New year – new start?


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Will you be making any new year’s resolutions tonight? Will you promise yourself that in the new year you will get up at 6 every morning and do half an hour’s exercise before going to work? Or that you will eat … Continue reading

Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement

Start: Oct 7, ’11 6:30p
End: Oct 8, ’11 6:30p

I plan to be offline for the duration.

“in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work… for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD.” Leviticus 16:29-30

Thank you Jesus, Yeshua, my Saviour, for coming to earth and dying as atonement for my sins, once and for all – for me and for all mankind. No more need for animals to be sacrificed year after year – one perfect sacrifice, once and for all. And I, even I who have done so much wrong, can be clean from all my sins before the LORD. Thank you, Yeshua!

Tuesday was my 6th birthday…

Yes, 1 July 2002 is the day I was born again.

If you don’t know what being born again means, don’t worry, I didn’t either until it happened. Growing up in a Jewish home in Israel, you don’t hear about this stuff. And even going to church – well, it varies. The churches I attended didn’t tend to talk about it, and when I heard people use this term it meant nothing to me, it was as though they were talking Chinese. But eventually, in God’s good time, after over 12 years in the church and thinking I was a Christian, it happened.

My 12 years in the wilderness started with a visit to a church in London a few months after I arrived in England. I wasn’t searching for God or anything like that – I just went along with my partner, who wanted to go to church. (Long and complicated story, not for here and now)

To my great surprise, I met God there.

My surprise was not just because a Jewish girl doesn’t expect to bump into him in a church of all places, but also because an agnostic doesn’t expect to bump into him at all.

The church where this happened wasn’t very evangelistic, but it certainly had warm and friendly people. They made me feel welcome without prying into matters of faith at all – nobody offered me a tract or tried to tell me about Jesus, nobody asked if I was saved, they just weren’t into that sort of thing. This church, for various reasons, is not somewhere I’d feel comfortable now, but at that stage of my life it was exactly the place for me – I was very rebellious, and if I had felt that someone was trying to talk me into anything, I’d have been out of there like a shot. But nobody did, so I felt ok about going there again and again, not saying the prayers or even singing the songs because I was determined not to be hypocritical, not to say anything I didn’t believe in – but I just kept going because I felt something… well, now I know it was Someone really, it was God drawing me to him, very gently but persistently. And eventually we came to the point of me deciding to read this stuff that I was hearing about from the pulpit. So I bought a Bible from the church bookstall, and started to read the Gospels. And when I finished reading, I just knew – with a 100% certainty – that what I had read was true.

Now, if this was just a nice story, I would tell you that at this point my life changed dramatically, I stopped sinning and became a saint overnight. But this isn’t a story, it’s real life, which tends to be rather messy and complex. Especially my life…

My life remained a bit of a mess for a while, though I was trying to let God in, and gradually I was letting him change me. I was getting closer to him in some ways, but in other ways – well, I think I hadn’t quite got the full message really, and when I went to the pastor in that church back in 1990 and said I wanted to be a Christian, I didn’t really understand what that meant. I think at that stage all I was doing was a bit like joining a political party: I’ve read your manifesto, I agree with what you stand for, so I want to become a member. I was agreeing with the stuff that the church was saying, I was saying, yes, this guy Jesus is a good guy and what he says is true, I want to live according to this worldview.

I had not understood at that point that living according to Jesus’ teaching is actually not humanly possible, so signing up for it without having his power in me meant I was setting myself up for failure and for a humungous amount of guilt.

I had certainly not understood what all that talk about him being the Saviour meant.

So when I thought I was “becoming a Christian”, all that was happening was that I was saying: I think Christianity is a good idea and I want to be part of it.

Over the years God patiently taught me more and more about him, and part of me was getting more and more excited about God and really wanting to do his will, really wanting to please him. But I couldn’t do it.

I was getting confused and restless. There were moments when I felt like one day somebody is going to discover that I’m a fraud, that I say I’m a Christian but look at how I live —

The more I read the Bible the more the confusion grew. The stuff that I read there about the life of Christians just didn’t match my experience. According to the Bible I was supposed to have love and joy and peace growing in me, not to mention patience! and not to mention self-control!!! Instead I was at the mercy of my temper, my urges for instant gratification, my selfishness. There was a girl I worked with who I just didn’t get on with – we constantly rubbed each other up the wrong way. Again and again I would decide to be loving towards her. And now and again, for about two seconds, I would manage it. But most of the time I failed. My will was not enough to make it happen.

Something was wrong. Something was missing. I didn’t know what.

Fast forward to end of December 2000. I’ve been living in London in a rented flat, doing the normal 9-5 office job kind of life, but also getting more and more involved in my church. Rushing around a lot means not having much time to hear God. I’ve also been getting very tired. In fact, I’ve got so tired that I don’t have the energy to go away for Christmas to stay with the friends who had kind of become my adopted family in England. So I stay in London. And my vicar and his wife ask me if I would house-sit for them when they go away between Christmas and New Year. So for about a week I’m away from my flat, and just to make sure I’ll stay put God sends lots of snow, because he knows very well that I’m too scared to walk in the snow. So I end up having some solitude, which means God can get through to me, and start showing me how I’ve been trying to control everything and how tiring that is, and of course trying to control everything doesn’t make sense when I’ve been saying I trust God…

31 December 2000 I put my hands up and said to God: I’m not going to try to drive any more. I’m not even going to try to navigate. I won’t sneak a look at the map. You drive. You know where we’re going. I don’t.

On my way back to work after the Christmas break God said: Quit your job, give three months’ notice.

I did.

That was the start of the big adventure. No job means no salary and no salary means no rent, so I had to leave my flat. I went to live with friends in North Wales who run a small retreat house. From there I went to L’Arche, a community for people with mental handicaps. From there I went to work at another retreat house, this time near Oxford. But just before I started working there, God finally got through to me about going back home to Israel.

You see, the thing was that when I first came to England I went through a pretend-wedding in order to get a visa to allow me to stay here. And as I was telling a friend about this I suddenly heard myself. This was a new friend so I was telling her my story, and suddenly I heard what I was saying, and it just didn’t add up. I was telling her that I was a Christian, and that I had been living in England for years with a visa that I had got through lying.

I had to let go of that visa. I had to go back to Israel. Suddenly it was very simple, very clear.

Also very very very scary. I didn’t want to go back. I had settled in nicely in England, I liked it here, I had made a life for myself here, I had built friendships, I was comfortable here.

And the other thing that I had managed not to think about most of the time was the debts I had left behind. You see, that’s why I came to England in the first place. I had run into huge debts, so huge that I couldn’t see myself ever managing to pay them, and I panicked and ran.

My conscience had tried to prick me about it. In fact at some point I remember going to see my vicar about it, and he – oh, how angry I am just thinking about it now – he gave me absolution!!! (For those who don’t know what that means, it’s when a priest hears someone’s confession and tells them that God has forgiven them.) He told me I was forgiven. He didn’t mention the need for restitution – for paying back what I owed.

But God hadn’t forgotten about it.

So, April 2002 I head back home to Israel. I start the archaeological dig – my attempts to find my old creditors and pay them. And – oh yes, to find my ex-boss from whom I’d stolen money just before leaving. It wasn’t easy, finding him. The company had gone into liquidation, but I did eventually manage to find the name and address of the director. I tried ringing him at home but twice I rang and he wasn’t in, and what sort of message could I leave? So I wrote him a letter, and explained that nearly 13 years previously I had worked for him and stolen a cheque from his company and that God had shown me the error of my ways and I wanted to repay him. (Not just the amount I’d taken – I found a biblical principle that talked about paying four or five times what you’d stolen.) He phoned me back, very intrigued as to why I was doing this after all this time. He wasn’t particularly interested in the money, as he was a millionaire and the amount I’d taken was a drop in the ocean for him. But he did understand my need to repay. And he really wanted to know why I was doing this, so we met and sat in a posh café in Herzlia Pituach and I told him about Jesus.

But going back to that evening when I had posted my letter to this guy – 1 July 2002. I felt that sending that letter was a huge thing to do, it was a risk as I had put it all on paper and if this guy wanted to go to the police with it, he could. I didn’t really know what he was like – I hadn’t known him personally, he was the director of this company and I was just a bookkeeper’s assistant. So this was a big thing for me to do, a scary step but something I knew was absolutely necessary. So I sat there in my bedroom in my mum’s flat and I said to Jesus: Okay, I’ve done it. And he said: There’s one thing you haven’t done yet. And I said: What? And he said: You haven’t given your life to me yet.

Now, I had heard people use this terminology but it had never meant anything to me. They might as well have spoken fluent Mandarin. I just didn’t know what they meant. It wasn’t an expression that was used in any of the churches I’d been part of along the way. The Anglican tradition says you become part of the church when you are baptised, which normally happens when you’re a baby, and you make your own commitment through what they call Confirmation. I had gone through Baptism in the Lutheran church in 1990, and Confirmation in the Anglican church a few years later, and I can tell you from my experience that it is entirely possible to go through these rituals as an adult without really giving your life to Jesus, without realising what it means that he is the Saviour, without accepting and receiving his amazing gift of Salvation, forgiveness of sins and a new start.

On 1 July 2002 I sat there in my bedroom, no rituals, no ceremonies, just me and Jesus in my room. He said: You haven’t given your life to me yet. And at that moment I knew. I knew it was true, I knew what it meant.

He had been preparing me. I’d been going to a Messianic fellowship and getting excellent teaching. And at that moment I was ready. I rummaged around for one of those paperbacks that tell you about people coming to faith and at the end they invite you to pray what some people call the sinner’s prayer – repenting of your sins, accepting Jesus as your Lord and Saviour and asking him to come into your life and take over. I had seen those prayers so many times and never took them very seriously. But this was the moment when everything came together, it all suddenly made perfect sense.

And afterwards – things did start to happen, all those things I’d read about in the Bible and wondered about, I started to see these things happen in my own life. Not just love and patience, but even self-control, which I never dreamt I could have! I discovered that it is real, all that stuff I’d read about, it’s just that you can’t make it happen just by wanting it to, it’s only when Jesus lives in you that these things can happen. You can’t get your car to move just by sitting at the wheel and wanting to get to, say, Bournemouth. You need the engine running. Jesus is my engine. Without him I can do nothing that’s any good. With him – I can get a lot further than Bournemouth.

P.S. Some loose ends I should tidy up since I opened them here:
I’m back in England now and married for real. I’ve got a new visa which I got by totally honest means this time – I even told them at the Consulate about the previous one. God is faithful.

P.P.S. Another thing I don’t remember being taught in that first church I attended back in 1990, was that being a Christian doesn’t mean you stop being Jewish, it’s not about joining a different religion. Jesus didn’t come to found a new religion, he came as the promised Messiah of Israel – though he is also, as promised, a light to the Gentiles.

New year – new start?

Will you be making any new year’s resolutions tonight? Will you promise yourself that in the new year you will get up at 6 every morning and do half an hour’s exercise before going to work? Or that you will eat fresh fruit every day? Maybe you will resolve that this year you will spend more time with your family or friends. If you’re a churchgoer, maybe you’re going to think in terms of getting up earlier each morning to start the day with some good quality prayer time.

But whatever your new year’s resolutions might be, whatever it is that you would like to change about yourself and the way you live, how are you going to make it happen?

Can you make it happen?

Or are we just setting ourselves up for failure when we make these resolutions? I know, it’s very tempting. A new year feels like the right time for a new start, a time for change. But if you’ve lived on this earth for a bit longer than a decade you will know by now that you’ve seen new years come and go and the truth is that not much has changed. The truth is that we make these resolutions with all the best intentions in the world, and if all it took was to have good intentions, we’d all be wonderfully healthy shiny people by now.

Of course I used to do it, I used to make all sorts of decisions, not just at new year. Sometimes it was when I’d been to church and heard an inspiring sermon – it was very easy to go home thinking, oh yes, I really will start praying more often; or, I really will read the Bible every day. Sometimes it was a book that inspired me. There were all sorts of things that would make me think that I could really do with changing some things about my life.

There were the sermons/books/whatever that reminded me that as a Christian I’m supposed to be loving, kind and patient. And oh how I tried!!! I kept trying. Now and again the miracle happened and I succeeded – managed to behave in a loving way towards someone at work who generally wound me up – but more often than not I failed miserably. I particularly remember one day at work when I spent half the afternoon quarrelling with a colleague (by email!) over a pair of scissors. When the boss heard about it he sent us both an email saying: I think you’re both pathetic and you need your heads banged together. And he was right, it was pathetic behaviour. And especially pathetic on my part as I claimed to be a Christian!

The trouble is, I was trying to be a Christian but I was trying to do it in my own strength, and that’s just impossible. Love your neighbour as yourself – does that sound humanly possible? Of course it isn’t. Our human nature is selfish and self-centred – yes, we do have that godly bit inside us that brings out some degree of kindness and charity, because we were made in God’s image after all. But his image in us has been spoiled since the Fall, so kindness doesn’t come so naturally to us. If someone steps on your toe, your instinctive reaction is to express anger in some way, not to forgive.

For years I managed to go to church regularly and still miss the point. Thinking of myself as a Christian and wondering why I found it so hard to live up to that name. Sometimes not even wondering – sometimes not realising that I wasn’t living up to it.

What was the point that I’d missed, you ask? Just this: that it is humanly impossible to live God’s way, that without his help no one can do it, and that’s why Jesus came to die, to pay the penalty that we deserve, because in our own strength we can’t make it okay, no matter how many good deeds we do, no matter how many grannies we help across the road, we just haven’t got it in us to make up for our sinful nature and we haven’t got it in us to change the way we are!

It was on 1 July 2002 that I finally came to the point of surrendering to Jesus, admitting that I can’t get it right, that I need his help, thanking him from the bottom of my heart that he accepted the death penalty instead of me, and asking him to be fully and totally and completely in charge of my life from that moment on.

Up to then, I’d been allowing him into bits of me here and there, so some change had been happening. But the moment that I gave my life over to him completely, that’s when I was really given a new start, a new life, and it’s him who has been changing me from the inside, it’s not my efforts to be a better person.

New year’s resolution? Here’s the only resolution that is really worth making: resolve to give your life over to Jesus now, this moment, repent of your sins (that means not just saying sorry but making a conscious choice to turn away from them, to change your ways, with God’s help), thank him for dying in your place, and accept him as your lord and master. Then you will experience a real new start, a new life.