Are you truly grateful?
The two cats were fighting. Each had their eyes on a piece of salmon skin and they were playing tug of war over it. What they hadn’t noticed was the piece of salmon I had placed in front of each of them!
They both wanted what the other one had, each had their eyes on the piece of skin and didn’t even realize that there was tender, juicy salmon right in front of them! How much are we like this? We think we need/want/must have something that is not so good, all the while missing the blessing that is right in front of us.
When we remember to bless the LORD for what we have, our focus immediately shifts from wanting and coveting to blessing and thankfulness. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving I posted a “Gratitude Journal.” Each day, I posted one or two things for which I was grateful. I noticed an immediate shift in my level of energy, my focus, and my praises. I was calmer and more peaceful, too.
A few months ago a couple came for counseling. They both had a litany of things that were wrong with each other. It looked very bleak and depressing, and they were even contemplating divorce.
“Wow,” I said, “It sounds as if you two aren’t really well suited at all. How and why did you get together in the first place? Was there anything good or was it always like this?”
They began to reminisce, eager to show me that they weren’t masochists and that they really did have some things in common. After a while, they were smiling and laughing, looking a bit sheepish at how angry and frustrated they both had been.
I gave them a task. They were literally not allowed to say one negative thing to each other for the entire next week. They were to only say positive things. If they had nothing positive to say, they were to remain silent. This meant no nagging, and no complaining.
In addition to the negativity ban, they both had to think of at least one positive thing every day, and they had to say it in positive terms. In other words, they weren’t allowed to say, “I like that you didn’t leave your dirty socks rolled in a ball at the foot of the bed.” Instead, they had to say, “Thank you for putting your dirty clothes in the hamper.” They came back the following week and were back in love. The divorce was off, and they wondered how and why they had ever been so upset in the first place.
This is not rocket science, it is Bible-based thinking. “Whatsoever things are true, just, lovely, and admirable … think of these things!” (Philippians 4:8). Isn’t it great that we have a holiday every year to remind us of these basic and glorious truths?
This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion, December 1, 2016, and reposted with permission.
K. J. Kruger is a mother of four and has lived in Israel for over 20 years. As teacher, life coach, writer, and speaker, she has been passionately involved in reconciliation between Arabs and Jews, and sees her role as being part of tikkun olam.
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Jerusalem: The most controversial city in the world
Jerusalem’s Old City is the most controversial piece of real estate in the world. More specifically, the Temple Mount. Recently, the United Nations confirmed the UNESCO decision that the Temple Mount had no connection with historic Israel. Donald Trump has pledged to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, essentially confirming that the US recognizes Jerusalem (and not Tel Aviv) as Israel’s capital. While some countries in the past did have embassies in Jerusalem, they have all now moved to Tel Aviv. These moves were against the desire of the State of Israel. I know of no other country where the international community does not recognize her capital.
But what does God think? God loves Jerusalem. The Psalmist laments in Ps 137:
If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
But the world hates Jerusalem. We read in Zechariah that God is:
“going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves. (Zech. 12:2-3)
Jerusalem will be a cup that sends the nations reeling. In other words, she will cause the nations to be confused. They will not be able to figure her out or know what to do with her. For instance, the nations will seek to erase her history as we see with UNESCO or take it over, as the UN wanted to do in 1948. And the imagery her is of a hernia, “all that try to move it will injure themselves.” Be careful, UN.
In the past 83 years, Jerusalem has been under the control of five entities. The Turkish, the British, and then the UN had control over her for a very brief time in 1947. They voted for Jerusalem to become an international city controlled by the UN. Shortly after that, the Jordanians seized control during the Israeli War for Independence. And then, in 1967, the Israelis captured Jerusalem when Jordan attacked her during the Six-Day War.
Since that time, she has been in Jewish hands. But the controversy surrounding her has remained and even increased. Now the Palestinians want control over Jerusalem and, more specifically, THE TEMPLE MOUNT. In fact, the Temple Mount is full of vocal and aggressive Hamas activists that harass Jews who want to visit. There truly is no real estate more controversial than Jerusalem’s Old City and the Temple Mount.
Why Jerusalem? It is a dot on the earth. It’s not much bigger than a shopping mall, and yet all the nations are going crazy over it. Why the Temple Mount? Because that is where Yeshua will return. It is from this area that He will rule in the age to come. His throne will be here. There is more warfare over this little piece of land than any other in the world. Nations have fought over it for centuries.
But according to Joseph Farar, the Temple Mount is not even mentioned in the Koran. He says, “Koran says nothing about Jerusalem. It mentions Mecca hundreds of times. It mentions Medina countless times. It never mentions Jerusalem. With good reason. There is no historical evidence to suggest Mohammed ever visited Jerusalem.”
Of course this doesn’t matter to them. What matters to them is that Jews cannot control Jerusalem and they must be dealt with. In Zechariah 12:3 it says that all nations will gather against Jerusalem.
God is not impressed. The UN may claim Jerusalem is not Jewish, but they are mere ants in the eyes of God. They have no authority over Jerusalem. Yes, God used them in 1947—during a momentary lapse in their anti-Semitic judgment—but they have no say over her future.
The closer we get to the coming of Yeshua, the more controversial this piece of real estate will become. In fact, the Bible says all nations will attack her leading up to the final attack on Jerusalem in Zechariah 14. But, as we know, the Lord will come and fight against them as He sets up His millennial kingdom.
Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem.The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name. (Zech. 14:3-4a, 9)
This article originally appeared on Messiah’s Mandate, December 3, 2016, and reposted with permission.
Ron and wife Elana make their home in Tel Aviv. He serves on the pastoral team of Tiferet Yeshua—the Glory of Yeshua—a Tel Aviv-based, Hebrew-speaking Messianic congregation. Ron is a published author with Destiny Image Publishers, having written books like “Identity Theft”, “Leave Me Alone, I’m Jewish” and “The Jerusalem Secret”. Ron is a sought-out conference speaker and shares passionately about the Jewish Roots of the New Testament and God’s broken heart for His ancient people Israel.
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Victim. Villain. Where’s the hero?
As we sat in one of the many modern, wood-paneled, freshly cooled lecture halls of the Mamila Hotel in Jerusalem, Israel, listening in rapt attention to details of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, perhaps all 26 of the Hispanic leaders present realized that the Middle Eastern experience wasn’t far from our own stories as Latin Americans in the United States.
During our recent visit to Israel, we came to understand the different groups that are shaping Middle Eastern culture, what drives those groups and where there are (if any) places of convergence within those groups.
From our two-week stay in Israel, I learned that it didn’t matter who we spoke to – Israelis or Palestinians – Middle Easterners were, in large part, disenchanted with the United States.
Sunni Arabs’ perception of the United States is more closely connected to the Iranian Shiite role. Many believe that while the United States could have done something to alleviate the Syrian civil war and ensuing massacre, it has chosen to do nothing.
I, a Dominican-American from New York City, tried to soak up as much as I could about a region’s age-old history in two weeks. Much of this is a passerby’s impressions and reflections. Take it with a grain of salt, but take it nonetheless.
Most insightful, perhaps, was learning about both the Israeli and the Palestinian way of thinking and, as a result, being.
The Israeli-Palestine Mindset
On the Palestinian side:
The feelings of frustration and bitterness are triggered by a warped sense of justice, which then fuels vengeance. It’s seems to hardly be about desiring true peace. I should probably qualify what I mean by true peace. In simple terms, it is a desire and pursuit of physical, emotional, relational and spiritual completeness. We’ve heard it said that peace isn’t the absence of conflict. And I would add that it is life lived in such a way that even conflict is used for the good and harmony of the relationships involved.
Peace seems to involved two things: the removal of attitudes and behaviors that encourage division, and the wholehearted pursuit of harmony and the goodwill of the other.
During my time in the Middle East, the Palestinians, in large part, didn’t seem to want either of the ingredients for peace. They appeared to have hard exteriors and hard interiors.
We must sympathize with the Palestinians. After sitting in several lectures about and hearing stories from both sides of the tension, I realized that for Palestinians, the conflict with Israel is more about punitive action than it is about restoring the relationship with their neighbors. As Israeli-Arab journalist and filmmaker Khaled Abu Toameh said, “The Palestinian conflict with Israel is more about hating Israel than it is about achieving Palestinian good.”
In fact, Toameh went on to ask a deeply poignant (and self-assessing) question: “Why have peace efforts fallen desperately short in all our talks?
“Two deeply inescapable reasons,” he continued. “For starters, there is a significant deficit about peace with Israel.” There seems to be an underlying message of hostility that is woven into the fabric of Palestinian life, and propagated by Palestinian leaders.
When people are repeatedly told the same story and message and are educated on conflict only, those individuals will never see peace as the logical (even more, inspired) option.
“Secondly” Toameh said, “there has always been a shortage of competent leadership.” This is a prime example of narrative control – perhaps no different than what we often see stateside when it comes to White European narrative in America continually being held up as the prominent and most important story, while others are set off to the margins.
On the Israeli side:
In nearly all of our interactions with Israeli neighbors, lecturers and peace negotiators, the posture was mostly one of the victim who has been displaced. While some made statements along the lines of, “Surely we play a part in all this,” that was rarely qualified or elaborated upon.
Although they are the majority, the Israelis’ language and posture is informed by anxiety. There is a sense that they live as a minority; as a target.
Impressions Of a Hero
Often in conflict, we see ourselves as enemies fighting against each other, which is understandable. But throughout our time in Israel, there were pockets of light shining through all of the deep conflict.
Among those shimmers of positivity were David Nekrutman and Pastor Steven, an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Christian Arab, respectively. Their friendship was not only enlightening, but also a breath of fresh air.
They were brought in to give us a lecture on how to approach the Palestinian-Israeli (and even the Christian-Jew) relationship. Quite frankly, it felt less like a lecture and more like watching two friends pull the curtain back on what a true reconciled relationship between two perceived enemies could look like.
Here were some takeaways from our time together:
Be an advocate of the other side.
Don’t tell victims that they are not victims. Then they become the victim twice.
Recognize that both sides might be both victims and villains.
There is a difference between justice and fairness. Justice is not a result. It’s an orientation. Justice is pursued, not achieved.
Justice misunderstood only produces more injustice.
Justice must be framed within reality.
Don’t have too much empathy. It’s paralyzing, and leaves no room for forward movement.
There is perhaps no picture of empathy, compassion and peacemaking more vivid than of Jesus at the cross.
Both of these groups feel marginalized and attacked by the other. Both feel a deep sense of anxiety, fear, anger and bitterness toward the other. Both deeply desire justice – an acknowledgment that they have been wrong and a restoration of what has been taken from them.
At the cross, Jesus embodied marginalization by being crucified, which was a most heinous and shameful way of death. And even more, he was crucified “outside of the city of Jerusalem.” In the margins of Roman society.
At the cross, Jesus took up our hate, anger, hurt and fears and killed them there, “disarming [them] and putting them to open shame, by triumphing over them in it.”
At the cross, as he suffered and took on the full weight of all our sins, Jesus offered words of invitation and reconciliation when he very well could have responded as we often do when we are hurt and betrayed. He said, “Father forgive them.”
After studying film in the City College of New York and Biblical Theology at Elim Bible Institute, Rich has committed to discovering the faithful marriage between those two passions. Through a variety of speaking experiences, Rich has grown into a unique storyteller and thought-leader in faith, family, the arts and the Hispanic-American experience. In 2012, Rich and his family led a team of friends into his hometown and started a church that would embrace the very values they lived with. Rich is the lead pastor of Christ Crucified Fellowship in NYC, where he lives with his wife and kids.
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Inclusion: Awareness of challenges must precede change
I randomly came across the fact that yesterday Dec. 3, was International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Who knew there was such a day? I did not.
Thanks to the UN, “Since 1992, the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been celebrated annually on 3 December around the world.”
I prefer to say that I am a person with varying abilities, not the least of which are my keen writing skills. Nevertheless, I have a title – “Disability” – to put on my ID card and it entitles me to various things: some clear, many not and most that I need to go out and demand.
Without a widespread awareness of the challenges facing people with disabilities change is a long way down the road
As a child with Down syndrome who lives in Israel, I have already experienced the gamut of services and disservices that the country has to offer. Israel may be far ahead of the rest of the Middle East, and the world in some respects for therapeutic care (Feuerstein Institute and Shalva National Children’s Center are world renowned), but lags behind when it comes to supported inclusion in education. Just ask my parents!
Nevertheless, on this auspicious occasion, I would like to point out what some of my personal key rights are, many of which overlap with the internationally recognized rights of babies known to parents worldwide:
- I have the right to drive my parents crazy
- I have the right to harass my younger brother and sister
- I have the right to throw fits and have meltdowns. In public.
- I have the right to attend a “regular” school
- I have the right to receive therapies at school
- I have the right to get therapies through my insurance company
But, in parallel response to those bullet points:
- No buts, it’s the God-given right of every child and we know how to use our rights!
- My brother and sister are getting old enough to harass me back!
- No buts again: It is our God-given nature and the Murphy’s Law of Babies
- I cannot attend school without an aide and the aide only gets 30 hours/week to be with me, hence I cannot fully attend school, which if someone at the Ministry of Education could do math better than I, they would’ve known this.
- The city cannot find/hire/pay one therapist willing to come to my school for just me for one hour a week for speech or occupational therapies, hence I do not receive therapy at school.
- My insurance company doesn’t cooperate with the premiere place (Feuerstein) where I do go for therapy!
And so my parents have their own newly bestowed set of “rights:”
- My parents have the “right” to spend all their spare time embroiled in wars with governmental and insurance company bureaucracy
- My parents have the “right” to spend the rest of their spare time quelling entanglements between all of us siblings
- My parents have the “right” to public humiliation
- My parents have the “right” to take time off of work to bring me to my therapies
- My parents have the “right” to not work a full day and to pick me up early from school every day because we have no aide for the after-school program, or, better, to keep me home if our 30-hour-a-week aide is sick and no substitute can be found
- My parents have the “right” and responsibility to maintain their sanity despite all of the above
Perhaps those aren’t rights, rather consequences of a broken system. Our famous biblical saying is “faith without works is dead.” Likewise rights without the infrastructure to make them into reality are useless.
Days such as International Day of Persons with Disabilities, like the concept of inclusion, are nice in theory. But without a widespread awareness of the challenges facing people with disabilities – and I’m not talking about the mental and physical challenges – change is a long way down the road. Let’s hope that this day will bring more awareness so that more rights can be readily meted out. And meted out with a cheerful heart rather than a long and exhausting war every time!
I have lots of rights, but making them a reality is still a long way off. In the meantime, I make the most of the rights that I can execute on my own, such as melting down at will and being cute.
N.J. Schiavi has lived in Israel for over 15 years and is a freelance writer for Kehila News Israel.
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Some thoughts on Christmas, Jesus, Lucifer and the Bible
The issue of Christmas is highly divisive in the Hebrew-Roots and Messianic Jewish communities around the world. Many Hebrew-Roots teachers have come to the conclusion that the best thing they can do for Jesus is to tell people who put a Christmas Tree in their living room in the month of December that they’re committing the worst sin imaginable for which they will surely spend Eternity in Hell, and rightfully so!
But Titus 3:9 says; “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless”
The disputes over Christmas, the hurt feelings and wounds that Believers inflict on each other over it, are indeed “unprofitable and worthless.”
This is not a “hill to die on” my brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not even a hill to fight on.
This is the mother of all “foolish controversies” and by engaging in it you’re not helping in the work of “building up of the body of Christ” as we are exhorted to do in Ephesians 4:12, but rather you’re doing the opposite.
Think about it! Do you really want to stand before the Throne on the Day of Accounting and explain to Him why you felt it necessary to hassle your cousin Bill about his stupid Christmas tree so much that he became alienated from you and later on from the church itself and thus ended up isolated from fellowship with other Believers, leading to him falling away from the faith?
This is not a hypothetical situation. There are literally tens of thousands of relationships between friends and families that have been shattered over this silly nonsense, and that has led to many being turned off from the church and from Christianity in general.
So if you feel uncomfortable celebrating Christmas, don’t. But you also shouldn’t try and make other people feel uncomfortable celebrating it. If one does tell his brother or sister or neighbor that they’re sinning by celebrating Christmas, that individual is not doing Jesus any favors, they’re actually doing Lucifer a favor (yes, I went there.)
All of that having been said, it’s true that Christmas contains a lot of nonsense. The origins of many of the traditions surrounding Christmas can be traced to pagan practices in medieval Europe and even into modern America.
But you know what? So do a lot of traditional Jewish practices that Hebrew Roots and Messianic Believers like to partake of.
Take the simple example of lighting Shabbat Candles. This practice isn’t Biblical, it has its origins in Jewish mysticism and didn’t even become a common practice among European Jews until nearly 1,000 years after the Second Temple was destroyed.
So if you refuse to have a Christmas Tree because it’s “pagan” and “un-Biblical” but you light Shabbat Candles which are also “un-Biblical” and derive from mystic traditions that are no better than paganism, you’re just wasting your time and being a hypocrite.
Furthermore, God can use anything, including Christmas.
Here in Jerusalem, every Catholic, Greek Orthodox and otherwise traditional Church receives thousands of Jewish visitors on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They’re attracted by the festive and fun atmosphere of the holiday. Many of these churches put a huge stack of New Testaments in Hebrew and other languages next to the door, free for anyone to take.
So the next time you feel like telling someone that they’re sinning by participating in Christmas, you should first explain to them how many Jewish people have read the New Testament because of your refusal to participate in it.
If you can’t say anything about that, then maybe you shouldn’t say anything at all.
Finally, I have a suggestion for you whether you celebrate Christmas or not.
This time of year when so many people are giving gifts to each other as the turning of the calendar is approaching is the perfect time to give someone a One Year Bible. By giving it to them now, just as the new year and the new cycle of reading the Scriptures is about to start, you could be helping launch someone who needs a little help getting closer to God into a new habit which will bless them richly, and by extension their entire community.
If anything I’ve said here has offended you, then you’re probably the person who really needed to hear it.
Aaron is a member of Jerusalem Assembly, House of Redemption.