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The Inclusiveness of our American Thanksgiving

At the Social Capital Inc (SCI) of Woburn 
15th -Year Celebration

Giving of Thanks by Pastor Mohanan (Moh) Unni
Ladies and Gentlemen.


My name is Pastor Mohanan Unni, and I serve at the Shepherd’s House in Woburn. The organizing and planning committee of SCI requested that I say a few words on “Thanksgiving.” Before we eat supper, I would like us to take a couple of minutes to reflect on “inclusiveness” of our American Thanksgiving.

Our country is made up Native Americans and immigrants from every corner of the world. Our American Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate how we’ve come together as a nation, but it is also the perfect opportunity to honor where each of us comes from. As our country becomes more blended and more diverse, it is important to recognize how our unique cultures add to the spirit and strength of the whole United States.

History tells us that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, after the harvest, after much pain and suffering. The event lasted for three days, with nearly twice as many Native Americans as Pilgrims in attendance (90 Native Americans versus 53 Pilgrims). We must remember that the genesis of our American Thanksgiving was an event anchored in “Diversity and Inclusion.” Different races came together.

Our American history also teaches us that spirit of diversity and inclusion is subject to entropy. History shows us we are subject to gradual decline into disorder. Humans are inherently tribal. The human survival instinct drives us to protect our property and our politics. But thanksgiving is the very antidote for that entropy into dysfunction and disorder. Communal celebrations of thanksgiving have a humanizing effect on us.

The Harvard Medical School in an article published in 2011 called, “In Praise of Gratitude,” states that living a life of thanksgiving and gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Thanksgiving is our time to reclaim the great American value of “inclusiveness” – one nation under God with liberty and justice for ALL. Thankfulness for the land and community we live in, and for different communities of the world we represent. Our differences working together can and will make us stronger.

I remember the day I took my oath to become a citizen of these United States. We swore our oath before the Great Seal of our Nation. It was one of the most holy moments of my life. In the Great Seal of the United States, clenched in the eagle’s beak is a scroll that contains the Latin phrase, E pluribus unum, which means “Out of many, One!”

That’s who we are – E pluribus unum. This is our national DNA. It is who we are as citizens of this nation. We can be stronger if we can get beyond our differences to work together.

How can we embrace this value, E pluribus unum, “Out of many, One” in our daily lives?
To do that, I would like you all to say a Sanskrit word with me.
In India, when we meet a person we greet them by saying “Namaste” to them.
Can you please say Namaste to the neighbor to your right and to your left? Would you kindly say Namaste to them?

Some of you may already know the meaning of the word “Namaste.” It is more than a “Hello.” In Sanskrit, the word Namaste means the “Divine in me respects and acknowledges the divine in you – my neighbor!” Each one of us, no matter where we come from are special.

Human DNA behavior is inherently tribal, and self-centered for survival. However, if we can see the divine and special dignity in someone who is altogether different than us, and honor the divine in someone who of a different color, race, and religion than us, we can begin to love the God of all humanity as we love our neighbors aswe love ourselves. We become stronger as we embrace our difference, go beyond our differences and strive to work together for liberty and justice for all. This can move us to care for the needs of the poor, the immigrants, the orphans, the single parents, and the down trodden.  E pluribus unum, “Out of many, One!” The many helping the one-another.

So, as we give thanks, I say Namaste to you. I acknowledge the divine and the beautiful in you.

“‘“May the Lord bless you
    and keep you;
May the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
May the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you Shalom.”’ (Numbers 6:24-26)

Thank You!

Yom Kippur - a time to hit the RESET Button :-)

Renewal is one of the hardest of undertakings in our relationships, marriages, churches, etc. Things happen. We are blown by passing winds, caught up in problems, sometimes not of our making, and we drift. When that happens, whether to individuals, institutions or nations, we drift apart from one another. We forget who we are and why we are here. We drift away, and we drift away from some of the most important relationships in our lives, including our callings in-Christ and His Church.

Hakhel, in the Biblical tradition is a covenant renewal ceremony held every seven years. For example, we see this in the book of Kings, Nehemiah, Ezra and in the Gospel of John-7. The Hakhel ceremony ensured that the nation would regularly rededicate itself to its mission to the Lord.  One of the place in the world where this model of a covenant renewal ceremony still takes place is in our United States of America. Almost every Presidential Inaugural Address – every four years since 1789 – has been, explicitly or implicitly, a covenant renewal ceremony, a contemporary form of Hakhel.  In 1987, speaking at the bicentennial celebration of the American Constitution, President Ronald Reagan described the constitution as a kind of “covenant we’ve made not only with ourselves but with all of mankind … It’s a human covenant; yes, and beyond that, a covenant with the Supreme Being to whom our founding fathers did constantly appeal for assistance.” America’s duty, he said, is “to constantly renew their covenant with humanity…to complete the work begun 200 years ago, that grand noble work that is America’s particular calling – the triumph of human freedom, the triumph of human freedom under God.”

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23: 26:32; Hebrews 9:1-14). It was a day set apart in ancient Israel and in modern-day Israel as a day for forgiveness, repentance (Teshuvah), reconcilation and restoration. During this Yom Kippur season, we must make time to RENEW our dedication to each other and to His mission for our lives (Hebrews 9:14).  So, please REFLECT and ANSWER these questions that the Holy Spirit is asking of us during this season of Yom Kippur:

  • When and how did you get SAVED in-Christ? How are you living in-Christ today?
  • Why has the Lord sent you to TSH? Why are you here? What is your Mission in Christ? Are you living in your mission - your calling in-Christ?
  • What must you do to repent, release and renew to come back to your most important relationships in life and to your mission in-Christ?

Our Vision for 2016

We, at the Shepherd's House (TSH),  have been serving our Middlesex community since August 2006.  Our vision is about making a significant and sustainable difference in the lives of people around us—in our communities and in our cities. Our measure of success is transformation of our communities. Community transformation begins at the intersection of the needs and hopes of a community with the capacities and compassion of the local church.
Drawing from our sacred texts in Isaiah 65:17-25, we at TSH have found seven areas where we can help serve our community, and they are as follows:
• Public health for all, especially children and the aged
• Housing for all
• Food for all
• Meaningful work for all
• Family support systems
• Absence of violence
• Community celebration and happiness
Thus, we have partnered with “Council of Social Concern” in Woburn, MA (, a non-religious community-based agency whose goals align with our vision. It is our hope that we can bring a greater degree of “significant and sustainable influence” in the lives of our community in the days to come. We encourage our congregation at TSH to work side-by-side with people of various backgrounds. I am constantly amazed at the miracle which happens when people of different faiths exercise social action together, recognizing that whatever our faith we still need food, shelter, safety and security. Our basic humanity precedes our religious differences.

There is a Hebrew word, a key term of the Bible during the days of Christ and Second Temple Judaism, for which there is no precise English translation: SIMHAH, usually translated as ‘joy’. This is the “JOY of the LORD” which Nehemiah spoke about in Nehemiah 8:10. What it really means is the happiness we share, or better still, the happiness we make by sharing. It is about sharing what we have, seeing possessions less as things we own than things we hold in trust, one of the conditions of which is that we use part of what we have to help be alert to the poverty, suffering and loneliness of others. The JOY OF THE LORD comes when we SHARE WHAT WE HAVE. Use part of what we have to help be alert to the poverty, suffering and loneliness of others.

Now, as we move forward into 2016, I want to challenge the congregation of TSH to continue to honor the Lord with your giving and serving as we partner together at TSH to do more than we have ever done before. Our first step is to buy a “church-home” suited to expand our ministry operations – our goal for a healthy community transformation is strong, and our goal to make a difference in with more works of grace (Isaiah 58:6-12; Luke 4:18) is tremendous!
I want to thank you in advance for all that you are going to be doing for the people of our community in 2016. I believe that it is a privilege for all of us to be part of such a Christ-Centered-Church like TSH! The Lord has been blessing us more and more, and I really expect that this is going to be our greatest year together as a family church. We will seek to honor the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and carry His Word, witness and works of grace and health into our communities.
I am very grateful to the Lord for all He has done and will continue to do through you, His people – my family and friends!  May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord make His face shine upon you! May the Lord turn His face toward you and give you Shalom – the peace, prosperity, health, wealth and the wisdom of Christ!
Psalm 23 2 U...

The Christmas Story

The Scriptures show us that the promise of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) comes about not only through the grace of God BUT also the faith and patience of Joseph and Mary. The Christmas Story from the Gospels is very DIFFERENT from the Hollywood version. Here is the chronological version of the story from the Gospels...This Christmas Season come “Back to Bethlehem” to be re-energized in His Presence so as to receive the promises of your Lord, to recite His promises and respond to those promises in your lives.


The Christmas Story
Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Matthew 1:18-25
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Luke 2:1-21
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:22-39

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Matthew 2:1-23
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Luke 2:39-40

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.


A Season for Reflection and Repentance

Dear TSH Congregation:

Blessings to you!

We have officially begun our 2015 Yom Kippur Fasting & Prayer. For the next 21 Days – from 6pm Sep-13 to 6pm Oct-04, we will be fasting and praying together as a congregation. It is a season of REFLECTION & REPENTANCE in the calendar of Israel. This has deep spiritual implications for the church and each believer.

In our 2015 Season, these holy days (see Leviticus 23) are as follows:
  1. Sep-13 to Sep-13 is Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew New Year)
  2. Sep-22 to Sep-23 is Yom Kippur (the  Day of Atonement)
  3. Sep-27 to Oct-04 is Sukkoth (the Feast of Tabernacles – See John 7)
It is a season of personal reflection and repentance.

REPENTANCE (Teshuva in Hebrew), the belief and the mandate that we really can and must change, is one of the greatest gifts that Judeo-Christianity gave the world. And it is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. It is one that demands hard internal work because Teshuva (Repentance) requires good decision-making.  We must choose wisely: every word we say, every small gesture, every action is a decision that has a causal impact on the next decision. But we make mistakes every day. So, according to the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6), we make a daily habit of asking for God’s pardon. But at this time of the year, we ask that God give us the wisdom and strength to make good decisions so that our repeated pattern of moral weakness and apology will finally be broken. This is what in part the Apostle Paul meant when he said (Ephesians 5:8-17):
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

So, please partner with Victoria and me during this season for the next 21-days in Worshiping His Majesty through Fasting, Prayer, Reading the Word and Studying the Word.

We are expecting and believing for His highest and best for you…


Reference:  Erica Brown. Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe  The Toby Press. 2013-2014.
In certain Christian congregations there appears to be a negative attitude toward physicians and medical techniques. This arises out of a firm conviction that it is God’s intention and responsibility to care for the health of His people. However, some well-meaning people in the church, especially some in the Pentecostal-Charismatic tradition, have discounted the fact that God could work through the members of our secular medical community. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, the Great Healer works through the hands of His children in the secular medical community. God’s hands have always worked through the hands of His children…In fact the Bible does NOT speak against medical doctors or medical technology.

In biblical times, medicines were made from minerals, animal substances, herbs, wines, fruits, and other parts of plants. The Bible mentions numerous examples of these primitive medicines—notably the “balm of Gilead,” which was probably an aromatic substance taken from an evergreen tree. These may have been primitive by today’s standards; however, it was the best medical technology for that generation. Olive oil and herbs often were used to anoint the sick. The early Christians continued this practice, anointing the sick as they prayed for them (James 5:14). The Bible refers to the work of physicians (Gen. 50:2; 2 Chronicles16:12; Jer.8:22). In the New Testament, Luke is mentioned as the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14).
Early Christians stayed away from medical centers because of idolatry in the medical community. Medical treatment in the biblical world often included the use of Magic, Sorcery, and Divination. The Mosaic Law prohibited such practices. It was inconsistent with the nature of the all-powerful God and it broke the commandments in the Torah. Therefore, the early Christians stayed away from such practices. However, when Christianity became the State Religion, these idolatrous acts in the medical community were abandoned. In 372 C.E., Saint Basil the Great embraced the medical process. Since that time, Christian communities have started, administered and operated hospitals for the care of sick people… lots of them around the world in virtually every nation.
Physical healing is essential to the fullness of human beings created in the image of God. Physical healing is accomplished through God’s action through a human agency or by direct performance. Medical doctors are our friends in the healing process and NOT our enemies. Christians, especially some in the Pentecostal-Charismatic congregations, must NOT look down upon the faith of the people who have been healed through the work of the medical community. These healing(s) through the medical communities are NOT second-class miracles. God is the Healer and the doctors are the human vessels in the healing process.

Living as the "Inheritance of God"

According to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians, living as the “inheritance of God” (Ephesians 1:18)  has to do with BOTH our “Being” and our “Doing” in this world and in the world to come …

Consider this...the Apostle Paul prayed that we would have better spiritual vision regarding three things:
1) the great “hope to which he has called” us — that we will share in his glory;
2) that our eyes would be opened to “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” — that we are his treasured inheritance;
3) that his all-surpassing power is on us and will continue on to our glorification. [1]
Paul prays that our eyes will be opened as to “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” What the Apostle Paul wants us to see is that we are God’s riches — “his possession,” as verse Eph.1:14 also previously mentioned! F. F. Bruce says regarding this: "Paul prays here that his readers will appreciate the value which God places on them, his plan to accomplish his eternal purpose through them as the first fruits of the reconciled universe of the future, in order that their lives may be in keeping with the high calling and that they may accept in grateful humility the grace and glory thus lavished on them."

Think of it: The Lord owns all the heavens and numberless worlds, but we are his treasures. The “redeemed” are worth more than the universe. Paul prays that we will see this with our heart’s eyes.[2]
This “inheritance of God” encompasses the life of God’s “church gathered” as well as the life of God’s “church scattered” in the world—in the marketplace, government, professional offices, schools and homes. This “inheritance of God”  is realized on earth when the people of God discover that their  lives are ontologically grounded in the being of Christ as they live and mature as the children of God in their homes and marketplace. As a result, the Disciples of Christ will experience being the inheritance of God through the personhood of Christ in the world.[3] In the process, the Church prepares the way for the Lord, and becomes vital, relevant and effective to any community at any given point in human history regardless of the complex societal and cultural transformations that could take place in the world.
[1] Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (p. 54). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
[2] Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (p. 53). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
[3]Paul Stevens, The Other Six Days, 8.

The Power of Listening - SHEMA

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-29 ESV)

Jesus’ answer to Thomas is that God is found, first and foremost, not in the blinding light of the sun, nor in the majesty of mountains. He is not in the almost infinitely vast spaces of the universe, with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. Indeed the mistake we making consists in the very fact that we are deeply involved in the things we look at all the time. God is to be found not by looking but by listening. He lives in words – the words He spoke to the patriarchs and matriarchs, prophets and priests of Israel; ultimately in the words of the Christ Himself – the words though which we are to interpret all other words.

Rabbi Jacob Leiner (1814-1878), a leader of the Hassidic community in Radzyn, Poland wrote a Biblical commentary called Bet Yaakov in which he makes a profound point about the spiritual  differences between the sense of sight and the sense of listening: “From a human perspective it often seems as if seeing is a more precise form of knowledge than hearing. In fact, however, hearing has a greater power than seeing. Sight discloses the external aspect of things, but hearing reveals their inwardness. The aspect of God which prevails is haskes u-shema Yisrael hayom, ‘Be silent, O Israel, and listen’. The idea of haskes is that the person practices a self-imposed limitation on his senses, no longer looking at the events in this world and he is then able clearly to understand that ‘You have now become the people of the Lord your God’ – something one can hear during this month.”

Rabbi Leiner states that when God cannot be seen He can still be heard.Hearing represents a depth-encounter more intimate and transformational than seeing. Perhaps without intending to, the Rabbi Leiner has provided us with a point of entry into one of the most important and least understood differences between the two great civilizations of the West. Matthew Arnold, in his Culture and Anarchy, called them Hellenism and Hebraism. The political philosopher Leo Strauss spoke of Athens and Jerusalem. We know them best as ancient Greece and ancient Israel. Greece of the Fifth to Third centuries, BCE, was in many respects the greatest culture of antiquity. It excelled in art, architecture, sculpture and the theatre – the visual arts. In these it achieved a greatness never surpassed. The most glittering subsequent artistic flowering of Europe, in Renaissance Italy, was essentially a rediscovery of the world and skills of ancient Greece. Jews excelled at none of these things, yet their contribution to the West was no less great. The reason is that their interest lay altogether elsewhere, not in sight but in sound, not in seeing but hearing. Judaism is the supreme example of a culture not of the eye but of the ear. A great nineteenth century Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz explained the difference: The pagan perceives the Divine in nature through the medium of the eye, and he becomes conscious of it as something to be looked at. On the other hand, to the Jew who conceives God as being outside of nature and prior to it, the Divine manifests itself through the will and through the medium of the ear. He becomes conscious of it as something to be heeded and listened to. The pagan beholds his God, the Jew hears Him, that is, apprehends His will.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that Jewish thought and Greek words came together in the New Testament. This brought many Jewish ideas to the non-Jewish world. However, the deepest Jewish concepts were untranslatable into Greek. For almost two thousand years, Judaism has been known to the West through the filter of languages and cultures, Greek (Hellenistic) in inspiration, which simply could not express its message in its pristine form. However, we continue to learn more from modern biblical archeology and linguistic research, and we continue to grow in our understanding of the culture and community in which Jesus lived and served.

Rabbi Sacks argues,  "Even to this day, when we speak about knowledge, we use metaphors overwhelmingly drawn from the world of the eye. We talk of insight, foresight and hindsight; of making an observation; of people of vision. When we understand something we say, “I see”. The very word “idea” comes from the same Latin root as the word “video”. These are linguistic vestiges of a culture essentially Greek. In the Hebrew Bible, by contrast, instead of saying that someone thinks, the verse will say that he “said in his or her heart.” Thought is not a form of sight but of speech. In rabbinic Hebrew, when we say that a certain conclusion can be drawn, we say mashma or shema mina or ta shema. When we want to say that we understand, we use the phrase shomea ani, and when someone did not accept an idea, we say lo shemia leh. Tradition is called mipi hashemua. All of these are verbs of hearing. For the Greeks, truth is what we see. For Jews, it is what we hear. Seeing, in Judaism, is ultimately about hearing.  Israel is the people called on to reject images in favor of words; to discard appearances and follow, instead, the commanding Voice of the Lord."

No concept has proved more difficult to explain in modern times than the doctrine of Torah min hashamayim, “Torah from heaven.” The reason is that it has not been understood in the depth it demands. It is not simply about (though it includes) the Divine authorship of the Bible, nor is it merely (though it is also) a statement about its authority. First and foremost it is an answer to the ultimate human question: Where do we find God?

Judeo-Christianity's answer is that God is found, first and foremost, not in the blinding light of the sun, nor in the majesty of mountains. He is not in the almost infinitely vast spaces of the universe, with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. He is not even in the letters of the genetic code that give all life its structure and diversity. If this is where you seek God, says the Bible, you are looking in the wrong place. Indeed the mistake you are making consists in the very fact that you are looking at all. God is to be found not by looking but by listening. He lives in words – the words He spoke to the patriarchs and matriarchs, prophets and priests; ultimately in the words of Christ Himself – the words though which we are to interpret all other words.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  John 1:1
Why is God revealed in words? Because words are what makes us persons. Language makes homo sapiens unique. Because we have language, we can think. We can stand back, reflectively, from the data provided by our senses. We can ask questions. Human beings are the only species known to us in the universe capable of asking the question, Why?

Because we can speak as well as see, we can imagine a universe unlike the one we have seen every day until now. We can dream dreams, imagine alternatives, sketch utopias, formulate plans, construct intentions. Because of language – and only because of language – we are free and therefore morally responsible agents.

Judeo-Christianity is the single greatest statement in the history of civilization that personhood is at the heart of being – that it is not random, accidental, or peripheral that we are persons; that we can speak and listen; that we can communicate and be communicated with. Only human beings can grasp the concept of the holy, that which is defined in and through a relationship with God. Our relationship with God is personal, therefore verbal, a matter of speech. God as He is in Himself is beyond us; but God in relationship with humanity goes to the core of our humanity and is therefore expressed in words. Thus, in John 20:26-29, the Lord Jesus encourages us to seek God, and turn our attention to language of the Word and Spirit – not to places or objects. The hidden presence of Christ is everywhere. But the revealed presence of God is in the words He gave to humanity on the basis of which He made a series of covenants, first with Noah, then with Abraham, then with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, and finally in the New Covenant (John 13). Hence the philosophy of Israel in Christ – so different from that of ancient Greece, the European Enlightenment and contemporary science: To meet God is to listen to God, understand His Word, and walk in His Way. Just like our human words make reveal our invisble thoughts, an invisble God reveals Himself to us through His Spoken Word - the Bible. To see God is to live by faith in His Word and NOT by sight on the temporal objects and places of our age (2 Cor.5:7).

Adapted from the following Sources:  

The Day When Death Turned Backwards

Now is Christ risen from the dead. His resurrection has turned to life the power of death binding the human race because of sin. In Adam’s race, all die, but in Christ all shall be made alive...Our Savior, Jesus Christ, has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. That is the good news of His saving death and resurrection life. (1 Corn. 15:20-22; 2 Tim. 1:10, paraphrased)

Not only will you and I one day die by reason of physical death, our lives are impacted by death-dealing things that happen in this world—things that erode hope, suffocate confidence, break hearts, and kill relationships. You can be alive but things “die” along the way—a business goes bad, a marriage is stressed, a goal you’ve worked toward isn’t realized.

The Scripture says that in the human race (“Adam’s race”) all die. And that is true not only at the end of our lives, but also with the intrusion of death-dealing forces going on around us all the time. But it also says that “in Christ all shall be made alive.” The promise of the Resurrection—to forever to be with the Lord in heaven—is real. But the grammar of these words refers to a continuous action—that all in Christ are continually being made alive. The good news is that Jesus’ resurrection life not only applies to eternity, but also to the present moment in which you and I live.

I want you to look with me at three resurrections that Jesus performed during His ministry, before His own death and resurrection. In the first case, He happened to come upon a funeral. In the second, He didn’t respond to the emergency call of a friend and her brother died. The third is about a man whose daughter died, and Jesus was told, “It’s no use. She’s gone.” But He went anyway.

What I want you to note in these three stories are the responses of the people who were impacted by the death that occurred, because it is the same hopelessness and confusion that Jesus wants to do away with in our lives. All three episodes illustrate how the forces of death intrude on life, and how, by His resurrection power, Jesus turns death backwards, along with the mistaken and fatalistic responses that come with it.

Jesus can reverse the death-dealing power of a hopeless future.

The Widow of Nain and Her Son (Luke 7:11-17)
In the first story, Jesus enters the city of Nain and comes upon a funeral. The text says that “a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.”

Jesus knew that the widow was not only crying because her son died. She was also grieving because her son would have been old enough to be a wage-earner. He was the hope of their family’s future because in the culture of that time, a widow usually ended up a beggar. Her tears were at the thought she would need to spend the rest of her life sitting in the marketplace and begging alms to survive.
The futility of that circumstance adds dimension to Jesus’ words, for the Bible says He had compassion. His desire was not simply to alleviate her grief, though I’m not suggesting He was passive concerning that. What I’m saying is that there was a larger issue at stake that had to do with the possibility of a hopeless future .

Death is more than just ending up in a box in a hole. Death has to do with things that rob our sense of security, things that intrude upon our lives. Many of us can testify to a time when Jesus met us with the power to reverse what looked futile and hopeless at the time. Where He stepped in, and the power of the living God transcended anything we could bring about on our own. Jesus’ resurrection will reverse the death-dealing power of any hopeless future—long- or short-term—that you or I face.

Jesus can reverse the death-dealing power of confused thinking about God.

Lazarus (John 11:1-44)
Lazarus, Mary, and Martha—a brother and two sisters—were good friends of Jesus. He was some distance away when a report came from the sisters that Lazarus was very sick and in jeopardy of losing his life. But Jesus didn’t go to them right away, and His disciples asked why. Jesus gave them a temporary explanation, because the disciples were going to have to learn the same thing as the sisters would learn. And that has to do with the human tendency to become confused about how we think about God when He doesn’t do things as fast as we think He should.

By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. The Scripture says that when Martha heard Jesus was coming, she went out and met Him, saying, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

I’m sure she said it politely, but there must have been an edge to her words. We were counting on You. And nothing happened. If we believe God exists, our human tendency is to think that if we ask, and hope, and do everything we know to implore God, what we expect should happen. We live in a world that will pass judgment on God if He doesn’t show up at the beck and call of every human circumstance, as though He doesn’t have the power, doesn’t love us, or doesn’t exist.

Those are the judgments people make about God which will crowd in on our hearts and shut Him out. We may never say it to anyone, or have the nerve to do what Martha did—to tell the Lord Himself, You let me down. I was counting on You. We carry that confusion inside ourselves. I’m just bewildered, Lord. Bewildered as though we suppose we should understand everything of God’s timing.

One of the most necessary things for us to learn is that we cannot judge God’s interest in us by the way we judge His timing. Let me say that again: We cannot judge God’s interest in us by the way we judge His timing. If the answer doesn’t come when we think it should, the conclusion is drawn that either He’s deficient in His character, or there must be something wrong with us. That causes us to live with guilt, or to steep ourselves in frustration, anger, and resentment toward God, even outright rejection of Him.

Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again,” to which Martha replied, “I know my brother will rise in the resurrection at the last day.” And Jesus said to her, “Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. ” Right now, Martha, I AM the resurrection and the life!

Martha responded the way some Christians do. Well, Lord, it didn’t work out, but someday, somewhere, somehow, I guess it will. As though God has no resurrection power to bring us through whatever turns a situation into a dead one. Not dead in the way that Lazarus physically died, but in a way that kills feelings in our heart, annihilates trust in our soul, or stifles our readiness to move on in confidence. Yet Jesus’ resurrection confirms with dynamic evidence His ability to turn death backwards—to reverse the death syndrome that intrudes on our lives with confused thinking about God and how He feels about us.

Jesus can reverse the death-dealing power of fatalistic prophecy.

Jairus’ Daughter (Luke 8:40-56)
Jairus, who was the leader of a synagogue, had a twelve-year-old daughter who was dying, and he came to Jesus and begged Him to come to his house. But as Jesus went with Jairus, they were besieged by a crowd; “multitudes thronged Him,” the Bible says. Among them was a woman who had endured a horrible and embarrassing discharge of blood for twelve years. The text says she had “spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any.” She pressed in through the crowd and touched the bottom of Jesus’ robe and instantly, she was healed.

But by then, they had been delayed in getting back to Jairus’ house, and someone comes to tells them not to bother, it’s too late. “Your daughter is dead,” he says to Jairus. “Do not trouble the Teacher.” He renders a fatalistic prophecy in the light of the moment. There would be no future, no possibility for anything changing. But Jesus answers with another prophecy: “Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.” He goes to the house where He tells the mourners to stop their crying. Taking the daughter’s hand, Jesus says, “Little girl, arise,” and the Bible says, “her spirit returned, and she arose immediately.”

The passage ends by saying, “And her parents were astonished...” They had thought, The prophecy has been made, there’s no reason to expect anything now. We had a plan, but it didn’t work. Yet Jesus confirms that He can reverse the death-dealing power of fatalistic prophecy.

Perhaps you have said fatalistic things about your future, a limitation due to circumstances, as you see them. Perhaps, as a kid, you were told by someone, It’s no use, you’ll never be anything, and it’s affected you for a lifetime. A teacher scorned you. A friend mocked you. Kids gave you a bad time. As an adult, you were devalued on the job. Those things can shape our lives and cause us to draw conclusions about ourselves.

Loved one, I’d like to ask you to see what God says to you personally about how each of these three stories applies to your life. What may have taken place that now is reflected in a hopeless future? Have you given up on God because He didn’t show up when you thought He should? Are you frustrated with or angry at Him because what you were hoping for didn’t happen? What fatalistic prophecy has been made about your life that has allowed something of the death syndrome to take root?

As we celebrate Easter, I want you to know that there’s a different kind of prophecy that governs our lives as believers in the living God: it’s the prophecy that Jesus Christ is alive! He came not only to bring us life when we open to Him as Savior, but also to bring hope in the face of a future we can’t imagine, and recovery when we think He’s let us down. By His resurrection power, He can reverse circumstances and turn death backwards whenever and wherever it tries to encroach upon the abundant life He’s promised to you and me. For He proclaims to all, “I AM the resurrection and the life.”
Copyright © 2009, 2014 by Jack W. Hayford, Jack Hayford Ministries.

Count your blessings and begin to change your life

An Article by Lord Jonathan Sacks

(First published in The London Times, January 2008)

1. Give thanks. Once a day take quiet time to feel gratitude for what you have, not impatience for what you don’t have. This alone will bring you halfway to happiness. We already have most of the ingredients of a happy life. It’s just that we tend to take these for granted and focus on unmet wants, unfulfilled desires. Giving thanks is better than shopping – and cheaper too.

2. Praise. Catch someone doing something right and say so. Most people, most of the time, are unappreciated. Being recognised, thanked and congratulated by someone else is one of the most empowering things that can happen to us. So don’t wait for someone to do it for you: do it for someone else. You will make their day, and that will help to make yours.

3. Spend time with your family. Make sure that there is at least one time a week when you sit down to have a meal together with no distractions – no television, no phone, no e-mail, just being together and celebrating one another’s company. Happy marriages and healthy families need dedicated time.

4. Discover meaning. Take time out, once in a while, to ask: “Why am I here? What do I hope to achieve? How best can I use my gifts? What would I wish to be said about me when I am no longer here?” Finding meaning is essential to a fulfilled life – and how can you find it if you never look? If you don’t know where you want to be, you will never get there, however fast you run.

5. Live your values. Most of us believe in high ideals, but we act on them only sporadically. The best thing to do is to establish habits that get us to enact those ideals daily. This is called ritual, and it is what religions remember but ethicists often forget.

6. Forgive. This is the emotional equivalent of losing excess weight. Life is too short to bear a grudge or seek revenge. Forgiving someone is good for them but even better for you. The bad has happened. It won’t be made better by your dwelling on it. Let it go. Move on.

7. Keep learning. I learnt this from Florence in Newcastle, whom I last met the day she celebrated her 105th birthday. She was still full of energy and fun. “What’s the secret?” I asked her. “Never be afraid to learn something new,” she said. Then I realised that if you are willing to learn, you can be 105 and still young. If you are not, you can be 25 and already old.

8. Learn to listen. Often in conversation we spend half our time thinking of what we want to say next instead of paying attention to what the other person is saying. Listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone else. It means that we are open to them, that we take them seriously and that we accept graciously their gift of words.

9. Create moments of silence in the soul. Liberate yourself, if only five minutes daily, from the tyranny of technology, the mobile phone, the laptop and all the other electronic intruders, and just inhale the heady air of existence, the joy of being.

10. Transform suffering. When bad things happen, use them to sensitise you to the pain of others. The greatest people I know – people who survived tragedy and became stronger as a result – did not ask “Who did this to me?” Instead, they asked “What does this allow me to do that I could not have done before?” They refused to become victims of circumstance. They became, instead, agents of hope.

Most of these are, of course, integral elements of a religious life, which may be why so many surveys have shown that those who practise a religious faith tend to live longer, have lower levels of stress and report higher degrees of wellbeing than others. This is not accidental. The great religions are our richest treasuries of wisdom when it comes to the question of how best to live a life.

Life is too full of blessings to waste time and attention on artificial substitutes. Live, give, forgive, celebrate and praise: these are still the best ways of making a blessing over life, thereby turning life into a blessing.

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