Category Archives: Judaism

Relief for Refugees from Ukraine

Shalom in His grace. I appreciate the opportunity each month to tell you about the good work God is doing through Your Mission to the Jewish People. With the post-COVID reopening of the United States and so many other countries where Chosen People Ministries serves, there is more happening in our efforts to reach Jewish people with the gospel than I can describe.

As you know, we have initiated a three-part campaign called Foundations ’22, in which we are “going back to the basics” of personal evangelism, discipleship, and deeper training for Jewish believers and our Christian friends reaching their Jewish friends and family. This campaign has progressed rapidly as the opportunities now abound. We had a tremendous month of Passover outreach. Our presentations of Messiah in the Passover online and in person in churches across the nation enabled hundreds of Jewish people to hear the gospel and be introduced to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Yet with all this excitement, I still cannot escape the heartbreak of what is happening to the people of Ukraine, including hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who live there, as the countries of the former Soviet Union still have large numbers of Jewish people within their borders. The Ukrainians have suffered the attempted destruction of their country, without mercy on the part of Putin and his minions.

The tragedy of war fills me with sadness, and I am sure you feel the same way. We are doing all we can to alleviate the suffering of Ukrainians. It is especially terrible to watch as a generation of younger male leaders die defending their homes. Women and children are doing their best to get out of the country and escape to Poland and other nearby countries or eventually to Israel. This tragedy especially impacts children, as so many lost one or both parents or had to flee, leaving their father behind.

Mariupol, a city on the eastern border, was reduced from 450,000 people to less than 100,000, and most of their schools, apartments, and shopping areas were reduced to rubble. For years, we served a couple of Messianic congregations in this once-beautiful city, but now the Jewish believers have scattered. Yet, by God’s grace, many have found one another using WhatsApp, Telegram, and other social media tools. Along with Messianic Jews from other parts of Ukraine, they have regathered in western Ukraine in a safer city and have rebuilt a small community of believers. Some of the funds you have so sacrificially given enables them to survive, and our team also uses funds we provide to help non-believers as part of their ongoing outreach.

RELIEF IN JESUS’ NAME

We are focusing our ministries of relief and care on nations bordering Ukraine like Poland, Hungary, Romania, as well as on other European countries that have welcomed refugees. Much of our efforts are within Poland and Germany where a combined few million Ukrainian refugees have fled. We are working through our Chosen People Ministries staff and volunteers in these countries to support ministries in campgrounds, congregational facilities, and the homes of Christians. We are helping the refugees find safe housing and meeting some of their basic needs. We even brought in teams of Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking believers from Israel to help the refugees.

We are also assisting Ukrainian Jews wanting to move to Israel by renting some apartments in the Holy Land to temporarily house these new immigrants. During the last twenty-five years, God has done a wonderful work among Russian-speaking Jewish people. About 60 percent of the believers in Israel today speak Russian or Ukrainian as their primary language. Our staff in Israel have benefited from this movement of the Holy Spirit, and we have an abundance of Russian-speaking staff who can minister to these refugees.

So many of those moving to Israel are coming without husbands, sons, and brothers, as the men could not get out of Ukraine, where they are fighting the Russian invaders. Many of the men do not want to leave, choosing rather to stay and fight.

In the past, Chosen People Ministries has served the community of single mothers in Israel. Throughout the New Testament, we see Jesus helping those on the margins of society, and the Scriptures strongly encourage believers to help widows and orphans specifically (James 1:27).

One of my favorite passages is in Matthew chapter 9, in which we see our beloved Messiah focusing on the physical and spiritual needs of those who did not receive a lot of help from the rest of society. Matthew wrote:

Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matt 9:35–38, emphasis added)

We are trying, by God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to follow the example of the Messiah Jesus and minister to those in need, especially those who others might not be able or willing to help.

REPORTS FROM THE FIELD

Since the beginning of the war, we have received daily updates from our staff on the ground in Europe and Israel. Most of the emails are from Boris Goldin, who is coordinating our Chosen People Ministries work in Ukraine, and Maxim Katz, who is based in Israel but is currently working extensively with our Chosen People Ministries team in Poland. Please pray for them!

We also thank God for our German partners, Beit Sar Shalom (House of the Prince of Peace) and their director, Vladimir Pikman, who along with his wife, Inna, became believers through the congregation we planted in Kiev during the early 1990s. The teams in Germany are working day and night to meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of refugees entering Germany and have attracted dozens of displaced Ukrainian Jewish believers who are now attending their congregations across Germany.

The email below from Maxim to our Israel director, Michael Z., is one example of the needs described during the early days of the conflict that encouraged Your Mission to the Jewish People to take action!

Misha shalom,

In connection with the war in Ukraine, I would like to inform you of what we are doing. Miraculously, the Lord opened up possibilities that we could not even imagine. A few days ago, the Sochnut1 turned to Ostróda (the place where we hold camps2 in Poland) to request to accept Jews from Ukraine. Today they contacted us through them, and together, we are coordinating the arrival of a group of Jews to Ostróda. I contacted my friend from the transport company, and the bus went to the Polish border to pick up 15 families. These are Israelis and new immigrants. They will be able to fly to Israel only after March 10. Until that time, they will live in Ostróda.

We were also asked for help in finding a place for 200 children from the Beit Chabad orphanage in Odessa. They are now in Romania and are looking for a place for a week. They are ready to stay at a Christian place but have asked to use as little symbolism as possible and to help with kosher food. I spoke with Dorin and his brother in Romania who is ready to help. I gave his coordinates to Sochnut and they already spoke. I hope everything will work out.

Misha, I think if you let me fly to Poland . . . and serve on site, I think it will be a fruitful help and ministry.

Thanks,

Maxim

Your prayers and support are so important to us, and I pray the Lord will guide you to support these efforts to bring the love of the Messiah to those suffering the ravages of war. I am praying about the rebuilding of the Ukrainian Messianic community throughout the globe, and your gifts of support will help in these rebuilding efforts wherever they will take place…Ukraine, Israel, Poland, Germany, as the Lord leads and allows.

I will send further updates as the Lord enables.

Your brother in Messiah,

Mitch

P.S. I was able to see the crisis firsthand during a recent trip to Poland, and my heart is just broken. Again, your prayers and financial support enable us to do more to help both Jews and Gentiles suffering in what can only be described as a modern humanitarian disaster. Thank you for your love and partnership.

1 The Jewish Agency, which coordinates the aliyah of Jewish people around the globe

2 Camps for children from Israel and Holocaust survivors

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Filed under evangelism, Holocaust Survivors, Jewish Christian Dialogue, Jews and Christians, Judaism, Kiev, Messianic Jewish, Uncategorized

The Power of God through Plagues

I love Passover. It is my favorite Jewish holiday and by far the most delicious. The array of traditional Passover dishes is magnificent. I wish you could have tasted my grandmother’s chicken and matzah ball soup—not to mention her homemade gefilte (stuffed) fish. (By the way, do not ever ask a Jewish person what parts of the fish they used! That would be a big mistake.)

As a Messianic Jew, I have found Passover more meaningful now than I did before coming to know the Lord. As you know, the Lord’s Supper—one of our most cherished spiritual ceremonies—grew out of the Passover Seder. You can find all the intricate details by going to our website and reading further or buying one of our Passover books listed on the back of this newsletter. Each book includes a Messianic Passover Haggadah (Passover guide) with Jesus at the center of the service—and some wonderful recipes.

If you want to observe the Passover as fulfilled in Jesus, the Lamb of God, you can this year! Passover lasts an entire week. Though we usually celebrate the Seder on the first two nights, any night during that week will do. I know it would be a wonderful experience for you, your children, Sunday school class, or small group.

It will also further prepare your hearts for Good Friday and Resurrection Day, especially since the first night of Passover and Good Friday coincide this year!

Each year at this time, I try to address a Passover-related topic in detail. This year, it will not surprise you that I would like to help us better understand the role that plagues play in the plan of God, especially during Passover.

THE TEN PASSOVER PLAGUES

The recitation of the ten plagues is a central part of the Passover Seder and one of the most memorable moments during the Seder for Jewish children. Traditionally, we dip our little finger or a spoon into a glass of red wine and put the drop of liquid onto our plates while loudly reciting the name of each plague. We call out the plagues in English and Hebrew: blood (dam), frogs (ts’fardei’a), vermin (kinim), flies (arov), pestilence (dever), boils, (sh’chin), hail (barad), locusts (arbe), darkness (choshech), and death of the firstborn (makat bechorot).

The recitation of the plagues is not an isolated moment in the Seder. It is part of the overall recounting of the story of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage. There are two reasons why we drop the wine on our plates. One reason is that it more dramatically portrays the plagues as judgments falling upon the Egyptian slavemasters. The other is because Jewish tradition tells us to reduce our joy (symbolized by the sweet wine) by one drop for each plague that fell upon the Egyptians.

The lesson here is clear: even though the Egyptians enslaved us, we recognize they are fellow human beings and God’s creation. Therefore, our rabbis teach us we should not rejoice in their judgment but rather remember God’s love for all peoples and nations.

We will now look briefly at the three primary purposes for the plagues. First, God uses plagues to bring judgment upon the ungodly. Through the plagues, He also reveals His power and character. Lastly, they fulfill prophetic events.

JUDGMENT

The great German theologians and early twentieth-century biblical scholars Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch coined the term “penal miracles” in their well-read commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. In other words, there were plagues, or miracles, that also served as judgments and punishments upon the disobedient.

Each plague brought judgment upon the Egyptians, who were otherwise unwilling to allow the Jewish people to leave Egypt and worship the one true God. This chastisement is an excellent reminder that God is loving but also righteous and holy and takes offense at human sin. At times, He brings about temporal judgment upon humanity. He did so with the flood, the plagues, and even the captivity of the Jewish people by pagan nations.

REVELATION

Jewish people understand that God brought the plagues upon the Egyptians as divine judgments designed to move both the Egyptians and Jewish people into action. Biblical plagues are purposeful. While they bring terrible consequences upon the disobedient and rebellious, God often mysteriously uses them for purposes beyond punishment.

Take note of Uzziah, Naaman, and even Miriam, Moses’ sister. God struck each of them with leprosy to accomplish His divine purposes. Like the healing of the blind man in John chapter nine, plagues fell upon individuals for the glory of God and the good of mankind. “Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:3).

God used the plagues to judge the Egyptians and reveal His power, holiness, and presence in human history. Still, God’s will and works are always for repentance and a turning away from sin to the one true God.

Exodus 7:1–7 shows Moses speaking of plagues as signs and wonders. Throughout the Scriptures, signs and wonders usually describe the miraculous, but in Exodus 7, the words are interchangeable with the word for judgment:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.” So Moses and Aaron did it; as the Lord commanded them, thus they did. Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharaoh. (Exod 7:1–7, emphasis added)

FULFILLMENT OF PROPHECY

God sometimes uses plagues to fulfill prophecy, as when He promised to deliver the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and return them to their land of promise. “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst” (Exodus 7:5, emphasis added).

Ezekiel 36:23 parallels Exodus 7:5 and refers to another day of deliverance and restoration for Israel and the Jewish people: “‘I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight’” (Ezek 36:23).

Both passages show that one of God’s great purposes in bringing the Jewish people out of captivity and back to the land of promise was for them to be a sign to the nations testifying that the God of Israel is true and all-powerful. In effect, the Jewish people’s deliverance through the ten plagues and their return to the land of Israel reveals the prophetic fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant found in Genesis 12:1–3. Moses predicted this result in chapter six of the book of Exodus:

Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.” (Exodus 6:6–8)

We must view the exodus, including the plagues, as one means by which God fulfilled His promises to Israel and, as we later see in the book of Revelation, His future judgment upon mankind.

WHERE DOES THE PANDEMIC FIT IN GOD’S PLAN?

It would be appropriate at this moment to compare COVID-19 to the plagues and try to understand where this pandemic might fit in with the purposes of God. I am not suggesting that God directly imposed COVID-19. There have been many terrible plagues throughout history that have devastated humanity. Although the coronavirus was exceptionally destructive, we have no reason to believe that the spread of this virus is the result of God’s direct judgment.

We must tether our understanding of the divine purpose of plagues, world wars, and the greatest tragedies of human history to Scripture. But, of course, the Bible does not speak about the coronavirus, the Black Plague, or the Spanish Flu. Therefore, the adage, “Where the Bible is silent, so am I,” is appropriate here. We must avoid conjecture and not speak for God before He has spoken to us.

On the other hand, we cannot deny that God used plagues as judgments and will do so again in the future. COVID-19 has awakened us to the possibility that plagues, along with other signs, will take place in the end times before the second coming of the Messiah. This view of plagues is also traditional Jewish teaching. Bible-believing Christians, Messianic Jews, and religious Jewish people would agree that “pestilence” or plagues are signs of the coming of the Messiah and will take place in the “last days.” The Messiah Himself declared this to be true during the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:10–11): “Then He continued by saying to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.’”

Hopefully, one day, we will look back and see the good our heavenly Father accomplished through this global trial. We pray that somehow blessings will come for all through this time of pain and suffering (Romans 8:28). We also pray that we will remember in the light the lessons we learned in the darkness. Perhaps these lessons will even prepare us in some way for the future.

Let us pray the Lord will use the experiences and losses of the last few years to shape our character, reorder our priorities, and draw us closer to Him. May the pandemic remind us all that the Lord is coming soon and that we need to prepare. And what better way to get ready for His return than to continue doing what He told us to do by committing ourselves to evangelism, discipleship, and training a new generation of disciples until He returns! (Matthew 28:19–20).

Stay faithful, vigilant, and filled with His Spirit. The Lord is coming soon—Maranatha!

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Filed under evangelism, Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Christian Dialogue, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Passover

Pray for Ukraine

I am writing with an urgent plea for prayer for the people of Ukraine, including many who are Jewish and who Chosen People Ministries currently serves.

Unfortunately, Russia and Ukraine have entered into a regrettable time of war. This conflict may have devastating effects on the people we love and to whom we minister as well as on their families, their friends, and their congregations.

Since the 1990s, 1.5 million Jewish people from the former Soviet Union have emigrated to Israel from their countries of origin. We have also seen an incredible movement of the Holy Spirit that has impacted the Jewish people and has opened ministry opportunities in Israel, Ukraine, and Russia.

Over the years, our staff team has provided leadership to a network of Messianic congregations in multiple cities in Ukraine. The first congregation in Kyiv, Beit El-Gibor, planted by Chosen People Ministries, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year.

Through these congregations, we work with youth, children in orphanages, families, prisoners, substance-abuse victims, and elderly people, including Holocaust survivors. Presently, we also have more than two dozen Ukrainian- and Russian-born missionaries on our staff serving across the globe.

Many Chosen People Ministries staff members still have family in Ukraine. They also have many friends and ministry leaders there with whom they have worked over many years.

Our hearts break for those now in the midst of the tragedy of war, which we hope and pray will be short-lived.

In addition to praying for God’s wisdom upon Ukrainian leadership and for protection for all people—especially in targeted areas—please join us in praying specifically for the Lord’s safeguarding of the roughly 200,000 Jewish people in Ukraine and for the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is also Jewish and subject to the violence of war.

Please also continue to pray for peace in Ukraine, safety for those we have been serving, and that God’s hand of mercy will permeate the region.

We have just established a relief fund for Jewish victims of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

We will use a portion of the funds to help with food, housing, and transportation for those fleeing to the western part of Ukraine. We even hope to help some of these precious war-torn souls find their way to Israel. The needs abound, especially among the elderly, those who have young children, and others who cannot access their limited bank accounts.

We are especially heartbroken and burdened for those who are part of the small Messianic congregations we have been helping in eastern Ukraine. They need our prayers and support immediately!

If the conflict ends quickly, whatever we do not use from this fund will help our ministries among aging Holocaust survivors in Israel.

Thank you so much for your sacrifice, prayers, and generosity.

Most of all, please join us in praying for this tragic situation TODAY.

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Filed under evangelism, Holocaust Survivors, Israel, Jewish Christian Dialogue, Jews and Christians, Judaism, Kiev, Messianic Jewish

Esther: The Right Place at the Right Time

Your Mission to the Jewish People will soon celebrate the Jewish festival of Purim. This holiday is one of the most joyous on the Jewish calendar. I am sure you know the story, but please allow me to summarize these critical events in Jewish and biblical history and share a few thoughts and lessons we can learn from them.

INTRODUCTION

During this festival, Jewish communities read the entire background of Purim in the book of Esther. The story describes the Jewish people’s deliverance from certain destruction at the hand of Haman, a leader in the Medo-Persian Empire during the reign of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes). Ahasuerus ruled from 486 to 465 bc.

In the story, lots (or purim in Hebrew) were cast in the presence of Haman to help select the date for him to carry out his plan to destroy the Jewish people. Hence the name of the holiday, Purim, comes from the Hebrew word for “lots.”

It is important to recognize the tale’s heroes and how God used them to deliver the Jewish people from Haman’s wicked plan. By God’s providence, Ahasuerus chose Esther to be his new queen through a national beauty contest. She replaced Queen Vashti, who had refused the king’s command to appear at a banquet celebration. The other hero is Mordechai, Esther’s cousin (Esther 2:7), who raised her and played a critical role.

But the true hero of the story is God Himself, who sovereignly arranged all the events to work toward the good of the Jewish people. The name of God never appears in the book of Esther, but His presence and providence are evident throughout the book.

He is not silent! We hear His voice through the actions of Esther and Mordechai!

JEWISH PURIM TRADITIONS

Jewish people celebrate the deliverance from Haman’s evil plot by reading the book of Esther, shaking groggers (noise-makers), and yelling out “boo!” every time the reader mentions the name of Haman and “yay!” when we hear the names Esther and Mordechai. During Purim, we also eat hamantaschen, cookies shaped to resemble Haman’s hat or ears. Children celebrate by dressing up in fun, colorful, and creative costumes and by putting on plays that re-tell the story of Esther (yay!) and her triumph over wicked Haman (boo!).

In Israel, people flood the streets in costume to celebrate, and some ultra-Orthodox Jewish men drink alcoholic beverages until they cannot tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman.

THE MAJOR THEMES OF PURIM

During this time, we center on God’s power to orchestrate the events of life while remaining behind the scenes! Purim shows us how the hidden hand of God guides, empowers, protects, and accomplishes His divine purposes on earth.

The festival of Purim focuses on God’s covenantal faithfulness. It celebrates the deliverance of God’s chosen people and shows the Lord’s faithfulness to the covenant He made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “. . . I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen 12:1–3)

The promises of this magnificent covenant play out through the story of Purim—the destruction of Israel’s enemies, the exaltation of the nation’s heroes, and the blessing upon those who bless Israel, like King Ahasuerus.

THE RIGHT PERSON IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME

One of the great lessons of Purim and the book of Esther is that God puts His children in the right place at the right time to do His will. The first puzzle piece is that the king chose Esther as queen and put her in the right place at the right time.

The God of Esther is still putting His people in the right place at the right time today! Revisiting the book of Esther during Purim greatly encourages us to accept the places where God puts us as well as the people He puts in our lives!

Mordechai also saved the king’s life by being in the right place at the right time to hear the plot of the two assassins who had lost their jobs in the palace (Esther 2:21–23). Of course, Esther was in the right place at the right time to receive the information from Mordechai to save the king’s life. Ahasuerus was also the right “pagan” king for the right moment—another king might not have ultimately listened to his wife!

The story reaches its zenith with Mordechai telling Esther, “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). As a result, Esther took the challenge and approached the king even though she could have died for visiting uninvited!

The Lord went before Esther, and she received a favorable outcome to her request to save the Jewish people. So, the Lord switched the lots. Haman was hanged on the very gallows that he prepared for Mordechai, and the king permitted the Jews to fight back and destroy their enemies. So, Mordechai became the king’s most valuable advisor instead of Haman.

Purim is a reminder that God’s all-powerful and invisible hands hold and guide us during difficult times. The Lord is always good and has a purpose for our lives, just as He did for the Jewish people. Indeed, He often allows us to experience suffering so that we may become more and more like His Son.

HEROES FOR THE MESSIAH

Esther was a heroine and was willing to die for her people. Yeshua also loved His people and was ready to perish for them. The history of the Jewish people, the church, and Chosen People Ministries is filled with stories of brave and godly women who served the Lord faithfully, who faced dire and challenging circumstances, and even risked their lives to bring the gospel to the Jewish people.

Allow me to introduce you to one of these godly ladies, a founder and early pioneer without whom Chosen People Ministries would not exist today. Her name was Augusta Sussdorff.

Born in 1867 to German immigrants, Augusta Sussdorff was one of the Mission’s earliest workers. Rabbi Leopold Cohn spoke at her youth group at Hope Baptist Church and invited people to come and sing at the Mission. Augusta and a friend volunteered. Their presence drew more Jewish women and girls to the ministry. Previously, the Mission’s audience was primarily male. Rabbi Cohn was passionate about women studying Scripture and encouraged Augusta to join the Mission full time, which she did around 1912.

She conducted many programs at the Brooklyn headquarters, including mothers’ meetings, sewing school, and Bible classes. Augusta also made home visits, greeted people at the medical clinic, brought clothing to the poor, helped English-speaking immigrants find jobs, and served on the board of Chosen People Ministries when this was quite unusual within Christian work.

She served with the Mission for more than fifty years and continued volunteering long after her retirement.

Ms. Sussdorff was incredibly dedicated to faithfully serving the Jewish people so that they would experience the love of Jesus and hear the message of salvation. To honor Augusta Sussdorff, we are creating a scholarship in her name for women in the United States, Israel, and around the globe who are serving with Chosen People Ministries but have trouble raising their missionary support.

This scholarship is part of our Foundations ’22 campaign, as encouraging godly women to serve the Lord with Chosen People Ministries is a part of who we are. We are praying that more and more women will join the ranks of Chosen People Ministries as missionaries, students at our Feinberg program, volunteers in our VIP program, and so much more.

What better way to re-affirm our back-to-basics approach to 2022—refocusing on evangelism, discipleship, and training—than to help future Augusta Sussdorffs give their all for the salvation of Israel!

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Filed under Anti-Semitism, Brooklyn, evangelism, Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Christian Dialogue, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, New York City

A Renewed Focus on Personal Evangelism and Discipleship

Chosen People Ministries, now in our 128th year of ministry, will continue to build on the solid foundation laid by our founder, Rabbi Leopold Cohn, and the hundreds of missionaries and servants of the Lord who preceded today’s staff family.

Jesus emphasized this need for a firm foundation when speaking to His disciples after giving the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24).

Jesus is the foundation and cornerstone of our faith!

The psalmist pointed to the One who, though rejected, would be the cornerstone of the kingdom: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps 118:22–23).

Chosen People Ministries is built upon the foundation of Jesus the Messiah and the Bible—the word of God. Paul wrote to believers in Ephesus about this foundation:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Eph 2:19–22, emphasis added)

We learn a lot from the Apostle Paul about building a solid foundation for the Lord’s work. He was an experienced ministry builder and wrote quite a bit about the importance of a solid foundation.

Wherever Chosen People Ministries staff have gone and whatever we have done throughout the years to build the Lord’s work among the Jewish people, the foundation is always the same—the Lord Himself and the Bible. We make Jesus known for all He is and what He did, and we teach and preach the Bible to those with genuine spiritual hunger.

The Great Commission also never changes. We are called to proclaim the gospel, lead others to faith in the Messiah, and make disciples of all who believe (Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 1:8). This foundation includes the importance and priority God places on Jewish evangelism (Romans 1:16), if one takes the words of Paul literally!

The Goal of the Foundations ’22 Campaign

Our goal for the Foundations ’22 campaign is to build Chosen People Ministries for the future—until the Lord returns! To do this, we need to return to and embrace the very foundation of our ministry and reaffirm the basic elements of our work.

This clarion call to evangelize, disciple, and train others to do the same grows out of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20, emphasis added).

The task never changes!

The opportunities and circumstances of the day might influence how we carry out the commission and the tools we use. But our message and work is always the same!

For example, Chosen People Ministries has confronted two world wars, various global economic disasters, the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, and the multiple wars in the aftermath of 1948 (i.e., 1967, 1973, its Lebanon Wars, and two intifadas). These challenges impacted the ways in which we carried out our Jewish gospel mandate and led to creating new tools to reach and serve the Jewish people. God used our staff, particularly in the aftermath of the Holocaust, to help Jewish people who survived the Holocaust re-settle in Europe and Israel and feed the poor survivors as they returned home to their European communities.

We have helped immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom were Holocaust survivors as children, but today, of course, are elderly and have so many needs. The greatest of these needs is hearing about Jesus, and over the last two decades, we have served these dear people and have shared the message of hope through Jesus with hundreds. By God’s grace, many Holocaust survivors have given their hearts to the Lord.

The recent pandemic also required us to shift strategies as so much of our effort was focused online, which was the best way for Chosen People Ministries to enter the homes and lives of Jewish nonbelievers and believers alike. We needed to limit our usual method of meeting with people in person during the pandemic, but we were still able to carry out our ministry goals.

Now, it is time to get back to in-person meetings and to even greater involvement in the lives of those we serve.

This year, we will strengthen our ministry in three areas, which should come as no surprise. First, we will emphasize direct personal evangelism as we are able. We will also disciple those who come to faith and help them grow in their faith and become part of congregations. Additionally, we will train the next generation of Jewish and Gentile believers to serve the Lord with greater depth and expertise.

Your Partnership in the Foundations ’22 Campaign

You can partner with Chosen People Ministries through prayer and personal involvement.

Prayer

Please pray that Chosen People Ministries missionaries remain faithful and effective in proclaiming the gospel of the Jewish Messiah.

Pray that the seeds of the gospel land on good soil and produce much fruit.

Finally, pray that the Lord raises up more Jewish and Gentile believers from the next generation to minister to future Jewish not-yet believers!

Personal Involvement

1. Introduce us to your not-yet-believing Jewish friend. 

We need your help identifying Jewish people we can talk to about Jesus. Use the enclosed card to provide their information, and we will be happy to send your friend a free copy of my book, Isaiah 53 Explained, and ask if they would like personal contact with one of our ministers.

2. Connect us to Jewish believers you know. 

We would like to reach out to Jewish believers you know and encourage them with the various growth and service opportunities available to them through Chosen People Ministries. We have materials, retreats, mentors, and so much more to help Jewish believers grow in their faith. You can also help us identify those called to full-time Jewish ministry as missionaries or as support staff, such as writers, graphic designers, and administrators.

3. Join us in training for Jewish ministry.

We have many training opportunities available that you can be part of and also promote these to your congregation, church, or Bible study groups. For example, you might know those who would appreciate our short-term mission trips or consider taking a course through our new online video-based Bible institute, which begins soon. Our Charles Feinberg seminary program is also available in person and online for those who want graduate-level training for credit and are more serious about either joining the staff of Chosen People Ministries or serving in their local community as a volunteer.

As I mentioned, we will describe some of the specifics of the Foundations ’22 campaign in the months ahead. I will begin by sharing vital information and fuel for your prayer life about some of the hard-to-reach Jewish communities with whom we are already engaged and hope to serve even more effectively in the future as part of our Foundations ’22 campaign.

Thanks for caring, praying, getting more involved, and supporting our ministry among the Jewish people.

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Filed under Brooklyn, evangelism, Holocaust Survivors, Israel, Jewish Christian Dialogue, Jews and Christians, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, New York City

Hope in Suffering

Everyone from the angelic-voiced Mahalia Jackson to the great Louis Armstrong sang the traditional African-American spiritual entitled, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” The lyrics are worth noting:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory Hallelujah

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but Jesus
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory Hallelujah

This great song poignantly expresses the loneliness and heart-rending nature of suffering. Have you ever tried to tell your story of personal pain to another individual, especially someone who is not very close to you? Have ever you felt like your story sounds hollow and trite as soon as you begin to recount it to someone else, even though the experience was deeply agonizing for you? If you have, then you know the feeling of emptiness when you realize the other person simply cannot appreciate your pain.

In moments like these, when the gap in understanding is so deep and wide, we might just decide to give up explaining and suffer in silence to avoid trying to give good reasons for why we are hurting. Nobody likes having their suffering minimized by someone else’s inability to empathize and feel their pain. We should never be put in the position where we need to justify why life hurts.

The moving lyrics of this old spiritual and its haunting melody breathes authenticity into its testimony of pain. We know it grew out of the bitterness of slavery and a desire to rise above that hateful circumstance and turn our hearts to God who alone understands life’s trials. It is sad but realistic as it seems the only time our hearts reach out to heaven is when life’s solutions are elusive or shrouded in darkness, and we have come to the end of our proverbial rope.

Everyone suffers, but the history of the Jewish people is best understood only through the lens of national suffering. The saying, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”—always mentioned with a wry smile—is tender, touching, and true. So much of Jewish life tells the story of survival, celebration, and remembrance. “Never Again”—declared in remembrance of the Holocaust—is a mantra that befits the Jewish experience and helps us seize the future with defiance and hope.

Our Jewish people have been enslaved, persecuted, oppressed, and virtually destroyed during the Holocaust. The prayers, poems, and songs of our people encourage us to turn toward God who is above and beyond all and gives meaning to the pain and suffering that would otherwise be meaningless.

The Shehechiyanu prayer expresses our corporate gratitude and acceptance of the destiny God allows. Along with heartfelt mourning, our tradition reminds us to be thankful that we are still alive! This sentiment is captured in one of our most familiar prayers when we recite,

Baruch Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech Ha’olam, shehechiyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, who has given us life, sustained us, and allowed us to arrive in this moment.

This traditional Jewish response to good times and bad, to suffering and celebration, is prayed at almost every Jewish holiday. Recognizing God’s hand of protection upon the Jewish people as we have lived to enter another year’s holiday season, it speaks of the faithfulness of God. He is the rock in the midst of our suffering.

The Mourner’s Kaddish, another well-known prayer, is prayed at perhaps our greatest times of suffering as we come face to face with the death of a loved one.

There is nothing like death to make us appreciate life.

The Mourner’s Kaddish is a magnificent, eloquent, and hopeful prayer that is mistakenly understood as a prayer for the dead. The opposite is true. It is a prayer of praise to God for life itself. The Kaddish is life-affirming, and it is at the heart of the Jewish response to suffering and death. The Kaddish lifts our hearts as the words we say glorify God and extol the virtues of His divine perfections. The prayer gives voice to our suffering by reaffirming our acceptance of His plan for us personally and as a people. This acknowledgment enables us to be thankful to God in the face of great loss and the worst of human pain.

The ability to recite the prayer in a heartfelt and sincere way is in itself a victory over the potential emptiness of suffering that can consume us. Although the Mourner’s Kaddish is only recited once at the end of synagogue services, versions of the Kaddish are repeated throughout. At the heart of every variation of the prayer is the following statement about the character of God:

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored, elevated, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He—above and beyond any blessings and hymns, praises, and consolations which are uttered in the world; and say Amen.

When we pray these words together as a family and community, it becomes easier to accept the isolation and desolation of suffering.

I believe this Jewish approach to hope is found in the Bible—in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. The well-worn words of Job, the master of theodicy, enable us to walk into the “whirlwind” of distress with faith and hope in the character of a good and gracious God. Job, in a perfect illustration of submission to God’s will, said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).

We might understand suffering today in deeper and more profound ways than ever before. COVID-19 has shattered many of our lives in so many ways. Some of us have unfortunately lost loved ones. We have also recently witnessed terrible floods, earthquakes, fires, and wars we thought we would never have to fight again.

Yet, we can have hope in the midst of suffering!

Bitterness, hopelessness, and anger are self-destructive options , but there is a whole range of life-affirming choices we can make as well. We might never quite understand the why of our pain, but we can still find peace in suffering when we entrust our souls to the God who made us.

The story of Jesus as told in the four Gospels is worth reading as you will see how the God of the universe chose to suffer on our behalf and repair the damage brought about by sin. In fact, He clothed Himself with humanity and endured pain and loss and injustice, just like we experience. He did even more for us. He died for our sins and rose from the grave to pave a new way into the presence of God. His suffering is the ultimate solace for our suffering! Once healed, this new and personal relationship with God through Yeshua the Messiah will become your greatest source of joy and give meaning to your suffering.

As the venerable rabbi and apostle Paul wrote so many years ago,

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3–5)

Like most of us, you are probably suffering in one way or another today. How can you avoid it? You do not have to be a weak person to suffer—we all have our limits. Loss and disappointment are a part of life, and we desperately need to find ways to cope. I and so many others affirm that knowing God intimately and personally, through Jesus the Messiah, is not only true—it will transform you!

I was searching and quietly suffering when I read the following for the very first time. Growing up in a Jewish home, we did not read the New Testament, of course! Jesus said,

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

These words were so comforting, although at first, I did not even know who said them! I hope and pray you will discover what the Messiah promised to be true for you as well.

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Filed under Anti-Semitism, evangelism, Jews and Christians, Judaism, Messianic Jewish

Training Tomorrow’s Messianic Leaders

Shalom in His peace.

Chosen People Ministries is committed to training up the next generation of leaders for ministry among the Jewish people and to fulfilling our mission: to pray for, evangelize, disciple, and serve Jewish people everywhere and to help fellow believers do the same. Fourteen years ago, Chosen People Ministries and Talbot School of Theology at Biola University jointly established the Charles L. Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies. This unique Feinberg educational program offers an accredited Master of Divinity degree and a graduate certificate with a concentration in Messianic Jewish Studies. These courses of study are designed to address the tremendous need for advanced biblical and theological training for those serving among the Jewish people.

Chosen People Ministries owns a strategically located building in the heart of an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. It houses the Feinberg program and accommodates classrooms, student housing, faculty offices, a 12,000-volume library, a dining room and a kitchen, as well as a sanctuary that is used for seminars, worship, and a Messianic congregation where students participate in services and receive fieldwork experience.

The Feinberg program trains future leaders who believe God has called them to serve in Jewish ministry.

OUR GRADUATES ARE OUR TESTIMONY!
Since its inception, more than thirty individuals have graduated from our Feinberg program. Our Feinberg alumni have gone on to serve in leadership capacities in ministries and organizations around the world. Currently, 85 percent of our Feinberg graduates are engaged in Jewish outreach, many with Chosen People Ministries. Some serve as congregational teachers, elders, or deacons, while others engage in planting congregations and centers among the Jewish people.

Some Feinberg graduates work for Christian non-profit ministries. One alumnus is on staff with CRU in London, serving as a spiritual resource to members of Parliament and other international leaders. Another individual oversees a gospel-focused sports ministry in Israel and other places alongside many Jewish people. Four graduates are presently pursuing PhD degrees, and one graduate will soon earn a Doctor of Ministry in Apologetics and has launched our Messianic apologetics website.

We have already had three international students who enrolled and moved to New York to pursue their education at the Feinberg Center. One of our recent graduates from Ukraine moved to Germany after graduation to help lead a new educational ministry that trains Europeans for Jewish outreach. Other international students are from Brazil, England, India, and South Korea.
Some of our leaders with the most potential to take Chosen People Ministries into the twenty-first century, including the editor of this publication, were trained at the Feinberg Center.

AT LONG LAST: FEINBERG IS ONLINE
We now plan to expand beyond the traditional classroom and offer online options for students who cannot move to Brooklyn to take in-person courses. This new opportunity for virtual learning—a result of the pandemic in many ways—will enable us to serve various Jewish mission fields, including Israel, where Chosen People Ministries continues to reach Jewish Israelis and the growing body of Israeli believers.

Since the 1930s, Chosen People Ministries has served in Israel and currently employs twenty-six people, primarily resident missionaries, through an Israeli non-profit named Beth Sar Shalom (House of the Prince of Peace). We have also established two Messianic Centers, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where we regularly conduct evangelistic ministries, including short-term mission trips from the United States. Our Jerusalem Messianic Center, established in 2006, serves as our main headquarters in Israel.

There are enough prospective students in Israel interested in the Feinberg program to introduce our courses to them remotely, along with motivated individuals living in other countries or different parts of the United States. Many would qualify for remote study in the Feinberg program or benefit from special seminars or programs offered by professors and special speakers.

We plan to begin offering Feinberg courses remotely, leading to a graduate certificate in Messianic Jewish Studies in Israel, which will enable students who are working and already deeply involved with their congregations and ministries to study without interrupting their lives and families. We believe this is an essential step to continue equipping the next generation for the vital work of Jewish evangelism.

NOT JUST CLASSROOM TRAINING— FIELD WORK IN ISRAEL
Training seminary students in Israel would have the added benefit of helping us further our outreach in the suburb of Ramat Gan and the greater Tel Aviv area. Our Israeli Feinberg students would have fieldwork requirements. Our Greater Tel Aviv Messianic Center, before the pandemic, was already teeming with activities designed for one-on-one interactions with Israeli unbelievers. Each week’s usual schedule of events included a weekly cafe outreach with live music, Bible studies, seminars for young people and families, leadership training programs, and even a mothers-of-preschoolers program in Hebrew. These activities will provide many opportunities for seminary students to learn ministry tools.

As at the Feinberg Center, mentors would oversee fieldwork experience in Israel, enabling students the opportunity to interact with non-believing Israelis under the guidance of an experienced Chosen People Ministries staff member. A further benefit is that Israeli graduates from the Feinberg program will likely serve as missionaries and become leaders within their congregations and beyond.

THE FUTURE IS NOW
For this 2021–2022 academic year, we already have eighteen full- and part-time students enrolled in the Feinberg program. Because of the pandemic, we had only a limited number of students living at the Feinberg Center in Brooklyn during the first half of 2021, with the majority are participating online. We plan to re-initiate in-person classes this fall and to expand to include those taking courses online.

A PLEA AND PRAYER FOR PARTNERSHIP
The Charles L. Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies is marked by a committed and called student body and a dedicated and highly qualified faculty. Its strength comes from a time-tested partnership between the Talbot School of Theology and Chosen People Ministries.

Your partnership in helping us train a new generation of leaders for Jewish ministry—in the United States, Israel, and worldwide—is deeply appreciated. Here are a couple of specific ways you can help at this critical moment in history:

  1. Please pray for all our students and professors. I will be teaching a course on Jewish evangelism this fall, and my wife, Dr. Zhava Glaser, will be teaching one on Jewish history. We would personally appreciate your prayers.
  2. If you know others who might be interested in joining the Feinberg program or have a calling to Jewish ministry, please pass this letter along so they can find out more about becoming students at the Feinberg Center— either in person or online.

In our Messiah,

Mitch

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A Brief History of the Modern Messianic Movement

Shalom, dear friend!

You might remember the iconic evil shark, Bruce, from the film Jaws. The movie terrorized many of us and made us think twice about spending a lovely day at the beach! Perhaps this is why the sequel coined one of the most memorable tag lines ever attached to a movie, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water….” Which one of us does not hear the two-tone Jaws theme and experience a brief moment of fear and anxiety in the pit of our stomach as we try to get back to some type of post-pandemic normal?

Most of us are trying to figure out  if it is once again “safe to go back into the waters” of normal life. We hope and pray this will be true and that the threat we have lived with for so many months will dissipate.

Is it safe to send our kids to in-person school every day, enjoy a dinner party with friends and family, return to the office, or take that long-overdue vacation? As believers, we trust the Lord and remain hopeful because we know He never loses control of our circumstances.

A mentor of mine once prayed for me before I faced a challenging set of ministry circumstances that could have led to severe physical harm. He said, “Teach Mitch that safety is not the absence of danger, but the presence of the Lord.” I have never forgotten that prayer. We can—and should—do all we need to do to keep ourselves and our families safe, but we know that, ultimately, only the Lord can protect us from harm.

I love what the psalmist wrote, “He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.…He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:3). We are in His capable, loving, all-powerful, nail-pierced hands, and He will protect us on the journey from this life to the next! He never fails. We should not avoid getting back into the water because, as always, He is awake in the boat!

Looking Backward to Move Forward

Knowing that we can trust the Lord enables us to look forward to better days and a brighter future. We can grab onto hope as a child grasps for the brass ring on the merry-go-round. To seize the future, we need to reflect upon the past. When it comes to Chosen People Ministries, this could take a while, as we are 127 years old! So, let us travel back a few decades to remember what God has done in these recent years in turning the hearts of so many Jewish people to Jesus the Messiah.

A Brief History of the Modern Messianic Movement

We can trace the modern Messianic Jewish movement1 back to the remarkable work of the Holy Spirit among young people in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I experienced it first-hand as I was one of them! I am a child of the Jesus movement—spiritually-speaking.

The modern Messianic movement began during a season of unrest and uncertainty. Those with a more romantic view of the “end times” might identify 1967, the year Jerusalem was reunited, as the beginning point for the modern movement. Undoubtedly, the birth of the modern Messianic movement is evidence of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Many view it as a sign of the Second Coming, which is why I and many others believe the modern Messianic movement is indicative of our living in the last days.

Yet, we also recognize that there were other reasons why the number of Jewish believers in Jesus increased during the late 1960s and why young people like me desired a deeper connection to God and our Jewish heritage.

In the 1950s and 60s, the Jewish world was beginning to recover from the Holocaust, and Jewish social and religious organizations were gaining new strength. Meanwhile, the modern State of Israel was rapidly becoming the global glue holding Jewish communities together.

The shift of the center of Jewish life from Europe to the United States and Israel, post-Holocaust, also significantly impacted the dynamic growth of the modern Messianic movement. The number of Jewish believers living in Europe before the Holocaust was in the hundreds of thousands, but most were either killed or moved to other parts of the globe. This change created a twenty-plus-year decline in the Messianic movement.

The geographic change in the center of Jewish life and culture also caused the movement to take on a uniquely North American and non-European character.2 The Messianic movement in America did not express its faith in Yiddish as it did in Eastern Europe. Instead, the modern movement primarily communicated in English and, in the last couple of decades, in both Russian and Hebrew as the Lord brought thousands of Russian Jews and Israelis to Himself.

Trends within the broader church also had a profound impact on the modern Messianic movement. The growth of many churches and Christian ministries, such as Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, and the Evangelical Missions movements, was reflected in organizations like Operation Mobilization and the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism (LCWE), which would later become the Lausanne Movement. The growth of the Charismatic movement, Calvary Chapels, Vineyards, and various new styles of churches during the last forty years have helped shape the development, theology, worship style, and culture of the modern Messianic community. These swirling trends within the Christian and Jewish communities and the yearning for a more profound Jewish experience would all become part of the new landscape that we call the modern-day Messianic community!

Revival was in the air. It created new institutions and breathed new life into older ones, including the Messianic movement. The two older and most influential organizations changed their names. The American Hebrew Christian Alliance became the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America in 1975, and its international umbrella, the International Hebrew Christian Alliance, eventually changed to the International Messianic Jewish Alliance.

This renewal deeply impacted Chosen People Ministries and the heroic efforts of great missionaries to the Jewish people serving with Your Mission to the Jewish People. Pioneers such as Eliezer Urbach, Ruth Wardell, and others who led many Jewish people to the Lord were responsible for training many of the leaders of the modern Messianic community.

The Jewish missions agencies had extensive roles in rescue and relief during the Holocaust and post-Holocaust period. They also grew, expanding vision, and reaching out to the Jewish people living in North and South America, the former Soviet Union and ultimately to Israel.

New ministries emerged during this post-Holocaust period and included Messianic congregations and associations of congregations, new mission agencies, publishing houses, media-based ministries, and much more! The expansion of the Messianic community reflects the growth of the post-Holocaust Messianic movement and continues to do so today. Simply put, thousands upon thousands of Jewish people started believing in Jesus from the late 1960s until our present day…and the movement continues to grow!

The number of Jewish believers, congregations, properties owned, funds raised, trained ministry leaders, books produced, academic programs and institutions, conferences, and the prominence of Messianic Jewish leaders are all telltale signs of the growth of the community.

Today, we find ourselves amidst a flourishing and dynamic Messianic Jewish community that accounts for hundreds of thousands of Jewish believers in Jesus across the globe. Congregations, ministries, and missions like Chosen People Ministries are thriving and seeing fruit from their labor.

But this is just the beginning, as we know the Lord has great plans for His chosen people in the days ahead. As my good friend Joel Rosenberg says, “We are headed toward a Romans 11:25–29 future.” I agree and believe that more and more Jewish people around the world will come to the Lord as we draw closer to His Second Coming! As Paul wrote,

“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25–26).

Thanks for your support and prayers!

Your brother in the Messiah,

Mitch

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The Great Objection

Shalom, dear friend!

I still remember the day when I led an outreach team to support a concert by a Messianic singing group on the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus. The school had (and still has) one of the largest Jewish student populations in California, and Los Angeles has the second-largest Jewish population in the United States.

It was a beautiful, sunny California day. We were setting up the sound equipment and getting ready for the concert when I noticed a few yellow school buses pulling up close to the stage. Out from the buses came almost one hundred teenagers wearing yarmulkes, white shirts, and black pants, with fringes extending from under their shirts, and at least a dozen rabbis or schoolteachers milled about. They turned out to be from the largest Orthodox yeshiva (Jewish parochial school) in the Los Angeles area. It seemed that some ultra-Orthodox rabbis wanted to bring classes of their young men to observe the concert.

I had the opportunity to speak with some of the teachers and rabbis who told me that they came to protest the concert by making their presence known. They wanted to show the Jewish UCLA students there was an alternative to what Messianic Jews believe, and even hoped to persuade some to become more religious.

The music started, and lots of UCLA students gathered. Then, all of a sudden, a couple of other adults from the crowd who were not part of the Orthodox Jewish group began shouting and causing a ruckus. It turned out that I knew a few of these men; they belonged to the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a radical organization started by Rabbi Meir Kahane in Brooklyn that uses violence to protect the Jewish people from antisemitism. They were planning to do whatever they could to disrupt the concert.

In the middle of the event, one of the JDL members shouted, “Believing in Jesus is like eating a ham and cheese sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah!” That statement grabbed my attention, and though it made me smile, I took it very seriously! It shows just how wide the chasm between Jewish people and Jesus really is in the minds of many Jewish people.

They caused some further mischief during the performance, but the presentation of the gospel through music still went pretty well. We had some great personal conversations with UCLA students. I also continued my discussions with a few of the teachers and rabbis from the Orthodox yeshiva while dozens of their young students surrounded us and heard what I had to say about Jesus.

That concert—and statement about the ham sandwich—were important character- and strategy-shaping events in my young missionary career. They reminded me that even though most Jewish people who are religious oppose our faith in Jesus, there are others who are seeking, and some who are curious. Sometimes the gospel goes out with greater power in the face of opposition!

THE GREAT OBJECTION

If there were one central objection to belief in Jesus held by most Jewish people, it is the common misunderstanding that when a Jewish person believes in Jesus, he or she is no longer Jewish.

This objection to the gospel is serious and not quickly answered through an intelligently written tract, book, or winsome answer. A response to this accusation is impossible without showing living proof that the charge is false.

My parents raised me to believe the Great Objection—Jesus is not for the Jews!

The basic theological challenges keeping Jewish people from believing in Jesus are difficult enough to answer. For example, Jewish people do not believe in God’s triune nature or incarnation; Judaism teaches that, as God is spirit, it is impossible for Him to clothe Himself in physical form. This teaching ignores prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures such as Isaiah 7:14. We have good answers to these questions, but these types of conversations usually come later in the relationship. The real challenge is getting the conversation started.

After two thousand years of bad history between Christians and Jews, my people are taught to stay away from the gospel and avoid or ignore Jesus. Most of my fellow Jewish people are also encouraged to reject Jewish people like me who believe He is the promised Messiah.

YOU CAN BE JEWISH AND BELIEVE IN JESUS

So, what can we do to alleviate the Jewish community’s fears about Jesus? How can we help Jewish people understand that Jewish believers in Jesus appreciate their Jewishness as fulfilled in the Messiah?

The Apostle Paul, one of the most well-known Jewish believers in history, certainly appreciated his Jewishness. He wrote to the Roman believers and told them that he was Jewish and believed in Jesus. “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (Rom. 11:1).

Our founder, Rabbi Leopold Cohn, who came from a Hungarian Orthodox Jewish background, kept the festivals of Israel and believed that tradition was positive as long as it did not distract from the purity of the gospel message. Rabbi Cohn demonstrated that you can be 100 percent Jewish and 100 percent a follower of Jesus the Messiah!

Your Mission to the Jewish People continues this powerful pattern. We celebrate the holidays (especially as they point to Jesus), plant Messianic congregations, and encourage Jewish believers to do all they can to remain Jewish and keep good relationships with their families and the Jewish community. It is our goal to live among our Jewish people and to invalidate the accusation, “If you believe in Jesus, you are no longer Jewish.”

As Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised” (1 Cor. 7:18). Jewish followers of Jesus are still part of the Jewish community. In one way or another, we need to find ways to identify with our fellow Jewish people. Otherwise, we inadvertently confirm the message of our critics that Jews who believe in Jesus are no longer Jewish.

Our lives are the best argument against the Great Objection!

But you can help too by showing the Jewish community that true Christians love the Jewish people because they love the God of the Bible and recognize that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Most Jewish people do not know how supportive Christians are of Israel.

We can help you in your ministry if you know Jewish believers in Jesus. Take a look at the website http://www.ifoundshalom.com, and you will discover the testimonies of more than one hundred Messianic Jews. You will laugh, cry, and be encouraged by their courageous faith!

I hope you will encourage the Jewish believers you know to be like Paul and remain actively Jewish.

Your understanding of our ministry and your prayers and love mean so much to us! Thank you for letting me share a little more about the ways in which we serve the Lord among the Jewish people.

Your brother in the Messiah,

Mitch

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A High Holiday Sermon – Reminder: The Hope of Restoration

Introduction

We gather each year on the first night of Yom Kippur to hear Kol Nidrei, a traditional and moving prayer that serves as Israel’s appeal to wipe away sins by annulling the obligations of the previous year—vows that we made between the previous Day of Atonement and today. It is written in Aramaic, and its origins are disputed. Some scholars say it was written during the Gaonic period (ninth century), but many others have suggested the prayer was born out of the dark days of the Inquisition when many Spanish and Portuguese Jewish people were forced to convert to Catholicism under threat of death or expulsion.[1]

Although we are not sure why or when the prayer was created, once it was paired with the soulful melody that now makes the prayer so moving, the impact of Kol Nidrei on the hearts of Jewish people is certain. Whether religious or secular, this Yom Kippur tradition has become one of the most powerful prayers in Jewish life and faith. It is not unusual to have non-religious Jewish people attend synagogue each year on erev (the evening of) Yom Kippur simply to experience the Kol Nidrei prayer.

There are a variety of ways to present Kol Nidrei, some with unique adaptations. The following version was presented at Beth Sar Shalom—Brooklyn, and I thought it was especially creative and beautiful. Listen to it if you have a moment!

Versions of the Prayer

A traditional version of the prayer:

All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas, whether called ‘ḳonam,’ ‘ḳonas,’ or by any other name, which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next (whose happy coming we await), we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths.

The leader and the congregation then say together:

“And it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them, seeing all the people were in ignorance” (Num. xv. 26).[2]

A more modern translation/version:

All vows we are likely to make, all oaths and pledges we are likely to vow, or swear, or consecrate, or prohibit upon ourselves between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established. Our vows are no longer vows, our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths.

The whole community of the Children of Israel, and the strangers dwelling among them, shall be forgiven, for all of them were without premeditation.—Numbers 15:26

O pardon the iniquities of this people, according to Thy abundant mercy, just as Thou forgave this people ever since they left Egypt.

The Lord said, “I pardon them according to your words.” (three times)—Numbers 14:20[3]

Rabbi Eric Solomon, a reform rabbi, writes so poignantly about the impact of the Kol Nidrei,

Kol Nidre may have been initiated by the personal need of the marranos to repent for a forced conversion, but its power has reached far past that narrow scope. When we daven the Kol Nidre together as a community, we are looking beyond the simple meaning of the words; we are beginning to focus inward, preparing to unleash our darkest memories, and paving the path towards genuine reflection on God and repentance.[4]

The Appeal of the Prayer

Clearly, at the heart of the prayer is the request of the penitent beseeching God to withhold His judgment and to be merciful for not fulfilling vows of obedience, promises of changed behavior and keeping mitzvot. There is also an underlying understanding that when we live in obedience to God, we are blessed and when we do not, we are judged. Kol Nidrei is an appeal, asking God to release us from the promises we could not keep. The prayer expresses a desire to be forgiven for making unkept vows and for not meeting God’s expectations.

At its core, Kol Nidrei expresses our desire for forgiveness and God’s blessings. Somehow, we all know, in the depth of our souls, irrespective of our theology, that we are worthy of judgment and are in desperate need of forgiveness.

I cannot disagree with these sentiments. The Bible is very clear about these matters. Judaism typically does not affirm the depravity of man in the same way that Christianity does. Yet, the regularity of committing sin is obviously recognized by the very nature of Yom Kippur.

Biblical Blessings and Judgments

The Bible teaches that there is a causal relationship between obedience and blessings, and between disobedience and judgment. It is a theme woven throughout Scripture in more places than we can count, and it generally describes the nature of our relationship with God. In very summarized terms, when we do what He says, we are blessed and happy, and if we do not, then we are judged and, well, not very happy. Israel’s experiences of these blessings and judgments vary throughout the Old and New Testaments, but I am sure no one would argue this pattern is fundamental to Scripture.

Blessing and judgments are embedded in the very covenants the Holy One constructed to guide our relationship to Him.

The themes of blessings and judgments are tied to His perfect nature. He is holy and just, and we are sinful. Yet, God calls upon us to act against our nature and live righteously. If we do, we will be fulfilled and happy. If we do not—if we fail to act righteously—then judgment should be expected. If He should ignore our rebellion against His standards and do nothing about it, then He would appear to be unholy, unjust, unrighteous, and even weak, making demands that not even He could fulfill.

Would we really want to worship a God who had no standards? What if there were no ultimate justice? Or would we worship a God who had standards but did not act upon them? As uncomfortable as judgment might be, we would still rather adore and follow a holy and righteous God who enforced His standards…would we not?

Yet, the Bible teaches that this same God is also loving, gracious, and merciful. As He proclaimed to Moses when He passed by him on Sinai,

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:5–7)

We also read in the Bible of His willingness to override His justice and to show mercy, which is not getting what you deserve for your sinful behavior, and grace, defined as receiving what you could never merit.

God’s Covenants

Again, these relationships, on a larger and national level for Israel, are embedded within the covenants He made with mankind, including a promise to not destroy the world again by a flood (Genesis 9:9–17) and built into the two great covenants that form the foundation of Jewish national existence; the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant.

In the Abrahamic Covenant, the Lord promised Abram and his seed that He would preserve them as a people (Genesis 12), they will possess a land with boundaries outlined in Genesis 15, receive blessings from God (Genesis 12), and be used by God to bring these blessings to the world (Genesis 12:3).[5]

This covenant is described as without time or conditions. The Lord takes responsibility to fulfill these promises sometime in the future without fail.

The promised blessing (Genesis 12:2, “And I will bless you”) may be understood as including the people, the land, and Abram’s reputation, but seems to focus on the promise that God’s blessings are linked to His presence with His people.

The blessings go beyond the land to the hope given by God that His presence will remain with the Jewish people throughout their existence as a nation. Israel would be a nation that would ultimately know the presence of God in their midst. As the Lord promised to Abraham,

I have made you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:6–8)

These manifold blessings will be mediated through Abraham, reside with those who bless the children of Abraham, and flow to the entire non-Abrahamic world. If Israel is disobedient, then according to the covenant with Abraham, the Lord Himself will take the responsibility of turning the hearts of the Jewish people to Himself (Romans 11:25–29). Leviticus 26: 45 says, “But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.”

The Mosaic Covenant is a bit different. The covenant God made with Moses is causal in nature, and both judgments and blessings are linked to the behavior of the Jewish people; blessings for obedience and judgments for disobedience.

These two covenants determined the history of Israel. When the Jewish people were faithful, they were blessed and remained in the land, and when we were disobedient, the Jewish people experienced God’s judgment and were removed from the Land on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant.

722 BCE – The Assyrians dispersed the northern tribes.

604–586 BCE – The southern tribes go into Babylonian captivity and the Temple is destroyed.

AD 70 – The Romans disperse the Jewish people and destroy the Second Temple.

AD 132 – The Jewish people are further dispersed by Roman Emperor Hadrian.

However, the Lord never allowed His chosen people to languish in captivity for too long and brought Israel back from exile—on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant. Today, almost seven million Jewish people have been gathered back to the land of Israel, but certainly not on the basis of obedience to the Mosaic Covenant! Their return is tied to the unmerited grace described in the Abrahamic Covenant and is part of His unfolding purposes predicted in Ezekiel 36–37 and Romans 11:12; 15; 25–29.

Two Passages that Predict the Future of Israel Based Upon the Covenants

Perhaps the two passages of Scripture that are well-known and speak so profoundly to this causal relationship and pattern—Disobedience:Judgement::Obedience:Blessings—are found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, which are perhaps my least favorite passages of the Bible.

Deuteronomy Chapter 28

This chapter outlines the blessings and judgments that would befall Israel on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant. There are fourteen verses of blessings and fifty-four of judgment. The following three verses at the end of Moses’ discourse summarize the nature of these judgments:

It shall come about that as the Lord delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the Lord will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. (Deuteronomy 28:63–65)

We see that this has transpired and is a sober and serious reminder of God’s judgment for our sin.

Leviticus Chapter 26

This chapter is similar but includes more of a focus on grace and the Abrahamic Covenant. The two covenants are interwoven in this text. Chapter 26 begins with two additional reminders of God’s Mosaic commandments, and then, in verses three through thirteen, outlines the promised blessings of obedience.

For example,

If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land. (Leviticus 26:3–5)

However, Moses then presents twenty-five verses (Leviticus 26:14–39) of severe judgment for disobedience. Again, this is a reflection of the Mosaic Covenant and the result of our disobedience to the covenant demands. The Mosaic Covenant is a standard of holiness that reminds us of God’s expectations and standards that we will never achieve on our own.

Principles of Spiritual Restoration

We can learn so much from God’s plans and purposes for the nation of Israel. These principles govern our lives as well. Though the Mosaic Covenant is specific to the Jewish people and the Jewish people are the main focus of the Abrahamic Covenant, by virtue of its promises, it extends to the nations as well. 

The hope of restoration is also seen in the midst of His judgments—a reminder of the promised future God has prepared for the nation of Israel on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant. We read in Leviticus chapter twenty-six:

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me—I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land. For the land will be abandoned by them, and will make up for its sabbaths while it is made desolate without them. They, meanwhile, will be making amends for their iniquity, because they rejected My ordinances and their soul abhorred My statutes. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 26:40–45)

Personally, as a Jewish believer, I do not view the high holiday season as valuable for purely evangelistic reasons, though many Jewish people come to faith in Jesus during this special time of the year. I also do not fast and pray on Yom Kippur simply on behalf of the sins of my Jewish people and family. I have learned that the true value of the high holiday season, for me and all who cherish their Messianic heritage, is remembering that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a renewing and restoring God, and I take advantage of this season of the year to seek forgiveness and find the renewal that I believe is tearfully sought by the Kol Nidrei prayer.

I suggest we can draw two principles from God’s covenantal relationship with Israel that apply to our lives and are especially evident during the high holiday season.

The Lord will respond to our repentance with grace, mercy and forgiveness. Remember the words of Leviticus 26:40–42,

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me—I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.

Notice the language. Moses certainly has the Abrahamic Covenant in mind. This covenant was made with Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham…in backwards order. This is the covenant that promises grace as the Lord staked His holy reputation on fulfilling what He promised. The day will come when Israel will experience these blessings again as the Lord will cause the hearts of the Jewish people to turn back to Him.

It is the reason we cry out for mercy on this holy day—because God is a God of restoration who keeps His promises. One day, Israel will turn from her disobedience and be totally restored as they live in the land, experience the blessings of God presence, and the nations will also enjoy the benefits of God’s kingdom on earth.

Theses verses remind us that judgment falls upon the chosen people because of our failure to obey the commandments in the Mosaic Covenant. But, the hope for Israel’s restoration is based upon a different covenant and different promises—those found in the Abrahamic Covenant. Even when Israel sins and is in exile, the Lord will still keep His holy hand upon His people. Not because of their obedience, but because of His faithfulness. “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 26:44–45).

If we were completely honest with one another, we would admit that our lives are a battleground! We are constantly struggling and battling against sin. The reason most people do not see this is because the battle is within. We are constantly sinning, repenting, and asking the Lord for renewal and transformation by the power of His Spirit. If not, then we are feeling defeated or, even worse, have given up. The good news is that God is a forgiving God by nature, and constantly extends His grace and mercy to those who have been bought by the blood of Yeshua! There is always hope for overcoming the sins that beset us. Victory is available but it might not look like the spiritual victory described in some Christian books or trite spiritual formulas. The battle for holiness that rages in our souls is one we will fight until we are perfected.

My hope and prayer for all of us is that we will seek the Lord and His strength while realistically recognizing the darkness of our souls. We should continue to fight the battles within our souls. Why? Because we know that the war was won on Golgotha as He said, “It is finished.” But we must keep fighting until He comes, knowing that He understands our frame and weakness and is always available to give us help, strength, and as Paul wrote, “Who is the one who condemns? Messiah Yeshua is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us (Romans 8:34).

So, please do not give up! Remember that the fight for spiritual growth is part of walking with God. It is a battle worth winning though there will certainly be losses along the way. We need to expect some losses and remember that restoration is always available and begins with repentance.

I love Kol Nidrei. It is an honest prayer reminding me of my failures and the multitude of ways even the best among us break our promises to God and man. We might as well admit it! Though we believe in Yeshua, we still break His holy commandments written in both the Old and New Testaments. Does God cast us off for our sins? No! Jesus told us that time and again.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).

And again,

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:9–10).

Like Israel, we are secured by a grace covenant through the death and resurrection of the Messiah Yeshua. When we find ourselves drifting from Him, we must remember that He will not forget us as He does not forget Israel—He always has His hands upon us. There is always hope for grace and restoration, and Yom Kippur and the entirety of the high holiday season is a wonderful time to rededicate ourselves to the Lord, repent of our sins, and find grace that leads to restoration. This repentance and seeking His grace should continue every day of our lives.  We really need to live a repentant lifestyle, which leads to a grace-filled life, filled with His powerful and comforting presence every day.


[1] For more on the origins of this important Jewish prayer, see Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed., All These Vows: Kol Nidre, Prayers of Awe (Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Pub., 2011).

[2] Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Kol Nidre,” http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9443-kol-nidre.

[3] Rabbi Ruth Adar, “What Does Kol Nidre Mean?,” Coffee Shop Rabbi (blog), September 29, 2015, https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/2015/09/29/what-does-kol-nidre-mean/.

[4] Rabbi Eric Solomon, “Kol Nidrei Collection,” SaveTheMusic.com, accessed September 25, 2020, https://savethemusic.com/collections/the-kol-nidre-collection/.

[5] See the excellent Journal article in the Masters Seminary Journal by Dr. Keith Essex on the Abrahamic covenant: Keith H. Essex, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 191-212, https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj10n.pdf.

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