The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Basic Introduction

“But He [Yeshua/Jesus] said to them, ‘I must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose”Luke 4:43.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

The kingdom of God/Heaven was the central theme of everything that Yeshua/Jesus did and taught, but not only that, but according to Him in Luke 4:43, it was the purpose for which He was sent.  But what is “the kingdom of God/Heaven”?  If we look through the Bible, we will not find it defined anywhere in the text.  However, throughout the Scriptures, God is referred to as King.  For example,

Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, for to Thee do I pray. (Psalm 5:2)

The LORD is King forever and ever; nations have perished from His land. (Psalm 10:6)

I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. (Psalm 43:15)

In Hebrew, the word for “King” is melekh, and what a King does is He malaks (rules or reigns), and His malak is His malkhuth (or Kingdom).  In other words, in English, the word “kingdom” is a noun (it’s a place), but in Hebrew, it is much more dynamic; it is an active verb (an action).

THE CLOSEST EQUIVALENT

The closest equivalent to the phrase “the kingdom of God” is found in I Chronicles 29:23:

And of all my sons (for the LORD has given me many sons), He has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel.  [emphasis mine]

The phrase “the kingdom of the LORD” is the English translation of the Hebrew malkhut YHWH.  The four letters, YHWH, denote God’s covenantal name, and by the time of the Second Temple period of the first century, C.E., the name YHWH was only used by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur (“the Day of Atonement”).  Consequently, to make reference to God, other terms – referred to as “evasive synonyms” – were used in place of His name, for example, “heaven,” “God,” or “Power.”  Therefore, the phrase “the kingdom of YHWH” in I Chronicles should be seen as equivalent to the terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven.”

LAW OF FIRST MENTION

One of the rules that is used when interpreting Scripture is known as “The Law of First Mention.”  This means that if we want to understand the basic, primary meaning of any term, we must examine it the first time we find it used in Scripture, and then from that point forward, see how the idea is developed and built upon; however, later developments of the idea may never violate or contradict its original base meaning.

THE FIRST MENTION OF THE KINGDOM

The first reference to God’s Kingdom is found at the end of “The Song of Moshe (Moses)”:

And the LORD shall reign forever and ever. (Exodus 15:18)

The phrase “shall reign” in English seems to denote a future time period; however, the phrase in Hebrew is much more dynamic and active: YHWH yimlokh l’olam v’ed (“YHWH reigns forever and ever”).  It is not that YHWH (“the LORD”) shall reign, but that He has reigned, He is reigning, and He shall ever reign forever and ever.

What is interesting about the context of this first reference is that it occurs in a song sung by Moshe (Moses) to God glorifying Him over the victory that He had just demonstrated by His defeat of the kingdom and military of Egypt.  In other words, the context is a political one, rather than a religious one.  God’s Kingdom is political, it has a king, who rules and reigns over His dominions (all that He has created), and He rules and reigns over those within His kingdom through the use of His teachings, commands and laws found throughout the entire Bible (from Genesis 1:1 to the end of Revelation).

A COMMON MISUNDERSTANDING

A common misunderstanding that many people have is that if they can obey all of God’s laws, then those acts of obedience will result in them being citizens of God’s Kingdom. But this is not true on several levels.

First of all, God never intended anyone to obey every single command in Scripture.  There are some commands for Kings, some for the High Priest, some for the priests, some for farmers, and some for men and some for women.  Now, I am not a king, so I am not expected to obey those laws; I am also not the High Priest, the Priest, or a farmer, for example, so I am not expected to fulfill those laws.  And since I am a man, I am not expected to fulfill those laws that are intended for women.  I am only expected by God to fulfill those laws that specifically deal with me.

Secondly, we can obey every single command that does apply, and God is still not obligated to make you a citizen of His Kingdom.  Even in the United States, if an immigrant comes to the U.S. and obeys every single law, his obedience to those laws will not make him a U.S. citizen.  Instead, the U.S. has its own process by which immigrants can become legal U.S. citizens, and the same goes with God’s Kingdom.  Obeying God’s commands will not make you one of His citizens, He has a special process in place by which each individual can become a legal citizen of His Kingdom.

PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS!

The first problem we face in reconnecting with God and His Kingdom is to realize that human beings are born outside of God’s Kingdom.  Adam and Eve (Heb. Chavah) were placed in the Garden of Eden, which is a picture of God’s Kingdom.  However, when they sinned against God’s rule and reign over their lives, they were sent out from the Garden, which then becomes a picture of them being cast out of God’s Kingdom.  They had rejected His rulership and, therefore, since God is a God of love, He honored their desire for self rule.  Love does not impose its self on others, and if people choose separation from God, He will honor that desire.

Secondly, we cannot earn our way back into the Kingdom.  There isn’t anything that we can do, on our own power and abilities, to work our way back in.  Why?  Very simply, because we are dead.  Dead people cannot do anything; they’re dead.  And spiritually, we are dead.  When Adam and Chavah (Eve) sinned (broke God’s laws), they lost their intimacy with God; in fact, the Bible says when God asked Adam where he was, Adam answered,

I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself. (Genesis 3:10)

Adam and Eve (Chavah) were now afraid.  There was no fear in them before they broke His commands, but now that they had, something inside of them had changed.  They were now afraid of God, they hid from His Presence, and they felt guilt and shame.  The Presence of God that once indwelt them was now gone, and they were no longer connected to the source of life, so they died spiritually.  As a result, they were cast our of the Garden (Genesis 3:23) since God cannot dwell with anything sinful or unholy. Being cast out of the Garden then was a picture of being cast out of God’s Kingdom.

Thirdly, God created us “in His image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26), and when man sinned, that image was distorted, twisted, and corrupted.  Consequently, we no longer reflect God’s “image and likeness” accurately, nor do we have the power to do so because we are spiritually dead.

COVENANT – GOD’S RESPONSE

God’s responds to man’s need is through the use of His covenant.  Unfortunately, many in Christianity only see the covenant in terms of being a “legal process,” rather than understanding that covenant is all about relationships.  Biblically, covenants were made (1) to deepen or intensify an already existing relationship; (2) to resolve relational differences or conflict; and (3) to restore a broken relationship.

Yeshua/Jesus is that covenant.  He came proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom, which is that the doorway to intimacy with God and being restored to God’s Kingdom was now open and available through the person of Yeshua/Jesus Himself, and that doorway would be opened for all who would come in faith believing, Jew and non-Jew alike.

Unfortunately, there are many people – Jew and non-Jew – who do not understand the relationship between the covenants that God established in the Tanakh (or “Old Testament”) and the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua/Jesus (That’s a discussion for another article).  Most Christians mistakenly view His death as “setting aside,” “doing away” or “putting to death” the previous covenants; however, this is not the case.  He did not set any of them aside, He did not do away with them, nor did He annul any of them, but He filled up (and continues to fill up) their meaning, He re-established them on a historic event (His life, death, burial, and resurrection), and He becomes the new point of entry into these covenants.

By accepting the gift of Yeshua’s/Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection for our newness of life, we enter into covenant with God: We enter into intimacy with God, We experience His indwelling Presence, forgiveness, and liberation from the power and control of sin that was over our lives, and we enter into greater intimacy, love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace from a loving, Heavenly Father that’s more than any of us could ever possibly imagine, but we also enter into the privilege and responsibilities of one who is in covenant with God, meaning, i.e., that we now become active members of His Kingdom.

THE KING HAS STANDARDS

The Messiah Yeshua/Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, has laid down in the Gospels His standards for those who will make up His Kingdom.  For example, He teaches us in Luke 14, the following standards:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

To be “poor in spirit” means to be someone who acknowledges your need of Him in your life, that you are incomplete without Him.  Proud, arrogant people who will not come to Him, who will not acknowledge their need for Him, and who will believe that they can live their lives without Him and/or that they are better off without Him will not be those who will make up His kingdom.  Another example of a standard is the following:

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)

Yeshua/Jesus here is using a hyperbole to make the point that He needs to be first place in our lives, and our love for Him should exceed that of our love for our parents, wife, children, siblings, and even our own lives.  “Hate” does not mean have bad feelings towards them, but if a choice has to be made, you would choose Yeshua/Jesus rather than any of your family or even your own needs and desires.  He then reiterates this idea of dying to our own needs and wants with the following:

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:27)

There is a definite cost to being Yeshua’s/Jesus’ disciple.  He illustrates this by saying:

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”  Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  Or else while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace.  (Luke 14:28-32)

There is a cost to following Yeshua/Jesus and being His disciple.  This was true of the first century, and it is true today.  He then reiterates the point:

So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all of his own possessions. (Luke 14:33)

All that we possess, even our very life, we must be willing to hand over to Him for Him to use in accordance to His discretion, for His glory and honor.  However, these (and other) standards are often not taught in many churches because they believe that one can accept Yeshua/Jesus as their Savior without making Him Lord.  “Making Him Lord” is a higher level of commitment to Messiah, they say.  However, this clearly violates Scripture.  Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) writes to the congregation at Rome:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.  For with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9)

As we can see, our salvation is dependent on us accepting Yeshua/Jesus as Lord.  It is not another step, it is THE STEP.  But the word “accepting” doesn’t mean “to mentally accept something to be true,” as we would use the word today, but it means that the reality of that statement must permeate every aspect of our being, so much so that it flows out of our mouths, “for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

BELIEF IS NOT ENOUGH

You see, belief is not enough.  In English, the word “believe” usually denotes “mental agreement,” and although “mental agreement” might be a beginning step, it is not what the Bible means by “believe.”  Biblically, the word “believe” denotes our continuing active trust in and reliance upon God, and there’s a big difference between “mentally agreeing to something said about someone” and “trusting” and “relying upon” that individual.

For example, I can ask you, “Do you believe I would ever hurt you?” and there are many people who know me and would say that they “believed” that, but if I asked them if they would loan me their credit cards, not too many (very few, in fact) would loan them to me.  Why?  Because it doesn’t cost anything to mentally accept something to be true, but trust always costs.

Consequently, it is not enough to mentally accept the possibility that there is a God or to even say we believe in what the Bible says, or even just to say the words “Jesus is Lord,” but that reality must be true in every area of our lives.  If Yeshua/Jesus is truly living in us as Lord, then His image and likeness should flow out of us in every aspect of our lives.  But again, Yeshua/Jesus is a gentleman; He will not invade or take any part of you by force, but you must willingly hand each and every part of your life over to Him to use for His glory and honor in whatever way He sees fit.

“I AM NOT IN CHARGE”

By bending our knee to the Lordship of Messiah and making Him the ruler and king of our lives, we are acknowledging before God and ourselves that we are not in charge of our lives.  He is.  This is what it means to give our lives to Messiah.  Our lives now belong to Him for His use, His glory, and His honor.   This life, this body, and its needs no longer belong to me; they now belong to Yeshua/Jesus.  I am now a steward of them, but I no longer own them.

KINGDOM PEOPLE – OUR CALLING

We have been called to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” to God (Exodus 19:6; I Peter 2:5, 9).  This is not a calling just upon the Jewish people, but upon all people, languages, tongues, and ethnic groups that God brings into His kingdom in and through the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus, the Son of man:

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like the Son of Man was coming,and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him, and to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

Some skeptics or doubters might argue that it is only my opinion that the “Son of Man” spoken about here is Yeshua/Jesus.  But they would be wrong.  Yeshua/Jesus proclaimed it of Himself at His trial in response to the High Priest, who adjured Him “by the name of the living God, that You tell us [the Sanhedrin] whether You are the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God.” And this was His reply:

You have said it yourself; nevertheless, I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. (Matthew 26:64)

Yeshua/Jesus is the Son of Man, and His return is very soon, and we must prepare for His coming and the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth.  It will be a time unparalleled in human history.   And as His people, we are to represent Him and His Kingdom, and live out the teachings, laws, commands, values, and beliefs that He has handed down to us throughout all of His Word, from Genesis 1:1 to the end of Revelation.  For the Scriptures teach us,

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome (or grievous).  (I John 5:3)

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A Romantic Get-Away with a “Bed Bug” Ending: A Lesson about Sin?

“BED BUGS” –

It is the one thing we never thought would ever happen to us.  I remember growing up and saying to people before they went to bed, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite!”  But what I didn’t know growing up was that there really were things called “bed bugs.”  My wife and I both thought that this expression was just something people said about some imaginary creature, much like the “boogie man.”  But since last year, we’ve had a harsh wake up to reality – “bed bugs are real!”

A FEW DAYS OF ROMANCE

After the end of the semester last May in 2015, I had this idea to take my wife of thirty-four years on a romantic get-away, a second honeymoon.  Our kids are all grown with jobs of their own, and so I thought it would be a great time for my wife and I to get away to have some much needed alone time.  We both grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and I had gone to Mackinaw Island, Michigan, when I was seven years old, but she had never been there, and so I thought it would be fun to go there together.  The island is about nine miles around and is located east of Mackinaw Bridge.  There’s no bridge out to the island, so the only means to get to it is by ferry, and since there are no cars on the island, the only way to get around is by walking, riding bicycles, or by horse and carriage.

We spent the day there and had a lot of fun.  We went to Fort Mackinaw, a British fort from the days of Colonial America, enjoyed the various re-enactments, went bike riding around the island, and yes, we made it all nine miles.  We also went in and out of the many shops that sell fudge, and I am firmly convinced that we have tried every type of fudge imaginable, including one called “Superman Fudge.”  There were also many different tourist shops that sold a variety of different things, including all types of T-Shirts.  And then on the mainland, we saw the Colonial fort, went through the various tourist shops there, saw an old lumber mill, and even went zip lining.  Overall, it was a great trip.

“INVASION!”

It was about a month afterwards when my wife started waking up with bites all over her arm.  The red bite marks went from her shoulder down to past her elbow, and they were extremely painful.  She described the bites as fiery red and felt like she was burning from the inside out.  We didn’t know what it was, but day after day, she would wake up with these bites, and it was becoming more painful by the day.  Finally, she called the doctor. The doctor asked her where she was being bitten, and when she told her “in bed,” she responded, “that’s not good.”

After hanging up, my wife went to our bed and pulled off the sheet, and as soon as she did, a bunch of little brown bugs started scurrying to the corners of the mattress.  She yelled for me, and when I saw them, I went and grabbed a sandwich baggy to try and capture some of them in it, so we could show them to the doctor.   We were pulling back the corners, finding bugs, and we flipped over the mattress and saw even more bugs.  The more we looked, the more we found.  Finally, my wife was even more horrified when we found bed bugs crawling up and around our curtains.

My wife just stood there in disbelief and horror.  We’d been married for 33 years and NEVER have we ever had any issues with these type of bugs before.  She called the doctor back up and told her we had caught a few of them in a baggy, and she asked her doctor if she wanted her to bring them in to show her.  The doctor replied with an abrupt, “No, don’t come in” and told her she would send her a prescription to Wal-Greens.

We immediately then took the bedding and the drapes and threw them in a black trash bag and took them outside to the trash container, and then came back for the mattress and the box springs, as well as the bed frame.  The doctor also told us to call Terminex. Although we attempted to eliminate the problem, it did not solve it.  To summarize a very long process, we tried every imaginable solution possible to rid ourselves of this problem with no success. Finally, we bit the bullet and called Terminex, who told us they had a three-treatment plan for ridding homes of this impossible pest.  They explained we would have to move everything out of the house and into the garage, shed, and storage units in black bags so they could treat the house.  However, on hearing this, it just seemed too overwhelming and difficult for us to do since we had so much stuff, so we tried other solutions with no success.

A 15-MONTH WARFARE!

We have been battling these pests for the past fifteen months.  Every time we thought we had them beat, they showed up in another room of the house.  Once we moved our bed and curtains out of our bedroom, we discovered that instead of killing the bugs, they simply moved to our kids’ bedrooms and followed us to the living room.  No matter how much we cleaned, vacuumed, or what furniture we threw away, the bugs did not go away.

A SECOND CALL

This month we moved our children and their things out of the house and up to Michigan. And during these long months, we have been reducing the amount of things in our home little-by-little.  Finally, a couple of weeks ago, we called Terminex again.  When the man came out to our home to inspect it the second time, we learned some things about bed bugs.  He said that the bed bugs were coming from the Middle East and that up until Desert Storm, the U.S. had been completely devoid of any bed bugs at all. However, since that time, bed bugs have been spread throughout the United States.

Bed bugs can be picked up by anyone at any location: hotels/motels, theaters, restaurants, in essence anywhere someone can sit down.  Once someone sits down who has bed bugs, the bed bug falls off of them onto the place where they were sitting, and then the next person sits down and the bed bug gets on them and then goes to their home.  The one advantage he said we had over many individuals is that we now know what these pests look like. They do not look the same throughout their life cycle, but they change color and appearance, depending on the particular stage of development.  Tomorrow, July 25th, they will begin the process of treating our home, and we will finally put an end to this horrible nightmare.

In looking back at this whole experience, I feel bad about the fact that I had taken my wife to this place, but even though my intent was good – to give us a fun getaway as a couple – it ended up becoming a 15-month nightmare.

BED BUGS –  WHY LORD?

For the last few nights, my wife has been waking up with bed bug bites on the right side of her back.  The pain has been such that my wife has had great difficulty sleeping, so my wife has been crying out to the Lord and asking Him, “Why?  Why would you put us through this horrid experience?  What is it that we are supposed to get from this?” Although she has been tearfully making this prayer for several nights now, she has not received any reply.

BED BUGS – A PICTURE OF SIN?

Last night, July 23, at about 1:30am, I woke up and could not get to sleep.  I started going back and reading over things that the Lord has spoken to us about regarding our lives and things He is calling us into.  And He brought to my remembrance the fact that God often gave the ancient prophets visuals to use when they preached to help communicate what He wanted them to say, or He had them go through certain experiences that they used for the same reason.  Even Yeshua/Jesus used experiences that the people were familiar with as illustrations in His own teachings.

It is ironic to me that, according to the man from Terminex, “the Middle East is the hotbed of bed bug activity,” and that is where God is sending us for at least the next three months.  Was He getting us ready for a “buggy” future?  What was the purpose for this? God shared with me that in many ways, bed bugs are a lot like sin.  Just like bed bugs, sin is all around us, and we may not be aware at first that we’ve allowed it into our lives.  It may start out as something innocent, a prank, a behavior we’ve learned or “picked up” from a friend, family member, or someone else, or even just a little thing, something that we think shouldn’t be “a big deal,” but then over time we begin to feel the effects of it.  It grows worse and worse, until it becomes a battle that we are continually fighting, but like our battle with bed bugs, the more that we fight it, the more it seems to win and gain the upper hand.

INFESTED LIVES

Like bed bugs, sin has infested our lives.  In many ways, we are not aware of how badly sin has infested it.  We look around and compare ourselves with criminals or other “bad people,” and we think, “I’m not that bad.”  But God does not compare us with other people; He compares us with Himself.  Why?  Because according to Scripture, God created us in His own image and likeness:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:….So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:26a, 27)

God created humanity, man and woman, in His image and likeness, so that they would physically reflect and represent Him on the earth.  As a result, then, God is the standard by which we will be judged since we were made “in His image and likeness.”  However, after Adam and Eve (Heb. Chavah) disobeyed God, their disobedient act resulted in God’s original image and likeness to be distorted, twisted, and even changed.  And since that time, we could say that humanity has inherited a virus (another type of “bug”) that has been passed down from generation to generation.

A COMPUTER ANALOGY

If we were to use a computer example, we could compare it to a computer manufacturer who was coming out with a brand new computer on the market, and they were ready to go into mass production.  However, the night before, unbeknownst to anyone, a competitor broke into the factory and damaged a part of the model’s mother board.  The next day, the factory went into major production and created thousands upon thousands of computers based on the damaged model.  Consequently, all those newly created computers carried the same damage as the original model.  In much the same way, humanity has carried the same damage within each of us – a distorted, twisted, and changed image and likeness – as was formed within Adam and Eve (Heb. Chavah) when they disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden.

WE CAN’T CHANGE OURSELVES

Unfortunately, as the Bible teaches, we cannot fix ourselves.  And just like with the bed bugs, we tried throwing out our mattress, bedding, furniture, and even cleaned and scrubbed all that we could with no avail, and so it is with sin, we can try to “clean up” our ways, our thoughts, how we speak, and what we do to try and get rid of the sin in our lives. And for a time we may even think that we have been successful, but then something will happen, and we’ll discover sin again growing in another “room” or part of our life.  And no matter how many self-help programs we go through, how many times we struggle to quit, we come to the ultimate conclusion, we can’t do this on our own.

For example, consider the following passages:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)

The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.  They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Psalm 14:2-3; Psalm 53:2-3)

These same lines from Psalms 14 and 53 are quoted by Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) in Romans 3:

For we have previously charged that both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) are all under sin, as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:9-11)

Teaching, laws, legislation, etc., may seem to help solve the issue for a time, but it doesn’t because the problem is not an external one, but internal.  It is a problem of the heart.

“FORGIVEN SINNERS?”

The message of the Bible is consistent that we have all been affected by the “bed bugs of sin.”  We are all called to walk “the narrow way” that leads to life and to avoid the infested “broad way” that leads to death and destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).  But the problem I see among many Christians today is that they have given up fighting against the “bugs of sin” that has infected each of their lives and have come to accept the fact that this horrible, parasitic bug called “sin” is just a part of who they are.  I’ve heard them tell me and others, “We are no different than anyone else.  After all, we are just forgiven sinners.”

What they don’t seem to realize is that if they are truly no different than someone who does not know Yeshua/Jesus as their Lord and Savior, then God has really made no difference in their life. If they are not different, then what do they have to offer any one else?  People who do not have Messiah (Christ) in their life are spiritually dead, according to Scripture, but God says in His Word that those who have Messiah (Christ) living in their lives have been made “spiritually alive.” Shouldn’t there be a difference between someone who is spiritually dead and someone who is spiritually alive?   If not, there’s something wrong.

SLAVERY OR FREEDOM?

I’ve heard many Christians say, “No matter how much I try, I just can’t quit sinning.  I might stop for a time, but then it happens again, and then again.” Yeshua/Jesus taught, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).  You see, a slave can be forgiven, but he or she will still remain a slave.  Forgiveness does not “free a slave,” it just forgives them of the wrong that they have done.  And there are many Christians who are “forgiven slaves of sin.”  They’ve been forgiven, but not liberated.  They are still enslaved since they can’t quit sinning, according to their own testimony.  But Yeshua/Jesus did not die just to “forgive” people of their sins, He died and rose again from the dead to free and liberate them from the very power and control of sin.  Yeshua/Jesus Himself taught,

A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free. (John 8:35-36)

Consequently, if we have been truly set free from the control and power of sin, then sin is no longer our master or a “have to,” but if we do sin after being freed from it, then it is because we chose to return to our slavery, we chose to do it.

WE NEED LIBERATION & TRANSFORMATION – NOT JUST FORGIVENESS

What all people today – Christian and non-Christian alike – need is to experience God’s forgiveness and liberation from sin’s power and control over their lives.  The Lord has done all that’s needed for us to experience His forgiveness and liberation.  The problem is that the “bug of sin” has so infested the hearts and minds of the modern church that they have lost sight of God’s message of a new Exodus from the slavery of this world and sin into the “Promised Land” of His Kingdom, an exodus where we can leave the hurt, pain, and lashes of shame, guilt, depression, and worthlessness behind, and we can experience the forgiveness, liberation, indwelling Presence, love, and power of God and His Kingdom.  Rather than the message of the Exodus and the power of the cross, the modern church has substituted human programs to try and meet people’s needs.

Therefore, it isn’t enough that we are forgiven, we must be liberated from the control and power of sin, and then changed and transformed within each of us.  As Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) writes,

If so be that you have heard Him [Messiah], and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus [Yeshua]; that you put off [or remove] the former conversation [conduct, behavior] the old man, which is corrupt according to deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:21-24)

Notice that God does not expect His people to remain what they were.  We are to change and be transformed so that we can become like Him, righteous and holy, but not by our own efforts and willpower, but by us receiving some new things from God.

A NEW HEART & A NEW SPIRIT

The first thing that we need from God is “a new heart and a new spirit,”

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Notice that God’s intent is to give us “a new heart and a new spirit.”  And it is only after receiving these new gifts that He also will cause us to live in accordance with His commandments. Obviously, then, there’s a problem when someone says they’ve received this “new birth,” but they still cannot live in obedience to God since this contradicts God’s promise here in Ezekiel 36.

Also, the problem here, of course, is that we cannot give ourselves this “heart transplant,” only God can.  He is the only one who can give us a new heart and a new spirit, and He is the only one who can cause us “to walk” or live out His statutes and judgments, i.e., His commandments.  This means that God never intended for any of us to do this on our own.

YESHUA/JESUS – OUR “SIN BUG TERMINATOR”

Yeshua/Jesus came to earth to deal with the “sin bugs” within our lives and to be our model of how to walk out the way of true obedience to the Father.  He, like Terminex, has been sent to destroy the “bugs” that have infested our lives.  Although Terminex destroys bed bugs and other insects, Yeshua/Jesus has been sent to destroy the control and power of sin that has infested our lives through His death and bodily resurrection.  Only He can liberate us from sin’s hold and power and bring us into the freedom and reality of His Kingdom.

THE SOLUTION: GOD’S THREE TREATMENT PROGRAM

Also, like Terminex, God has a three treatment program for dealing with what troubles us. However, instead of bed bugs, God’s three treatment program is made to correct the core issues of our lives, to transform us into what He had originally intended.

And there are three that [continue to] bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. (I John 5:8)

In this verse, I see an allusion to the three main stages of the Exodus, which, I believe, provide us with biblical pictures of God’s three treatment plan to free and liberate us from the slavery of sin and to bring us into the glorious reality of His kingdom.  Although I am not going to go into great depth on these three stages in this article, I am planning on discussing them more in depth in the next article.  In overview, though, God’s three treatment plan involves –

  • THE BLOOD.  The blood represents the first stage of our Exodus journey, our “Passover Experience.”  Yeshua/Jesus, our “Passover Lamb was sacrificed for us,” so that we can apply His sacrificial blood to the door posts and lintels of our heart and lives, so that God’s judgment may “pass over” us and that we may begin to experience the liberation from our “Egypts” of sin.
  • THE WATER.  The water represents the next stage of our Exodus journey, our “Red Sea Experience.”  Just as the children of Israel needed to “pass through the waters” to escape Egypt, so we need to “pass through the waters” to leave behind the control and power of sin in our lives.  The water represents not only the waters of immersion (or baptism) but also the water of the Word.
  • THE SPIRIT.  The Spirit represents the third stage of our Exodus journey, our “Siani Experience.”  Just as God brought His people to Mount Siani to reveal Himself to them and to write His Word upon their hearts and lives on the original Pentecost (Heb. Shavuot), so God will also give His Spirit to those who ask Him, which He poured out upon the original disciples on the Feast of Shavuot/Pentecost.  The Spirit leads us and empowers us to walk in obedience to God and His Word.

These three elements, as we will discuss more fully in the next article, are used by God to purify us of the “bugs of sin” that has infected humanity from the beginning.  These are not one-time events, but daily experiences.   As we’ll discuss, we’ll see this same pattern of experiences repeated over and over again throughout the Scriptures and even in our lives today.

HAVE YOU BEEN LIBERATED?

What about you?  Are you experiencing God’s three treatment plan to prepare you for His return and coming kingdom?  Are you being successful in defeating the “bugs of sin” that has infested your life, or are you losing the battle?  If you are losing the battle and find yourself failing God over and over again, then call out to Yeshua/Jesus, our Divine Terminex Savior, who will come and liberate you from the “bug infested sinful life” that you’ve been living and He will make you clean and whole, and set you free from bondages and torments of this life.  He has a wonderful plan for you.  Will you trust Him to provide it for you?

PRAYER

If you would like to experience God’s liberating power, please pray this prayer with me:

Lord, sin has infested my life, and I’m tired of losing the battle.  Please forgive me of my sins, and come into my life.  Lord, I give you every room and crevice of my life.  It is yours, Lord, to have and to use in any way You choose.  Clean me up, Lord, and make me whole, and help me to follow You faithfully from this time forward.  Thank you, Lord, for your death on the cross and Your resurrection.  And help me to learn what I need to know to get ready for Your soon return.  In Yeshua’s (or Jesus’) name, Amen.

If you have prayed this prayer, I would like to hear from you.  Thank you for visiting this site, and I pray God’s blessing on your journey with Him.


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Critical Thinking & Faith (Pt. 2): What is “Biblical Faith”?

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)

by Chris L. Verschage

In the first part of this series “Critical Thinking & Faith,” we discussed that most people have a long historical misperception of what biblical faith is.  It is NOT

  • merely the mental or verbal agreement or acknowledgment of a belief, a particular doctrine, or a set of doctrinal statements;
  • merely Calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and Doing Good Works; or
  • “a Divine Force”

However, in this second part of this series, I would like to build on our previous study by exploring the question, “What is ‘Biblical Faith’?”

Some Basic Principles in Interpretation

Before exploring what “Biblical Faith” is, let’s establish some basic principles of interpretation.

  • When examining the Scriptures, we need to keep things in context.  To take any verse or passage out of its original context and you open the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.  Too many people think that just because it is the Bible, they can take all the rules of how to properly handle a text and “throw them out the window.” But you can’t.  The same rules apply.
  • When examining any biblical concept, we need to remember that we should always examine the concept first in the Tanakh (or Old Testament), and then in the New Testament.  God did not write the New Testament first and then the Tanakh/Old Testament, but the other way around.  Unfortunately, many Christians have been taught to read their Bible backwards – New Testament and then Old Testament –  which causes interpretational problems and misunderstandings when they get to the Tanakh or Old Testament.
  • To understand the basic, foundational meaning of any term, concept, or idea, you need to find where it is first mentioned or used in Scripture.  In Hermeneutics, this principle is known as “the Law of First Mention.”

Genesis 15 – It’s First Occurrence

The first occurrence of the word “faith” in its basic root form is in Genesis 15.  In Genesis 12, God calls Abram to leave his country and his father’s house, and He promises to make of Abram “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2).  Implying, of course, in that promise, is that Abram would have many children.  Abram gladly responded to this since he and his wife, Sarai, were childless.

In Genesis 15, it has now been several years, and he and Sarai still do not have any children.  It’s clear from the chapter that Abram has come to the point in his life when he has accepted that he is not going to have any children and that his servant, Eliezer of Damascus, is going to inherit everything from him (Genesis 15:2-3).  But in spite of this, God then reaffirms His promise to Abram and takes him outside to give him a visual to help build his faith:

And behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth out of your own bowels (or body) shall be your heir.  And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell (or count) the stars, if you are able to number them: and He said unto him, so shall your seed (descendants) be. (Genesis 15:4-5)

Now let’s think about this logically.  If we consider my student’s definition again from the first part of this series that “Faith is believing in something where there is no reason or evidence for it.  If there was evidence, then it wouldn’t be faith,” and so if this is true, then why did God take Abram outside to provide him with a visual to build his faith?  And what was Abram’s response to this visual that God was providing him?

And he believed in the LORD; and he counted to him as righteousness.  (Genesis 15:6; emphasis mine)

Abram “believed.”  His belief was based on the evidence of what He had heard and what He saw, and it was also based on the relationship that He had experienced so far with God. In other words, it was based on various forms of evidence.  This same verse is quoted (in full or in part) by the Apostle Paul (Heb. Rav Sha’ul Paulus; see Romans 4:3, 9, 22; Galatians 3:6) and by James (Heb. Ya’acov; see James 2:23).  Why is this verse used by both Paul (Rav Sha’ul) and James (Ya’acov)?  Because this is the first use of this concept, and as such, it establishes the foundational meaning of the term.

What Does It Mean “Believed”?

In English, the word “believed” means “mental agreement,” but in the Hebrew, the word used here is ‘aman (Strong’s #539), and it means “to trust; to believe.”  In fact, in the Greek translation of this verse, it uses the Greek word for “trust,” rather than “believe.” You see “trust” has a cost, but “belief” (or mental agreement) does not.  An example of this can be seen in the story of a man who tight-roped his way across Niagra Falls.  On the other side, there was a great crowd cheering him on.  When he reached the other side, people clapped and cheered.  He then asked them,

How many of you believe that I can make it back across to the other side?

Everyone raised their hands.  He then asked, “Who would like to get on my back?”  No one volunteered.  There was no cost to their belief, but there was a great cost to anyone who would trust him to carry them across on his back.  The same is true of biblical faith.  So one meaning of “faith” is trust.

Faith is not merely mentally accepting the concept of God, but it is trusting God with your life.

Abram was trusting God with his future, the hope that his family line would continue.  He was not merely acknowledging the possibility that God could exist, nor was he mentally agreeing with the idea that God does exist.  Instead, he was trusting God to come through and keep a specific promise that God had made to him.  He was trusting God to bring to pass the promise of children during his lifetime. And those who know the story of Abram (later Abraham) is that he ended up having eight (8) sons.

  • Ishmael from Hagar (Genesis 16)
  • Isaac from Sarah (Genesis 21), and
  • six (6) sons from Keturah: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah (Genesis 25:1-2).

These eight (8) sons Abraham fathered prior to his death.  Most people have heard of Ishmael and Isaac; however, there are many people who have not heard about Abraham’s other six (6) sons by Keturah.  In Leslie’s (also known as “Tikkunknitter”) blog article “Chayei Sarah: Keturah & Life Beyond Boundaries,” she writes,

My own search for Keturah turns up only bits and pieces. I am intrigued by a referencer to the “Yakult Midrash,” which suggests that each of Abraham’s three wives descended from a son of Noah: Sarah, a daughter of Shem; Hagar, a daughter of Ham; and Keturah, a
daughter of Japheth. How tidily this medieval   
midrash connects the entire family which    
  survives the Flood with the entire family of tribes
who people the 
mideast; how remarkably      
  generous, how “modern”. I suppose I am not
  surprised to find that the approach of this
  midrash is similarly employed in the roughly
  contemporaneous map of the world contained in
  the 15th-century Nuremburg Chronicle, in which Noah’s three sons support the perimeters of the (known) world. (Tikkun Knits: Knitting Together Jewish Thought, Life, and Social Action, November 1, 2007)

Although we do not know much about Keturah and her six (6) sons, we do read several references regarding the descendants of one of her sons, Midian.  For example, it was Midianite traders who pulled Joseph out of the pit his brothers had thrown him into, and then these same Midianite traders turned around and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites, who then took him into Egypt (Genesis 37:28).  Now it is possible to interpret this verse to mean that Joseph was actually sold three different times: once to the Midianites, then to the Ishmaelites, and then to Potiphar the Egyptian, rather than the one time we see in most movies about Joseph’s life.  But then after 215 years after Joseph dies, we read in Exodus 3:1 that Moses marries Zipporah, whose father is “a priest of Midian.”

These are only a couple of biblical references to the people of Midian, the descendants of Abraham and Keturah.  Did God keep His promise to Abraham during his lifetime?  Yes, He did.  What does this teach us about “faith”?  That faith is not a noun, it’s not a thing that we mentally accept to be true, but it is a verb, an action that you take based on the trust you have in someone.  In other words, faith is an action, it is something that you do.  This is why James teaches,

What does it profit, my brethren, though a man says he has faith, and has not works?  can faith save him?…Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone.  Yes, a man may say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works…But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?…For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2: 14, 17, 18, 20, 26)

How can an action be an action when there’s no action?  Obviously, it can’t.  Also, let’s logically think about this.  The Hebrew word ‘aman (trans. “believe”) also means “to trust.”  Do we normally place our trust, our confidence, in someone we don’t know anything about?  No, of course not.  If a total stranger walks up to you and asks you if he can borrow your credit cards, are you going to give them to him?  Of course not!  However, if a family member or friend you knew extremely well came to you with a need, and you knew from being around them and from the evidence of their life and choices that this person was extremely trustworthy and responsible, would you loan your credit card to them?  You are more likely to.  Why?  Because based on the evidence you saw and knew over several years, you knew that person was trustworthy and, therefore, could be trusted. Based on this, then,

Faith assumes (and is derived from) the existence of evidential proof.  And without the existence of evidential proof, there can be no faith.

Have you considered faith in this light before?  Is your faith in God based upon evidential proof?  What are the promises that you trusting God to accomplish during your lifetime? In considering your level of trust in God, have you ever considered the following: How far are you willing to trust Him?  Are you willing to put your life, your future, in His hands?  Are you willing to trust Him with all that you own?  your finances?  What about the lives of your children?  Is there a line that you are not willing to cross in your trust of God?  And if so, where is that line in your life?  These are questions that I believe each of us need to answer for ourselves.  And if you are having problems trusting or believing God, perhaps the real problem is that you haven’t seen enough evidence yet.

The Bible – Our Source of Proof?

Did you know that the Bible claims that it is a source of “proof” or “evidence”?  In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul (Rav Sha’ul) writes:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. [emphasis mine]

The word translated “rebuking” in this modern English version is translated as “reproof” in the King James Version.  In English, “reproof” literally means “to prove again,” just as “revision” literally means “to see again.” In other words, during the biblical writers, including Paul’s (Rev Sha’ul’s) lives, God proved Himself trustworthy through the situations that they experienced.  As we read and study the Scriptures, it “proves again” to us that God is worthy of our complete and total trust in Him by offering us the examples of God’s character and personality, and how He intervened in these people’s lives.

The Greek word that’s used here is elegchos, and it is a legal term, which means,

Conviction, only [used] in 2 Timothy 3:16 and Hebrews 11:1.  It implies not merely the charge on the basis of which one is convicted, but also the manifestation of the truth [or evidence] of that charge.  The results to be reaped from that charge and the acknowledgement, (if not outwardly, yet inwardly) of its truth on the part of the accused are referred to as well.  (“Lexical Aids to the New Testament” 1712)

In order to convict someone legally in a court of law, there must be evidential proof that’s offered. Without the offering of any evidential proof, there can be no conviction.  This means that Paul is telling us here that “All Scripture” – both the Old Testament and the New Testament – provides us with the evidential proof AND the manifestation of that truth seen through the lives of those discussed in the Scriptures to give us the conviction and the assurance to know that God is who He says that He is, and that He is worthy of our complete trust and faith in Him.

Personal Experience is NOT Proof?

There are those who argue that personal experiences are not evidential proof since they are usually biased and subjective.  However, this is a position of convenience, rather than one of fact.  Personal experience and personal observation are considered in any court room as evidential proof.   People have been sent to prison, and even to death row, based on the personal experience and observations of “eye-witnesses.”  To argue that personal experience and observation cannot be seen as evidential proof contradicts their use in court room trials for centuries.  It’s inconsistent.  If it is evidence in the court room, then it should be considered evidence outside the court room.

However, someone always raises the objection that a person’s experience or observation can be wrong, and people have been innocent who were sent to prison.  However, that possibility great decreases with the increased amount of eyewitnesses.  Biblically, a person should never receive the death sentence UNLESS there’s been at least two or three eyewitnesses to the crime.

If anyone kills a person, the murderer is to be put to death based on the word of witnesses.  But no one is to be put to death based on the testimony of one witness. (Numbers 35:30)

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6)

One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done.  A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15)

In many cases, if biblical teaching had been followed, there’s a lot of people who would not have been erroneously placed on death row and killed since there was not “two or three witnesses” to the crime.  Instead, they should get life in prison, or whatever time period deemed appropriate for that particular crime.  This principle was so entrenched into Jewish culture that be the first century, C.E., it became a basic principle for the establishment of any truth or fact.  For example, Yeshua/Jesus taught His disciples,

If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother [back].  But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses, every fact may be established. (Matthew 18:15-16; emphasis mine)

Did you note Yeshua’s/Jesus’ quote of Deuteronomy 19:15?   He based His own teachings on the Torah given by God to Moshe (Moses).   A great many of His teachings, in fact, were based on it (see John 5:45-47).

“Faithfulness” – The Other Side of Faith?

In exploring the concept of “faith” then, we discover that “Trust” is only one side of the meaning of “faith.”  What many people do not know is that there is another side.  The other side is “faithfulness.”  Biblical faith not only means “trusting God,” but it also means “being faithful to God.”  The Hebrew word ‘emunah, the complete form of the word for “faith,” is built off of the word for “mother” (em), and is rooted in intimacy and relationship.  The first occurrence of the word ‘emunah is actually found in the book of Exodus.  The children of Israel have crossed the Red Sea, and they are about to engage in their first battle as a free people, with the Amalekites.  Joshua led the forces, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur oversaw the battle from a nearby hilltop.  The Scriptures state,

And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.  (Exodus 17:11)

Moses could only stand there for so long, holding the rod of God in his hand (Exodus 17:9), but as long as he held the rod up, Israel would prevail.  So what happened?  Did Israel end up losing?  No, Moses got some help.

But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they [Aaron and Hur] took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up [or held up] his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side, and his hands were steady [Heb. ’emunah] until the going down of the sun. (Exodus 17:12)

The Hebrew word ‘emunah is translated here into English as “steady,” it can also be translated as “firmness, steadiness;” “steadfastness” (Isaiah 33:6); and “faithfulness, trust, honesty” (Psalm 37:3; Proverbs 12:17; Isaiah 25:1).   According to the “Lexical Aids to the Old Testament”:

This word [‘emunah] has as its key idea faithfulness or certainty.  It is especially important in expressing God’s faithfulness (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 33:4; 89:49), a key divine attribute in the OT. (1599)

Faithfulness, trust, honesty, and steadiness are all terms that center around and are foundational to sustaining strong intimacy and relationship.   If someone is not faithful, honest, or steadfast in their commitment to the relationship, it will not last.  And how many times have we heard of a relationship falling apart because there was no longer any “trust” in the relationship?

Not only is ’emunah rooted in intimacy and relationship, but as I’ve mentioned earlier, it assumes the existence of evidence.  How many people will really trust someone they don’t know?  The amount of trust is dependent on how trustworthy the person is, or to put it another way, it is based on the amount of evidence they’ve demonstrated to prove that they are, in fact, trustworthy.  The same is true of “faithfulness,” “steadfastness,” and “honesty.”  We measure all these things based upon the evidence provided.  Without evidence, how can these characteristics truly be evaluated or determined?

This is one of the reasons for the Bible as discussed earlier.  It provides us with the evidence that God is ’emunah: faithful, steadfast, true, honest, and reliable. In fact, the Hebrew word ’emunah is used to describe God in Deuteronomy 7:9,

Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful [Heb. ’emunah] God, which keeps covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations.

A major attribute of God is that He is ’emunah, and He expects it to likewise be a major characteristic of our lives as well:

Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith [Heb. ’emunah].  (Habakkuk 2:4; emphasis mine)

Just as ’emunah is a characteristic of God, it should characterize the lives of “the just” as well.  We should strive to be His children and disciples,  and to imitate Him.  This is why God wants us to operate on faith, so we can learn to be imitators of Him.  In fact, the latter part of this verse –  “the just shall live by faith” – is quoted by the Apostle Paul (Heb. Rav Sha’ul) in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11, as well as by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 10:38. Interestingly, Martin Luther and others have credited this idea of “the just [living] by faith” to the Apostle Paul, even though, Paul (Rav Sha’ul) himself was, in fact, quoting the Jewish prophet Habakkuk.

Faith in the New Testament

The word translated “faith” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word pistis (#4102 in Strong’s Concordance), and literally means “to persuade” or “to be persuaded.” It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, ‘emunah (#530), and according to the concordance, as we’ve discussed, “This word has as its key idea of faithfulness or certainty.”  The term “faithfulness” refers to one’s actions or behavior, and it is easy to see why pistis “being persuaded” then would be seen to be an equivalent term to ’emunah or the idea of “certainty.”  In fact, according to the concordance, the Greek word pistis is derived from the Greek word peitho (Strong’s #3982), which means,

to entice or persuade; to seek to persuade or solicit the favor of; to prevail by persuasion;  to be persuaded.

So based on this definition, then, in order “to have faith,” one needs to be convinced or persuaded that something is true.  How does this happen if one does not have evidence? In fact, when one becomes so “fully persuaded” that it motivates that person into action, then that moment of action is what the Bible calls “faith” (Gk. pistis).   Let me give a couple of examples to illustrate this point.

The Roman Centurion

In the Gospels, a Roman Centurion comes to Yeshua/Jesus with a request, a servant of his is deathly ill and he wants Yeshua/Jesus to heal him.   It should be remembered that the relationship between the Jews and the Romans were much like Al Qaida and the United States: there were Jewish Zealots trying to kill as many Romans as possible, just as Al Qaida is trying to kill as many from the U.S. as possible.  Obviously, then, this Roman Centurion was not going to just stroll up to a group of Jews, unless he had been given guarantees from people he knew and trusted well and could assure him that Yeshua/Jesus was not a Zealot or a possible threat.

However, what amazed Yeshua/Jesus when He volunteered to go to this man’s house to heal his servant was this Centurion’s response (and it is his response we need to pay close attention to as well):

Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: but just speak the word, and my servant shall be healed.  For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.  When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” (Matthew 8:8-10)

Using analysis, let’s take this passage apart to understand his response, how does it illustrate what we’ve been saying about the biblical view of faith, and why did Yeshua/Jesus marvel at his response.

  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, was “a man under authority.”  Due to his position and experience as a Roman Centurion, he understood how authority operated.  The power of authority always flowed from the top down.  I am sure there were many times as a soldier, he operated under the command of Caesar, even though he never saw Caesar give that command personally.  And I am sure there are many soldiers today who have operated under the command given by a general that they never met.  In stating this, he was implying his understanding that Yeshua/Jesus was under, or in submission to, the authority of God.
  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, had authority over something.  As a Centurion, he not only operated under the authority of Caesar, but he, himself, had authority over a hundred men, plus slaves and servants.  He gives examples of his own experiences of telling people to “come” or to “go,” and they do it without him having to watch them do it.  Just as he operates under the authority of Caesar whom he has not seen, he also does not need to see his servant or one of his soldiers doing something to know that it will get done.  Why?  Because it was often a death sentence if it wasn’t done.  By him saying, “But only say the word, and my servant will be healed,” and then him following up with examples his experiences of his own authority over others, he is implying through this that Yeshua/Jesus himself has authority over sickness and disease.  What Yeshua/Jesus marvels at is the Centurion’s ability to make the connection between how authority operates and the healing ministry of Yeshua/Jesus since this was a connection that the Jews did not make; since they often needed to see Him come and place His hand on the person for them to believe the person was healed; whereas, this Roman Centurion did not.  He just needed the word spoken.
  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, expressed his authority by speaking.  Both the Roman Centurion and Yeshua/Jesus expressed their authority by speaking words.  The Centurion expressed this by saying, “I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9).   And like him, Yeshua/Jesus also expresses His authority by speaking when He told the Centurion, “Go.  As you have believed, let it be done for you” (Matthew 8:13).
  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, did not need to see it being done to know that it was done.

In comparing the two, we can see that the Roman Centurion’s faith was based on the evidence of the testimony of those he knew (which is why he went to Yeshua/Jesus) AND upon the evidence of his own personal experiences and observations as a Centurion within the Roman army.  Consequently, his faith was based upon two different forms of evidence.  Notice also that Yeshua/Jesus does not rebuke or correct him for basing his faith on that evidence, but instead, he praises him for it.  With that being the case, how can faith be as my student defined it: “Faith is believing in something where there is no reason or evidence for it.  If there was evidence, then it wouldn’t be faith.”  Apparently, this student, and those who believe this erroneous definition, need to reconsider their definition in the light of what the Bible actually teaches.

A Woman With An Issue

In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, there is a narrative about a woman who suffered from a twelve-year problem with her menstrual cycles; she kept bleeding.  Whether the bleeding was completely ongoing (non-stop) or it stopped for a few days and then restarted, the text does not specify.  However, this problem caused her great concern, so naturally, like many women today would do, she sought medical aid:

And the woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any. (Luke 8:43)

Unfortunately, medical science did not have an answer for her.  And because of the cultural practices of the time, this problem was not only an obvious health risk, but it kept her from having a relationship with her husband (if she had one), as well as kept her from attending any worship services at the Temple.  In essence, it kept her ostracized from both her family, friends, and even from participation in any religious services.

What I want to show by the following text is that the woman came to a logical deduction based on the evidence.  And she was so convinced, so fully persuaded, by the evidence that it propelled her to act.

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem (lit. “twisted coil”) of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.  But Jesus turned around, and when he saw her, he said, “Daughter, be of good comfort; your faith has made you whole.”  And the woman was made whole from that hour.  (Matthew 9:20-22)

I’d like to point out a couple of things regarding this narrative.  First of all, it is evident from the text that this woman had either heard Yeshua/Jesus teach and saw him heal (a primary source; personal observation) or she had heard others discuss his teachings and healings (a secondary source).  She would not take the time or the energy to seek him out in her weakened condition if one (of both) of the two had not occurred.

Secondly, why did she believe, according to the text, that if she only “touched the hem” (literally “the twisted coil”) that hung on the corners of his clothing that “she would be healed”?  On what is she basing this conclusion?  She’s actually basing it on something from the Scriptures, a written text:

But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings;…. (Malachi 4:2)

Jewish men wear what is known as a “tallith” or “prayer shawl.” On the four corners of the prayer shawl are twisted coils with five knots (the knots representing the five books of Moses), and the corner where each of these twisted coils (or in Hebrew, tzitzit) are tied is called “the wing.”  The text states that when the “Sun of righteousness” shall “arise” (or appear), there would be “healing in his wings” or in the twisted coils that hung from the corners of his prayer shawl.  And as the Greek bears out, it is to this specific location on Yeshua’s/Jesus’ garment that she was reaching.  Consequently, it can be logically concluded that she was so fully convinced, so fully persuaded by what she saw or experienced (a primary source) or what she was told by friends and family (a secondary source), as well as what the Scriptures taught (a secondary textual source), that Yeshua/Jesus was the promised “Sun of righteousness” (a term for the Messiah) that she went out looking for Him to get healed as she logically concluded from the evidence.   And it was this resulting action based upon the given evidence that the Bible calls “faith.”

Faith = Action Based on Persuasive Evidence

I mention these two narratives to reiterate my point that the Bible does not teach that “faith is believing something where there is no evidence,” but what we see from these texts is that faith is being so “fully persuaded” or “so fully convinced” that the conclusion drawn from the available evidence is correct that it motivates us into action.  “Belief,” as it is understood in English, as mentioned earlier, is defined as “mental agreement” and does not necessarily include action, but in the Bible, faith that does not include action is invalid or “dead” (Remember James?)  So again, “faith” from a biblical perspective is an action that occurs as a result of being “fully persuaded” by the evidence presented.

In fact, one New Testament writer, the Apostle John, argues that his experience that he’s sharing is based on evidence that he was able to verify with his senses:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life;…. (I John 1:1)

John says it is something that he has heard, seen with his eyes, and handled with his hands.  So how is this “faith,” as John describes the basis of his testimony, “based on no evidence at all”?  Again, it is inconsistent to argue that personal observation and experience is not evidence when it is considered evidence in our American courtrooms. Interestingly, in fact, in the beginning of the book of Acts, which was written by Luke, a Greek medical physician, he makes the following statement:

To whom also he [Jesus] showed himself alive after his passion [crucifixion and burial] by many infallible proofs, being seen of them [his followers] forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.  (Acts 1:3; emphasis added)

What’s interesting about this verse is the phrase “infallible proofs,” which is the English translation of the Greek word tekmerion (#5039).  This Greek word means “demonstrative, infallible, or convincing proof.”  So again, if faith is not based on “any evidence,” then why does this Greek physician, who fully understood the idea of medical proof, or what we now call “forensic evidence,” use this term in reference to the Messiah’s bodily resurrection?  Or to put it another way, if faith is based on “no evidence,” then why the reason for “demonstrative, infallible, or convincing proof”?

Consequently, then, faith, as it is presented in the New Testament, is not based on “no reason or no evidence,” but is a logical conclusion drawn from some form(s) of persuasive evidence.

But I don’t Believe the Bible

I have heard some try to argue that since they don’t believe in God or that the Bible is the Word of God, it is not evidence since they don’t accept it.  However, their acceptance or rejection of it is not relevant to it being evidence.  For example, several years ago I was in a slight mishap in Tennessee during a bad snow storm.  The roads were badly iced over, and pulling out of a shopping center after buying some new windshield wipers at only 10 miles per hour, I hit an ice patch and slid into this white car.  We got out of our respective cars and expected them.  Her bumper was scratched and slighted dented, and her right tail light was broken.  We exchanged insurance information and then went our way.

The following year, I was given jury duty in a court trial dealing with a woman who was allegedly hit by a man driving a semi at 50 miles an hour.  The woman took the stand and gave her testimony (her experiential evidence), as well as her lawyer offering other corroborating evidence to support her testimony.  However, in examining her evidence, I discovered something rather interesting.  She was driving the exact same type of car I had accidentally slid into the year before.  According to her, the semi driver rammed into her at 50 miles per hour, yet there was absolutely no damage to her rear fender and tail lights.  I wondered, How could a semi, going 50 mph, do less damage than I did to a similar car going only 10 mph?  I had to conclude from my own experience and observation that she did not have the better argument.

But just because I rejected her testimony does not mean that her testimony was not evidence.  It had been given as evidence in a court of law, and it was recorded in a legal document for all to examine and read later.  Just because I chose to reject it does not change that fact that it was evidence.  In much the same way, the Bible’s testimony regarding God is evidence, and whether one accepts its testimony or not does not change the fact that it is evidence.  My only question is, What are you going to do with that evidence?  Are you going to honestly consider it, to weigh it, and to evaluate its truths?  Or are going to reject it?  The choice you make is entirely yours.

The New Testament – A Book of Arguments

Therefore, since one must be “fully persuaded” from the evidence in order for “faith” to occur, the New Testament is full of various forms of argumentation.  For example, consider the following types of arguments:

  • Narrative Essays. Matthew, Mark and Luke are narrative discourses with an explicit thesis. Matthew’s thesis is found at the beginning of the book, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1); Mark’s, like Matthew’s, is also located at the beginning of the text, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;…” (1:1).  Thus, both texts were written for audiences that would accept the intended message (or are “One-Sided Arguments”).  If these texts were used in schools or by those who home school, these texts could be used to discuss the role of the thesis and how these particular texts use narration as a means to back up and support the given thesis.
  • A Narrative Essay with a Delayed Thesis. The Gospel of John, like Matthew, Mark and Luke, is a narrative discourse but unlike their’s, it has a delayed thesis (found near the end of the book in John 20:31).

But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. (NASB)

A delayed thesis implies that the designated audience was, in fact, in opposition to the intended thesis.  This is why it is “delayed,” so that by the time the audience hears it, it is too late to shut the argument down since the evidence or support for the argument would have already been presented.  In fact, historically, the Gospel of John and the epistle of I John was written in opposition to Gnostic believers and their teachings.

According to the online article in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Gnosticism was “a form of utter pessimism [that] bemoan[ed] the existence of the whole universe as a corruption and a calamity, with a feverish craving to be freed from the body of this death and a mad hope that, if we only knew, we could by some mystic words undo the cursed spell of this existence.”

These Gnostic groups, which predate Christianity by several hundred years (they were problematic for the Jewish community as well), associated itself with Christian thought and terminology and are the ones responsible for many writings that sought to displace the original movement, including the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and the Gospel of Judas.  These writings served as the basis for the novel and movie, The Da Vinci Code.  The Gnostics argued against a bodily resurrection since anything material to them was evil, so how could a holy God appear in a literal human body?  Consequently, Yeshua/Jesus only appeared to be human, they taught.  This is why the Apostle John makes the following arguments,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  (John 1:1-2)

The Gnostics would not have had a problem with this, until John got to verse 14.

And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us.  We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son of the Father.

This is why we find John continually pairing up the divinity of Messiah with His humanity.  John is presenting his argument of the Messiah being both fully God and fully a sensual man who lived, taught, and died in a real, physically material body.  This is not an argument that the Gnostics could accept.  Consequently, John continues his argument with them in his first epistle:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed, and have touched with our hands (notice the sensual evidence) concerning the Word of life – that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – what we have seen and heard we also declare to you,… (I John 1:1-3a)

From the very beginning here, John is connecting the humanness of Jesus with His divinity as the “Word of Life” and the “eternal life that was with the Father.”  He continues these pairings throughout, and then near the end, he also writes,

This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.  But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. (I John 4:2-3a)

Imagine the interesting research paper that could be written after examining these Gnostic writings, the movie The Da Vinci Code, as well as John’s two argumentative texts.

  • Definition Arguments.
    There is a definition argument presented in I Corinthians 13 regarding the nature of love that’s supported with a series of synonym phrases, and another well-known definition argument in Hebrews 11, regarding the essence of faith, that’s supported with a series of narrative examples. Both can be used to illustrate how definitions can be supported and elaborated upon within one’s research or writings.
  • Precedent Argument.
    In Acts 5:34-40, Gamaliel, a renowned teacher in Judaism, uses a precedent argument to persuade the Sanhedrin (like the Israeli Supreme Court) on how they should approach and handle the arrested followers of the Nazarene. In much the same way, President Bush used a precedent argument to persuade the congress and the American public on the approach that should be taken in response to the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, by Al Qaida terrorists.  An interesting activity would be to compare and contrast the two speeches in regard to their audiences, purpose, structure, and effectiveness.
  • “Other Forms of Argument”
    In addition to these forms of argument, there are other forms of argument that are used in the New Testament that are often not included in argumentative textbooks.  For example, one form of argument is called in Hebrew kal v’khomer (“light and heavy”; philosophers call this type of argument a fortiori, “with even greater strength”).  This form of argument states that “if X is true of Y, then how much more X must be true of Z (where Z is of greater weight than Y).”  Here are some examples:

What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value then is a man more than a sheep?  Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.  (Matthew 12:11-12)

Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse or barn; and God feeds them: how much more are you better than the fowls? (Luke 12:24)

But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  [How] much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through him.  (Romans 5:8-9)

As we can see in these examples, the argument presented is signaled by the phrase “how much more.”  And sometimes, like in the final example, the word “how” is there by implication.

The point is that there are many different types of arguments used throughout the writing of the New Testament.  If, in fact, as my student stated at the beginning of this series, that “faith is believing in something when there is no evidence,” then why are all of these various forms of argumentation being used?  It seems apparent that as far as the New Testament writers were concerned, faith indeed is a logical conclusion based on reason and requiring an evidential basis.

Where is the Evidence Today?

What many people today crave is to know that God is real, that He is not something that we, as human beings, have made up or created as Freud taught, to be a “mental crutch.”  Unfortunately, for far too many churches, the power of God is no longer there within it.  They don’t believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, or in a God that continues to speak to His people prophetically.  Instead, they have made God mute and have replaced the power of God with man-made social programs that attempt to draw people into their doors.  But a silent God and man-made social programs will not feed the hunger of people.  They want to experience the reality of God.  They want to know the miraculous, healing, dead raising and demon stomping God that they see and have read about in the Scriptures.

What does the Church need today?  It needs to rediscover the God of the Bible.  They need to rediscover the awe and wonder of being in the Presence of a Holy God, and they need to experience the majesty of His miraculous power.  But until the Church admits the fallacy of replacing the Biblical God with one of their own creation, this will not likely occur.

But what the world, those outside the church?  What do they need?  Faith?  I actually do not believe that the problem with the modern world is that they lack faith since in my opinion, it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in creationism. Instead, I believe that they lack the evidence they need to build their faith in God and His Word.

And so I say to the modern Church, it’s time for you to rediscover the God of the Bible and to give the world the evidence they are so hungry for.  Because when that day happens, and the world finally sees the evidence of a real miracle-working God at work inside and outside a worshipping, Bible-believing congregation, then congregations around the world will be standing room only with people pressing in to hear the Word of God both in the sanctuary and outside around the building.  May that day come quickly.  Amen.

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Critical Thinking & Faith (Pt. 1): What “Biblical Faith” is NOT

[The picture above is a scene from the movie Jesus of Nazareth (1977) where Jesus (played by Robert Powell) is telling the Roman Centurion (played by Ernest Borgnine) that his servant is healed as he believed.]

by Chris L. Verschage

NOT Opposites?

Critical thinking, logic, reason and faith are not opposites.  This may surprise many people.  There is a dominant misconception that to have faith in God is to deny critical thinking, logic and reason.  And from the writings of many philosophers, we see this misconception perpetuated.  For example,

Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe. (Voltaire)

Faith: not wanting to know what is true. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason. (Benjamin Franklin)

We may define “faith” as the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence. (Bertrand Russell)

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. (Richard Dawkins)

Many will argue that these men, including Richard Dawkins, are great geniuses, and they are experts in their fields of study, but not when it comes to understanding biblical faith.  As we will see in this study, these quotes demonstrate a poor perception of faith as it is presented and discussed within the Bible.  But not do only philosophers, scientists, and the general public have a poor concept of biblical faith, but the unfortunate truth is that many Christians past and present have also been equally mistaken about it as well.  For example, there are many churches that have placed on their signs in their front yard, “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.”  One would like to think that Christians, at least, would have a clear concept of biblical faith, but the evidence, unfortunately, does not support that conclusion.  To illustrate this further, I’d like to use an experience I had in one of my college classes.

A Disturbing Discussion

I had just responded to student’s statement when a huge gasp was heard across the room.  You would’ve thought that I had just committed a heinous sin in front of everyone, rather than just question a belief statement made by a student in one of my English Composition courses. I wanted to know upon what evidence she was basing her statement.

“You can’t question her beliefs,”   I was told by several students.

“Why not?” I asked.  “Why can’t I question them?”  The look on their faces told me that they thought I had apparently lost my mind, because certainly someone of my age should know better than to do something like this.

One of the students responded, “Faith is believing in something where there is no reason or evidence for it.  If there was evidence, then it wouldn’t be faith.”   The rest of the class then nodded in agreement.

One can easily see that this student is perpetuating the historical misperception of biblical faith.  When I pressed the issue further to see where they had learned this definition of “faith,” many of them said, “At church.”  I was surprised.  Why?  Because this is not the view of faith taught by the Bible.  Consequently, then, there are churches today teaching their own definition of faith, rather than how the Bible defines and uses the term.  So in this article, I want to build on our discussion of critical thinking (see What is “Critical Thinking”? And Can We Do THAT In Church?”by examining the relationship between critical thinking and faith.  But before we can do that, we need to have a clear idea of what biblical faith is, so I’m going to define it by negation, first telling what it is not (here in part 1) and then what it is (part 2).

What “Biblical Faith” is NOT

Biblical faith is not what the world or American culture says that it is, it is not “blind” nor is it a “blind leap in the dark,” nor is it based on the absence of critical thinking, logic or reason.  In fact, it is the opposite of how it is usually described in American culture in both the Hebrew and the Greek.  So let’s begin this study by defining what biblical faith is NOT.

Biblical Faith is NOT merely the mental or verbal agreement or acknowledgment of a belief, a particular doctrine, or a set of doctrinal statements.

This might be the first step towards biblical faith, but this is not what the Bible means by the word “faith.”  For example, James writes, “You believe that God is one; You do well: the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19, NASB).

I’ve heard people say, “Well, I believe there is a God,” and think that is all that is needed to get them into heaven, but James writes here that “the demons also believe.” You see, merely acknowledging that there is a God is not enough.  Satan and every demon under his authority believe that there’s a God, and they’re still going to Hell.  People think Hell is where Satan rules, but that’s not true.  The Bible calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), as well as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  Satan does not want to go to Hell any more than anyone else does; he just wants to make sure he takes as many people with him as he can.  In fact, I’ll go one step further, Satan and his demons don’t just believe there’s a God, they know for certain that there’s a God because they’re continually seeking to mess up what He does.  So, no, mental acknowledgment is not enough.

Biblical Faith is NOT merely Calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and Doing Good Works.

There are people who think that biblical faith is all about calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and then doing good works; however, in His renowned sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount,”  Yeshua/Jesus makes it quite clear to the crowd following Him that there is more to faith in Him than that:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name?  and in Your name have cast out demons?  And in Your name done many wonderful [miraculous] works?  And then I will profess [say] to them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you workers of iniquity.  (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB)

I remember the first time I realized what Yeshua/Jesus is saying here, and it shook me up because I knew that up until that point, I had been one of these people that He is addressing in this scene.  And if not for His love and grace, and the Spirit who revealed the truth of this passage to me, I would have been standing there among them in the future.  What I learned from this passage is that Yeshua/Jesus is pointing out the following important truths to the crowd:

Merely calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” is not enough to get you into the Kingdom; He must actually be your Lord.  To call Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” is where your journey with Him begins, it is not the full extent of what it means to have “faith” in Him.  To call Him “Lord” is to say that He’s your “Master” or “Owner.”  But you must not just say it, you must live in submission to His Lordship or “Ownership.”  This is what it means to give your life to Him, you are giving Him the control and ownership of your life.  It is no longer your life, but His.  For example, I am shocked when I hear a Christian say,

It’s my life, I’ll do what I want with it.

When Christians utter such statements, it is clear that they have no clue what it means to call Yeshua/Jesus “Lord.”  To call Him “Lord,” means, for example, if He asks you to speak to someone, you do it, or if He asks you to give someone money or something you own to help them out, you do it, or if He asks you to give up your job, your home, and all that you own to follow Him into another country, like He did my wife and I, you do it.  Even if He asks you to sacrifice your life as a martyr for His glory, you do it.  Once you have made Him the Lord of your life, it is no longer your life, but His.  You are now the steward (manager) of your life, but He is the owner.  We can see this idea repeated in different ways in the New Testament:

Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who  is in you, whom you have from God?  YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN, for you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (I Corinthians 6:19-20; emphasis mine)

You were bought at a price;… (I Corinthians 7:23)

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.  They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even DENYING THE MASTER WHO BOUGHT THEM, and will bring swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their unrestrained ways, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  In their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words.  Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3; emphasis mine)

In all three of these references, we can see the same repeated idea: we have been bought with a price and, therefore, if we have made Yeshua/Jesus the Lord of our lives, we do not own ourselves any longer, but we now belong to God and to the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus.  Consequently, we cannot live any way that we choose, but we must die to self daily, sanctify ourselves in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, and we must live in a way that’s pleasing to God and in accordance with His Word.

I am crucified with Christ [Messiah]; nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ [Messiah] lives in me, and the life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  (Galatians 2:2)

Obviously, if “I am crucified with Christ [or Messiah],” then this life no longer belongs to me; in fact, Paul writes, “yet not I, but Christ [Messiah] lives in me.”  My life, Paul is saying here, is no longer mine.  I don’t own it anymore.  I don’t have the right to determine what happens to it.  It has a new owner, Messiah.  It now belongs to Him. I now go or do where He wants me to go or do.   In fact, in Luke 6:46, Yeshua/Jesus even asks, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  If Yeshua/Jesus is your “Lord” (Master/Owner), then submission and obedience to His authority in your life should be clearly evident.  In fact, Yeshua/Jesus is the supreme model of one who lays down His life (His wants, needs, interests) to follow God’s plan for His life:

When you [the religious leaders] have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know that I am He [the Messiah], and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father has taught Me, I speak these things.  And He that sent Me is with Me; the Father has not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him. (John 8:28-29)

Just as Yeshua/Jesus laid down His life, we are to lay down our lives daily, and just as He always did what was pleasing to His Father, we are to live our lives seeking to please Yeshua/Jesus and His Father in everything that we do.  To be His disciples means to live and imitate Him in how we live our own lives.  (NOTE: the use of “man,” “he,” and “him” are used in the generic sense.)

If any man will come after Me [or be My disciple], let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

He that has My commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves Me; and he that loves Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him. (John 14:21)

If a man loves Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.  He who loves Me not keeps not My sayings: and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s which sent Me. (John 14:23-24)

As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you.  Remain [or continue] in My love.  If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.  I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11)

Notice, there is much more to salvation than simply saying “Yeshua” (or “Jesus is My Lord.”  There is an expected lifestyle standard that Yeshua/Jesus expects of all those that claim to be His disciples.  He expects His disciples to lovingly obey His teachings, not just to call Him “Lord” once or twice a week and then go off and live life the way that person wants without any regard to Yeshua/Jesus at all.

Some may say, “This is just your opinion.”  However, it is not.  The Lord has spoken to us through my wife, and He has made His view extremely clear:

Trust Me, says God, and know that all things will work out for Good to those who seek Me, My Torah, and has My words, says God Almighty, because My words, My Torah, are One and the same.  You take away My Torah, My Holy Scriptures, you have taken Me away.  You cannot pick and choose what you want to believe.  All of My words are yes and amen.  Not one of them is better than the next.  They all, I say, have an importance to them.  I say, Do not take anything from the beginning or the middle away, it is all valid and important for you today, My children.  The Old Testament is just as valid as the Newer Testament.

How can a people who say they have read My Word from beginning to end, say with all honesty, that they can believe all this hogwash that people have told them concerning My words.  How stupid.  Even a baby can understand better than all of you “more learned and sophisticated ones” that think you have Me and My Father all figured out.  You blaspheme My Holy Name every time you tell My children who are seeking Me and My Father lies about Me, God, changing My plans after My death and resurrection, NOT SO. (“Torah & the Spirit: What God Wants for His Children”)

What is the lie?  That some part (usually “God’s law”) or even the whole Old Testament is no longer valid for believers today.  Yeshua/Jesus did not die to do away with the law of God, but the law of sin and death.  Consequently, the teaching that God’s law ended at the cross is a horrendous error and deception that Christianity has perpetuated throughout the centuries.  God’s law was never given to “save” us, but to provide God’s expected standard of how “saved people” should live their lives.  Did you also note that in John 15:9-11, Yeshua/Jesus Himself teaches that the way we stay in His love is by our loving obedience to His commands (or teachings), yet I have never heard one minister ever teach this.    You see, Yeshua/ Jesus is our example.  Just as He remained in His Father’s love through His loving obedience to His Father, so we will remain in Messiah’s love by our loving obedience to all that He taught.

  • Doing miraculous things for God is not enough to get you into the kingdom.  Secondly, Yeshua/Jesus also notes in His teaching, known as “The Sermon on the Mount,” that these same people who are calling Him “Lord”  are prophesying, casting out demons, and doing many miraculous works in His name, and yet He still says to them, “depart from Me, you workers of iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).  The problem is not what they are doing, it is that they don’t have a relationship with Yeshua/Jesus, or as He says, “I never knew you.”  It’s not that He didn’t know about them, the word “knew” here is in reference to an intimate relationship.  There wasn’t one between Him and these people.  And what’s mind-boggling to me is that even though they do not have an intimate relationship with Yeshua/Jesus, they are still able to do these things.  And in the Greek, this is even more mind-boggling.

Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied [declared truths through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit] in thy name [or delegated power and authority]?  and in thy name [delegated power and authority] cast out devils?  And in thy name [delegated power and authority] done many wonderful works?  (Matthew 7:22, explanations mine)

Notice these people are doing these things through His delegated power and authority and even through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and yet, they really do not have an ongoing intimate relationship with Him.  They may have started out well, but then somewhere along the line, that relationship was lost.

And what we need to realize is that God may choose to use someone who does not have a good relationship with Him in order to bless His people who are there in the congregation or to bring others into an intimate relationship with Him.  The person’s ability to prophesy, cast out devils, and do other miraculous acts is not evidence that this person has a good relationship with God himself (or herself).  There have been several modern examples of ministers who God used to minister to others, even though the minister himself (or herself) was living in sin.  Of course, the problem here is that most people make the false assumption that when they see these miraculous things happen, it automatically proves that this person is in a good relationship with God.  Obviously, then, these things are not evidence in of themselves.  Instead, when these things happen, what we should understand by them is that they are proof or evidence for the existence of God and His continuing rule and reign, and for His continuing mercy and grace to heal and deliver people today.

Biblical Faith is NOT “a Divine Force”

When I first heard this taught, it reminded me of the movie Star Wars, and the line, “May the force be with you.”   Obviously, those who teach this are confusing “faith” with the Holy Spirit.  It is not “faith” that makes things happen, but the Spirit of God; when we have faith in God, God then responds to our faith.  Let me give an example from the Gospels.  In Matthew 12, Yeshua/Jesus has just healed a blind and mute man by casting out a blind and mute spirit (or demon), something that the sages and Pharisees taught that only the Messiah could do when He came.

Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.  And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? (Matthew 12:22-23)

The crowds had been listening to the sages and Pharisees in their teaching of the Scriptures.  They saw the miracle and remembered the teachings they had received in the synagogue, and they came to the logical conclusion based on those teachings that Yeshua/Jesus must be the long-awaited promised Messiah, “the son of David.”  However, rather than the religious leaders maintaining their own teaching and admitting that Yeshua/Jesus had, in fact, fulfilled this Messianic expectation, they accused Him of healing by the power of “Beelzebub, the prince of the devils (or demons):”

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow does not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils [demons].  (Matthew 12:24)

Their response was completely illogical since it violated what they themselves had long taught.  However, their hatred of Yeshua/Jesus and His teachings completely blinded them to the truth and their use of logic and reason.  Now am I saying that all Jews are filled with hatred and are blind to Yeshua/Jesus?  No, I am not.  We must remember that Yeshua/Jesus Himself is a Jew, His family is Jewish, His early disciples were Jewish, the Apostle Paul is Jewish, and those from the crowds that believed in Him were Jewish.  We must also remember that there are many Jews today who have put their faith and trust in Yeshua/Jesus as their Lord and Messiah.  It is also important to remember that the Jews are God’s covenant people, and just like in the first century, C.E., there are those that have believed, and there are those that have not.

However, in Yeshua’s/Jesus’ response to their irrational accusation, He uses logic and reason to demonstrate the truth of what had just happened:

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city and house divided against itself shall not stand.  And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?  And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children [disciples] cast them out?  therefore they shall be your judges.  But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.  (Matthew 12:25-28; emphasis mine)

Notice the Scriptures make it clear that it was not by “the force of faith” that Yeshua/Jesus cast out this blind and mute devil (spirit), but “by the Spirit of God.”  Yeshua/Jesus had faith in God His Father to deliver the man (John 5:19-20; John 10:25, 32, 37; John 14:10-11), His faith was there in the situation, but His faith was not some “force,” like you hear some evangelists and ministers teach today, that delivered the man from the blind and mute demon, but it was “the Spirit of God” that cast it out (Acts 10:38).  God responded to Yeshua’s/Jesus’ faith and by His Spirit, He drove out the demonic spirit and brought healing to the man.  And the same is true when people are healed today.  Our faith is not some “force” that heals and delivers us, or makes things miraculously happen, but it is God responding to our faith in Him, and it is He who heals and delivers and performs the miraculous.

So What Faith is NOT

In conclusion, then, we can see that —

  • Biblical Faith is NOT merely the mental or verbal agreement or acknowledgment of a belief, a particular doctrine, or a set of doctrinal statements;
  • Biblical Faith is NOT merely Calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and Doing Good Works; and
  • Biblical Faith is not “a Divine Force”

So if these are not accurate descriptions of biblical faith, what is it?  In the next part of this two-part series, we will explore what faith is, according to the Bible.  Some may be surprised to discover that God does make use of critical thinking and logical reasoning.  The difference, of course, is that it is His logic and reasoning, as opposed to humanity’s.  For as the Scriptures teach,

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Although we will never understand God completely, this does not mean we cannot grasp at least some of His use of logic and reasoning evident within the Scriptures (as we will see in part 2 of this series).

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Following Messiah: A New Calling, A New Marriage, A Whole New Journey

“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” — Yeshua/Jesus (Matthew 4:19)

IMAGINE –

Imagine being on the boat with Simon and his brother Andrew, working the nets with their father, and then here comes the Rabboni (“Lord” or “Master”; see Mark 10:51; John 20:16) Yeshua/Jesus walking down the beach, and He watches you out there for a few moments, and then He calls out, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).  What do you do?  Do you drop everything to follow Him or do you keep on working?  According to the Scriptures, Simon and Andrew “immediately left the nets, and followed Him.”  But what if, instead of Simon and Andrew, that was you in the boat or me?  What would you or I do?  Would you leave your job to follow Him, or would you give Him reasons why you couldn’t leave your job right now?

MY CALLING

I was the first one to be approached with God’s calling.  I was uploading material onto a website that sought to rip apart an argument that I had found on another website.  After completing it, I was quite content and happy with what I had done, and so I went to bed.  As I laid there gloating in my accomplishment, I heard Yeshua/Jesus audibly speak to me:

You know I didn’t call you to do that.  I’ve given you revelations about the Kingdom, and it’s time now to share them.  (November 14, 2014)

He then gave me three titles of books He wants me to write regarding the kingdom.  I laid there in awe that I had audibly heard His voice.  It had a very nice, gentle, and loving tone, and after hearing it, I could easily see why He was a regular reader in the synagogue in Nazareth, where He grew up (Luke 4:16).  However, although the Lord had audibly spoken to me, my wife was anything but thrilled about the idea.

MY WIFE’S HEALING

Throughout my wife’s life and almost all of our married life together, my wife has suffered from a learning disability.  The problem was that she knew in her mind what she wanted to say, but she couldn’t seem to get it out or it came out all wrong from what she was thinking.  It was like there was some sort of disconnect or “bad wiring” in her brain.  We would get into fights frequently, because whenever I asked her to explain her views or something she read, she couldn’t do it, and then she’d get angry at me and accuse me of trying to make her look dumb or stupid.  It was a horrible cycle that was repeated over and over again.

However, in February 2015, we were preparing to go to a writing conference down in Texas. My wife had been struggling with severe depression and anxiety, and she felt lower than she had ever felt in her life. She laid there on the bed, and then broke down and cried out to God.  It was then that she said she felt this hot burning sensation in her forehead.  She cried as it continued.  I stood there, not really sure what to do, so I asked, “Can I get you some aspirin?”  She told me it didn’t really hurt, that God was healing her.

I didn’t understand the extent of the healing until we arrived at the Conference.  In the afternoon break, we went off to grab something to eat, and I was telling her about a short story I had been working on.  She asked me to read it to her.  She didn’t usually do that, but I went ahead and read it to her.  What happened next when I finished reading the story to her just blew my mind.  For the first time ever, my wife retold to me the story point-by-point in detail.  I just sat there with my mouth hanging open.  I could not believe what I was hearing.  After that, there was no doubt in my mind that God had truly healed my wife and had done a marvelous work in her life.

MY WIFE’S CALLING

My wife, Karen, received her own personal calling from the Lord while she was at a women’s conference for the Assemblies of God church here in the state of Oklahoma. While she was sitting there listening to the speaker, God spoke to her and told her that He wanted her to go forward for prayer, but not for salvation but to receive the same calling of ministry that He had placed on my life.  She told me that He was calling her to join me in partnership in ministry.

OUR CALLING AS A COUPLE 

After my wife and I had received our own individual callings from the Lord into ministry, He then called us as a couple, to serve Him together.   And in obedience to that calling, I have resigned from my full-time teaching position at Oklahoma City Community College, and we’ve made the decision to leave everything behind and to follow Him wherever He may lead us.  I formally handed in my resignation letter on Monday, May 23, 2016, and began to announce our decision to go into full-time ministry.  For the most part, we have been given support for our decision to begin this new journey; however, there have been a few who believe we’ve lost our minds.  But this decision did not come about simply because we had a feeling this is what God wanted, nor was it a one-time calling, but on several occasions, Yeshua/Jesus has spoken to us and has told us that this was His plan for us.  For example,

I love you so much, my children. I need you to choose Me rather than the world so that I can reach the ones who really need Me to help them.  I want for them to know I’ve heard their cries and haven’t forgotten them.  Time is close at hand, and they need to hear My word, My teachings.  They need to know that I do love them and want for them to prosper and be in good health.  There isn’t anything that is too hard for your God to handle. (September 29, 2015)

Go, and I will be with you, says God.  But you say, “Go where?”  I say, “Follow Me into all the world and make disciples of all nations, and I will make you fishers of men,” says God Almighty.  Do not fear what others will say of you.  They will call you all sorts of things.  They will call you nothing that they hadn’t called Me first, so let this, My child, My son, comfort your very soul.  Trust your wife; know that she hears from Me and hears My voice and teachings.  I have chosen her to be your helper in just a time as this to go along with you and help to proclaim Me to the world, too.   I love you and desire for the both of you to love Me and trust Me with your whole hearts, mind, and soul.   I want for you to go and tell My story to the nations, telling them that I am real and that I’m coming back, and I have not deleted anything from My Torah, says the Lord God Almighty.  (November 2, 2015)

There is no doubt in our minds that God has called us into full-time ministry.  The Lord has made Himself clear that this is His desire for our lives.  And even though we are sure of His calling, this is still very new to the both of us.  Karen did spend two months on one of the small islands in the Bahamas (Cat Island) with her brother and his wife, who were missionaries out there at the time,  but the only time I’ve been outside the United States was when we spent one night on the Canadian side of Sault Ste. Marie and once when we drove from Detroit, through Canada, to Niagara Falls, New York.  Obviously, then, we are not but any imagination expert “world travelers,” but we are two people who dearly love the Lord and His Word.

Our Lord and Rabboni has called us to go into the nations and to represent Him and His Kingdom, and He has not only told us that He intended for us to be together, but that He has had this calling on our lives since early in our childhood:

Karen, You and Chris were meant to be from the beginning.  I have been with you, and I have been loving you and taking care of you all of your lives.   My Spirit is inside each of you to bring about healing and restoration of My people, says God Almighty.   You have all that you need from Me, says God.  Trust Me when I say, “Go and preach My words among the peoples and nations.”  This is no small potatoes.  This is the big stuff.  You, Chris, have had My calling on you from an early age.  I have been watching over you both because I knew that I could trust you to do what I need for you to do.  (November 2, 2015)

This is truly humbling when the Lord gave us His personal invitation to follow Him, and that He told us that He’s been watching over us our entire lives to bring us to this moment because He knew He could trust us to follow through with what He needs for us to do.  I have not always been obedient by no means, and I have gone through times of depression and doubt in the past as well, but over the past ten years or so, the Lord has been radically changing me, the way I think and look at life, but for my wife, as I’ve pointed out, it’s only been a little more than a year.

FROM THE VERGE OF DIVORCE

There were several moments in our past when my wife and I were on the verge of divorce.  In fact, there were a couple of times when she had packed my bag, set it next to the door, and told me to leave.  Fortunately, we worked things out moment by moment.  Yes, there was a lot of yelling, screaming, and fighting.  We were like two rams standing on the same path wanting our own way, but neither side willing to compromise or give in to the other.  In fact, God Himself compared us to fighting lions and bears:

Choose today to seek Me and to trust Me.  Yes, you have been very unstable minded, but that was due to you and your wife being unstable with one another, says God.  I could not do what I have needed to do with your lives while it was a mess, says God Almighty.  I cannot and could not be a Holy God living inside a temple that was living in such disharmony and confusion as the two of you were.  Things were not good, but your minds and heart yearned to do what was right in My eyes, but you two were like fighting bears and lions, trying to tear each other apart from the very core of your being.  You could not see Me through all of your discord and disharmony, says God, and you were so unhealthy while trying to serve Me. (November 7, 2015)

God couldn’t accomplish what He wanted to do in our lives because of the continued arguing and fighting.  He had to fix us and our marriage before He could use us to do His will.  But we want everyone to know that God can radically change a marriage by changing the people in that marriage.  And we are witnesses to the miraculous transformation that God can accomplish within a marriage.  For me personally, a lot of my problems boiled down to the fact that deep down, I did not believe that God really loved me.  In fact, in my late twenties, I remember feeling so depressed, abandoned, and alone, I asked God to simply let me die.  I was so unhappy with my own life, our marriage was falling apart, I had been fired from a couple of jobs, and even as a father, I felt worthless, so at that point, I felt death was preferable to any of this.  However, I also believed that suicide was wrong, but for some reason I thought if God took my life, then that would be okay.  However, He did not do that.  He began ministering to me through His Word.  It was not a quick process, but one that took several years.

MY REMINDER OF GOD’S LOVE

The clincher though for me came in July 2007.  Karen and I had been walking around the track at the local YMCA, and I started having pain in my chest and arm, not severe pain, but just enough to know it was there.  I also had to stop several times to catch my breath just to walk around the track even once.  We decided to make an appointment to see my doctor.  He asked a number of questions about the symptoms and about my family history. When I explained that every male on my dad’s side of the family as far as I knew, except my dad, had died of heart disease or a stroke, he sent me to a heart specialist.  The heart specialist asked similar questions and then scheduled me to get an angiogram.

During the angiogram, while I was laying there on the table, not sure what it was that I was looking at on the monitor, I heard the heart specialist ask me,

Why are you alive?  There’s no reason why you should be in the condition that you are.  With the amount of blockage in your heart, you should either be dead or have had a severe, debilitating stroke.  I just don’t understand why neither of those had not happened to you.

Definitely, not the news I was expecting to hear.  I learned that the front artery of my heart was 100% clogged, and the two back ones were 90% clogged.  They kept me in the hospital and rearranged the surgery schedule in to get me into surgery the very next day.

For the surgery, they were planning on doing a triple bypass; however, when they got in there, I learned that they found two more blockages, so I ended up receiving a five bypass at the age of 45.  During the surgery, while my wife and family were in the waiting room, I learned that God showed up and my wife was slain in the Spirit.  God ministered to her there in the waiting room.  After some time, my wife opened her eyes, got up,  turned to my mother and told her that God had told her that I was going to be all right.  My mother responded, “I know.  You were breathing for him.”

After surgery, the heart specialist came out to speak to my wife.  My wife told me that when the doctor came out of surgery, he was shaking his head.  She wondered what was wrong.  He said,

I don’t understand it.  With that much blockage in his arteries, his heart should have been damaged, but there was no damage whatsoever.

Although I have a scar down the middle of my chest from the operation, it is a daily reminder to me of God’s love and that He has a purpose for my life.  If He didn’t love me or didn’t have a purpose for me being here, then He would have just let the blockage kill me as the heart specialist had expected.  But I praise God every day for His mercy and grace. The “old me who doubted God’s love” died on the table that day.  It was a new me who is absolutely convinced of His love for me and everyone else that got up off of that table.

So if you are in a bad marriage or you feel that no one cares about you or loves you, we want you to know, God loves you and in Him, there is hope.  Yeshua/Jesus can change your marriage, the same as He did ours.  He may begin with one of you, but then as you pursue Yeshua/Jesus with all of your heart, mind, and soul, He will change the other partner as well.  I wish I could say that I was the one God started with, but that would be a lie.  God began with my wife, and through her continued attempts, prayer, and study, God used her in the process of changing me.  I cannot begin to tell you where we would be if she had not allowed the Lord to use her, but we would definitely not be where we are today.  Let me assure you, Yeshua/ Jesus can radically change your marriage relationship and can bring love, peace, joy, and harmony, where there was nothing but anger, resentment, pain, and discord.  We indeed serve a great and mighty God!

CALLED TO SERVE

So considering where the Lord has brought us, it means the world to us to receive His call to work for Him in the fields of this world.  He has called us to follow Him into the nations, and that He will use us to bring others to Him.  What a gift!  And on top of everything else, He has shared with us that He now feels that we are at the point in our lives when He can trust us with this.  This really humbled us, but we were particularly excited when He told us where He was first sending us:

For I have separated you and have called you out for such a time as this, says God.  Be not afraid, humble yourselves unto Me, and I will make you fishers of men.  Follow Me, says God, for I know you love Me and want to do what I have been speaking to you.  I am not far from you, My child, for I want to do exceedingly great things through you and your husband.  Trust Me, and know that I have called you out and have placed My blessings upon the both of you to go and tell My people Israel that I love them and need for them to love Me also, for such a time as this, says God Almighty.  (November 5, 2015)

Again, we are very humbled by this call.  I have had a strong love for the Jewish people and the Torah for at least 26 years now.  I have attended several different synagogues and have had the privilege to present to churches teachings regarding several of the feasts, including Passover, Pentecost (Heb. Shavuot), Purim, Hanukkah, as well as teachings regarding the coming Millennial Temple.  Some may be wondering if I am Jewish, but as far as I know, I am not.  So to be called by God to first go to Israel is truly awesome! However, the Lord has also made it clear to us several times that this will not be an easy venture:

Remember, I’ve told you it will get hard, and you will need to trust Me, saith the Lord God Almighty.  Don’t let fear and doubt overtake you, but keep strong in the words that I have spoken, and there is nothing by any means that can harm your dwelling place with Me. (November 2, 2015)

I know this won’t be easy, but what is easy, My child?   Do understand that My time is short before I am returning, says God… (November 5, 2015)

Although we are leaving the country on August 1, 2016, and are planning on our ministry beginning in Israel, the Lord has also told us that we would be ministering to non-Jews as well.  Whether we will be ministering to them in the land or outside the land, we don’t know yet.  But whatever the case, He will be leading and guiding us all along the way.  It is for this reason that we have entitled our ministry, Following Messiah.  People need to know that the time of the Lord’s return is quickly arriving and the time is short, and God wants all of His people prepared, including His people Israel,

I love My people Israel with a love that only a Father can.   They need Me so very much, and I long for them, My children. (November 5, 2015)

My heart cries out to My children, My people, says God.  Yes, My people are Israel, and I have set them apart for such a time as this, says God Almighty.  Go and proclaim Me to all the House of David and tell them to prepare their hearts and clean themselves before coming to worship Me, for I am a Holy God, and I am God Almighty, which is and always have been and always will be Holy, for I know nothing about being unholy because that is not even an option for Me. (November 7, 2015)

You have been chosen to be used for Me today for such a time as this, and I want to do a new thing in you so that My people Israel will become One with Me as I am with you.  I love My people Israel, and I desire for all My people Israel to know and to love Me too.  I have called you, My daughter of My Torah, to be set apart for My use to do this in such a time as this, so I say, Trust Me, Follow Me, and I will make you to arise and soar high amongst the eagles, says God Almighty. (November 11, 2015)

God loves His people Israel.  They were the first people that He brought into His kingdom; who received His Torah, His commandments; who gave us the prophets, and most wonderful of all, they gave us Yeshua/Jesus.  God has not replaced the Jewish people at all. He dearly loves them and yearns to be in an intimate relationship with them.  But He also desires to be in an intimate relationship with all people –  Jew and non-Jew alike – and for each of us to be a part of His kingdom.  We should never doubt His love for each of us, or the fact that He yearns for us each and every day, His children, to be one with Him and to be one with one another.

We are One great big happy family enjoying the fruits of the true engraftation; we are all One tree, says God.  I have no favorites.  I love you children all the same with a love that’s greater than you all could ever imagine, says God Almighty.   I love it when My people, My children, come to Me in worship and praise to lift up My holy name in honor of the One who has redeemed you and has set you on high to soar like the eagles.  My Father and I have created everything for you, My children, to be able to see and to understand how great and mighty and awesome of a God we are…My heart cries for My people to see Me and My Father as one and the same.  As I and My Father are One, so I yearn for My children to be One and the same with Us also.  (November 5, 2015)

God has planned this moment, this journey, in our lives from before the beginning of time, and He has given us a simple message to share with others: He is real, He exists, and He loves them more than they can possibly imagine.  He has also told us that we are to let people know that time is short and that He is coming very soon, so we as His people need to wake up and to prepare ourselves for His arrival, and finally, that He has not changed His mind about anything that He has spoken in the Bible, nor has He set aside, annulled, or eliminated any part of His Torah and His commandments.

HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT US

This is a whole new journey for us, so please pray for us.  We are currently working on establishing our ministry as a non-profit, as well as getting ready to sell our home and some of our other possessions.  Although we have moved several times in the U.S., we have never moved to a whole new country.  So pray God’s blessings through this process, as well as His blessings, protection, and provision for us as we go to do His will for our lives.  Thank you for your prayers and may you be prepared for the Lord’s soon return.

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What’s “Critical Thinking”? And Can We Do THAT in Church?

It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”  (Proverbs 19:2)

 by Chris L. Verschage

A Beginning Question

What is “Critical Thinking”?  This is a question I ask near the beginning of every English Composition class I teach.  And every semester, I discover that people have an incomplete view (or an erroneous view) of what “critical thinking” is.  And the thing that I find most surprising is the belief among many Americans that “critical thinking” and biblical faith are mutually exclusive.  This misguided idea has been around for quite a while since it was even expressed by Benjamin Franklin, who said, “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.” Although Mr. Franklin was extremely intelligent about some things, this apparently did not include biblical faith.  This common misconception is, unfortunately, becoming the accepted view of the mainstream, even those who have grown up in many churches.

Two Examples

For example, recently, while I was in-between classes, I happened to speak with two students on two different occasions in the area outside my office next to the pop machines.  On one occasion, I spoke to a female student who told me that her church taught against them asking questions.   Consequently, she was surprised when I was willing to answer questions that she had regarding the Scriptures.   On another occasion, I spoke to a student who was an ex-Catholic and had left the church, because, he said, they refused to let him ask questions regarding God or the Scriptures growing up.  And so, as a result, he saw the church as a “brainwashing institution” that he wanted nothing to do with.

Asking questions is the beginning step to critical thinking, and it’s one of the main ways that we learn.  And by preventing people from engaging in this normal cognitive function, it results in people getting hurt, and in them leaving the church and God, which is what happened to this second student.  He ended up leaving the faith and becoming an angry atheist.   Although during our conversation, he continued to try and show me how intellectually superior he was to Christians, I believe his resultant atheism was motivated more from him seeking revenge against those who had emotionally hurt him at the church he had been attending than in his rationalistic rejection of God.   And unfortunately, there are many more examples of people who have been hurt by some church for its “anti-critical thinking” position.

However, to be fair in our discussion, it should be noted that not all churches teach against the use of critical thinking.  There are many good pastors in America and elsewhere that encourage their congregants to engage in critical thinking and to ask questions as they go through a particular study and/or during their own private studies.

 A Common Misconception

A prominent common misconception among many people, including college students, is that Critical thinking is doubting everything.   They believe by going around doubting everything, it indicates they have a free, independent mind.  But this view of critical thinking is a logical fallacy that I point out to my students when I teach.   Doubting everything doesn’t make someone any more a critical thinker than someone who believes everything.   A critical thinker is someone who is willing to examine all sides of an issue or idea and to objectively weigh the evidence presented.   Those who believe everything don’t take the time to objectively examine and weigh the evidence since they accept it all, but those who doubt everything also don’t objectively examine and weigh the evidence since they doubt everything; consequently, both extremes fail to engage in critical thinking.

 What is “Critical Thinking”?

So then what is “critical thinking”?  Many people hear the word “critical,” and they automatically think that it means being “negative” or “judgmental,” but instead, critical thinking, in its most basic sense, is “thinking about thinking.”

It’s thinking about why we do what we do, say what we say, and think what we think.  It’s also thinking about why others do, say, or think what they do, including thinking about what we read, asking questions about it, and analyzing the text.  For example, in reading the Bible, we might ask the questions:   “What is the Bible?” “Why is it broken down into two ‘Testaments’? What is a ‘Testament’?” “What does it mean to call God or Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) ‘Lord’?” “What is a ‘Messiah’ (‘Christ’)?  Was that Yeshua’s (Joshua’s/ Jesus’) last name or did it mean something?” These are just a few of the thousands of questions that people may ask as they begin to study the Scriptures.

But critical thinking does not just involve asking questions.  That’s where it begins. It also involves the ability to analyze; to examine the relationship between ideas; to examine the causes and the effects of what people think, say, or do; to properly interpret a text using the rules of interpretation (called Hermeneutics); to do further research; to synthesize material from a variety of sources; and to evaluate those sources and the information provided.  These are many of the ideas and the techniques I teach to my college students every semester.  But instead of critical thinking moving people away from God and the Bible, as some erroneously believe, it can also be used to help give people a more in-depth knowledge of the Scriptures, greater faith, and a more intimate relationship with God. The two keys, though, is (1) in teaching people what critical thinking actually is, instead of what many people think that it is; and (2) in teaching people how to use it to help our understanding of what we are reading or listening to, instead of misusing it as a cover for one’s own doubts, fears, or past hurts.

The Bible – A Place for Critical Thinking

There are many people who are surprised at the idea that God created the Scriptures to be a place where our critical thinking could be practiced, tested, and even strengthened, rather than a place where critical thinking is set aside.  God desires to engage us spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically and even socially.   God is not interested in us being robots who just follow commands, but He wants to engage us, to dialogue with us, which is part of His desire to build a relationship with us.

However, too many Christians and churches have reduced their understanding of God and the Bible to just a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” or to a “list of beliefs” that people are “to simply accept without questioning,”  preventing them from learning how to move into the depths and riches of biblical study that God has intended for us to discover in order for Him to bless us.

For example, in Acts 17 when Paul and Silas went to Berea and taught in the synagogue there, it says,

Now these [Jewish and non-Jewish individuals] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so. (17:11)

The Jewish and non-Jewish men and women who attended this synagogue were receptive to the Gospel message proclaimed by Paul and Silas, but they also did not just accept it simply because two great evangelists came to town, named Paul and Silas, and taught this message, but they searched and examined “the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.”  In other words, they not only listened to the message, but they analyzed it, broke it down into its various parts, and then sought proof [evidence] from the Scriptures that what they were teaching was in agreement with what they saw taught throughout the Tanakh (i.e., Old Testament).  And what was the result of their analysis and research into the evidence of the Scriptures:

Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. (Acts 17:12)

The implication of the text is that if the Gospel message had contradicted the Tanakh (Old Testament) Scriptures (which they were examining), then they would have rejected the message, but since many of them believed, then we can logically conclude that the Gospel message, as it was proclaimed by Paul and Silas, was in agreement with what the Tanakh (Old Testament) teaches.

 A Divine Command

Not only do we see examples of individuals engaging in critical thinking, but we are even commanded to use our thinking skills and abilities, including critical thinking, in expressing our love for God.  For example, in Mark 12:29-31, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus)  responds to a scribe’s question:  “What is the foremost (or greatest or most important) commandment of all?”  His response was the following:

Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One.  And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, and with all your strength, and the second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these.  [emphasis added]

In this command, we are commanded to love God “with all [of our] mind.”  How are we to do this, if we are not allowed to use our mind in the study of His Word, in prayer, or in His service?   The sad reality is that although there are ministers who encourage critical thinking in the study of the Scriptures, there are many ministers who deny their congregants the opportunity to worship and honor God with their minds by not allowing them to use their mind, to ask questions, or in other words, to use their critical thinking skills.   However, based on what I see taught with in the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, I firmly believe that God wants us to use our minds in the study of His word, in prayer, in fasting, in serving Him, and in serving others.

Critical Thinking vs. “the Carnal Mind”

So let’s examine a passage to give an example of how critical thinking can be used to deepen our knowledge of Scripture.  In Romans 8, Paul discusses what he calls “the carnal mind.”  Now there are many people who erroneously believe that critical thinking is a synonym for “the carnal mind.”  However, Critical Thinking involves a systematic approach to analyzing, breaking something down, and examining the issues, viewpoints, ideas, and behaviors of whatever it is we are examining; whereas, the “carnal mind” deals, not with a systematic approach, but with the condition of one’s heart.  The “carnal mind” does not deal with how we think, or the techniques we use when we think, but what we set our thoughts upon.  To be “carnally minded” means that we have set our minds to thinking and focusing on the things of “the flesh” – those desires and wants we have that run contrary to God and His Word – rather than the “things of the Spirit,” or those things that are in agreement with God and His Word.   For example, in Romans 8, Paul writes,

For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8)

So let’s deepen this discussion by using some critical thinking by inferring what it means to be “spiritually minded.”  An inference is a logical conclusion we draw based upon what we know about what we do not know.  In this instance, we want to use what we know (what Paul says about being “carnally minded”) and use it to infer – or draw logical conclusions from the text – about what we do not know (what it means to be “spiritually minded”).  We can do this by setting up a table like the following:

Carnally Minded

Spiritually Minded

It is death. It is life and peace.
It is enmity (or in opposition) against God. It is in agreement or union with God.
It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. It is subject to the law of God, and indeed, it can’t do anything else.

Consequently, when we realize that Paul establishes these two positions as being diametrically opposed to one another, then we can logically deduct what it means to be “spiritually minded” by formulating the opposite of what Paul says about being “carnally minded.”

And if we look at what we have inferred from the text, then it raises a rather interesting question about what much of today’s Christianity teaches.  Many teach that we cannot be subject (or obedient) to the law of God, but from our chart, this is only true if we are “carnally minded.”  If we are “spiritually minded,” on the other hand, then we will be “subject (or obedient) to the law of God.”  Consequently, this seems to suggest that much of Christianity today is operating on a mindset that’s “carnally minded,” rather than “spiritually minded.”

A Major Shortcoming

So, indeed, one of the major shortcomings I find in many ministries is that they do not encourage people to engage in critical thinking when it comes to things not only taught by the dominant American culture, but also when it comes to teachings they hear in church and to what they read in the Scriptures.  Maybe, it’s because they don’t want people coming to the same conclusions as we did above since that would raise many interesting questions that some ministers may not want to address.  Critical thinking is not an innate skill, but it’s a skill that must be taught and repeatedly practiced.

Is God Threatened?

There are those who have embraced the erroneous idea that God is somehow threatened if people ask questions, express doubts, or express their criticisms.   God is not up there in heaven nervous about the fact that someone asked a question, nor is He angry at us because we are having trouble grasping a concept in Scripture.   God desires to engage our hearts and our minds, which means He wants to engage our critical thinking, our reasoning, and our rationale.  God is no way threatened by our use of logic and reasoning, and He most certainly is not threatened nor offended if we come to Him, with our questions, our confusions, our pains and hurts, and even our anger and frustration.  In fact, God has even invited us to reason with Him, “Come,” God says, “let us reason together,…” (Isaiah 1:10).

 Job — An Example

Job had been put to the extreme test of devotion.  He had lost His wealth, His seven children, and even His health, all so the adversary, Satan, could try and prove him disloyal to God.   However, in spite of it all, Job stood firm in His faith in God, but Job did have his questions after all of this.  He wanted an explanation since he felt he had been unjustly treated.   In Job 31, Job asserts his integrity, and in 31:35, he makes the following proclamation:

Oh that I had one to hear me!   Behold, here is my signature;  Let the Almighty answer me!   And the indictment which my adversary has written.  (NASB)

Job here not only proclaims to his three “friends” his innocence, but he calls upon God to show him his supposed wrong doing.   Job 32 begins with this statement:

Then these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.  (New American Standard Bible, Job 32:1)

I’ve heard many ministers come down on Job because the Bible says that “he was righteous in his own eyes.”  However, I believe this is a superficial reading of the text and they criticize him unjustly.  This statement is merely noting that Job did not believe he had committed any wrong-doing to deserve these series of calamities that he had experienced. And according to the book of Job, he hadn’t done anything wrong.  In fact, these calamities came on him because Satan was trying to get him to reject God.  But instead of rejecting God, Job held firm in his faith.

Therefore, the text is not saying, as these same ministers have tried to argue,  that Job was “self-righteous.”  Instead, Job was experiencing the same confused emotions that many of us would go through after experiencing some major trauma in our lives.  In fact, Job was wondering if God had somehow lost sight or control of his life and circumstance.  Many people, like Job, who have undergone a bad experience, or even a traumatic experience, have wondered, “Where was God through all of this?  How could He be in control of my life and something like this happen to me?”  So rather than saying that Job was “self-righteous,” it indicates how truly human Job was considering the recent events that had occurred in his life.

However, at the end of the book of Job, God does come, but He doesn’t sit down with Job and provide Him with an explanation, as we would’ve liked to have seen; instead, since Job challenged God, God returns and challenges Job:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel with words without knowledge?  Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!”  (Job 38:1-3)

Then beginning in Job 38:4 through to the end of chapter 39, God shoots question after question at Job wanting his response in regard to his knowledge of how everything around him in the heavens and the earth had been created and formed.

I have heard many ministers explain this exchange as God putting Job “in his place,” and rebuking him for thinking that he was sinless.   I disagree.  I don’t believe that is what is happening at all.   Job is a middle-eastern man from a middle-eastern culture, and in that region, it is common to have people respond to a question with a question.  And therefore, God in this exchange was, in all reality, responding to Job’s most urgent concerns.

In fact, I was listening to Dwight A. Pryor, the President and founder of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, a man and teacher I greatly admire, and he was talking about a time when he was in Texas, and he saw an ice cream truck going down the street, so he went up to buy an ice cream from the guy driving the truck.  When the man started speaking, he noticed he had an Israeli accent, and he asked him, “Are you, by chance, from Israel?”  The man nodded, and he asked him, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”  The man smiled and agreed.  Dwight asked him, “Why is it that Israelis answer a question with a question?”

The man thought for a few minutes, and then shrugged his shoulders and said, “Why not?”

In the Gospels, we find another example of this sophisticated form of question dialogue as a means of exchanging information.  At the age of twelve, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) and His parents had gone down to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and instead of going back with them, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), without their knowledge, stayed behind in Jerusalem.   After three frantic days of looking for Him, they finally found Him involved in a discussion with the teachers of the law (Heb. Torah), exchanging question for question:

And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.  (Luke 2:46-47)

Notice, He was “asking them questions” and they were “amazed at His understanding and answers.”  The questions He asked were, in fact, His “answers.” This form of dialogue of exchanging question for question was a very sophisticated form of rabbinic dialogue that  Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) was engaged in at only twelve years of age.  However, in like manner, I believe God in the book of Job is answering Job’s questions the same way, in the form of questions.   Rather than rebuking Job for his questions, God is majestically reaffirming to Job, and to all of us, that in spite of appearances, He is still on the throne, and He is still in control.   Job asked for an intellectual exchange — to reason with God — and God did not rebuke him for wanting to reason with Him, but wonderfully and majestically responded.

Obviously, if God felt that it was wrong for us to use our human reason with Him, He would not invite us to use it with Him.  As I mentioned earlier in Isaiah 1:10, God says, “Come, let us reason together….”   We must remember that it was God who gave us the ability to think, to analyze, to compare and contrast, to weigh ideas and consider, and to synthesize information and to evaluate it.   Why would God give our minds these abilities and skills, if He did not intend for us to use them?

 Why the Parables  — Another Example?

Another biblical example of God desiring us to use our minds, our critical thinking skills, can be found in Matthew 13.  In this passage, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) tells the crowd the parable of the Sower:

“Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears,  let him hear.”  (Matthew 13:3b-9)

After telling the crowd this parable, the disciples came to Him privately and asked Him the question:  “Why do You speak to them in parables?”

Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) responded to their question by saying that God had not granted them the privilege of receiving the mysteries concerning His kingdom.  When I read that, it bothered me.

To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,

You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;  (Matthew 13:11-14, NASB)

I wondered, “Why?  Why would God not want all of us to know and understand His mysteries, to understand Him?  Why would He hide that information from people?”  I just don’t get it, I thought.  But then as I read His answer, I was surprised by it: “because their minds were dull:”

15 For the heart of this people has become dull,

With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return (or repent),
And I would heal them

16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:15-16, NASB)

In this statement, the Greek word translated “heart” is kardia (Strong’s #2588), which literally means “heart,” and it is from this same Greek word, we get the word Cardiac, like in a “cardiac arrest” which deals with the heart.  But this word can also refer to one’s mind, or one’s “thoughts and feelings” (“Greek Dictionary of the New Testament”).  The Greek word kardia corresponds to the Hebrew word Lev, which also means “heart” and “mind.”  And since the Messiah Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) is a Jew, speaking to His Jewish disciples, it’s unlikely He would have been carrying on this discussion with them in Greek, but in Hebrew.

Consequently, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) is saying that the “heart” (or mind) of this people has become “dull.”  They’ve stopped thinking about the Scriptures, about what they mean and their importance to their lives; instead, they’ve become completely reliant on someone else to tell them what to think and believe.  Therefore, since they’re not wanting to engage God mentally, God is honoring that desire by not challenging them at all.  And as a result,

with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes lest they should see with their eyes; and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return (or repent), and I should heal them. (Matthew 13:15)

By them not seeking to engage God through prayer and the study of His Word, they had, in fact, closed their minds and hearts to Him, which resulted in them not being healed or even saved.  After explaining this, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) builds on this with his explanation of the parable of the sower.

In this parable what I find interesting is that there is only one sower and one seed.  Most Christian ministries today would have four different sowers with four different seeds to meet the needs of each of the four different grounds.  But Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) in His parable only has one sower and one seed for the four different types of ground.

In His explanation of the first ground, the ground beside the road that was barren, He says,

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heartThis is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. (Matthew 13:18-19)

The Greek word translated “understand” is the word Sunieami (Strongs #4920), which means “to put together, i.e., (mentally) to comprehend; by impl. to consider, understand, be wise.”  In other words, while the Word is being taught, if someone does not understand (or comprehend) it, then the evil one is right there removing “the seed” from “the ground” or life of the individual.  If you contrast the barren ground (ground #1) with the fruitful ground (ground #4), you discover that the difference between the two is understanding:

And on the one whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundred-fold, some sixty, and some thirty. (Matthew 13:23)

Notice that it’s only individuals who have received the Word and understood it who ended up bearing fruit for the kingdom.   So  this indicates a process: (1) we must hear it, then (2) we must understand it before (3) we can properly apply it.   And it is only after we’ve applied it, that we will experience the blessings of God.   Hearing it alone is not enough, nor is hearing and understanding it enough.  Instead, we must hear it, understand it, and apply it, and only then will we experience God’s promised blessings.  For James says,  that if we only hear the word without doing it, we only end up deceiving ourselves (James 1:22).

Belief is Not Enough

Consequently, then, simply telling people to just “believe what the Word says,” even if they don’t understand it, only opens the door for the Adversary to come in and remove the Word from their heart and lives, resulting in their lives being “barren” and unfruitful for God.  But what many people don’t realize is that people who hear the Word, understand it, and even believe what it says, but they don’t take the time or effort to apply it to their lives, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) says their lives will still remain “barren” and unfruitful for God.

On the other hand, those people who do hear it, understand what’s being taught, believe it,  and then apply it to their lives,Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) teaches that they will produce an abundance of fruit for God’s kingdom, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty” (Matthew 13:18-19).    It should likewise be noted that “understanding” here means more than mere “mental acceptance.”  It requires the allowance of people to read a text, analyze it, ask questions, consider options, and then to formulate a conclusion.  In other words, it involves “critical thinking.”

What about those who aren’t so smart?

Does this mean that only those who are intelligent enough to think deeply will be blessed by God?   I am not saying that; rather, I do believe that if we want to walk in the blessings of God and His Word, we do need to invest our time and effort in not only reading the Bible but also in understanding it.   It’s important that we remember that we, as believers, are not all at the same level of understanding.  However, as long as we are sincerely seeking God, reading His Word, spending time in His Presence, and we are trusting Him to show us how to apply His Word in our day-to-day lives, and we follow through by obeying what He teaches us to do, then He will bless us for our obedience.

Conclusion

God is looking for a people who heartfully and sincerely want to spend time with Him and to serve Him.   This is often reflected in the amount of time we spend in His Presence and in studying His Word.  We need to understand that there is a big difference between someone reading a passage and just seeing it as something to check off for the day, and someone who truly desires to spend time in the Word of God, struggling with the reading or even seeking to understand it as thoroughly as possible, so that they then can ask God to show them how to apply it to their life.

Finally, we need to remember that critical thinking is not the enemy of the believer. Critical thinking is a systematic approach that we can use to study the Word, analyze it, and come to a deeper level of understanding and appreciation for what it teaches us about God and His Kingdom.  Rather than telling people to “simply believe,” we need ministers and teachers to instruct people on how to use critical thinking effectively within our churches.  I believe one of the reasons there are kids who grow up in church and then leave the faith when they get to college is because colleges are teaching them to use critical thinking, but they use it to show why the Bible cannot be true.  We need to teach our kids the same critical thinking skills, but use those skills to show our kids why the Bible is true, and in so doing, we will better prepare our kids with the techniques and evidence they will need to face an unbelieving world.  It is our choice.  Someone is going to teach our kids critical thinking skills.  Don’t you think it should be us?

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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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