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Apples of Gold—November/December 2017

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We often say in Israel, “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.” Every Friday night, Orthodox women go door to door, trying to convince people to observe the Sabbath. Recently, several Orthodox women came to my home. “If you keep the Sabbath, all of your sins will be forgiven,” one told me. “You must also read from a holy siddur [Jewish prayer book] three times a day.” “If this book is so holy,” I asked, “of what value is the Bible? After all, many different people wrote this prayer book, but the Holy Spirit of God wrote the Bible. Do you think this prayer book is more important than the Psalms, the book of prayer in the Bible?” They looked at one another. Then one said, “Of course, Psalms is very important.” “I will read you something,” I said. “Then give me your opinion.” I read to them Psalm 118:8, where it is written, “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.”They became angry that they had stopped by my house. ‘Have you studied the Bible?’ one asked.They became angry that they had stopped by my …

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The Woman God Chose

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While waiting to check out at the grocery store recently, a publication caught my eye. It was a reissue of LIFE magazine on Mary, the mother of Jesus. I began to peruse it, more out of curiosity than interest, until I read the introduction: “Whoever she [Mary] was, she must have been substantial, smart and strong. She must have been a fine mother.”1 True. But she was also much more. Of all the women in the world, Mary was handpicked by God to be the vehicle to bring Israel’s Messiah into the world. For centuries Israel had awaited the Redeemer spoken of by the prophets. Then one day, God sent the angel Gabriel to a young woman in Nazareth whose profound faith and royal lineage made her the perfect vessel for His use. Gabriel told Mary, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women” (Lk. 1:28). Unfortunately, much misinformation surrounds this blessed woman. What do we know about her that isn’t based on misconceptions and church folklore? Second, Mary was a direct descendant of King David through Bathsheba’s son Nathan, from the tribe of Judah. Her lineage is recorded in the Gospel of Luke. …

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What Grace Can Do

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God is the author of history; it’s His story. In God’s sovereign plan, He “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). That’s why some call God’s providence “the hand of God in the glove of history.” But how do the stories of our individual lives fit into God’s story? Bathsheba must have wondered about that often as her dramatic life unfolded. And though she is associated with King David’s greatest sin, her name appears prominently in the lineage of Israel’s King-Messiah. Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam, one of David’s elite, mighty men (2 Sam. 11:3; cf. 23:34–39). She married one of Eliam’s comrades, Uriah the Hittite, who was also a mighty soldier in David’s fighting force. Though Scripture often refers to Uriah as “the Hittite,” he probably bonded to David and became a proselyte, believing in David’s God. Scripture’s first reference to Bathsheba describes her as beautiful and the focus of King David’s gaze while he took an evening walk on his palace rooftop and saw her bathing. Her beauty transfixed him, and he sent someone to find out who she was. Even after he learned she was Uriah’s wife, David sent messengers to …

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The Making of a Miracle

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My wife made a casual remark last Christmas that has stuck with me. We were thinking about all of the family members we were expecting on Christmas day and all of the presents we needed to place underneath our tree when she observed, “There are so many presents there will not be room for Jesus.” Her comment captured Christmas in America today. Most people are so focused on the material aspects they have no room for the Savior. Since our culture largely rejects belief in God and, therefore, the possibility of a God-caused event, it rejects the Bible’s account of Jesus’ birth. Yet some things cannot be explained apart from the supernatural intervention of God; and Jesus’ birth clearly falls into that category, beginning with the miraculous preservation of the Messianic line. Matthew’s genealogy follows the line of Mary’s husband, Joseph, establishing the Lord’s paternity all the way back to King David and Abraham. Luke’s follows His mother Mary’s connection all the way to Adam. And both genealogies run through David to establish Jesus’ rightful claim to the Davidic throne. Most people don’t realize the enormity of the miracle involved in preserving Christ’s lineage for more than 2,000 years. God …

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Redeemed

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Few people hang skeletons on their front doors. But that’s exactly what the New Testament does. The book of Matthew opens with the genealogy of Jesus, which includes five women, four of whom many would consider skeletons better kept in the closet. One of these women is Rahab. Salmon, destined to become King David’s great-great-grandfather, married Rahab, who gave birth to Boaz, who became the husband of Ruth. These people form part of the royal genealogy of Jesus Christ and demonstrate how God’s magnificent grace knows no limits. Who was Rahab? She first appears in the book of Joshua. After 40 years in the wilderness, Israel was ready to take possession of the Promised Land. Jericho was the first target. Joshua, Moses’ successor, sent two men to spy out the city secretly; and they “came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there” (Josh. 2:1). When the king found out about them, their lives were in danger. So Rahab hid the two men among the stalks of flax on her roof. When asked about their whereabouts, she lied: “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. . . . Where …

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The Unbroken Line

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The story of Tamar as recorded in Genesis 38 is both sordid and tragic. Many readers consider the narrative indecent, and some even suggest it should never be read in public. No matter how we look at it, we know God included it in Scripture for a reason. Tamar lived in the era before God gave the Mosaic Law, in a society dominated by strict family tribal rules and pre-Levirate customs.  If a woman’s husband died without offspring, his brother was to marry her to produce a son as the legal heir of the deceased husband. Around this custom, which later became part of the Mosaic Law, revolves Tamar’s story. It is one of rejection, radicalism, and righteousness. Her in-laws rejected her; she acted radically to gain that which was rightfully  hers; and in the end, she was deemed righteous. Many view Tamar as a woman of integrity because she risked her life to fulfill her duty to herself and her family. However, she unwittingly performed an even more important task. God used her to preserve the Messianic line because, without the birth of her son Perez, the line from Judah to David would have been broken.1 Judah arranged for Er, …

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Apples of Gold—September/October 2017

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We Jews have so many holidays that if we were to compete with other countries to see which nation celebrates the most holidays, Israel would win first place. I recently visited an Israeli hospital during the time surrounding Yom Kippur, an extremely important holiday on the Jewish calendar. The ultra-Orthodox men told me they were trying to help the immigrants celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. “How? With what will you teach them?” I asked. They pointed to a big stack of books and also said they might even buy them chickens to sacrifice. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the ultra-Orthodox have a custom called Kaparot (atonement). A person swings a live chicken over his head, and the chicken is killed as a substitutionary sacrifice.“Which is more important? To read the Holy Bible or to read the stories of the rabbis?”“Where does the Bible say we must sacrifice a chicken?” I asked. Surprised at my question, they became silent and stood there, looking at me. I then explained to the immigrants that these teachers were blind and were trying to make others blind. I told them sacrificing a chicken will not bring them forgiveness of sins, and I …

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Bible Museum Opens Soon in Washington

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If you love God’s Word and Israel, you won’t want to miss the Museum of the Bible’s grand opening in November in Washington, DC. Once the digital docent has customized your tour, its indoor GPS navigational system will guide you on a personalized journey through the museum. Its inner GPS capabilities also will allow families or groups to locate one another in the museum. To guarantee the museum’s authentic representation of the Bible’s Jewish history, Museum of the Bible President Cary Summers required all exhibit designers to visit Israel before they began working. “If they are going to be designing a museum about the Bible, then they need to visit and be familiar with the land of the Bible. Nothing enhances your understanding of the Bible like actually seeing the places it describes,” said Summers. The museum features more than 40,000 ancient, biblical artifacts from the Green Collection, the private collection of Hobby Lobby President Steve Green, the museum’s visionary leader and chairman of the board. Highlights from the Green Collection include the second-largest private collection of Dead Sea Scroll fragments; the world’s largest private collection of Torah scrolls; the world’s oldest known, complete Jewish prayer book; and some of …

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Coaching the ‘Participation Trophy’ Generation

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For many millennials entering adulthood, the truth that we all compete for a prize is a shock. Painted high on the concrete wall of my elementary school gym, next to a friendly cartoon character, were the words, If you had fun, you won. It was as simple as that. We received participation trophies whether we failed or succeeded, and trying was all that mattered. Participating became the closest thing to achieving. In their zeal to teach us affirmation and fair treatment, our well-meaning baby-boomer parents and teachers nurtured us on unfounded self-esteem, squelching our natural inclination to pursue a goal and spawning a generation that dismisses both success and failure. Consequently, we have grown into young adults starving for something we can more than just take part in. We are hungry for purpose. We also want to be recognized as having individual value. The result is a recognition frenzy that has turned many into collectors, rather than victors. We collect followers on social media, for example, and measure self-worth by the amount of attention we gain. Time magazine’s Joel Stein dubs the result “the era of the quantified self.”1 Ralph Waldo Emerson’s philosophy that life is a journey, not a …

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Millennials and Israel

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Two Israeli and two American flags stood side by side on the platform in the Pacific Ballroom at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), where 500 people waited for then Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren to speak. Following a glowing introduction by one of the students, Oren stepped to the microphone and began his lecture on U.S.-Israeli relations. Suddenly, a young man jumped out of his seat in the back of the room and yelled, “Propagating murder is not an expression of free speech!” This was the opening salvo from pro-Palestinian protestors who disrupted Oren’s talk multiple times on February 8, 2010. At one point, Oren had to pause for 20 minutes until order was restored. Eleven Muslim students were arrested. This was not an isolated event. Over the next seven years, AMCHA (Hebrew for “your people”) Initiative, a nonprofit organization  battling anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in America, documented 89 instances on college campuses of Jewish or pro-Israel assemblies being disrupted or speakers being shouted down.1 Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), founded in 2001, has more than 115 chapters at American universities. SJP and American Muslims for Palestine are on the frontlines of influencing …