Confronting the Future
Missionaries will tell you that the people who take the best photographs of their fields of service are often first-time visitors. They see things which are of riveting interest to people not close to the ministries or landscape. Theirs, therefore, is a perspective frequently taken for granted or overlooked by those closely associated with a ministry.
I feel, in a qualified way, in that position as I write this initial article for Israel My Glory. Our association with the ministry as the pastor of a contributing church, staff member, or as a supportive observer has provided varied personal perspectives, but never one devoid of intense interest in what the Lord has been perfecting through The Friends of Israel.
Few Christian organizations can boast a better root system than this ministry. Prompted in large measure by the rigors of the Jewish Holocaust experience, The Friends of Israel was born out of an urgent commitment to reach out in love to Abraham’s beleaguered children. Victor and Lydia Buksbazen skillfully laid the groundwork and for over thirty years developed a ministry marked by integrity and balance; that is, proclaiming the message of the Messiah to Jewish people, while at the same time loving them to Iife through relief efforts which put hands to their message.
My earliest introduction to the Mission was through members of the church I pastored who loved Jewish folk and spoke to us of how the Buksbazens traveled the byways of America involving churches and individuals in the work of reaching the Chosen People. Our personal introduction came when Victor and Lydia visited Timberlake Baptist Church in 1963. The Friends of Israel was the first missionary agency the church had adopted for support back in the early 1940’s.
Under Marv Rosenthal’s nearly two-decade span of dynamic leadership, the Mission took giant strides in becoming a diversified and forward-looking organization at the forefront of evangelical activity on the national and international scene. Israel My Glory, the Institute of Biblical Studies, an international Mission family, a team of field evangelists, publishing, conferences, seminars, study tours to Israel, student programs, relief projects, and other extensions too numerous to mention here reflect the quality and breadth of ministry put in place by my extremely gifted predecessor.
But, as we all know, any work strategically used by God is much more than the personalities in high visibility positions. And it seems to me that The Friends of Israel has been blessed beyond measure with a staff of competent, caring people. A constant in my relationship with the ministry, while on or off the staff, has been the succession of people who have a good word for the members of The Friends of Israel family. “They seem to be such wonderful people,” is a phrase I have encountered often over the years. They are, indeed, gifted people made wonderful by the grace of God. And what has ingrained this kind of phraseology in the minds of people is the thoroughgoing commitment to ministry that is clear, gracious, and edifying Our discerning, capable, and hardworking Board of Trustees, administrators, office personnel, and support staff provide stability and underpinnings to all observable facets of The Friends of Israel’s distinctive ministries.
I was deeply impressed a few weeks ago as I pored over personnel files in order to become better acquainted with some of my new colleagues in ministry. The testimonies, qualifications, and commitment of the host of couples and individuals serving as missionaries and field evangelists caused my anticipation to rise along with thanksgiving to God for assembling such a group for the task at hand.
Marv Rosenthal and I have often talked about being in a “remnant” phase of church history. Many professing Christians, perhaps most, care very little about sacrificial ministry. Pursuit of self-gratification seems to have taken the field. But in my eight years away from physical association with The Friends of Israel, I have never escaped the enthusiasm of the remnant of prayer warriors, supporters, and cheerleaders who are committed to the core to the work being done through the ministry. I can’t count the times people have turned up in services carrying tattered copies of Zvi for me to sign. Others wanted updates on personnel or people they had met on tour in Israel, joined in Bible studies, or read about in the magazine. In virtually every church or conference, whatever the theme, I have encountered a strong remnant of pastors and laymen who deeply love Israel and the Jewish people and want to be directed in how to effectively reach them with the message of Christ.
These considerations bring me to some settled conclusions. Foremost in my mind is the inescapable deduction that our Lord has obviously fashioned a ministry in The Friends of Israel that is poised to be a key instrument in His program for the last days of this dispensation. And while personalities change as vital ministries reach given phases of development, His work if it is truly His, is strengthened and grows through such change.
Also, constructive transition always produces evaluation and refocusing of commitments. In our case, the challenge is how to continue to build to the glory of God through the edification and equipping of God’s people and sharing the good news of Christ.
We are at the threshold of the 1990s. I believe it can rightly be termed “The Prophetic Decade.” Whatever phraseology one employs, biblically discerning people are unanimous in agreeing that the next ten years, if the Lord delays the Rapture, will likely be the most decisive in the last 2,000. There are so many terminal signs menacing the planet, so much satanic militancy, so many indications of creeping apostasy. One thing is certain: It is getting very, very late. What we do must be done quickly and with every available resource bent to the task. For those involved with The Friends of Israel, it translates not so much into new ministries, although new avenues will be opened, as in intensifying and enlarging those already so adroitly set in place.
Jewish evangelism is a first precedent to be pressed with renewed passion and Spirit-directed ingenuity.
- Placement of workers around the world, wherever Jewish people and their Gentile neighbors can be reached with the Word.
- Awakening and encouraging churches and individuals to their responsibility of witnessing to Israel and the Jewish people.
- Media ministry, especially in the area of radio, to edify and evangelize.
- Diversification of publications for evangelism and providing wide-ranging materials for churches and study groups.
- Renewed emphasis on prophecy/Jewish evangelism seminars in churches conducted by key staff members.
- Keeping our constituency informed about contemporary issues through Israel My Glory, updates, and position papers.
Developing our Institute of Biblical Studies is a major center for the training of biblically equipped, culturally oriented, aggressively involved Christian leaders.
This list could go on and on, but this should be enough to impress the fact that our commitment for the future will be as innovative and biblically directed as it has been in the past, a challenge ever being to keep vitally in step with what God is doing on any given day.
It is in order, I think given the demands of the coming decade, to stop and reassess where we fit individually into the program of keeping in step with what God is doing For some, it will dictate a radically revamped life-style—something akin to the experience of the Apostle Peter. You may recall his question following our Lord’s encounter with the wealthy young man who went away grieved because he was unwilling to trade earthly gain for heavenly reward. “Behold,” Peter said, “we have forsaken all, and followed thee. What shall we have, therefore?” (Mt. 19:27). His query reflected his state as a perpetual companion of believers who, across the centuries, have tended to become possessed by their possessions. Our Lord did not rebuke him for his question; there were legitimate aspects to it which needed to be addressed.
But the encounter was before his plunge into denial of his Lord and pre-Pentecost. His restoration and the Spirit’s indwelling radically redirected Peter’s life-style. Following his transformation, he and John were going up to the Temple to pray. At the Beautiful Gate they encountered a lame man who asked a gift of them. “Silver and gold have I none,” the apostle confessed, “but, such as I have, give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:61). Peter’s wealth or lack of it was not the question here. At issue was a transformed attitude toward life and ministry. His “What shall we have, therefore?” had suddenly become “Such as I have, I give.”
Our confrontation with the future, our success or failure to glorify God and serve His cause effectively, involves a very simple decision. Will it be “What shall I have?” or “Such as I have, I give”?
This brings to mind an exceptional example of the “Such as I have, I give” type of people the Lord is equipping for ministry in these exciting days. A short time ago I was in Chicago attending the Moody Bible Institute’s annual Pastors’ Conference. I stepped into the Extension Office after the morning session at which my appointment as director of The Friends of Israel had been announced to the 1,300 pastors in attendance. A young lady who had been waiting in the office introduced herself as a Moody Bible Institute student named Laura.
“You look familiar to me,” I said.
“I should,” she replied, “I fried your eggs this morning!”
She had, indeed, prepared my food from the other side of the counter at the Coffee Cove.
“I was talking to Dr. Sweeting,” she continued. “He told me about your new position and said I should talk to you about the possibility of my husband and I becoming missionaries with The Friends of Israel. We are finishing our work in the Jewish missions program here and then going on for further study. But I was thinking that three or four years down the road, if the Lord should so lead, there might be a place for us with your group.”
This obviously bright and articulate woman answered my questions and detailed the Lord’s leading toward full-time work among Jewish people. Her commitment and effervescence was contagious, and my own joy in the privilege of serving Christ among Abraham’s seed soared. It was a refreshing affirmation that we are truly where the action is in these days when people, Jew and Gentile, are running out of options and are groping for reality.
I don’t know whether Laura and her husband will ever work with us here at the Mission. But it is thrilling to know that God is preparing the right people for the right places and will be faithful in doing so until the day of reaping is over.
I recently wrote a letter to the churches and individuals who have so faithfully supported Maxine and me over our many years of itinerant ministry. I explained to these faithful friends just what the Lord was doing in our lives and how humbling it is to be placed in such a position of responsibility by our Lord. My heart was moved to express just how deeply dependent we were on their upholding us in prayer at a time when Christian leaders are suffering such severe buffetings. “Now more than ever” was the refrain pulsing through my mind as the need for prayer repeatedly surfaced. May I candidly use the remainder of my space here to repeat and enlarge that plea to the hundreds of thousands of you who read Israel My Glory? Now more than ever I and my co-workers need your prayers. Can we count on you?