21 April 2016

Of Passover, Jesus and Spring Cleaning

Cleaning out the leaven
The Feast of Passover is upon us and many in Israel and around the world are in the process of 'cleaning out the leaven' from their homes.  There are many traditions associated with this particular season, but the physical removal of yeast from homes is something many take seriously.  It is a family event whereby the father will take a candle and search through all the cupboards for crumbs and bits of bread or other yeast based products, and carefully sweep them into a bowl.  The family then take these remains and any other similar leftovers outside, and burn them to ash, symbolically cleansing their homes and their lives as they enter into a week of 'leaven free living', in memory of the first Passover when God brought the Jewish people out from slavery in Egypt. But it goes further than that.  Many will do a 'spring clean', washing windows, bedding, scrubbing the 'hard to get to' places.  Some will even go so far as to buy new crockery and new clothes.  We can see some of that reflected in the Christian Easter traditions of spring cleaning and new outfits for Easter Sunday morning. In Israel, bakeries close for the week and grocery retail outlets even close off all their shelves containing any products that could contain yeast - and matzah sales sky-rocket!
Cleaning out the Temple
One of the biblical stories that is not usually linked to Passover is found in the Gospel of John, chapter 2.  Right near the beginning of Yeshua's (Jesus) ministry, and half way through the chapter, is the story of 'cleansing the Temple' - when He braided some rope together into a whip and started driving out all the merchants and money changers, rebuking them for making God's house a market place.  At face value, the anecdote can seem confusing and contrary to what we have come to expect from a Jesus 'meek and mild', 'loving and kind', 'forgiving and self-sacrificing'.  How many other times had Yeshua gone to the temple and seen all the busyness of buying and selling and money laundering?  As a good, practising Jew, he would have visited the temple in Jerusalem several times in the year, as commanded in the Law, in honour of the most holy Feasts of the Lord.  Why then did he not clean everyone out during one of His other visits?

Perhaps a clue is in an important piece of information that John, the writer, shares with us in verse 13 as he prefaces the occasion: "The Jewish Passover was near and Yeshua went up to Jerusalem".  The time of Passover was coming, the time to clean the house of all the yeast/leaven, to have a fresh start and make everything new.  By having a small understanding of the Jewish roots of Jesus' culture, it begins to make sense that at a time when families were cleaning their homes, preparing for a fresh clean start and to receive new things, Yeshua understood that a spiritual cleansing of His Father's spiritual home was not only necessary, but that it was a family duty to carry out.  Suddenly, His mission to drive out the merchants wasn't some arbitrary rampage that overwhelmed him, but an appointed act at an appointed time for an appointed purpose.

Time to clean!
We are also at a time when 'the Passover is coming'.  Perhaps it is a good season to take the opportunity and do some spiritual spring cleaning of our own, to cleanse the temple of our hearts, minds and bodies, and to have a fresh clean start - an appointed act, at this appointed time, for an appointed purpose!  It is an appointed time to draw near to our God during the Passover, the time when He provided Yeshua as the sacrificial lamb, so He can draw near to us.

15 April 2016

Untying Knots

“I will give you as a covenant to the people to restore the earth, to cause them to inherit the desolate heritages, that you may say to the prisoners, Go forth, to those who are in darkness, Show yourselves.” Isaiah 49:8-9

For over ten years, the Jerusalem based organisation, Springs of Hope, has been reaching out to victims of terror attacks in Israel. In the last couple of years, moved by stories of atrocities committed by ISIS (Da'esh), Springs of Hope have been going into the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq to offer support and comfort to those who have suffered at the hands of ISIS. 

Your People My People has had the privilege of helping support Springs of Hope as they have been working in Iraq. Over the last year, Springs have been specifically helping the Yezidi people, a minority ethno-religious community who suffered genocide-like mass executions at the hands of ISIS and saw thousands of their women captured as sex slaves and children kidnapped to be trained as child soldiers. 

Ahuva* from Springs of Hope was taken to a refugee camp, in the Kurdish region of Iraq ,by Yezidi leaders who are painstakingly collecting details of both the women and children who have escaped from ISIS and those still held captive for two years now. 

"I was taken by this team to a local refugee camp where we met the family, the remainder of the family, those who have survived the genocide without being taken into captivity.... As we took our shoes off outside the family tent and sat on the mattress, all I could think of, with this gracious family and their exceptional hospitality, were the words of the prophet Jeremiah who said that ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness'. May that be so. They need it.

"We met the most beautiful young girl, in looks and spirit, 16 years old, clear open face, deep clear eyes who have witnessed atrocities such as no human being should. She is so beautiful, again a quiet inner beauty...This is a spirit which although the body and the mind have been tortured, yes tortured and raped endlessly, this is a spirit which has not broken. Damaged yes, broken no.  

"We just hugged the whole day, and walked hand in hand throughout the camp. She explained that she had lost her childhood, yes she was older then her young years and had no point of connection or association with the other kids running and playing and vying for attention and cigarettes!!! 

"Back in M’s tent her mother entered. Her sorrow was evident. Her daughter had been released and returned but has years of healing ahead of her. Three others of her children are still missing. A rescue operation was about to be put into action... to bring the other kids out alive and reunite her family."
One of the Yezidi leaders wrote in a report: "Based on the evidence at our disposal, ISIS had their own premeditated plan for kidnapping and enslaving Ezidi women and girls. This became transparent in the way that they dealt with the issue of abductions and separating family members, selling the kidnapped Ezidi women and presenting them as gifts to foreign leaders. The women who are still held by ISIS say, 'We die every day', whereas the ones who escaped point out that they experienced the indescribable, saying that their wound will never heal but grow deeper. Some women resorted to mass poisoning themselves in order to escape the heinous actions to which they were exposed. Torturing women pushed some to commit suicide. I ( Dr. K ) would like to quote a 20 year old girl who said 'We suffer a wound deeper than oceans, no one can heal it.'”

Ahuva continued, "After lunch, this team of mighty men, and my beautiful princess went to Lalish, the Holy Place of the Yezidi group and the place to which the returnees come to be cleansed and re-join their tribe after forced conversion to Islam. Which please note, did not protect them in any way from the atrocities and crimes against humanity which they suffered day after day... There are pillars of ancient stone in Lalish which are covered in brightly coloured scarves, tied with knots. My gentle hero encouraged me both to tie a knot and make a wish, and to untie one to release someone else’s wish. I tied many…of course I tied many!!"

Your People My People supports Springs of Hope as they fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah, to restore those in the earth who are suffering. As they say to the prisoners: be free and to those in darkness: come out into the light!
“I will give you as a covenant to the people to restore the earth, to cause them to inherit the desolate heritages, that you may say to the prisoners, Go forth, to those who are in darkness, Show yourselves.” Isaiah 49:8-9

* name changed

07 April 2016

The House Where God is With Us

Tucked away in the old German colony, where the cities of Jaffa and Tel Aviv being to merge into one, is a beautiful old building.  It’s history is rich and varied, predating Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 when Israel became a tiny nation State once again, being used as a school, a palace, a hospital  and an hotel, being owned by the Templars, the Ustinov family, along with various others, and in the late 1800s was finally purchased by the Anglican Church’s ‘Christian Mission to the Jews’ - today known as CMJ. 
In the 1890s it became known as Bat Tzion (Daughter of Zion) Chapel and was a welcome place for local Jewish believers in Yeshua.  In 1926, CMJ ran their High School for girls in the premises, a mixed group of Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Moslem children.  And during British rule after the defeat of the Turks, the school became a shining example of how mixed faiths could co-exist in peace and harmony.
Congregational worship at Beit Immanuel
After World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel, the school was closed and the Israeli army took over the building until 1954.  After returning it to CMJ, it was initially used to house staff and Arab boys attending Tabeetha, the local Christian School up the hill in Jaffa until the late 1970s when extensive renovations were done to create a Guest House, with facilities for a Messianic Congregation and Study Centre.  The staff comprised of local Israeli and international people and this vision has grown and developed into the thriving community you will find there today.

Beit Immanuel today
This old building is today well known as Beit Immanuel, literally translated as ‘The House where God is With Us’, and serves as a guest house for thousands of visitors, Israelis and foreigners alike, who have come to appreciate the simplicity of style and warm hospitality offered by the staff.  Still owned by CMJ, Beit Immanuel is run by local believers, and welcomes Christians from around the world who would like to come and volunteer for a season in Israel.  Beit Immanuel is home to one of the oldest indigenous congregations in Israel today, and has witnessed the explosive growth of the Body of Messiah in Israel over the last 40 years or so.  It stands as a testimony to not only the hope of restoring a nation, but the hope for the message of the Gospel, returning full circle to the shores from which it spread around the world!  
Old Jaffa streets today

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