Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blessed River

“The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side.” (Ezekiel 47:1-2)

When the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel saw this vision, his nation was in exile because they had forsaken the Lord beyond His patience to withhold judgment. There would be degrees of restoration in the future, and ultimately complete restoration.

“As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in – a river that no one could cross. He asked me, ‘Son of man, do you see this?’ Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river.” (Ezekiel 47:3-7)

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, and completely lifeless because of extraordinarily high concentrations of salts and other minerals. Fed by the Jordan River and other streams, the Dead Sea has no outlet but evaporates rapidly in the desert heat, leaving heavy, caustic, mineral-laden water behind. Fish that flow in with the fresh water instantly perish. People enjoy floating effortlessly on the surface, but must immediately and thoroughly rinse away the corrosives. Mounds of salt line the shores of the Dead Sea, and a nearby pillar is named for Lot’s wife.

“He said to me, ‘This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds – like the fish of the Great Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’” (Ezekiel 47:8-12)

Recently, the Lord has impressed upon me the principles of Ezekiel 47 – which we may now receive by faith and later witness by sight when Jesus returns. He promised springs and streams of living water to the woman at the well, and to the celebrants in the temple, and “By this He meant the Spirit, Whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.” (John 7: 39a)

Each of us is surrounded by Dead Sea people. And – if we are honest – we recognize that we ourselves are much more briny than the fresh flowing water that gives life. This is no way to live, no way to serve in these last days. Yet we have a better hope that comes by faith. The Lord on His throne is ready to answer even one person’s humble, earnest, faith-filled prayer for revival.

“‘Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’” (Ezekiel 47:12)

I do believe He is ready. And you?

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Blessed By Susan Boyle

“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; He did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open My mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’” (Matthew 13:34-35)

On the same Resurrection Sunday that the brave, self-sacrificing American captain of a benevolence ship was rescued from the pirates, the attention of all nations turned to a humble Scottish maiden with a heavenly voice.

Four weeks and 200,000,000 global internet views later, tearful observers worldwide are still moved to express their reactions to Susan Boyle. Prominent among the comments are words like these: God-given, voice of an angel, sent by God, God bless you, and hope.

Across the Atlantic in Russian Jewish Brooklyn, the Russian-language media have devoted much attention to Miss Boyle, and the tears flow past the language barrier. Like many of us, immigrants embrace her heart-rending courage to confide her dream and offer her gift to mockers. They rejoice in her vindication and hope for their own. And somehow, through this simple story with a deeper meaning, they begin to believe that there is a Living God Who really cares, Who really gives new life out of the grave.

“Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear Him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?’” (Luke 15:1-4)

Jesus told parables that pierced the hearts and minds of listeners, imparting vital truth about God, His character and His Kingdom. What a paradox, that Jesus should use the mundane as His best way to teach the transcendent principles of the Holy One. But even twenty centuries later, even in closed countries (including the Former Soviet Union in its time), parables such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are known by people who know little else of the Living God or the Bible. And these parables instill a yearning for Someone to fulfill them.

More and more people worldwide are now sensing a finality, and somehow a spiritual quality, to much that is happening. Events and individuals seem to illustrate something more, something significant beyond themselves. That the unpretentious life-weary Susan Boyle should emerge from her village to seize control of the global internet (while not even owning a computer or cell phone) leads many to consider that God is profoundly at work to win hearts, that multitudes may know in a moment, even through the merest of instruments – even through Last Days parables.

“‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him: he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’” (Luke 15:20b-24a)

We deeply appreciate your prayers and steady support as we reach out each month to hundreds of Russian-speaking Jews, Muslims, Russians and others through our English/Bible classes, computer, citizenship and sewing classes, home school support, Shabbat and holy day celebrations, media and street evangelism, and other Gospel-saturated works – along with our partner ministries. Please pray for many to enter in to His story for all time, through faith in Jesus. Do pray also for Susan Boyle and others like her, that He will bless them with fullness of joy.

“‘In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’” (Luke 15:10)

Susan Boyle, I Dreamed A Dream

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Blessed Enemies

“‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?’” (Matthew 5:43-46)

Many people who read these words of Jesus refer immediately to Hitler or Osama bin Laden and think, “It’s impossible and irrational, thus I am completely exempt from the command to love my enemies.” But God is not necessarily asking us to start at the post-graduate level. He is willing for us to start in kindergarten, loving close ones that might occasionally feel like “enemies” – family members, friends, church members, coworkers, neighbors – people who hurt us, disappoint us, insult us, ungratefully use us, disrespect us or upset us in various ways that leave us feeling wounded, angry, bitter, unforgiving and not very loving at all.

Even as believers in Jesus, our natural response to “enemies” is a negative emotion combined with Scriptural principles showing how wrong they are, accompanied by thoughts or even prayers that they should be punished and we should be vindicated for their violations, possibly followed by words or actions, later followed by bitter mental replays, perhaps eventually followed by forgiveness and loving feelings again. Until the next time.

There is a better way.

Without counseling about all situations and proper responses, let me offer Jesus’ command as a before, during and after approach in every case. He has been teaching me how He works through this command, and although I am a very slow learner I can attest that He is faithful.

Perhaps this will motivate you as it has me:

“‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.’” (Matthew 5:7-9)

My vastly most important relationship is with Him. I want to experience the two-way love relationship that He desires. I want His blessing and mercy even though I am weak. I want to know what is in His thoughts toward me. I want a pure heart so I can see Him more and more clearly, understanding and delighting in His ways and being astonished at His power in my life. I want peace in my heart and, as much as possible, peace in my circumstances. I want to be radiant as a child of God reflecting His character. I stumble, but I want to keep looking up and knowing that He is near.

This intimacy with Him is possible only because He first loved me while I was still His enemy. Christ even willingly died to remove the sin barrier and bring me into a love relationship with Him. His grace drew me in (more like knocked out and dragged, in my case). His sacrifice for me was also for my enemies.

More and more, I am coming to understand how my failure to immediately love and bless and kindly pray for my enemies actually burdens my relationship with the Lord. So, even if they are truly bad and never change for the better, I must be willing to live out Jesus’ command and trust Him to work supernaturally in surprising ways that I could never achieve through the other pattern. He wants me to be pure in heart so I can see Him.

Blessing and praying for my enemies with His love becomes an act of lifting them up to the cross upon which He already died as the sufficient blood sacrifice for them, placing them in His care, tenderly asking for His grace and mercy to be operative in their lives, freeing them from bondage that they cannot escape in any other way. By committing to love and bless and pray like this, trusting Him, and trying though failing and trying again, I have seen Him work – really work.

I suspect that He was always willing to work in the case of my enemies, but the hard part was my own heart.

“‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’” (Matthew 5:5)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Blessed In Celebrations

“The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

This year, our President and his First Lady caused a bit of a stir in the Jewish community when they sent an invitation to a White House Hanukkah celebration on their Christmas stationery. Human inattention or divine intervention? Well, after all, 2008 is a year when Hanukkah and Christmas coincide on the calendar.

Here on Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn, we see the synergy every year. The street decorations include lighted Hanukkah menorahs nested in red and green garlands attended by six-point snowflakes. Looking up at our center’s second-story windows, one can see electric menorah lights casting a soft orange glow into the night. Inside are the poinsettias and the staging for the Christmas programs, alongside more menorahs and Jewish artifacts. We have Bibles and Gospel tracts here, too. Hopeless eclecticism or direct evangelism?

One of the issues of interest to some believers is the actual date of the birth of Jesus, His first tabernacling among us. Much of Christendom celebrates His arrival on December 25, also the date of an ancient Roman holiday. Russians save the celebration for early January, although even in atheism almost everybody decorated a tree for the New Year. Meanwhile, based on certain facts about John the Baptist’s chronology, Messianic believers are able to calculate the likelihood of Jesus being born during the Feast Of Tabernacles in the fall. Hanukkah, celebrated by Jesus Himself in John 10:22-23, always begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month Kislev, its lunar basis roaming around on the solar calendar.

The fact of His first coming is the most important issue during this season, but this is a year in which all of the symbolic and prophetic strands intersect with a certain brightness that alerts us to the nearness of His second coming. This year, the interweaving of Hanukkah and Christmas causes us to look more closely, to sort out the facts.

The original Hanukkah is noted in the apocryphal book 2 Maccabees 10:5-8 in a text written more than 2000 years ago. After the priestly Maccabee family led a successful revolution against an evil foreign ruler, they purified the defiled temple in Jerusalem and then began specifically on 25 Kislev to belatedly celebrate the Feast Of Booths (Tabernacles), or Sukkot. What a celebration of victory, freedom and purity! Legend added to the attraction that remains even to this day. For the eight days of the late Sukkot observance, holy oil was needed to light the temple menorah. The Jews had only enough oil for one day, but God miraculously kept the lamps burning for all eight days!

Jesus Himself remembered these events, but interestingly the prophetic framework was foretold by Daniel hundreds of years before. In the 11th chapter of Daniel’s divine record, he writes of a time when the Beautiful Land would be ruled by a contemptible person who would eventually desecrate the temple, abolish the sacrifices and set up an abomination that caused desolation. Some violators of the Covenant would be corrupted, but:

“…The people who know their God will firmly resist him. Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will come at the appointed time.” (Daniel 11:32b-35)

One partial fulfillment indeed happened during the time of the Maccabees and the first Hanukkah, when they defeated the evil Greek-Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes. But it is also understood by many that this evil ruler was himself symbolic of the greater despot to come – the antichrist. Jesus referred back to Daniel’s prophecy when explaining what would happen at the end of the age. He provided details in His Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, and in His Revelation to John.

But here we are today. We remember the first Hanukkah which was the symbolic Feast Of Tabernacles celebrating the defeat of the symbolic antichrist and the restoration of God’s symbolic tabernacle. We also remember the first Christmas which was the real first tabernacling of the real Christ Who then provided access to the real tabernacle in Heaven by His Own sacrifice. And, with this year’s confluence of these holidays and so many other factors in the world, we anticipate the complete fulfillment of all things in Him, including the utter defeat of the antichrist along with his benefactor and henchmen and ultimately the glory of His final tabernacling:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” (Revelation 21:3-4)

This week, during Hanukkah and Christmas, we can resolve to let prophetic truth shine forth in our hearts and lives. Even as we contemplate and anticipate the great works of God to destroy evil and deliver His people forever unto purest worship in the Holy City, we can ask Him to fulfill this in us today:

“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Blessed In Trials

“At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12:26-27)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live through the events of Revelation? What would you understand? How would you react? Here in long-blessed America, we as a nation have not often suffered wave after wave of unspeakable calamities. Not only our resiliency but also our capacity for repentance remain unmeasured.

Any reasonably observant person, whether a believer or not, has to admit that massive extraordinary events – as they say, of epic or Biblical proportions – are now happening in our nation and world. Each day brings another stunning financial, political or moral scandal, on top of natural and personal devastations of various sorts. I believe these are precursors of things to come, tremors before the tribulation.

They continue. Two more men became international spectacles this week because of their immense personal guilt and their far-reaching betrayals of others. One man is the governor of a major state, arrested at his home early Wednesday morning for unimaginable political corruption that shocked even the desensitized. Before and after, he has remained defiant and arrogant. The other man is a Wall Street legend, arrested at his home early Thursday morning for unparalleled financial fraud that snared even the elite. Before and after, he has confessed everything in detail.

In the midst of divine shaking and revealing, even on an international scale, God wants one small thing. He wants the heart of a person who will love and trust and follow Him, one who humbly accepts by faith His gift of the Redeemer Who alone can pay for sin. So much, for so little? Yes, the undeserving sinner great or small is the object of His love quest, that He might bless you with forgiveness and adoption as His child, a cherished heir of His entire kingdom.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (Hebrews 12:28-29)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Blessed In The Branch

“And he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” (Matthew 2:23)

Every Saturday morning, we gather at our Brighton location for a Russian Messianic Center meeting with several immigrants who are eager to search the Scriptures and deepen their relationship with Jesus – Yeshua in Hebrew. We are not bound legalistically to a particular day, but understand Saturday’s value for Russian Jews and people drawn to the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. At these Shabbat services, we sing and pray in Hebrew and Russian (and sometimes English), we explore Hebraic insights, we consider life-changing passages, we open doctrinal and prophetic truths as we study complete books of the Bible, we celebrate Biblical and traditional holy days and the Lord’s Supper, we baptize new believers, we share testimonies, we pray for one another and we break bread together.

One verse in passing caught my attention yesterday, and I felt compelled to explore it later in more detail. Usually when this happens, I realize that God wants to illuminate something and to lead me in a particular way. So I pray and consider and search, and trust Him to show me His purpose and next steps. And, sooner or later, He makes things clear!

Knowing a tiny little bit of Hebrew, armed with concordances and dictionaries, I found a wonderful thing. The name Nazareth in Hebrew looks like this נצרת and its vital root is netzer נצר meaning branch or shoot. The exact Hebrew word נצר is used a few times in the Old Testament, most notably here in Isaiah 11:1:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch נצר will bear fruit.”

There are other Hebrew words for branch or shoot, including the word used in the beginning of this passage. The Holy Spirit inspired each word for His purposes, which He teaches as He chooses. Here in this marvelous description of the coming Messiah, a key element is that He would be a Branch נצר bearing fruit. Somehow this One from David’s father Jesse of Bethlehem would be a Netzer, just a suffix away from a Nazarene.

Both of my modern Hebrew dictionaries, which include definitions for today’s use of the language, define everything related to Jesus, Christ, Christians, Christianity and Christianization with the Netzer נצר root. It might seem like a small thing to be a Netzer נצר (especially One from lowly Nazareth נצרת), but it is rather like a grand prophetic DNA linkage that descends by faith even to us!

“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord – and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist.” (Isaiah 11:2-5)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Blessed On The Narrow Road

“‘So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’” (Matthew 6:31-33)

New York is Ground Zero again – this time for the economic crisis that is shaking the nation and the world. We feel the tremors in our Russian Jewish corner of the city, in the little center that belongs to Jesus. It did not really surprise us. Somehow, He had already trained us in the narrow way of relying on Him through various preview trials. We have found Him faithful and gracious.

We have not yet completed His disaster relief training, and we still do not have every answer, but we know enough to believe He will keep open the doors of the center in the time of immigrants’ greatest need and greatest willingness to consider Him. Today, the wide road would take us out of difficult Russian Jewish Brooklyn, out of expensive New York City, out into pleasant small city surroundings, and out of God’s will. Oh, Lord, keep us on Your narrow road!

In some of our immigrant Bible studies at the center, we have been exploring His kingdom and His righteousness. These are not extraneous to our troubled time, but absolutely essential to our hope of deliverance. Sadly, as a nation and as individuals, we have rejected or neglected His kingdom and His righteousness, and we have lost the meaning of God Bless America.

“‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 5:3-10)

God is removing the obstacles to our blessedness. Dagon and Mammon are crashing and the pieces are flying. Painful! Merciful. Let us be the first people on our knees and faces before Him, the first to believe, the first to repent, the first to seek His kingdom and His righteousness, the first to invest, the first to be blessed, the first to share our hope with others.

For our immigrants, America was supposed to be a safe haven. In Messiah, it still can be. Do pray for them in their distress, that they will be drawn through our narrow door, up the narrow stairs and into our lighted place, to Jesus and the Bible, prayer, fellowship and service. Thank you also for remembering our workers before Him, that we will have constant strength, joy and financial provision.

“‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’” (Matthew 6:10-12)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Freedom From Falsehood

"Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth." (1 John 2:18-20)

New York is famous for many things, not all of them good. For example, in this hour of history, two of the world’s most deceptive and spiritually dangerous cults can call New York their home. They seem to be Christian, but they are far from it. They are active among our Russian speakers, many of whom do not have spiritual discernment to know what is truly Biblical and what is not.

Mormonism was born in the 1820s in rural New York, where Joseph Smith had visions and wrote the Book of Mormon. Mormonism teaches that God used to be a man on another world, and then he brought his wife to this world, where they had spirit children including Jesus and his brother Lucifer and all of the rest of us. Mormons believe that they likewise can become gods with their own planets, if they are obedient to Mormonism. Almost every aspect of Mormonism fatally violates Biblical truth about the nature of God and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

From its peculiar New York roots, Mormonism has grown into a worldwide religion known for great wealth, attractive families and active promotion of a christ that promises the world but delivers only spiritual death for millions. Here in Russian Jewish Brooklyn, and probably in your neighborhood, we must be always ready to fend off the deceptions.

Thus, I could never in good conscience vote to elevate a Mormon to the supreme platform of this world, the Presidency of the United States. “Let us tell you about the faith of our President…” No. On the other hand, I would very gladly support a well-qualified, Biblically-faithful, born-again believer in Jesus, one with anointing from the Holy One. In this last hour, 2008 is a crucial year of choosing.

Not only was New York the birthplace of Mormonism, but Brooklyn is now the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Founded by Charles Russell in the late 1800s, this cult teaches that God is a limited single person, not a trinity, and Jesus was Michael the Archangel. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they alone will achieve Paradise on earth, and only 144,000 of their best followers will gain Heaven. Through Watchtower publications and persistent visitations, Jehovah’s Witnesses have won millions of deceived followers. They actively distribute Russian-language materials in Brooklyn.

Pray for our immigrants to resist cultic advances and instead seek the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Bible. Ask God to draw many more to Himself, and to use even this ministry for that. Do please pray for our workers, that we might have constant strength, joy and financial provision.

"And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming." (1 John 2:28)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Freedom Of Conscience

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)

These are the words, in Russian, on the narrow door of our center. All who pass by on busy Brighton Beach Avenue can read them, and they notice also that we teach English and Bible classes. Each week, at least 200 people enter that door and climb the carpeted stairs to a lighted place, where they receive practical help through a variety of classes and programs. Most importantly, here and on the streets and in the Russian-language media we openly proclaim Messiah Jesus to Russian-speaking Jews, Muslims, Russians and others -- 300,000 of whom have immigrated to Brooklyn since the fall of the Soviet Union.

I have been a patriotic American since childhood, long before also becoming a believer in Jesus. How exciting it was to learn that the foundation of this country was specifically Biblically Christian. The Pilgrims, most of the Founding Fathers, many of the great Presidents -- all gave testimony of Jesus in their lives and callings. I often refer to these facts while teaching and speaking with immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, who knew only atheistic communism and before that the authoritarian czars or the tribal chiefs. The freedom of conscience that we take for granted in America is something still difficult for them to grasp.

The most important aspect of this freedom is how one can relate to God through Jesus Christ. It cannot be dictated either way. Receiving His free gift by faith is not something that can be forced upon a person. Neither should it be prohibited for a person. I thank God that we can freely speak of Jesus in this ministry in this country, and that so many people -- many of them lifelong atheists -- feel free to come and consider Him.

Another aspect of our freedom of conscience in America is the ability to discuss and choose our political leaders without great fear of reprisals. Looking out the window, I often tell my students that I could walk downstairs and out into the middle of the street and shout my disapproval of any President, and nobody would do anything to me. Most of them were afraid to discuss political issues in Soviet times for fear of being betrayed to authorities. Many lived in secret fear of the sudden knock on the door and the scant chance to even say goodbye.

As I considered the 2008 Presidential candidates, my own conscience had been troubled for a year or two, and I often prayed in distress about it. I could support some of them for some reasons, but the negatives were hard to justify. How could I in good conscience vote for even a competent person who was not close to Biblical standards? What about the foundations? How could I explain such a fallen position to immigrants who expected something better in America? Were our blessed days behind us? Would we be given over to a leader who reflected the worst in us and not a hope for the best?

Now I'm going to exercise both freedom of conscience and freedom of expression! I do so not in my official ministry capacity but as a private citizen with a rejoicing heart! It turns out that there is a candidate for President who deeply understands the founding principles of our nation and whose entire public life has been specifically Biblically Christian. I'm referring, of course, to Governor Mike Huckabee!

Del actually met Mike Huckabee in the 1990s at a Promise Keepers event in Seattle. We heard bits and pieces about him over the years, and were interested that he was running for President. Then we began to realize that he is the complete package, the real deal! The more we tuned in and the more we heard, the more we understood that we were seeing an exceptionally faithful, unusually competent man prepared and raised up by God for such a time as this.

One of the key points that we consider in a candidate, in addition to the important social, fiscal and security issues, is his position on Israel. This is where it gets really good! Mike Huckabee has visited Israel 9 times and has the best, most Biblically-literate plan for Palestinian statehood of any politician we have heard lately. It should be located in Saudia Arabia or Egypt or some place with a lot of land, but not in little Israel. And the United States Embassy should move out of Tel Aviv and into Jerusalem, the actual capital of Israel.

These are not easy issues, of course, but with Mike Huckabee, you get the idea that his statements are more than just standard political posturing. This is vitally important for America, because if we fail to bless Israel according to Biblical principles, we will be disciplined by God, Who said to Abram, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse." (Genesis 12:3)

I encourage you to visit www.mikehuckabee.com for more information about this candidate whom we can wholeheartedly support as Bible-believers. And whatever your own conclusions might be, please pray for America and for Israel.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Freedom For Modern Slaves

"He lies in wait like a lion in cover; he lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, 'God has forgotten; He covers His face and never sees.' ARISE, LORD! LIFT UP YOUR HAND, O GOD. DO NOT FORGET THE HELPLESS." (Psalm 10:9-12)

Earlier this year, I joyfully read a new biography, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce And The Heroic Campaign To End Slavery, written by Eric Metaxas. I was already thankful for William Wilberforce, because 200 years ago he had also been a leader of an influential London group formed to bring Jewish people to their Messiah and also back to the Promised Land. The new biography focuses on Wilberforce's strong Christian faith and tireless work to make slavery illegal in the British empire and beyond.

Not long after reading that biography, I received a call from a young Russian woman in desperate need. Somehow, she had heard about Leslie in Brooklyn who knows the laws and helps people and is with God. She had answered an American man's internet fishing for a Russian wife, and had arrived several months ago to marry him. This alarming practice is not uncommon, alas. They married, and at first things seemed OK, but it turned out that he is very abusive, threatening and immoral, and has taken all of her documents and confined her in the home more or less as a slave. I am still in contact with her, and ask for your prayers.

The young lady appears to be a possible human trafficking victim. This form of modern slavery comes in many evil varieties, including forced servitude and even something specifically called servile marriage. It is a huge and growing problem in the world, very profitably operating through large dangerous criminal networks and also much smaller individual enterprises. It usually involves forcing or deceiving a victim to enter into an opportunity that turns out to be a slavery from which there is no escape. People are literally bought and sold in a morbid supplier/consumer setup. One of the very largest sources of these slaves is Russia, and one of the very largest destinations is the USA, particularly New York.

Our federal government has a specific hotline number and website to help and inform trafficking victims and citizens (
www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking/ ) as well as safe places to which they can come if they want to be rescued and safely transitioned. Notice on the federal website that Russian is one of the language options. New York City also has a large non-profit agency with a special human trafficking victim branch, and there is an excellent new ministry organizing to help victims.

In the specific case of our lady, the local and federal agencies have been very responsive to us and willing to assist her. A main issue at first was whether or not she really wanted real help that would take her out of a bad situation into an unknown situation that, in her abused mind, might be just as bad or worse. It must be her decision, because her case at this point does not fit the criteria for an active intervention.

Our lady had an emotional investment in her abuser, even though things went terribly wrong very quickly (constant verbal abuse, manipulation and intimidation; confiscation of all of her documents; deception that our government is her enemy so as to frighten her and increase her sense of isolation and helplessness; forced servitude in the home all day every day; no opportunity to move about freely outside the home -- all very typical in trafficking situations). She desperately hoped he would change, but now realizes this is only a distant prospect. She is currently waiting for greater understanding of her legal options, and is more willing to choose outside help.

This young lady is just one of literally tens of thousands who have been brought to America through human trafficking -- modern slavery. As Christians, we need great compassion, wisdom and attentiveness. Especially we need to pray. Here are some specific prayers for our lady, and please remember the many other victims as well:

1. Assurance of salvation in Jesus (she has some religious background).
2. Immediate protection and wisdom for her and for us, especially since we do not know if he is part of a large ruthless operation or just an individual with more limited means of enforcement.
3. Safe opportunities and timing for her to communicate with us
4. Guidance and strength about receiving help and pursuing legal remedies against a trafficker, which would also open the way for more government assistance and financial/restoration aid.

"'Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,' says the Lord. 'I will protect them from those who malign them.' And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. O Lord, You will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever." (Psalm 11:5-7)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Freedom For Immigrants

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." (Isaiah 61:1-2)

The immigration issue is a hotly-discussed topic on the national scene these days, and Bible-believers must be very careful to seek the mind of Messiah on this subject as they enter the debate. Many of us are political conservatives, but I must say that His approach is not well-represented by much of conservative punditry. The loudest, most influential voices seem heavy on law and light on grace, and they risk some personal lessons in what God really means when He says:

  • "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt." (Exodus 22:21)
  • "Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt." (Exodus 23:9)
  • "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:33-34)
  • "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, Who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
  • "If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever." (Jeremiah 7:5-7)
  • "I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me." (Matthew 25:43)

I'm not trying to write immigration policy in this post, but I am trying to encourage prayerful consideration of God's perspective on the matter.

The famous plaque at the Statue Of Liberty does not read: "Give me your lords and ladies, dukes and duchesses, geniuses and generals, bards and businessmen looking to invest millions in our wonderful free market. Send these, the rich and famous and other desirable people who are as perfect as we are, and we will be a great example to the world."

Rather, reflecting the fact that most of America's immigrants through the centuries came from very distressed backgrounds, these are the memorable words of the plaque: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Emma Lazarus, 1883)

Are immigrants any different today? Mostly not. So why are some Americans (the vast majority of whom are from immigrant stock) so quick to constrict the free-flow of blessings that must be freely given as He gave?

Some of us can speak from the perspective of Native Americans. My own little Chinook Tribe, for example, was the group that welcomed Lewis and Clark when they reached the end of the trail in the Northwest. Rather than deporting outsiders on one-way canoes into the Pacific, Chief Comcomly (Grandpa!) and the tribe welcomed trade relationships and new European family members. What if they had been immigration hardliners? How then could we live today without Northwest necessities Boeing, Microsoft, Nike, Amazon.com, Costco, T-Mobile, Washington apples and, most importantly, Starbucks?

As we discuss current immigration issues, let us do so with Biblical maturity and Godly character. It is right to follow His commands and other legal principles, but essential to live them out in the ways of the greatest Immigrant:

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:3-8)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lessons In Freedom

"On the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants."(Leviticus 25:9-10)

During the past year, as a fifty-year-old American, I have gained new understandings of slavery and freedom. In the eighth year of demanding ministry in Brooklyn, I had wearily prayed for God to give me new insights and experiences of liberty during my jubilee. He has answered in amazing ways, often through trials yet always through unexpected blessings.

I hope you too will be blessed as you read along!

My husband and I are Bible-believing servants of Messiah Jesus, working among 300,000 Russian Jews and other Russian-speakers who immigrated to Brooklyn since the late 1980s. This blog consists of personal reflections. Although I refer to the specific ministry at times, I am writing as a private individual and not in my official capacity with the ministry organization.

My next post begins to detail some lessons in freedom. In the meantime, check out my testimony on the ministry website www.rclc.us to see how a philosophy major political professional from the Pacific Northwest ended up serving Jesus among Soviet immigrants in Brooklyn, New York.