A Special Thank You to Rabbi Bonnie Koppell & the Jewish People

There was a time in my life when things were at their worst for me.  My marriage was a shambles, I felt like I was a failure as a father, educationally I was struggling, and I felt so far and distant from God.  I remember praying and crying out to God to just put His hands around me, to just let me know that He was there, but instead of any response, I felt nothing in return.  Even though I had seriously given my life to Messiah [Christ] at the age of fourteen, I had wandered away from God, was living in a way that was displeasing to Him, and was under a curse, as God promised in His Word when we live in disobedience to Him: “I will also make your sky like iron and your earth like bronze” (Leviticus 26:19).

There are those who say that believers in Messiah [Christ] cannot be put under the curse of the Law.  They are wrong; I have been there.  It is a miserable place to be. No matter how much I cried out to God, it was like my words went no higher than the ceiling.  My loving wife would encourage me to pray, and I would in anger yell back, “Why?  What’s the point?  God’s not paying any attention to me,  He doesn’t care.”  She would tell me I was wrong, but that is how I felt.  My depression became so bad, I asked God to just let me die.  I was taught that suicide would send me automatically to Hell, but I thought if God ended my life, it would be okay (Yes, I was that emotionally messed up then).

It was during this dark time in my life when God began to direct me to the synagogue.  I remember the first synagogue I attended; it was Temple Beth Shalom in Mesa, Arizona. The rabbi’s name there was (and still is) Bonnie Koppell.  I learned that she was the first female rabbi in Desert Storm.  She would fly out to Iraq to minister to the troops and then fly back to the States to minister to her congregation on the weekends.   She was a very caring and loving person;  I was amazed at how dedicated she was to ministering to others. Even within the synagogue, when I would visit there, I could see it.  I remember that each Shabbat service that I attended, she found ways of including the children up on the stage with her.  She’s extremely family oriented, and I was always amazed when I heard her teach, because I would sit there wishing I had that kind of knowledge about the Torah and the Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures) as a whole, and I heard and saw her passion for the Commandments of God in all that she said and did.  I really didn’t understand what motivated me to be there, or why I was drawn back there several more times.  I wasn’t Jewish, and the synagogue was not part of my experience growing up.  But whenever I was really feeling down or depressed, I would go and listen to her teach.

I had never been to a synagogue before, nor had I ever spoken to a rabbi.  I had been brought up in a small wooden Pentecostal church on the south side of Lansing, Michigan, and being in a synagogue was all new ground for me.  I did not know how she or the people there would respond to me.  I had learned about all the cruel things that were done to the Jewish people in Christ’s name through history in one of my university classes, but I only felt gratitude that they were there when I needed somewhere to go. And as I sat there sitting in the congregation, I could see what a caring and learned rabbi she was.  The rabbi probably doesn’t remember me since I never had the courage to walk up and speak to her. I wondered if she thought who is this strange, shy goy (gentile; non-Jew) doing coming to the synagogue but not speaking to her.  But she never gave me any indication of disapproval or rejection from her, the feelings of insecurity and uncertainty were entirely mine.  But I will say that the warmth and welcoming atmosphere of the synagogue ministered to me in ways that still reverberate throughout my day-to-day life.

I smile when I think about the first time my wife and I attended there at Temple Beth Shalom.  It was during Purim, and we didn’t know anything about it since we had both grown up in the church.  I remember when Rabbi Koppell walked into the sanctuary, and she was dressed in a purple Middle Eastern dancing girl outfit.  I whispered to my wife, “This definitely wouldn’t happen in the churches we came from.”  Even though my wife and I didn’t know Hebrew, we both enjoyed the sound of the language as it was being read.  And as they were reading, two guys walked into the sanctuary with four bottles of wine, and started passing them around.  I later discovered that this only happens on Purim.  When we saw this, I whispered to my wife, “We are not in Kansas anymore.” I smile now at the memory, and it’s a story I still share with my college students, my introductory experience to the synagogue.  Since then, I have sat under other rabbis and have been mightily blessed by their teachings and ministry.

Although Rabbi Koppell and others I have sat under do not share my belief in Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) as Israel’s Promised Messiah, there is something we do share – a love for God and for His Word.  There are many Christians who do not understand why I love the Tanakh (or Old Testament) and the Chumash (or Pentateuch) as much as I do, but they’ve not walked in my steps.   There is no doubt in my heart that it was God who wrote His Word on my heart and on my mind.  I love reading it, studying it, and practicing what I can.  Many years ago at the Jewish bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona, I bought a tallith (a prayer shawl), which I still use to this day.  When I put it on for the first time, it was like I could literally feel the arms of God embracing me, holding me, and telling me He was there.  I never wanted to take it off. It was so refreshing.  I felt like a man who was dying of thirst and then finally coming to a large oasis.  I drunk in His Presence every chance I could and I still do to this day.  I’ve also recently purchased tefillin (phylacteries) from Israel, and I am learning how to use them.  I will admit they do offer their own challenges to me since they are something I did not grow up using, but they are a part of who I am now, and they are part of living the Kingdom lifestyle that God has placed on my heart to do.

My wife and I have also placed mezuzahs on our front and back door.  Not to mention, we are looking forward to celebrating Hanukkah next month. Some Christians have wrongly accused me of trying to work my way to heaven or of leaving “the true faith.”  In my heart, I embrace all of God’s Word because of my love for God and because it was an intricate part of the Messiah Yeshua’s (Joshua’s/Jesus’s) life and because it was part of what He studied, learned, and lived, I also want to study, learn, and live it as well.  For me, it is not about salvation, or about what happens to me after I die.  I no longer ask myself the question, “Do I need this to be saved?”  To me now, that is no longer the question on my heart.  I know that my salvation is secure in Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), so that it’s no longer an issue. But the question that I now ask is, “Will it make God happy?  Will it put a smile on His face?”  To me, that is the important question now.   I love God, and making Him happy is the only important thought to me. So obedience to God’s Word is what I do because God says if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.  There is one verse in the Bible where I really hear the heart of God:

Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever.  (Deuteronomy 5:29)

God’s heart is not to use His commandments to beat us up with them or to condemn us with them, but His heart’s desire is to bless all His people, Jews and non-Jews alike.  But to walk in His blessings, whether we are a Jew or a non-Jew, we must walk in trust and obedience to His Word, including His commandments. If we want intimacy with God, we cannot live in disobedience.  I know this experience (Big time!)  Intimacy comes only when we begin to walk in obedience to all His Word, not just our favorite parts.  It was a lesson I began to learn from Rabbi Koppell at Temple Beth Shalom.

 If I had the opportunity to speak to all the Jewish people in the world, I would tell them, “The God of the Bible is real; He is not something people have made up, and He loves you more than you can possibly know.  And I know this, because He is the One who has shared His love for you in my heart.  Also, He has not changed His mind regarding the Torah.  It is infused with His Spirit and His Life.  He has promised that if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul, that He will remember the covenant which He made with your fathers and He will reveal Himself to you.
“I know that I am only one Christian, but I am so very sorry for all the evil things – the Pogroms, the Inquisition, the forced conversions, the Holocaust, etc. – that have been done to you in the name of Christ.  I want you to know Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) had nothing to do with those things, every evil act against you broke His heart, and those who did them did not represent His mind and desire.  He is an Orthodox Jew who loves His people with a love that cannot be compared.  He enjoyed picking up each Jewish child holding them in His arms and blessing them.  And it was horribly wrong not only what they did to you, but also in attaching His name to their evil acts.  And I, as a Christian, am horribly ashamed and embarrassed at what was done to you in His name.  In all the sincerity that I have, I want to ask you for your forgiveness.  I pray God’s blessings on all of the Jewish people in this world.  It is time to speak comfort to Zion.  It is time to tell the Jewish people what a blessing you are to me, my family, and to this world.  Without you, there would be no Torah, no Prophets, no Writings, no Moses, no Joshua, no David, no Solomon, no Psalms, many of my Sunday School lessons as a child would not have existed, nor would there be any Rabbinic writings, no beautiful prayers, like Aveinu Malkeinu, and no rabbis, like Moshe Maimon, RaSHi, Solomon Schechter, and Rabbi Koppell.  And for me and my house, there would be no Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), no early disciples, and no New Testament.  And for all that and more, my family says, ‘Thank you’ from the bottom of our hearts.
Finally, I continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for the Israeli Knesset, for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for the Rabbinic Community in general, and for every Jewish person on the face of this planet.  In addition, I continue to pray for Rabbi Koppell, her family, her ministry, and the people at Temple Beth Shalom that God would pour out His love and His blessings on each and every one of them.  And that He would also pour out on all of them His greatest blessing, a relationship with the Messiah Yeshua (Joshua/ Jesus). Omein.”
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Two Levels of Biblical Teaching: “Are You Growing in the Word?”

During the years I was growing up in the church, I really don’t remember any minister talking about the fact that there are two levels of study and practice mentioned within the Scriptures.  Three of the writers within the B’rit Chadasha (New Testament), Shi’mon (Peter), Rav Sha’ul (Paul) and the writer of Hebrews, compares them to the food that children eat as they grow and develop: breast milk and solid foods.

The Bible – Not All the Same

One of the errors that many believers commit is to believe that it takes the same amount of effort to understand any Scriptural text, regardless of their stage of spiritual development.  In fact, I have heard ministers say that the Bible is so simple that even a child could understand it.  But this is not true.  Some parts are intended for the new believer, some for the believer who has been in the faith for a few years, some for ten to twenty years,  and some for the mature believer.  The difficulty level of the various texts with the Bible varies from text to text;  they are not all the same.  For example, a child would have great difficulty reading the book of Leviticus and then explaining its various complexities, or even understanding the visions of Ezekiel, Zechariah, or even the book of Revelation.  There are many adults who have difficulties with these texts, much less a child.

So rather than misleading people by saying that all the Bible is “so easy a child could understand it,” it would be better if we compared it to an ocean.  If you are new to the faith (a beginner), there is the beach and the shallow waters of the word for you to enjoy.  For those with a little more experience, they can go further out into the word and “go swimming,” “water skiing,” or even “snorkeling” within its many teachings.  However, for those who want to really go deep in the Word of God, they will not be disappointed when they “strap on their tanks” (knowledge of Hebrew and Greek) and “dive deep beneath the surface” of the text.

Milk – The Basic Level

First of all, there are the basic teachings of the Word.  As believers, we don’t begin at the “mature level” within God’s Kingdom; instead, we are all “birthed” into His kingdom as “newborn babes,” and so in his first epistle (letter), Shi’mon (Peter) gives the following admonition to those of us who are new to the faith:

As newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted of the kindness of the Lord. (I Peter 2:2-3, emphasis mine)

In this reference, the word translated “milk” is the Greek word gala, which refers, not to “cow’s milk,” which I use to think growing up, but then realized, as an adult, that it referred to “breast milk.”  And truly, all “newborn babes” seek to be nursed and fed by their mothers.  Likewise, when we are new to the faith, we should likewise seek to be fed with the “pure milk” of God’s word.

What is the “Milk of the Word”?

People cannot just jump into difficult concepts of any discipline, even if they are biblical ones, but they must begin with the basics.  The “milk of the word” is the basic concepts of Scripture.  Just like a newborn, if we try to take on more than we can “chew” or “digest,” we will “choke” on it.  God being a good Father knows what we can handle and what is too much for us to understand.  All new believers need the basics, the “milk,” for them to grow and develop properly.

As a result, new believers should not jump right into the “deep things of God,” but they should focus on “drinking in” and “digesting” the “milk” (or basic teachings) of the Word.  But what are the “basics”?  The writer of Hebrews provides us with an answer to this question:

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ [Messiah], let us go on unto perfection (or a state of completeness and maturity); not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.  (Hebrews 6:1-3)

In these three verses, the writer identifies six concepts that constitute the basic “principles” or concepts of “the doctrine of Christ [Messiah],” or in other words, “the milk of the Word.”  They are —

  1. Repentance from dead works;
  2. Faith toward God;
  3. The doctrine of baptisms;
  4. The laying on of hands;
  5. The resurrection of the dead; and
  6. Eternal Judgment.

These six basic beliefs constitute the “milk” of the word and, therefore, should constitute the “food” (or content of study) of each new believer. Once these teachings have been mastered by the new believer, then God will begin to introduce you to deeper and deeper truths, the “meat” (or “solid foods” within His Word.

However, the problem comes, when we don’t submit to the leading of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and we refuse to move on into God’s deeper teachings.  The deeper teachings cannot just be easily taken in, but they require us to “chew” on them a bit before we can properly “digest” them, and make them an intricate part of our lives.   Just like a toddler being weaned off of nursing and being introduced to “solid foods,” the believers may not be receptive to these deeper teachings at the beginning.

But imagine what would happen to a child who refused to eat solid foods, and insisted on continuing to nurse?   For a little while that might be fine, but what if the child continues this for five, ten, or fifteen years?   We would definitely say that there was a problem here.  The child would end up being weak and malnourished, and would not grow as the child ought. Most people would be shocked at a ten-year-old child still being nursed; for example, they would question the mother, “Why is this child still being nursed?” Yet in many churches, there are numerous believers who have been in the faith for a number of years, and yet they are still struggling with the “milk” (or “breast milk”) of God’s Word and have not submitted to the leading of the Spirit when God has been trying to wean them off the “milk” and to get them to start “chewing on” and “eating” the more “solid foods” from His Word.

An example of this can be seen in the believing Community at Corinth. The congregation there should have been further along in their spiritual development than they were, and this frustrated Rav Sha’ul (Paul).

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ [Messiah].  I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto you were not able to bear it, neither yet now are you able.  For you are still carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men?  (I Corinthians 3:1-3)

God, through Rav Sha’ul (Paul), shows His frustration because He wanted to take this congregation into the deep things of God, but He could not.  Why? Because as Rav Sha’ul (Paul) notes, these believers were full of divisions and strife, and were still acting as spiritual infants, i.e., “carnal.”  This word “carnal,” is the English translation of the Greek word sarkikos (Strong’s #4559), which means “bodily, temporal, unregenerate, or animal.”  In other words, when we follow our natural, “unregenerate” or “animalistic” desires, attitudes, values, beliefs, etc., then we are being “carnal.”  The Torah and the book of Judges describe it this way: “they did what was right n their own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8; Judges 21:25), and they did not follow the ways of God.

Those who are babes in the Lord act “carnal” because they have not had enough training and experience yet to have grown spiritually and to “renew their mind.”  However, there comes a point where we all need “to grow up in the faith,” and to quit acting “childish.”

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.  (Romans 12:1-2)

How do we “renew” our minds?  By studying the Scriptures, and by allowing God through His Spirit to mold and shape our values, thoughts, and desires to those which line up with the Word of God.  This happens as we “pick up our cross daily,” follow the Messiah, and submit ourselves to the leading of the Ruach (Spirit), trusting and obeying Him, and as we do these things, we become conformed more and more to His image.

However, rather than growing up and renewing their mind by studying the Scriptures and learning how to “crucify the flesh,” these believers were still following their natural human instincts and behavior, rather than submitting to the kingship of God in their lives and the leading of the Ruach (Spirit).  As long as we continue to follow our natural, “unregenerate” or “animalistic” nature, we will not spiritually grow and develop as we should, but we will, instead, remain “carnal,” which is not a state that brings joy or pleasure to God.

Not only was this a problem for the believers in Corinth, Greece, but it was also a problem for the Jewish believers as well.  In the book of Hebrews,  for example, the writer tells his Jewish audience that they should have been teachers by now, but they too were still struggling with the basics.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary [or basic] principles of the oracles [or Word] of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who [continues to] partake only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  (Hebrews 5:12-14)

Thus, the writer of Hebrews is telling us that God’s intention for His people is that they would develop or “grow” from being a spiritual infant (or carnally-minded believer) to becoming fully mature (or spiritually minded).   As long as the believer is in the “infant stage,” he or she needs to focus on mastering the basics of the faith (the “milk”), in learning to “pick up their cross daily,” and in “renewing their mind.”  However, it is God’s design that every believer moves out of “spiritual infancy” and to properly grow up and develop by moving on and eating the “strong meat” (or more advanced level teachings) of Scripture.

But why weren’t these Jewish believers growing as they ought?  Because they were continuing to “partake only of milk,” rather than allowing God to “wean them from it,” and begin giving them the stronger “meat” or “solid food” of His Word.   For the “solid food” is not for the carnal, or the spiritual babes, but “for the mature.”  One cannot just claim to be mature, one must grow into a mature believer by practicing having “their senses trained to discern good and evil.”  We are not born being able to “discern good and evil;” if we were, we would not have to “practice” to have our “senses trained” to know the difference between the two.

Now does this mean we should go out and practice evil so that we know what it is?  Absolutely not!  No, we all know evil, it is the human default.  It is good that we need to learn.  Some may say, “I’m a good person; I’m not evil.”  But they say this because they are comparing themselves to other people.  But this is not how God judges us.  He compares us to Himself.  According to Scripture, we were created “in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26; 5:1; 9:6; James 3:9); consequently, when we fail to live up to that image, to reflect that image accurately, then we are doing evil, even if we believe that what we are doing is good.

This is why God teaches us in His Word, the Bible, that on their own, there is no one that does good.

The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.  They were all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.  (Psalm 14:2-3)

These same two verses are repeated again in Psalm 53:2-3, as well as quoted by the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the congregation in Rome (Romans 3:10-11). This same idea is also stated by Solomon in his book of Ecclesiastes:

Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and does not sin.  (7:20)

This is why it was necessary for Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) to come and die upon the cross, not only to forgive us for our sins, but to wipe our sins away, justifying us, and liberating us from the power and control of sin within our lives.  As a result, God’s Ruach (Spirit) can now dwell within the believer and can begin working on transforming the individual into becoming more and more like the Messiah, who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) and, thereby, returning us to God’s original intent, that we be made “in His image and likeness” (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10).

So What is the “Meat” (or “Solid Foods”)?

So what then is the “meat” (or “solid foods”) of God’s Word?  If we look at the rest of the book of Hebrews, we are given an indication of what, at least in part, constitutes the “meat” (or “solid food”) of God’s Word.   From Hebrews 6:13 – 11:40, the writer of Hebrews examines how Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) can be seen in the characters and images seen and taught within the book of Leviticus.  The same could be said of the other books written by Moses as well, not to mention the rest of the Old Testament (Heb. Tanakh).  After all, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) Himself taught:

You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you might have life….Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have put your hope.   For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me.   But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? (John 5:39-40, 45-47)

Consequently, then, when we examine the overall content of Scripture, it is all about Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), including the Torah itself.  For example, when we analyze the structure of the book of Hebrews, the writer of this text is implying that the Torah contains insight into the person and ministry of Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), in His first coming, His present ministry in the Heavenly tabernacle, and in His coming return and reign.   This is the “strong meat” that only those who are “spiritually-minded” — as opposed to those who are “carnally-minded” — can fully grasp and understand. This idea can likewise be seen in the writings of Rav Sha’ul (Paul):

 But the natural man (or “carnally-minded”) man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.   But he that is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him?  But we have the mind of Christ [Messiah].  (I Corinthians 2:14-16)

Here Paul is arguing that the “natural man” (one who lives by his natural, “unregenerate,” and “animalistic” nature) cannot receive (or understand) the things that are handed down or taught by the Spirit of God.  He will consider such teachings “foolishness” and cannot understand them for “they must be spiritually discerned.”  Now compare this teaching with the following:

For we know that the law (Heb. Torah) is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.  (Romans 7:14)

When we compare this verse with I Corinthians 2:14-16, then the Torah is a holy, spiritual text that the “natural man” or “carnally-minded” individual cannot receive or understand, because its deeper truths  or teachings seem “foolishness” to him and “neither can he know (or have an intimate knowledge of) them since the Torah is “spiritual” and, therefore, it can only be “spiritually discerned.”

Overall, then, what we find taught in the Scriptures is that there are two basic levels of teachings within the Bible: “the milk” (the basics) and “the meat” or “solid foods” (the more advanced level teachings).  This means that God doesn’t expect us to remain at the carnal, newborn level, but He expects us to grow spiritually until we come into the conformity of the image of the Messiah [Christ],

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ [Messiah]; that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ [Messiah].  (Ephesians 4:13-15)

May we all strive to grow up and be mature in Him.  Amen.

 

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