” the Palestinians.

Most PCUSA delegates have been influenced by a booklet produced by the anti-Israel lobby of the PCUSA entitled “Zionism Unsettled,” which perpetuates the most radical political viewpoints of the Palestinian media machine.[4] This document has been disavowed by many within the PCUSA as much too one-sided, yet it has been the major influence and provided the essential political perspective for the divestment decision.

Ultimately, one of the main reasons the vote passed at this General Assembly, despite failing to be approved in the past, is because many of those who supported Israel have already left the denomination because of a variety of issues.

The PCUSA’s General Departure from Scripture

Other issues were also affirmed at this General Assembly, besides divestment from the three companies. For example, the New York Times reported the following:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted at its General Assembly on Thursday to change its constitution’s definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people,” and to allow its ministers to perform same-sex marriages where it is legal.

The vote giving discretion to ministers to marry gay couples takes effect on Sunday, at the close of the General Assembly.[5]

This issue has been more schismatic for the average PCUSA congregation than the divestment issue, but together these decisions speak to a trend. Viewing these decisions by the PCUSA General Assembly as aspects of one agenda will sober evangelicals who may have unwittingly embraced the divestment decision without understanding the underlying values moving the PCUSA leadership in this direction.

The PCUSA seems to be leaving its biblical moorings. Instead of allowing Holy Scripture to judge the trends and philosophies of our day, the opposite is happening – today’s trends and values are beginning to determine the ethical, moral and political decisions of the church.

Dangerous Results of the PCUSA’s Decision

As a Messianic Jew, I am also very concerned with the decisions of the PCUSA. I am very disturbed with the lack of understanding or commitment to the literal promises of God in the Old Testament to the Jewish people. In fact, a literal interpretation of the Old Testament would have caused the PCUSA to make a different decision on the issue of gay marriage as well.

Disregarding a more literal view of the Old Testament can easily lead God’s people along the path of moral relativity and spiritual decline, as when we spiritualize God’s commandments, we become rudderless boats navigating the turbulent rivers of discipleship in today’s world.

I grieve over the increment general turn of the PCUSA from a heartfelt concern for the spiritual welfare of the Jewish people to the current loss of evangelistic zeal for Jewish people. In fact, in the first half of the 20th century, the Presbyterians – which then included a number of more conservative groups that have since split from the larger body – were active in Jewish missions and believed that reaching Jewish people for Jesus was important. The Home Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church at the time supported dozens of workers among the Jewish people and Neighborhood Houses that were funded as Centers for Jewish outreach.

The PCUSA of today do not seem to care how these politically-driven decisions might impact the eternal fate of Jewish people. But perhaps the leaders of the PCUSA have stopped caring about this a long time ago?

The PCUSA must understand that even if a few liberal Rabbis or Jewish community leaders support their decision, the vast majority of Jewish people – my people – will view their divestment decision as one of a long list of Christian acts against the Jewish people. It makes me heartsick to see this happen again, as it will decrease the willingness of Jewish people to listen to the Gospel. Why should my people be interested in a faith that has made a politically-driven decision against the Jewish homeland?

I will have a lot of explaining to do. Dear PCUSA leaders, you could have handled this better!


Notes:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/21/us/presbyterians-debating-israeli-occupation-vote-to-divest-holdings.html?emc=eta1&_r=0

[2] http://www.religionnews.com/2014/06/20/prebyteriansdivestment/

[3] IBID

[4] http://store.pcusa.org/2646614001

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/us/presbyterians-vote-to-change-definition-of-marriage-to-two-people.html?action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

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Filed under Anti-Semitism, Boycotts against Israel, Christ at the CheckPoint, Israel, Judaism, Middle East

Time to Protest! Presbyterian Anti Israel Tactics

I do not usually step into the fray of denominational politics, but this time I am compelled to raise my voice!

The Presbyterian Church USA will be meeting in General Assembly this week.  The representatives to the Assembly will consider taking actions against Israel that go beyond the call of Christians to preach the Good News to all people.

The PCUSA should be more concerned with sharing the love of God with both Israelis and Arabs and less concerned with solving political problems through coercive financial messages and promoting materials for local congregations that are overly simplistic, unfair and mean-spirited.

The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) has made repeated efforts over the last two decades to minimize Jewish evangelism, to encourage PCUSA churches to openly criticize Israel, and to urge churches to divest their shares of companies doing business with Israel.

A number of Overtures initiated at the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) this week will take a politically pro-Palestinian posture – going so far as to compare today’s Israelis to Nazis who murdered six million Jews.

This movement within the PCUSA has gone too far. Those who identify themselves as followers of Jesus must raise their voices in protest.

As Messianic Jews and Gentile followers of Jesus Christ supportive of Israel’s right to the land promised to the Jewish people in the Bible, we boldly protest these outrageous efforts by the PCUSA.

We urge the leaders of the PCUSA to stop vilifying Israel. We should be focused on evangelism – concentrating on sharing the Gospel with both Jewish people and Palestinians.

Less of politics, and more of the Gospel, leads to enduring peace.

Please click on http://bit.ly/1sj1aan and sign the petition and please send this out to all your friends that love the Lord and the Jewish people… and to those who do not, as the actions of the PCUSA must be opposed by all followers of our Messiah Jesus who believe the Gospel should be our primary focus and tool of reconciliation.

Click here to sign the petition to stop the anti-Israel movement

 

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Shavuot – The Day of Pentecost and The Festivals of Israel

Shavuot – The Day of Pentecost The Festivals of Israel

The festivals of Israel were designed by God to focus the hearts and minds of the Jewish on various elements of God’s person and plan.   In addition, the Festivals, as much as any other portion of the Hebrew Scriptures also point to the coming of the Messiah. This is especially true of the seven great festivals outlined in Leviticus chapter 23.

I believe the four Spring Festivals were fulfilled in the first coming of Jesus.   The three Fall Festivals will be fulfilled in His second coming.

The Fourth Spring Festival

The Biblical Names

Shavuot – Weeks – 7 weeks after Passover

The fourth and final Spring Festival is called Shavuot. This word means seven because seven-sevens – or seven, seven-day weeks are to be counted by the Jewish people; beginning with Passover and then Shavuot is to be observed on the 50th day.

Pentecost – Fifty – 50th day after Passover

In Christian tradition the festival is called Pentecost – the Greek term which means 50, as this fourth spring festival is observed on the 50th day after Passover.

The Traditional Jewish Names

Zman Matan Torah – ‘the season of the giving of the Law’ – One of the Hebrew titles for the holiday in Jewish tradition is Zman Matan Torah – ‘the season of the giving of the Law’ as the Rabbis believed that the Torah was given on the day of Pentecost.  We eat special holiday bread – a reminder of the Jewish tradition that Moses climbed a ladder to heaven to receive the Law.  Shavuot is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people and the Talmud tells us that God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jews on the sixth night of the Hebrew month of Sivan.

The Biblical Commands

  • Sheuvot always falls 50 days after the second night of Passover. The 49 days in between are known as the Omer.  A later Jewish tradition teaches that the Torah was given on Shavuot.
  • The counting for the 50 days was to begin on that ‘day after the Sabbath’(Lev. 23:15), the day when the First Fruit/sheaf was waved occurred on the day.
  • They offered two leavened loaves of bread concluding the grain harvest. (Lev. 23:17), which was the Tithe (Lev. 27:30).
  • The two-loaves were the results (symbolically) of the one sheaf, waved before the Lord on the Day of First Fruits mentioned in Lev. 23:11
  • Shavuot is also one of the three pilgrimage feasts when all Jewish males were required to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem.

Jewish Traditions

  • There are many Jewish traditions associated with Pentecost.
  • The reading of the Book of Ruth as it is a harvest time story – King David was born and died on this festival and Ruth took on the burden of the Law.
  • Many religious Jews commemorate Shavuot by spending the entire night studying Torah at their synagogue or at home.
  • Chanting the Ten Commandments.

The Messianic Fulfillment of the Festival

Now if Passover was fulfilled in the death of the Lamb of God and unleavened bread in his sinless character and His resurrection the fulfillment of First Fruit then we must ask ourselves – how was the of day Pentecost fulfilled by the first coming of Jesus?

It is no coincidence that God selected this Jewish festival as the day when he would send his Holy Spirit.  In Acts, chapter 2 we see this festival fulfilled in some remarkable ways. To understand why God would choose to pour out His Spirit on the day of Pentecost – we must rehearse the relationship between all the Spring Festivals.

  • Passover – redemption – death of Christ
  • First Fruits – first results – Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:23)
  • Pentecost – Fruition – Birth of the Church

In Acts, chapter 2 God fulfills this festival in some remarkable ways.

The Promise

The 120 Disciples (Acts 1:15), were in one place, in one mind, praying and focusing on God’s work. They were waiting in obedience to the command of Jesus (Acts 1:4-5) and also in obedience to the Laws of Shavuot regarding “no work’ – Lev. 23:21.  Many were pilgrims who had left their homes in other places to be part of this Festival. God would bless their obedience now in a powerful way – some of those waiting were pilgrims as Pentecost was one of the three Festivals where Jewish people were commanded to go “up to Jerusalem’ to worship.

God would bless their obedience.

And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:45-49)

And further, before His ascension to the right hand of the Father He says to His disciples,

… He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”(Acts 1:4-5)

Signs and Wonders

After some days of patient waiting – the presence and power of the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples on the 50th day after Passover.  It was a new revelation given on a new Pentecost!  The initial giving of the Torah by Moses at Mt. Sinai had come with signs and wonders in the heaven as seen in Exodus 19.

Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice. (Ex. 19:16-19)

There were now signs and wonders in the Upper Room marking this new Pentecost as well.  It was the birthday of a new revelation and the fulfillment of God’s promises to pour out His Spirit in the last days! (Joel 2)

Hearing the Good News in their Own Language

The Tradition of All Israel Being Present at Sinai

According to our Sages, every Jew who would ever live was at Mount Sinai, pledging their obedience to the Law.  According to Jewish tradition this was not limited to the Jews alive at this time.  The Rabbis believed in the pre-existence of the soul and that every Jew who would ever live – was at Mount Sinai – with or without a body! The rational for this is that every Jewish person at that moment agreed to keep the Torah.  The verse used to teach this is,

Ex. 24:7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said,  “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.”

In light of this, it makes sense that there was also a Jewish tradition that every Jew present at Mount Sinai that day actually heard the giving of the Law in their own native tongue – after all how could they obey what they did not understand.

The fulfillment on the day of this new Pentecost, which took place 50 days after Jesus the Lamb of God died for our sins, is obvious.  There were signs and wonders, just like at Mount Sinai and those who heard the disciples preaching heard this new revelation in their own native tongue.  Can you imagine what it would have been like to be present at this new Pentecost?  It would have been amazing especially as the Jewish people realized that the new had come with the power of the old!

How gracious of God to use a tradition of man to communicate His truth to the Jewish people.  God Himself is our role model for missionary service and evangelism.   He seeks to communicate with us in ways we can understand…He could prove His point otherwise, but He deigns to prove Himself in ways that we humans can understand…as our ability to understand spiritual truth is so limited.  Perhaps the best example of this is the Son of God Himself, who took on flesh in order to communicate with you and me…to show us His love and to help us better understand the Father through His role model and example.  We too need to incarnate the Good News in ways that our families, friends and neighbors understand …through love, helping in practical ways and doing whatever it takes to help those we pray for understand that God is not far away, He is close and He loves them.

Happy Shevout/Pentecost and may the Lord fill you with the presence and power of His presence. 

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Filed under Holidays & Festivals, Israel, Jewish Christian Dialogue, Jews and Christians, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Uncategorized