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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

Finding Hope

Shalom.

Maybe, like me, your sense of hope is running thin as we begin this eighth month of the pandemic. You are not alone. Optimism and hope may well be the most sought after, invaluable, and yet intangible life quality people are seeking today. We are all longing for hope—the belief that the future will be better and brighter than today!

We were entirely unprepared for the impact COVID-19 would have on our everyday lives. Most of us know very little about the Spanish flu of 1918 and how it ravaged American life and killed 675,000 Americans.[1] Some of what happened at that time would seem familiar today, including people wearing masks and socially distancing!

We remember more modern-day plagues like Ebola, AIDS, Legionnaires’ disease, polio, measles, mumps, and many others. Today, thank God, we have vaccines and treatments for most of these scourges.

Few of us remember World War II. However, many of us remember and maybe even served in more recent wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, in which we lost a combined total of more than 100,000 beloved American heroes.[2]

I remember the Cold War tensions, the Cuban missile crisis, and the atomic threat that drove school children to hide under their desks periodically (as if this would provide safety from a nuclear attack)!

We endured 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and massive storms in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas that wreaked terrible devastation and death upon people we love and care about, not to mention costing hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. We can now add the devastating West Coast wildfires to this list.

In some ways, COVID-19 is a crisis unlike any other as we face a deadly enemy we cannot see. Now, it seems that this dreaded disease will impact almost every area of our country, and, at the moment, we are hovering around 200,000 deaths. If we add the economic struggles and social unrest we are experiencing, who could blame someone tempted by hopelessness? How do we cope and find hope during these dark and difficult days? Ignoring what we are facing today is not going to work.

I especially appreciate those around me who are more upbeat and hopeful! May their tribe increase! I am grateful for every pair of smiling eyes peering above a mask, trying to help me look toward the brighter side and face the future in hope. I pray you have a few family and friends who bring you this kind of joy and inspiration, but even these wonderful people cannot always be by our side. So, how can we find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation? Is it possible? I believe it is!

Finding Unwavering Hope During a Pandemic

Hope comes from connecting with someone or something that is above and beyond the shifting circumstances of our day. We need to fix our hope on what is unchanging and eternal if we are going to find security and peace today. I believe we can find the hope we long for so desperately in a personal relationship with the God who made and loves us.

A God Who Keeps His Promises?

I find this hope in the story of the Bible. The Bible teaches us that God created a perfect world, but then something went wrong. Though He placed our first parents in an exquisite garden, they veered off the path He wanted them to follow. We followed suit, and every generation since then has suffered the results of these bad decisions. But, according to the Bible, God will reclaim and recreate the world He made.

God has not abandoned us and will one day heal our broken world.

In Judaism, this idea is called “tikkun olam,” the healing of the world, and it is vital to the Jewish view of life, as men and women may partner with God in the healing of the world. Jewish tradition understands that something is fundamentally wrong!

The Hope of Israel Fulfilled

How do we know what is written in the Bible is true?

So often we need something we can see to help us believe. I did! Let me tell you what convinced me. Briefly, here are three reasons.

He has kept His promises to Israel and the Jewish people. Despite the devastation of the Holocaust, the Jewish people—after multiple millennia and against incredible odds—have returned to the land of promise. This was predicted by the Jewish prophets, like the well-known Ezekiel who wrote thousands of years ago, “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land” (Ezekiel 36:24).

If God can orchestrate Israel’s regathering and return to the land, He can be trusted to fulfill His other promises in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and New Covenant Scriptures. This is undeniable. If the Bible was correct in predicting the unlikely restoration of Israel, then what else in the Bible is true?

The Hope of Messiah Fulfilled

I also believe God demonstrated His trustworthiness by sending the Messiah. His name is Yeshua, or Jesus in English, and there are hundreds of prophecies detailing His identity and mission penned by Israel’s prophets over multiple centuries. If what the Bible promised about His first coming has come to pass, then what is predicted about His second coming should be true as well.  

The prophets of old prophesied His place of birth (Bethlehem) (Micah 5:2), His death for our sins (Isaiah 53:1–12; Psalm 22), His resurrection from the grave (Psalm 16), and so much more! He will return as judge and king to: restore our planet; remove sin, death, and disease; and, according to the Bible, He will wipe every tear from our eyes. Isaiah promised, “He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 25:8, also Revelation 21:4).

This is a foundation for hope that will never disappoint.

Personal Experience

Finally, without being unrealistic about the level of tragedy we have experienced, I am convinced that God is trustworthy. When I accepted Yeshua as my Messiah, He filled my heart with hope. I cannot easily explain it or prove it logically. When you have a personal relationship with God and believe the promises in the Bible, hope invades your soul and enables you to face the future with confidence.

You will be able to read about the experience of others in this newsletter who had similar experiences to mine.

So, how should we respond to the hope God offers to humanity? We could just give up or become cynical about life in general. We could also choose to put our hope in our fellow human beings working hard to find a vaccine and a cure for COVID-19. Or, we could trust in the God who created us! Maybe a combination of the last two?

I can tell you that, even if we find a cure, we will still experience ongoing tragedies and challenges in this life and that only our relationship with our loving and immovable Creator will shelter us against the storms of life.

One More Thought

It is a mystery as to why God allows His beloved creation to endure difficult times: the loss of loved ones, jobs, educational opportunities, the separation from friends and family, and more that you and I have faced recently. It might be tempting at times to question if God is even good, whether or not you are a person of faith.

Right now, it might be a difficult season for some to keep the faith! It is understandable—times are tough! Maybe you would like to know and trust God but have a hard time believing what the Bible says about His unchanging character.

I wish I could give you an easy answer. I believe God is good by nature. He is Lord of all creation and mysteriously uses life’s most profound disappointments to shape us and make us strong.

I encourage you to hope in God! Even though the road may be dark, He is the Guide we need who lights our path and leads us through the valley of the shadow of death to green pastures.

You might have an unshakable faith in God, secured by the Messiah Jesus, or perhaps you are seeking hope that has been elusive so far. I wish you blessings on the journey, whatever your starting point might be, and thanks again for taking your precious time to read.

I hope you will enjoy the rest of the newsletter!

Sincerely,

Mitch


[1] Nina Strochlic, “U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Now Surpass Fatalities in the Vietnam War,” National Geographic, April 28, 2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/04/coronavirus-death-toll-vietnam-war-cvd/#close.

[2] Ibid.

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Filed under Jews and Christians, New York City, Uncategorized

Moving Forward in Hope

Shalom, dear friend in the Messiah.

I hope and pray that life is getting a little better for you and that you are adjusting to serving the Lord in a world where COVID-19 lockdowns are easing.

This infectious disease and our efforts to mitigate its rapid and terrible impact on human life came at a high cost. The shutting down of society has led to severe economic repercussions and the loss of a sense of wellbeing as a nation. This crisis has been felt across the globe. Hopefully, we are entering a new season where the virus is better understood and controlled, and scientists are closer to creating treatments and a vaccine.

Like you, I am trusting the Lord and approaching the days ahead with hope, looking forward to all He will do through Your Mission to the Jewish People.

Due to the pandemic, there were many missed events, services, Bible studies, weddings, funerals, and family celebrations. However, those losses pale compared to the more than 100,000 people in the United States who died from COVID-19 and the suffering their loved ones have experienced. We suffered considerably in New York City as the virus spread and killed countless moms and dads, grandparents, and others, as we are now discovering.

And we are not totally out of the woods yet! But, thank God, we are on our way.

The brothers and sisters who serve with Chosen People Ministries have also suffered a great deal of loss because of the coronavirus. We have missed seeing our loved ones face-to-face and worshipping in person with our spiritual community. I am especially sad for those who could not visit their elderly parents and for those who lost loved ones from the disease but were unable to have a decent burial attended by family and friends. Some of us are also tired of working from our homes. We are ready to cope with whatever changes will be demanded of us when we get back to our offices, from wearing masks to social distancing and the inability to eat lunch together in our common room!

MESSIAH IN THE PASSOVER AND YOUR MISSIONARIES

Due to the timing of the coronavirus lockdowns, Jewish people, including myself, were unable to celebrate the Jewish holidays in person, most notably Passover, which is always such a sweet and joy-filled, family-oriented time. Many of our staff and their families celebrated Passover Seders through Zoom because they were unable to get together physically. It was not easy to enjoy eating our matzo ball soup separated from the rest of our family! I imagine that Gentile Christians felt equally disappointed about
their Easter services, which are significant evangelistic opportunities for so many local churches!

During this Passover season, we were also unable to make our regular visits to a large number of churches. Throughout the United States, churches had scheduled Chosen People Ministries for more than six hundred “Messiah in the Passover” presentations during March, April, and May. All of these were canceled because of restrictions placed on churches during the pandemic. We also had scheduled evangelistic Passover Seders and banquets at our Messianic congregations, centers, and branches in the regions where we minister. Generally, during this season, we would personally meet hundreds of new friends, prayer partners, supporters, and the not-yet-believing Jewish friends of congregants who would view our presentations as an opportunity to bring their friends to church.

These cancellations represent a considerable loss of opportunity to demonstrate the link between the Last Supper and Passover and how Yeshua, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world beautifully fulfills them both! It was also a loss of funding for our dedicated and faithful missionary staff.

By God’s grace, we did experiment with some virtual Passover celebrations. I enjoyed an online Passover Seder with my family and presented Messiah in the Passover to my broader spiritual family through the wonders of Zoom, Facebook Live, and YouTube.

I am so grateful for the creative ways our missionaries found to preach the gospel online and reach out to Jewish people through one-on-one conversations by phone and Zoom meetings. They have also expanded their Bible teaching ministries, discipleship of new Jewish believers, and even continued their ministry to local churches using the excellent digital tools many of us have recently discovered.

Yet, we cannot truly recapture what we lost because we only celebrate the festival of Passover annually. You cannot turn back the clock! I am reticent to tell you how much money was lost that would have supported our missionaries during this season. Yet, a beautiful passage of promise in the book of Joel illustrates how the Lord is able and faithful to restore what the locusts have eaten. The prophet Joel wrote:

Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; then My people will never be put to shame. Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other; and My people will never be put to shame. (Joel 2:25–27)

LET’S CELEBRATE

I know the Lord will take care of our staff, and this is why I am planning another online video-based celebration on Thursday, July 23, at 7:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time. We will join in Messianic worship and invite Chosen People Ministries missionaries from around the globe to share what God is doing in their lives and their work for the Lord. We will also pray together and have a brief time of questions and answers.

Thank you so much for your love and faithfulness.

Your brother in the Messiah,

Mitch

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Filed under evangelism, Israel, Jewish Holidays, Passover, Uncategorized