Monthly Archives: May, 2014

Where Have All the Christians Gone?

May 28th, 2014 Posted by Susan's Musings 12 comments

I learned a great deal of Bible and mathematics, history and literature, science and Hebrew in the highly academic high school I attended. The school prized its Regent and Merit Scholarship winners and touted its high Ivy League college admission statistics. I am grateful for my education, but there were important lessons learned outside the classroom that guide my behavior today as much, if not more, than the scholastic ones.

Since the school focused heavily on grades and achievement, the occasions when the administration cancelled classes made a deep impression on me. And throughout my four year tenure, they did so with surprising frequency. During those years, Jews were forbidden to leave the Soviet Union and those who tried –known as refuseniks- were arrested and sent to the gulag. In an effort to raise the profile on this issue, rallies were organized. At those times, classrooms were shuttered.  We, along with hordes of teenagers from other Jewish schools overflowed the subway system on our way to protest outside the United Nation building in Manhattan.

At fifteen years old, missing class generated excitement and admittedly, our focus at that age was usually on meeting up with friends who attended different schools. Yet, the underlying message burrowed deep inside us. We were responsible for other Jews, no matter where they lived and what language they spoke.

I’ve been thinking of these experiences as I try to understand why my Christian friends are not organizing mass rallies outside the White House, Congress and the United Nations. Why aren’t millions of Christians flooding the streets to protest Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag’s sentence to lashings and death for marrying an American Christian? In Sudan, she and her twenty-month-old son have been kept in disgusting prison conditions for the ‘crime’ of her marriage and rejection of Islam. They will now be joined by her newborn baby girl.

I know Christian friends that are aghast as story after story unfolds of Christian persecution in various countries under Moslem authority.  Surely, this issue should transcend theological and ideological differences among churches and bring masses out to protest. Certainly, these protests should be joined by Jews, Buddhists, atheists and other decent people regardless of religion. I know my husband and I would be there standing shoulder-to-shoulder protesting the anti-Christian oppression being practiced in so many of these vicious regimes. Yet the onus for their organization falls on fellow Christian believers.  I have trouble understanding the silence in the public square.

The United States doesn’t have important trade and security agreements with Sudan as we did with the Soviet Union. Our influence in the world is lessening under the Obama administration. Nonetheless, we are still a powerful and influential nation.  Greater strategic planners than I can plot what may actually be done to help this woman and protect Christians around the world. My memories of high school tell me that in addition to encouraging oppression, the lack of an outspoken mass response misses a priceless opportunity for inspiring the next generation.  

Am I missing some information or misunderstanding something? Please let me know in the comment section below.

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Sleep in the Bed You Make

May 27th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

I never knew what the job of ‘community organizer’ entailed.  I knew what a bus driver, a plumber, a bookkeeper, or a ballerina do. But, what does a community organizer do?  I found out by reading a little book called Rules for Radicals written by Saul Alinsky, a Chicago political activist.  (And no, I’m not sure what activists do either.)  At any rate, Alinsky explained that a community organizer should “…rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; to fan latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expressions.”  Okay, now I know.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that one definition of wisdom is being able to learn something from everyone.  I guess I’m not so wise because I am not sure what I could learn from community organizers.  However, I know I have much to learn from bus drivers, plumbers, bookkeepers and ballerinas. Around Memorial Day each year, I think about things I learn from soldiers.

This year, I learned from the head of Special Operations Command, Admiral Bill McRaven, why soldiers always make their beds first thing in the morning.  Here are his words from his Commencement Day speech at the University of Texas:

“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.  If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

He got my attention as the Code of Jewish Law opens with the words:

One should be as strong as a lion in rising in the morning
for the service of one’s Creator.

(Shulchan Aruch 1:1)

Don’t just rise in the morning like a lion but rise in the morning like a lion for the purpose of serving one’s Creator.  The question is, how do we best serve our Creator?

Here is one clue:

Cursed be he who does the work of the Lord negligently…
(Jeremiah 48:10)

According to ancient Jewish wisdom, this verse means that anyone who fails to satisfy his employer or customer with speedy and diligent service is cursed. (Midrash, Tana D’vei Eliyahu Rabbah)

What a stunning insight! Taking care of our customers, clients, and employers is doing God’s work!

Interestingly, an English word that describes taking care of business speedily and diligently is enthusiastically.

Here is the etymological source of the word enthusiastic.

From the Greek “entheos” meaning inspired by God.

Admiral McRaven had it just right. Being diligent in the tasks we undertake in our day, even ones that seem minor, leads us to end our day looking back at a string of accomplishments.  When we recognize that performing work for which we are paid is God’s work, our accomplishments grow even more.

I know that it utterly changed my life when ancient Jewish wisdom first taught me that taking care of my boss, my customers and my clients is also serving God.  It transformed workdays from drudgery to ministry.  It transformed servitude to service.  It transformed lethargic indifference to passion and enthusiasm.  As a side benefit, I started making much more money.

That’s God’s work.  Contributing to other people’s lives.  It might even be the life of your commanding officer.  If you’re a bus driver, plumber, bookkeeper, or ballerina it’s very clear how you help other people.  Community organizers? Not so much.

Some people tell me that they want to offer their services to others but don’t know how. Others fumble job interviews or excuse themselves as simply not “people people.” Then there are those who have great business ideas but can’t interest others in them and those who insist that they work hard but don’t seem to be progressing.  For all of you, I recorded my 2 audio CD set Prosperity Power: Connect for Success. Starting your day listening to these CDs as you make your bed, work out or travel to work will propel you to do enthusiastically what is necessary to power up your work life.

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Did You See?

May 22nd, 2014 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

At least once a week someone recommends that I watch a funny clip of a baby, toddler or child on YouTube. More often than not, the clip has gone viral, garnering tens of thousands of views.

Like any mother worth her salt, when my children said brilliant or hilarious comments, I called my mother and mother-in-law to pass it on. When one of the children crawled into the fireplace, emerging covered with soot from head to toe, my husband and I snapped pictures and shared them with our families. We even shared particularly entertaining remarks or outrageous dress-up costumes with friends and, in return, listened to tales of their precocious offspring and viewed their own snapshots.

What we see today is a completely new ballgame, and one that is making me increasingly uncomfortable. In a sea change  the emphasis has changed from delighting in your child’s antics to amassing millions of ‘hits’ in the hope of being invited to appear on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Furthermore, the videos I’m being sent are increasingly discomfiting. What is a chocolate-face child to think when he insists that he didn’t touch the cake and Mommy’s reaction is to video the situation rather than tackle the lie? What will a yet unborn sibling think when she hears her father reassure his son with many sisters that he too was disappointed to hear that another infant girl was on the way? When Dad realizes how cringe-worthy his comment is and how it will hurt his daughter in the future, he won’t be able to relegate his words to the past. They are immortalized and in the control of those with no emotional ties to someone he will deeply love.

The presence of the camera encourages parents to egg their children into greater tantrums, to celebrate rather than condemn extreme statements and actions. While initially, the clips I was sent were innocent – a baby’s uncontrollable laughter while her father ripped a paper – they are now troubling.

Most of us still cherish our precious and personal moments. The majority of parents still respect their family and children’s privacy. Yet, for our society, there is something disturbing as more of us choose to breach the bounds of confidentiality, including those of the most innocent and vulnerable, whom we are morally obliged to protect.

Can you name all Ten Commandments? Is that a Sunday School exercise or can understanding them profoundly change your life?

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Two by Too(th)

May 20th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

A dear friend who pastors an inspiring church in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex wrote me asking about the significance of various numbers in ancient Jewish wisdom.  Since he will be marrying soon, two seemed an appropriate number to explore.

The first time a word occurs in Scripture provides deep insight, so we need to know the first time the number two appears.  (Hebrew grammar causes earlier appearances of two to have variant forms.)

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 And of all that lives, of all flesh, two of each you shall bring into the ark to keep alive with you, male and female they should be.
(Genesis 6:19)

 This reveals that the fundamental “two-ness” in the universe is male and female.  Since the ultimate act of human creativity is creating a baby, we understand that two people can be far more creative than merely one, particularly if there is a male/female dynamic.  However, two men or two women can have a male/female dynamic as well, for example in brainstorming a business idea.  At any given moment one of the participants, whether male or female biologically speaking, is implanting the seed of an idea while the other is absorbing it.  A moment later they exchange roles as the conversation continues.

Another aspect of the number two is that the Hebrew root of two = tooth.

tooth shen, croppedEven the very sound of the English word “tooth” carries within itself the sound of the number two (2-th). This highlights the point that two things complement one another.  We have both upper and lower teeth and we need them both.  Having only upper teeth or only lower teeth is worse than having no teeth at all.

One of the best Biblical examples of two is the Two Tablets that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.  The Bible rarely refers to the Ten Commandments but calls them the Two Tablets about thirty times.  This is because the quality of two they possess is so important.  The two tablets complement one another and make it possible for us to create our moral matrix by consulting them both.

[There is so much vital information for our lives (and the life of our nation) buried in the Two Tablets that I created an audio CD linking the respective pairs of commandments such as one and six, two and seven. In a stunning transformation, this converts Ten Commandments into five fundamental principles of human interaction. If the feedback I get is representative, you too will be amazed at how these commandments will come alive as you listen.]

Lastly, the Hebrew word for two is the same as the Hebrew word for years. This informs us that there is some common feature linking the concept of two to the idea of years.

Each passing year naturally possesses similarities to its predecessor on both a global and very personal level.  Nonetheless, nobody experiences two successive years as being identical.

Similarly, when we think of the power of two we think of two things close enough to be counted together, but not so identical as to be duplicates.  Our spouses are incredibly close to us, we can often complete their sentences.  But they are also sufficiently different to make the connection meaningful.  I may consult two books for guidance in repairing my plumbing.  They will both be about the problem I am experiencing but, to be helpful, each should tackle the project in a different way.

We understand that if we wish to change our oneness into a two, whether in seeking a spouse or a business partner, we need to find someone close and similar but not identical.

Essentially, the number two speaks to the fundamental duality which is so much a part of life.  Day/Night.  Good/Evil.  Man/Woman.  Light/Darkness. Plus/Minus.  Hot/Cold.  Yes, many things do exist on a spectrum, but they are easier to analyze and understand when we know the two dualities that anchor the ends of the spectrum.

I hope that this will be useful to our pastor friend who will soon be marrying.  I know it will be useful to you as you form relationships both social and business and as you explore how the world really works through Bible study.

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Yo Ho, Yo Ho

May 14th, 2014 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

If your sense of humor parallels mine in the slightest, you won’t be able to get through watching the video below without laughing. It is funny.  What is more, it is funny without any sexual innuendos, blasphemy or objectionable language (though Jon Stewart presenting the video had comments bleeped out). However, it is also troubling.

A fourth grade class contacted their NY State Senator, Michael Ranzenhofer, requesting that he sponsor legislation naming yogurt as New York’s state snack. Bills as inane as this one pass all the time and even presidential proclamations recognize such important times as National Dairy Goat Awareness Week. Certainly, designating yogurt as the state snack of New York is less objectionable than raising taxes, social engineering or passing regulations that make running a business more difficult.

Still—what if the legislator had responded differently? What if, instead of promoting the bill, he had written the children something along these lines? 

 Dear Fourth Graders,

I am delighted to receive your request asking me to designate yogurt as the official NY State snack. It is wonderful that you are learning how bills are passed and that you want to be involved citizens.

For this very reason, I cannot proceed with your suggestion.  As future voters and responsible members of our society, it is important that you understand what the functions of government should be and what they should not be. My fellow senators and I are paid by taxpayer money. That places a tremendous responsibility on us. There are times that your mothers and fathers can’t be at your recital or game because they are working. Other times they struggle to make ends meet, to feed, clothe and provide for you. One of the reasons they need to work so hard is because the tax burden they carry is tremendous.   You can see that for those of us in Congress to spend our time and taxpayer money on frivolities is unconscionable.

Secondly, we in government are supposed to represent all our constituents. We are constantly being lobbied (your teacher can explain this term to you) to favor one group of citizens over another. While it may seem no big deal to make yogurt the state snack, should we do so we would be showing a preference for one constituency over another, for no thoughtful reason. This type of action weakens our integrity.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we in the legislature are servants of the people. Sometimes we forget that and instead believe that we are privileged and highly important people. Our only purpose should be to deliberate the issues that are too large for individuals, families and communities to handle on their own. If you want to support the yogurt industry, I urge you to do so. Encourage your friends to eat yogurt, place “Eat yogurt now” signs on your lawns and make “We love yogurt” T-shirts. These are only three suggestions. I’m sure with your creativity and industriousness you can find many more ways to promote yogurt. However, for me to do so as part of my official role as your representative, would send the wrong message to you as well as to me. Our republic is too important for that.

As a token of my personal positive feelings towards yogurt, I have taken the liberty of purchasing coupons to (insert name of local frozen yogurt store) for everyone in your class. Naturally, I bought these with my own money, not with taxpayer funds.

 Please let me know how your pro-yogurt efforts go,

Sincerely,

Senator Michael Ranzenhofer

Am I just a humorless curmudgeon or do you too feel that something is wrong with the senate considering this bill?
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The Harder They Fall

May 13th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

In 1956, Humphrey Bogart played sportswriter Eddie Willis in the last movie he made, The Harder They Fall.  After many ups and downs, Bogart’s character achieves greatness.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I don’t want to try too hard because I don’t need to be wildly successful,” or, “I don’t want to rise too far because the tallest tree catches the wind”? Many of us have impeded our own progress by warning ourselves that reaching for the sky can bring a great fall.

While today there may be a good reason not to clamber up the cliff, that old Humpty Dumpty rationale isn’t it. Of course the higher you climb the further you can fall, but that isn’t inevitable and shouldn’t be used as an excuse for slacking.

It is so easy to succumb to wrong-headed thinking and sabotage our own potential that Scripture projects a powerful message to deter us.

Whenever a specific phrase is found in more than one location in Scripture, we are intended to compare and contrast the instances in which it appears.

For instance, the phase

appears in two places in the Bible; once in connection with Abraham’s first son, Yishmael and again in connection with Samson.

The phrase has two meanings:

 Behold you have conceived and will give birth to a son (Yishmael; Genesis 16:11), and

Behold you shall conceive and will give birth to a son (Samson; Judges 13:5).

Since the tense of the English translation varies, many people with no access to Hebrew (and no rabbi) remain oblivious to the fact that both verses contain the identical phrase.

In fact, these are the only two instances in the Tanach of an angel directly informing a woman that she will soon give birth. But that is where the similarities end.

The two sons marry differently.

His mother, Hagar, finds Yishmael a wife:

 …and his mother took him a wife from Egypt
(Genesis 21:21)

Samson finds his own wife though his parents disapprove of her:

 …get her for me as a wife
(Judges 14:2)

 Yishmael’s life follows a steady trajectory from his birth in Genesis 16 until his death in Genesis 25.

Samson’s life is clearly divided into two sections.

From his birth in Judges 13 until the end of Judges 15, we see the Lord is with him constantly.

The second part of Samson’s life begins with him consorting with a harlot (Judges 16:1) and concludes with his death (Judges 16:30). During this time the Lord appears to have abandoned him.

Contrast the two phrases which conclude the two parts of Samson’s life:

And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.
(Judges 15:20)

…and he judged Israel twenty years.
(Judges 16:31)

 Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that during the first half of his life his purpose and mission was defeating the Philistines and protecting Israel from them. During the second part of his life, he largely forgot his mission.

Yishmael, with God’s blessing, lived a largely passive and uneventful life.

Samson, the heroic Hebrew Judge lived a turbulent life part of which he lived in accordance with God’s wishes and enjoying His blessings. Tragically the latter part of his life was lived without his mission, without God, and without His blessings.

The contrast is between two men both of whose births were heralded by an angel and both of whom were blessed. One became an ordinary man who never achieved any great good and never did any great wrong. The other became a larger-than-life figure, a giant man with giant abilities and giant appetites. He played a vital role in Israel’s history, achieving enormous triumphs but also sinking to tragic depths.

Samson remains a Hebrew hero; flawed but heroic. His passion for life led him to heights and his weaknesses led to his downfall. But it wasn’t inevitable and he serves as a far better model than Yishmael.

God created us with the potential for greatness. We all possess the potential for doing great good, but also for failing disastrously. Being great doesn’t mean never desiring to do wrong or never doing wrong. It means developing our resistance to wrongdoing. With the lesson of Samson fresh in our minds, we can throw ourselves into the struggle for greatness confident that we will reap its blessings and fight its dangers.

There are so many other similar life lessons in ancient Jewish wisdom and Susan and I are passionate about teaching them on our TV show, Ancient Jewish Wisdom, on the TCT Television Network. We have assembled eight of our most popular shows on two DVDs, available separately or as a low-priced set. You will be uplifted and inspired as will those with whom you choose to share them. Get them now at a reduced price!

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Holier Than Thou

May 7th, 2014 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

There aren’t many people defending Donald Sterling. It’s something that I find difficult to do as well. From what I’ve read about him, he is not someone I want as a friend or even a neighbor. Leaving aside the racist comments that brought him down, I’m not a fan of those who lace their words with profanity or disrespect their marriage vows.

Still—as I read comments that charge him with being the worst kind of racist, I can’t agree. Were the words caught on tape despicable? Yes. Were they hurtful? Certainly. Do they invalidate everything else in his life and represent the totality of his views? Maybe, but possibly not.

Ancient Jewish wisdom states that you can truly see inside a person through, “kiso, koso and ka’aso;” when he loses control under the influence of money, alcohol or anger. Goaded to fury by his female friend, Sterling said things he most likely would not have chosen to articulate when he accepted the NAACP’s, Los Angeles Branch, man of the year award in 2009.

Does this make him the worst kind of racist? Is he worse than African-American thugs who “play” the knockout game, attacking people on the street because they are white or Asian? Is he worse than the white hoodlum who throws a stone through a window because he doesn’t want a Black family to move next door? Is he worse than a politician who may very well like people without regard to their color, but whose love of power and money leads him to vote against policies that will allow African-American children to get a good education? If erupting in contemptible words in a burst of anger is the worst racism imaginable, then we are indeed living in blessed times.

Ancient Jewish wisdom states that we should try to make our insides match out outsides. Most of us try to ‘put on a good face.’ No matter how down we are, we tend to put on a smile in public; we behave more politely when others are watching us; we are more truthful when we know our words are being monitored. This isn’t hypocrisy. It simply reflects our complex human make-up. When we internalize the happy, well-mannered and honest demeanor we like to project, we are exhibiting personal growth. “Letting it all hang out,” when we are in a bad mood or automatically succumbing to our body’s desires because, “I have to be true to myself,” is selfish, and not at all commendable.

While I have no desire to meet Donald Sterling, I have met – and I like – Mel Gibson. When he was drunk, a particular failing of his, he too was goaded to an angry outburst, in his case an anti-Semitic one. Certainly, he is responsible for his actions and words. Knowing his weakness, he shouldn’t drink. At the same time, if his words came from deep inside him, but his daily actions when not under the influence of drink or anger show respect and even affection for those he insulted while under the influence, then perhaps the criticism is wrong. It is not irrelevant that the Jews who regularly work with Mel, speak of him with warmth and admiration. None of them joined the legions attacking him.

I don’t know Mr. Sterling in the slightest. He too, is responsible for his words and actions, and maybe he really is a creep. Yet, as a human being with my own shortcomings and flaws, I know that I don’t want to be judged as a wife, a mother, a friend or a person, based on an isolated outburst.

Do you?

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Viva La Difference

May 6th, 2014 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

Walking past a house in drought-stricken California lately, I noticed that the homeowner had replaced his front lawn with artfully arranged colored gravel. White and reddish-brown stones were arranged in a sharply delineated wave shape covering his front yard.

Sometime later I happened to be passing the same house and paused again to admire the pattern.  To my surprise, the edges were no longer as sharp.  The pattern was still there, but the interface was no longer clearly marked.  Some white stones could be seen just over the border in the reddish-brown part of the wave, and many darker colored stones appeared just into the white section of the pattern.  I don’t know if those stones were moved by a neighborhood dog or by the action of wind and rain or just by family members walking across their property, but the borders had become blurred.

I was instantly transported back a few years to when I brought home a box of watercolor paints for one of my children who displayed temporary artistic talent.  The neat little tin box containing ten bright colors and a few depressions in the lid for mixing your own colors enchanted my tiny Toulouse Lautrec.  A little while later I noticed the now abandoned paint box and saw that the ten colors had vanished.  In their place were ten blobs of similarly colored dull pigment.  The temptation to mix and match had been irresistible to my miniature Monet, and mix and match she did until the original colors vanished.  I should mention that she has since become enormously accomplished, just not as a painter.

It is almost a law of nature that borders blur, differences blend, and distinctions fade.  Yet Scripture virtually screams the message that God created for us a world in which distinctiveness brings harmony.  A world filled with men and women works better than one populated entirely by passionless, unisexual beings.  People with their own dreams and desires improving their lives with their separate skills and ambitions works better and creates far more human harmony than sinister centralized power using force and decree to make everyone the same.

A world with millions of different species of plants and animals works really well.  A world with different chemical elements and compounds works very well. Much of modern technology depends on the differences between semiconductors like silicon and germanium.  God created a world with countless differences and He wants us to keep it that way.

For this reason, we are admonished:

…you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.  You shall not make your cattle interbreed with different species, you shall not sow your field with mixed seed, nor shall a garment mixed of linen and wool come upon you.
(Leviticus 19:18-19)

What an odd verse to follow the golden rule! Wouldn’t it make more sense to discuss giving charity, being kind to widows and orphans or not giving false testimony? Instead, the Creator, in His infinite wisdom is telling us something counter-intuitive to our limited understanding. We might mistakenly think that the more we encourage everyone to be the same, do the same and have the same, the more loving the world will be. To ensure that we do not make that mistake, Scripture immediately tells us we should even take care to keep separate certain things that we might think would go well together, like wool and flax/linen. How much more careful must we be to honor the distinctions that God built into the world, such as male and female or animal and human, and to honor the individual talents, desires and work of each individual.

How odd it would be if some naïve visitor to my home thought that the menu on my wife’s kitchen counter constituted that evening’s dinner or if the same visitor mistook a business plan for the intended factory. That’s what many of us do with Scripture. We mistake the seemingly simple words for the entire story. No! Scripture’s holy words actually reveal the awesome realities of your life. All you need is information to see beyond the surface into the marvelous world of 3,000 years of ancient Jewish wisdom.  Our 5 piece Biblical Blueprint audio CD set is a great resource to help you onto this path.

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