24 November 2008

God Blesses Israel

The neighborhood in which I grew up was very middle class. We had all types living there from professionals to laborers but everyone got along, at a distance, and it was “safe.” There were no drugs or serious mischief of any kind and the parents let us kids romp freely without worry. We rode bikes in the street (very little traffic), played baseball or football, depending on the season, and we even had woods and a creek nearby that gave us many opportunities to do a bit of safe exploration.

Our street was a long slow curve both ends of which attached to a moderately busy throughway but we always felt comfortably isolated from the mainstream. From our neighborhood we could see the world without being in it and yet we were very close to every possible amenity. Within two minutes “walk” we had a drive-in theatre, a children’s hospital, a church, a community hall (we had Cub Scout meetings there) and just a bit further away was an orphanage (with a dairy farm), a well developed shopping center and most of the kids could ride bikes to the local elementary school. It was a nice neighborhood situated close to everything you might need.

From the age of 8 to 16 I lived eight of the most formative years of my life in this neighborhood. It was there that I developed some of the closest friendships I ever had and experienced many personal firsts: kiss, smoke, caught fish, fight and there are a few I won’t mention. That neighborhood molded the perspective I have on life and the world. Even today, many years later, my experiences there are still the basis for many of my idiosyncrasies.

The one interesting thing about this neighborhood was the presence of several Jewish families. I recall at least five but there may have been more. Of the five I remember, two lived on either side of us. The Rothenbergs lived on the left and the Aptakers lived on the right. We were close to these families. The kids from all three houses played together. The adults talked across the fence. My dad and Mr. Aptaker often discussed their common interest in gardening. From my youthful point of view I thought they were the only two people in the world who could enjoy gardening. I’ve since learned that there are many other people with this same affliction.

Obviously, there were differences between the families. They were Jewish and we were Gentile. The differences, however, never got in the way. They were talking points only. No one was judged. In fact, I learned about Hanukkah from our neighbors and looked forward every year to buttered Matzo bread. I still buy it and enjoy it today. Unfortunately, I don’t remember everything they taught me about Hanukkah. I was too busy crunching on the bread to take everything in but I do remember it being interesting. Eli (the oldest Rothendberg boy) and I had so much in common as kids the differences hardly registered.

These Jewish families were good neighbors. They were friendly and decent people. We were as close to them as we were to any other people in the neighborhood. They weren’t spoken against or viewed condescendingly in our family or, as far as I know, by anyone else. The only squabbles we had with these neighbors had nothing to do with them being Jewish or us being Gentile. They were appreciated. We had no reason to think of them as anything other than good people who happened to be good neighbors.

That is why I was quite surprised when I first heard the term “anit-semite.” To be honest, I didn’t even know what that was. When it was explained I was really confused. How could anyone be anti-Aptaker? How could anyone not like the Rothenbergs. These were our friends. They harmed no one. I seriously doubted they were able to. “Anti-semitism” just didn’t sit well with me. That a holocaust could occur in modern times made me view humanity in a poor light not the Jewish people. It was really freaky.

Later, when I attended Bible college I was happily exposed to a lot of very positive data regarding the Jewish nation and it was there that I learned that they were God’s very special people even today. The list of contributions they have made to society is endless and growing. They are truly a God blessed people and the evidence proving this is astounding. Consider just a few of the facts:

23% of all Nobel Prize winners are Jewish.
38% of those receiving the US National Medal of Science are Jewish.
26% of all Kyoto Prize winners are Jewish.

Those numbers represent only the Jewish people who have won these prestigious awards. That doesn’t count the number of other Jewish people who have made enormous contributions to society and are professionals on whom we rely daily. For a more detailed list of their accomplishment you can go here.

These figures are even more note worthy when you consider the fact that Jewish people represent only 0.25% of the world’s population and they have endured enormous socio/political obstacles to personal accomplishments of any kind. Their numbers have been decimated and their talents ignored and yet they flourish and excel.

On top of these observations is the fact that God, through the Jewish nation, gave us our Bible. Every book in the Bible was written by or under the auspices of a Jew (Luke was a Gentile writing under the authority of Paul, the Apostle). We have them to thank for all the useful influences of the Bible and Jewish people have often been great examples of the good things the Bible teaches.

Tell me, where would we be without the Bible? Which religion, apart from those influenced by the Bible, would you prefer? Where would the world be without the contribution of the people who gave us our Bible? The next time you hear someone vilify a Jew or their nation remember these words...

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (God to Abraham, Genesis 12:2-3)

19 November 2008

Change Your Life!

Change is one of the most remarkable qualities of human nature. From the time we are conceived until the time we die “change” is our constant companion. As infants, we grow physically, pick up knowledge rapidly and our senses are exercised every waking moment.

In the preteen years we begin to manifest abilities which, if developed, give definition to the changes we make in the future. People change into all kinds of things: doctors, lawyers, managers, technicians, entrepreneurs, etc. and we develop all kinds of skills and qualities in the process of getting there.

The interesting thing about change is we never arrive. We continue to change throughout life in response to our experiences. That is, we become better, more experienced doctors or lawyers or technicians because we continue to gain new insights and learn from the mistakes we made in the past. Engineers today build better damns and bridges because they have learned from the experiences of previous generations.

Our ability to change gives us what I call “become-ability.” A dog will never be anything other than a dog and the same can be said for every other life form except humans. Animals become nothing other than what their inborn nature and instincts allow. Their most dominant quality is their predictability. Real change is the domain of humans only. Not even God can change.

Sadly, however, some people never intentionally become anything. They get caught in the cycle that goes nowhere and positive change never happens. When this occurs, everyone and everything around them seem to negatize any effort to break the cycle. Which is to say that change can sometimes take a bad turn which isn’t easily made right.

But, there is one person who always wants you to change for the good, God. He created you with a high capacity for change initially and when that doesn’t go as well as He originally intended He’s organized a back up plan to give you some extra impetus. Following are some of the things He has provided to make this possible:

A new nature. Jesus said we could be born again. This isn’t really a new topic. The terminology isn’t well understood but it has become popular. To discuss it fully would take several posts. Suffice it to say, however, that at the heart of this issue is a new nature. The person who is born again receives a brand new, un-taint-able, unchangeable nature. It doesn’t replace the old nature but it does give you more leverage on your ability to change. The new nature gives us what I call “overcome-ability.”

A new coach. No one pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps. No one succeeds without the support and encouragement of other people. Everyone needs people even if all they do is use them.

The problem is, the people we need are not always what we need them to be. They don’t always have the answers we need most and when they do they aren’t always willing to share them. Not every person is willing or capable of mentoring our lives.

Well, God has your best interest at heart always and He wants to be your coach. This is so true that He promises to indwell us by His Holy Spirit who intends to encourage us, not judge us, hound us or make us feel guilty every time we fail. In fact, the Holy Spirit is called the “comforter.” His primary purpose is to be our friend. To call Him "comforter" is like saying,

“I know you will fail and when you do I am going to be the one who continues to accept you and comfort you and help you and encourage you to never give up, no matter what.”
Jesus is actually quoted as saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Interpreted that means,
“Even when you give up on yourself I will never give up on you.”
Paul actually shared that exact sentiment with Timothy who at the time was feeling a little overcome with life. With a coach like that who can fail to make positive changes. Who can fail to keep on keeping on.

A new opportunity. The most powerful word in the Bible is “forgiveness.” Properly understood it means,

“even when you mess up completely you can never fail entirely.”
I don’t want to sound glib, casual or disrespectful but “forgiveness” is your “get-out-of-jail-free” card. You can and will fail but, you can never fail beyond God’s ability to forgive. When you totally crash one opportunity, He will have another one waiting for you once you get through the turbulence. Sometimes it is our failure that stimulates our greatest changes.

Additionally the words used to describe change help us understand the extent to which this can actually happen:

Repentance (a change of mind). How many people do you know who really (I mean really) change their mind. To many, there isn’t much difference between a change of mind and compromise.

Transformed (metamorphosis resulting from renewing the mind). Metamorphosis!?!?!?!?!? The changes God allows are so radical it can only be described as a “morphing” of your nature. How amazing is that? Oh, and BTW, it starts with the renewing of your mind. Your life will never change if your mind doesn’t move.

New Creations (what we are because of the new birth). This speaks of the change that God makes in us. When you are born again God makes you completely new. He doesn’t renovate the old you He replaces it with the new you.

And the Bible further provides a long list of qualities that can characterize every Christian: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Wow, who wouldn’t want to be all of those? Who wouldn’t want to associate with people like this?

The question is not, “are you changing?” but “in which direction are you changing?” Don’t waste energy doubting the changes God has made possible. Don’t stay in the dumps over the difference between where you are and where you wish you were. Begin making changes today! ThinkAboutIt.