Friday, April 19, 2019

She Thinks You're Jewish

"Here's a card."

I was sitting in the library stairwell with my then-girlfriend, looking at the envelope in her hand, wondering if I had missed an anniversary. She must have seen it in my face, because she said, "It's not from me. It's from Jane."

Jane was her best friend. Why in the world would Jane be giving me a card? Only one way to find out: I opened the card.

I don't remember what the card looked like, or what it said on the outside, but I will never forget the words on the inside:

Happy Hanukkah!

I looked at her, puzzled.

She said, "She thinks you're Jewish, but that you're in denial."


Seven years later, I went with my then (and still) girlfriend (and wife) to meet her grandmother for the very first time. This would actually be one of the few times I got to spend with her grandmother, as she died less than a year later, just weeks before our wedding.

Later in the car, I asked Kerri, "So, how do you think it went?"

"She thinks you're Jewish."


Or maybe rather, "Oy vey!" (a Yiddish phrase expressing dismay or exasperation)

You know, I never grew up with a knowledge of having any Jewish heritage. My DNA results show "no connection" to the six European Jewish regions. (Then again, they also show "no connection" to the Native-American regions, even though my mother swears I am 1/16th Cherokee!)

So, who knows? I mean, anything is possible, especially since I know absolutely nothing about my father's heritage, since he was adopted.

I mean, it would certainly explain my love and appreciation for the Jewish culture, especially when those Jewish roots help me understand my own Christian faith in a deeper and more meaningful way.

So, here's my quick public service announcement. For those who may have never received a Happy Hanukkah! card themselves and so, you may just not know, the Jewish Passover begins tonight, at sundown. Tonight, all around the world, families will gather for the main Passover ritual, the seder - a festive meal that involves the re-telling of the Israelite exodus from Egypt through questions, stories, songs, and symbolic foods.

Our church family has been spoiled over the last few years to have a relationship with Aaron Abramson of Jews for Jesus. He has led us in the seder meal three different times and shown us the links between the ancient Jewish festival of redemption and Jesus as our Lamb of God.

This past Sunday evening was one of those occasions, and Aaron led us in a song that, even though we've sung it at our last couple seder meals, I had forgotten about it... but haven't been able to get out of my mind since! It's the song, Dayenu, a fifteen-stanza melody that is sung during the meal after the retelling of the Exodus story.

The Hebrew word dayenu loosely means, "It would have been enough."

While we didn't sing all fifteen verses, I have printed them at the bottom of this post for those who are interested. Essentially, the song is broken into three different sections, with the first five verses about the Israelite's release from Egypt, the second five about their time in the wilderness, and the third five about their spiritual life, giving thanks for the Sabbath, Mt. Sinai, the Torah, the land of Israel, and the Temple.

In each verse, there is thanksgiving to God for His kindness and mercy, ending with dayenu - "It would have been enough."

I like what Erica Brown writes about the song:

"It's rare to hear people say, when commenting on a blessing in their lives, 'It's enough.' When it comes to goodness, we are greedy. We want an abundance of happiness, and sometimes think of it as our due. But immediately after we tell of the Exodus from Egypt in the Hagaddah, we break into... song where we sing jubilantly and in unison, Dayenu - It is enough."

But in reality, it wasn't enough. I mean, that's why God sent His Son Jesus as the perfect Lamb of God, the once-and-for-all sacrifice that took away, forever, the sins of the world.

"The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship... 11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest offered Himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time... 14 For that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy." (Hebrews 10:1, 11-12, 14 NLT)

Jesus is enough! 

But sadly, millions of people tonight and beyond will miss this eternity-changing truth.

So, first, pray for the millions around their tables tonight, but don't you miss the truth. Don't miss the gratitude either!

Erica Brown continues...

"We don't realize how lucky we are until we speak our blessings in detail. Dayenu is not merely a reflection on Passover, but a template for true thanks."

As I was walking/running downtown this morning, I had this post on my mind when I hobbled past the store "Blessings by the Bushel."

You know, I am certainly blessed, and I definitely, in my own life, have received blessings by the bushel. But my thought on this Good Friday morning was, "If I had a bushel basket and it only had one thing in it, if that one thing was Jesus, would that be enough?"

On this day when we remember His sacrifice, for us, may we offer up the prayer that let's God know just how thankful we are... and that Jesus is enough!

"If the only prayer you say in your life is 'Thank you,' that will suffice. (Meister Echkart, 13th century German theologian and philospher)

I hope you will join me today in praying that simple prayer.

"Thank you."


  • If He had taken us out of Egypt and not made judgments on them; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had made judgments on them and had not made [them] on their gods; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had made [them] on their gods and had not killed their firstborn; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had killed their firstborn and had not given us their money; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had given us their money and had not split the Sea for us; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had split the Sea for us and had not taken us through it on dry land; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had taken us through it on dry land and had not pushed down our enemies in [the Sea]; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had pushed down our enemies in [the Sea] and had not supplied our needs in the wilderness for forty years; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had supplied our needs in the wilderness for forty years and had not fed us the manna; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had fed us the manna and had not given us the Shabbat; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had given us the Shabbat and had not brought us close to Mount Sinai; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had brought us close to Mount Sinai and had not given us the Torah; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had given us the Torah and had not brought us into the land of Israel; [it would have been] enough for us.
  • If He had brought us into the land of Israel and had not built us the ‘Chosen House’ [the Temple; it would have been] enough for us.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Our Father's Smile

"I'm sitting beside you!"

At the time, I was standing in line to buy blueberry chocolate truffles from the Vosges Haut-Chocolat candy store in the O'Hare airport in Chicago. I looked up to see an unfamiliar woman who, as she gestured to my chocolates, repeated, "I'm sitting beside you."

I thought to myself, "Lady, this is one of the busiest airports in the world. Almost 225,000 people fly in and out of here every single day. (Okay, I didn't actually think those numbers, but I have since done the research on Google.) Odds are that we're probably not even going to be on the same plane, much less sitting together."

Those were my initial thoughts. What I said, instead, was, "Well, even if you do, we can't eat these chocolates. My wife and son would kill me if I got home with any of 'em missing!"

She laughed, and that was it... or so I thought.

I didn't think about it again until I boarded my plane bound for Greensboro, found my seat, got situated, and then looked up to see saw her walking down the aisle toward me... only to stop at my row and take the seat right next to me.

"Told you so."

Now normally, I am all about trying to have as little conversation as possible with the people sitting near me on a plane, but I was so struck by the circumstances that I had to ask, "Do you live in Greensboro?"

"No, I live in Chicago."

"What brings you to Greensboro?"

"My brother and I are presenting at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship there tomorrow night."

"Really? Do you skate?" (Trust me, you have to get up pretty early in the morning to slip something by me. I am the master of the obvious!)

"I used to. Ronnie and I skated pairs. In 1965, we finished first in the U.S. and second in the world."

Okay, this conversation was headed in a direction that I had not been expecting.

I said, "You know, I'm sorry, but I really don't know too much about pairs skating." 

(Now, I specifically said "pairs" because I just didn't figure that, at this point, she had any business knowing about my crush on Kristi Yamaguchi.)

I continued, "I can only think of one skater from around that time. Wasn't Peggy Fleming skating then?"

"Yes, she was. She and I were roommates."

"Did you and your brother skate in the Olympics?"

"We did... in 1964."

"Did you medal?"

She paused and said, "Um, that's complicated."

And then she began to tell me her story.

Her name is Vivian Joseph and she and her brother, Ronald were the second-ranked American pairs team at the 1964 Olympic Games in Innsbruck. They exceeded all expectations by finishing fourth.

However, at the time, there were numerous rumors that the West German silver medalists had signed a contract with the professional ice show, Holiday on Ice, thus violating their amateur status. After a three-year investigation, the I.O.C. stripped the West Germans of their silver medals, elevating the Canadians from third to second and the Josephs from fourth to the bronze medal position.

And that's where the story gets really strange.

As we sat on the plane, Ms. Joseph told me a part of her story that I ended up reading more about in the New York Times after I returned home.

She said the she was at a party and was introduced to someone as an "Olympic medalist." A week or so later, he called and disputed that claim, saying, "You may have a medal, but that's not what the record books say." 

After much digging, her brother and she discovered that twenty years after they had originally been awarded their medals, the I.O.C. had re-awarded the silver medals to the West Germans, returning the Josephs to fourth place.

Now, while she had told me the entire story to this point in a very matter-of-fact way, when she began to talk about her parents, her voice started to break. She talked about their sacrifice, and how excited and proud they had been when their children won their Olympic medals... but then how hurt they were when they learned that the standings had been changed.

When she concluded her story by telling me how she and her brother had officially been re-awarded their bronze medals just a couple months earlier, she said, "I just wish that my parents had still been alive to see it. I wish they could have known how things worked out."

We never get too old to want that validation from our parents, do we? We never get to a place in our lives - or at least I haven't yet - when we don't want to bring that smile to their face.

After challenging us to "set aside" the things in our life that keep us from running the race like Jesus, the writer of Hebrews then tells us how that is even possible:

"We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross..." (Hebrews 12:2 NLT)

What exactly was the "joy awaiting him?" Well, that's above my pay-grade, but I've got to believe that it included the Father's smile.

We all want our Father's smile, which may be one reason why Jesus says what He says in Matthew chapter 6 three different times:

"... And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:4 ESV)

"... And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:6 ESV)

"... And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:18 ESV)

One of the keys to interpreting God's Word (Biblical Hermeneutics, for those of you who want the "big" word) is to look for words or phrases that are repeated in the text. If it's repeated, then it's important.

Obviously, this is important. Jesus wants us to know that God sees and knows.

It doesn't matter who else sees or knows.

It doesn't matter if everybody sees and knows.

It doesn't matter if nobody sees and knows.

God sees and know. And He will reward us.

Now, what exactly that reward is... again, way above my pay-grade. However, I think, at the very least, part of our reward is our Father's smile.

He sees and knows it all. He is the One Who is always sitting beside us (with or without the chocolates)...

And hopefully smiling!