Shevat/Adar 5773 February 2013
MA CHADASH? WHAT’S NEW?
February 23: Purim and Oneg: We will observe Purim (the holiday celebrating the salvation of the Jewish people in the time of Mordecai and Esther), followed by an Oneg. Please bring food to share, especially Hamentashen to compete for the coveted Golden Hamentashen Award. Our Purim service is a wonderful, family-centered celebration, and we encourage children to dress up in costumes related to the story of Esther. Come be part of the fun!
Passover: March 25 and 28: Shema will host two Passover Seders this year, the first on Monday, March 25, and the second on Maundy Thursday, March 28: Seating for each will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Farmington Hills Manor, 23666 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills. Tickets are $25 for adults and $12 for children 12 and under. You can make a reservation and pay using Paypal on the Shema website, www.shema.com. Or, you can pay by check. Along with your reservation, please indicate which night or nights you want to attend and how many adults and children for whom you are reserving places. Please include your phone number and email address with your reservation. We will send you a confirmation email or letter. You need to make your reservation by March 20. Keep in mind that the evening is too long for young children.
Of Special Interest to Church Groups: As we approach Resurrection Sunday, Maundy Thursday is a popular time for churches to host special communion services. Many congregations invite presenters from Congregation Shema to come and share the Messiah in the Passover presentation in their church home. In fact, this presentation is so popular that we’re already accepting invitations on our 2014 speaking calendar. It was with this in mind that we scheduled our second Passover Seder Dinner for this year on Maundy Thursday. Please consider joining us! Passover is one of the most meaningful ceremonies that God has given His people. You will see how Yeshua is beautifully pictured in the Passover and why Messiah, our Passover Lamb, took “the cup after supper” and the Matzah (unleavened bread) and said, “This is My body … this cup is the New Covenant in My blood.” We believe God’s people will enthusiastically embrace this celebration of our Passover Lamb; and we look forward to working with churches interested in booking blocks of tables to accommodate their fellowship or small group. Each table seats eight comfortably.
THANKS VERY MUCH!
Rabbi Paul wrote to Messiah’s Community in Philippi: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Good News. Not only did Paul consider them partners because they received the Good News, but like Paul, they preached the Good News to others; and they financially supported Paul so he could give his full time to declaring the Good News. Like Paul, we pray with joy and are thankful for our partners in that same Good News! And, we pray that the Three-In-One God of Israel blesses you in a special way!
THE STATE OF THE NATION AND THE HOPE OF MESSIAH’S COMMUNITY
Like many other nations before us, we have forgotten God. Psalm 9:17 declares: The wicked will return to Sheol, even all the nations who forget God. This national forgetfulness about God is especially tragic in our case, since we had a strong Christian foundation at the beginning of our history and subsequently for several hundred years. But starting after World War 2, there has been a systematic effort to drive God out of our culture by the secular humanists. That effort has succeeded and is now bearing its poisonous fruits.
We have forgotten God Himself. Secular humanism is the dominant worldview of our culture. God is not honored or respected the way He should be. Since there is a connection between God and morality, when a nation forgets God, it loses God’s standards of morality. I am reminded of Abraham’s explanation as to why he lied to Avimelech, king of Gerar, about Sarah being his sister and not his wife. He lied because he thought there was no yirat-Elohim, no fear of God in that place, and they would kill him because of his wife. This lack of the fear of God explains much of the immorality and senseless violence of our time.
We need the fear of God. We need to know that there is a God who is holy and righteous and omniscient. We need to know that this all-knowing, holy and righteous God will be our judge. We need to know that there will be a Day of Judgment and that each one of us will give an account for all of our actions. We need to know that Hell is real and can be avoided and Heaven is real and can be gained. We need to know that there are absolutes like “thou shall not murder, commit adultery, steal or lie.” There is a connection between forgetting God and losing morality. Human nature is fallen. It’s easy for us to hate, to harm, to lie, cheat, steal, murder. That comes to us naturally. Fallen human nature needs to be restrained from these dark impulses. Secular humanism is not a sufficient restraining factor. Human laws are an insufficient restraining factor. We need the fear of God. But, since we have forgotten God, immorality is increasing in American society. Sexual promiscuity, sex outside of marriage, adultery, abortion, homosexuality and divorce are widely accepted. Murder and senseless violence are becoming more and more commonplace.
We have forgotten God when it comes to the way we’re managing our economy. There are God-given economic principles in the Word of God like: Work hard. Save for the future. Don’t go into debt. Don’t allow the government to get too big. Don’t have a false scale or differing weights. That’s cheating. In our case, we’re cheating people by printing money not backed by anything. That benefits the rich and leaves the masses increasingly impoverished.
The wicked will return to Sheol, even all the nations who forget God. Deadly consequences can be expected to happen to a nation that forgets God. To destroy a nation that has forgotten Him, the Lord doesn’t need to send fire and burning sulphur from Heaven like He did with Sodom and Gomorrah. He doesn’t need to bring judgments of earthquakes, plagues, famines or wars. All He has to do is withdraw His gracious hand and let the dark impulses in that nation destroy that nation. With this in mind, in 2013, I expect that God will allow continued moral decay. I don’t see any signs of national repentance, turning to God and to His wise and good and right ways. I expect that God will allow the economic sins that we have sown to be reaped. We’re getting to the end of an economic supercycle, a multi-generational period of prosperity followed by decline and depression. Since the Vietnam war, through Republican and Democratic administrations, we have consistently run budget deficits. Now the deficits are accelerating and getting exponentially bigger. The accumulated debt is already so huge it will never be repaid in money that maintains its value.
Our indebted and leveraged economy is unstable – like a house of cards. It’s a Ponzi scheme. New money must keep coming in, or it collapses. If the debt limit isn’t raised in a couple of months, the house of cards could collapse. But if the debt limit is raised, we will continue to go further into debt and print more and more money that is worth less and less and issue more and more bonds that will be worth less and less until the whole thing ends in a hyper-inflationary disaster. Someone observed: “Right now we are living in a bubble of debt-fueled false prosperity that allows us to continue to consume far more wealth than we produce, but when that bubble bursts we are going to experience the most painful economic ‘adjustment’ that America has ever gone through.” I agree.
When a nation is as indebted as we are, the leaders almost always choose to kick the can further down the road by printing money and creating inflation. That’s happening already and I expect it to happen more and more. If our leaders don’t do this, the system will collapse. We know from history that when an indebted government resorts to printing money, the end of that nation’s currency and bonds is approaching. What this means is that bonds and the dollar could ultimately lose a lot of value, even all their value. Harder assets – things like gold, silver, oil, shares of good companies, real estate in the right places, good art, jewelry and high-end cars – will do better as far as maintaining some value.
So, my perspective on the state of the nation is one of doom and gloom – like it has been for the past decade. But there is good news! The Lord uses hardship to discipline us, to correct us, to awaken us, to bring us to our senses. The valley of the shadow of death can lead us closer to God and living in the house of the Lord forever. And there is more good news. No matter how difficult things become in the world, God’s grace will still be sufficient for us; and there will still be a very special community, which is in the world, but not of the world. No matter what challenges may occur in 2013, Messiah’s Community will still be Messiah’s body. Messiah’s Community will still be the pillar and support of the truth. Messiah’s Community will still have authority. Messiah’s Community will still be composed of people who are united to the Three-In-One God and to each other. In spite of economic depressions, even the fall of nations, Messiah’s Community will still be victorious and have a glorious future!
I want to consider the earliest community of Yeshua’s followers, the Messianic Jewish Community of Jerusalem. Of all Messiah’s New Covenant communities, that community was the best: It was closest to God, had the greatest spiritual understanding and the most spiritual power. That community is our role model. In Acts 2, Luke, the historian of that community, gives us a description of what made that community so special.
They were devoted to the teaching of 12 special Jewish men who had been taught by the Lord – for three or four years while He was with them before His death, and for 40 days after His resurrection. They understood the Risen Messiah’s teachings and the Tenach (Old Testament) and how old and new fit together. The Lord gave His teachings to those representatives and they gave them to us through their writings in the New Testament.
They were devoted to the fellowship. The word “fellowship” means a group of those who share things in common. These people understood themselves to be a fellowship, and partnership, a community that shared the most important things – shared values, shared leadership, shared destiny. Theirs was a profound and special fellowship. The things they shared in common made their fellowship unique. The Lordship of the risen Messiah made their fellowship unique. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit made their fellowship unique. The apostles and their teaching made their fellowship unique. Salvation and the sure hope of eternal life made their fellowship unique. These Messianic Jews were devoted to their fellowship. They were steadfastly committed to its well-being. They helped, encouraged and supported one another.
They were devoted to breaking bread together. Eating a meal brings people closer together. Like loving friends and family, they ate together, getting closer to one another.
They were devoted to prayer. They committed themselves to talk to God together. They brought their needs, and the needs of others, to His attention.
They were a worshiping community. They continued praising God in the temple. As long as the temple stood, it was a special place to that first community. In the temple they praised God for who He is and the great things He has done, is doing and will do.
They were a united community. They were united around good leadership – the risen Lord and His earthly representatives. They were united around good teaching. They were united by the Spirit they had all received, united by the initiation ceremony of baptism they had all experienced, united around salvation and sharing the Good News and the sure hope of living forever in the New Jerusalem. As a result of this tremendous spiritual unity, they were united in vision, in purpose and in priorities.
They were a powerful community. Many wonders and signs took place through the Lord’s representatives. Miracles have been relatively rare in the history of the Jewish people and the Church. But this was a very special time. The Immanuel, God With Us, had come into the world, overcoming our greatest enemies – Satan, sin and death. He had lived a perfect life, giving the greatest teachings and doing tremendous miracles. Then, He suffered a tragic death, but had risen from the dead, overcoming the fallen angels, sin and death! And, the Spirit of the Messiah had just been poured out on Messiah’s followers and a New Covenant Community was being formed. This was a special time when many miracles were taking place.
They were a generous community. The members of the community were not focused on increasing their individual wealth on Earth, but storing up spiritual treasure in Heaven. They were characterized by giving, not taking. All those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Functioning like a family, some members voluntarily sold off some of their assets and used the proceeds to support those who had financial needs.
They were a happy community. They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart. As they spent time with each other, eating together and getting closer to one another, helping one another and serving the Lord together, focusing on their new priorities, they were happy.
They were a growing community. They worked together to build up the Community from within. They evangelized together to bring the message of salvation to those without, and the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. The community prayed, witnessed to the reality of the Risen Messiah and declared the Good New. But it was the Lord who added to their number because salvation is something only God can do.
They were a suffering yet victorious community. In spite of hardships, opposition, persecution, economic privations, they were amazingly successful and turned their world upside down!
What a great community! They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching. They were devoted to the fellowship. They were devoted to eating together. This community was devoted to prayer. They were a powerful community. They were a generous community. They were a united community. They were a worshiping community. They were a growing community. They were a suffering yet a victorious and happy community.
This is what I want for us for 2013. Let’s get more committed to that kind of community and bring others into our fellowship. And, as the world disappoints, don’t be surprised if more people want to get closer to Messiah’s Community. Even though the wicked will return to Sheol, even all the nations who forget God – and our nation has forgotten God and may go to the place of the dead – we can still be part of a very special community that is in the world but not of the world, a community that will survive the downfall of nations and live forever with the good and eternal God!