Friday, June 23, 2006

Though None Go With Me

I know I've shared in previous posts about the chorus I sang when I accepted Yeshua as my Savior, way back when I was 17 yrs old. "I have decided to follow turning back, no turning back." This morning I am thinking about another verse to that chorus which says, "Though none go with me, still I will turning back, no turning back."

I am blessed to be the mother of 6 children whom I love dearly and endeavored to bring up in the "nurture and admonition of the LORD." To that end, we were in church every time there was a service. When my 2nd daughter was born, she arrived on a Wednesday. We were in church on Sunday, as usual, and I was going forward that Sunday to become an official member of that congregation--an Assemblies of God, as it happens. Every one of my children began their life in the church. Each one was dedicated to the LORD, as Hannah did with her son Samuel. Of my precious children, I know without a doubt that my three oldest, daughters Venetta, Lois, and Holly, all have solid relationships with the LORD and strive to live their lives to please Him, along with their families. My 4th child, my daughter Megan, knows the LORD and had committed her life to Him when she was a teen, but she married an unbeliever and has fallen away from the closeness I would see her know with the LORD. My youngest two, daughter Thea and son Isaac, have chosen to walk the way of the world and have left God out of their lives, though Thea is more obviously still pulled in that direction. My heart desires above all else for each of my children that they will know the LORD and His salvation and the power of His resurrection at work in their hearts & lives. Hard on the heels of that desire is the desire that they would love His Word and walk in all of His ways with all of their hearts.

About two years ago, when my sweetheart Tim & I decided to withdraw our membership in the Assemblies of God--after 25 years of membership in that denomination for me, we left behind my eldest daughter and her husband who are still in that fellowship. They have not understood our desire to walk in ALL the ways of Yeshua, by keeping the Biblical Sabbath, the commanded festivals, the food laws, and other aspects of Torah. They are convinced, because of teaching they have received within the church, that we have thrown away our confidence in the blood of Yeshua for our salvation and are now trusting in our "works" to save us, that we have fallen prey to the "Judaizers" and now have our trust in the flesh and the works of the flesh. Nothing could be further from the truth, but it seems that no matter what I say or what I try to share with them, they refuse to see that it IS possible to have faith in the shed blood of our LORD Yeshua the Messiah for salvation AND walk in obedience to His commandments--NOT because I HAVE to, but because I LOVE Him and I WANT to!!! I am NOT telling them what they have to do, that they have to make the same choices of obedience that I am making. As hard as it is, I am keeping my mouth shut about that and letting the Holy Spirit lead, guide & teach them, just as He has done with me. Nevertheless, it grieves my heart that there is this discord between my eldest daughter, her husband and us. There isn't a lot said, but the tension is thick enough to be cut with a knife. And this morning it weighs especially heavy on my heart! I have always hated being at odds with one or the other of my children. I thought it was hard when they went through the teen years and we found ourselves at odds many times, though my eldest daughter and I had never been at odds, til now. I find that it is especially upsetting when it concerns our walk of faith and fellowship in the Messiah. We believe in the same God, the same blood shed on the cross at Calvary for our redemption, the same LORD & Savior, the same Bible, the same Holy Spirit, but because I have chosen to obey the Torah, the written commandments of God my Father, out of my love for Him and to bring Him pleasure by my willing obedience, as my Savior Yeshua the Messiah did, now there is a wall of separation between my daughter and I.

Question: if my obedience to the Torah means that I have automatically "thrown away" my salvation and am now striving to be "saved" by my works of the flesh, then what about those first believers in the Messiah, who still believed in keeping Torah, as even the Apostle Paul did? The first believers in Messiah still kept Torah and still taught Torah. It was only later, as the "church" became filled with Gentiles and persecution against the Jews became so great, that the "church" disassociated itself with all things "Jewish", including Torah observance. Maybe we should pay more attention to the words of Yeshua Himself in Matthew 5:17-20 (Amplified): Do not think that I have come to do away with or undo the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to do away with or undo but to complete and fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until the sky and earth pass away and perish, not one smallest letter nor one little hook [identifying certain Hebrew letters] will pass from the Law until all things [it foreshadows] are accomplished. Whoever then breaks or does away with or relaxes one of the least [important] of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least [important] in the kingdom of heaven, but he who practices them and teaches others to do so shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness (your uprightness and your right standing with God) is more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. I don't know about you, but that seems pretty clear to me that Yeshua still expected people to teach the Torah and to obey it--NOT for salvation, but because the Torah teaches the proper outworking of our faith and the works of righteousness that are to accompany our faith. So even though my fellowship with my daughter and son-in-law is currently broken and it's grieving my heart, I will continue to follow my LORD in faithful obedience to ALL of His Word. Though none-- not even the people who are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, whom I love most dearly in all the earth--go with me, STILL I will follow, NO turning back!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

How Much Do I Love Him?

I've been saving neat one-liners for much of my adult life. One that I've kept and have never forgotten says, You only love Jesus as much as the one you love the least. There's lots of food for thought in that saying! Put that together with a book I finished reading lately and it opens up a whole kettle of thoughts! The book was titled, A Season Of Grace, written by Bette Nordberg. It's Christian fiction and is one of those stories that I hope to always remember. It's the story of brother & sister twins who are now in their early 40's. Life's circumstances have separated them for over 6 years but they reconnect in the story, which covers the remaining days of the brother's life. See, the sister is a Christian, while her brother is not and has been living the homosexual lifestyle, then gets HIV and is dying of AIDS when they reconnect. The challenge for the sister and her family is to love him just as he is, unconditionally, even though they cannot condone the lifestyle he'd lived. The brother comes to live with them at the sister's insistence and lives out the remainder of his life in the bosom of his family.

It made me stop and think if I could love someone like that as much, that I would welcome them into my home and care for them. I will probably never be faced with such a choice, but there are other such choices that I face regularly. Working in the public, in a factory, I rub shoulders with people with all sorts of values and belief systems. I've known a couple of people who are or were in the homosexual lifestyle. There've been those who are serving time in the county jail and work with us on Huber privileges. There's been at least one sex offender working with us. How am I going to respond to these people? Will I love them unconditionally, with the love of our LORD, or will I turn away from them because of what they've done, how they are living, or because their values & beliefs are so contrary to mine?

In most of my posts, I know I've talked a lot about the place and importance of observing Torah in my walk with the LORD. Did you realize that the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" actually originated in the Old Testament, in the Torah? Well, it did! Check your concordance for the exact location. (I'm short on time so am not going to do it for you this time.)
Yeshua told us to love one another as He loved us. That's a tall order! He knows every ugly, despicable thing about me, everything I've ever thought or said or done that was a sin against Him, and STILL He loves me! His mercies are new every morning. His steadfast love never ceases. As He told the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." He took all of my sins on His own body and paid the penalty for me, that I might go free. Knowing that, how can I NOT love my fellow man? We are ALL sinners; there is not one of us who is qualified to throw the first stone at another person. That doesn't mean that we accept and endorse sin, but that we identify people as persons rather than by their particular sin. I don't want to be known as "Cindy the gossip" or "Cindy the lier" or whatever other sins I've committed. I am NOT a plaster saint and I have definitely committed my share of sins, so don't be thinking that I couldn't possibly have anything as awful in my past as some of the people I've mentioned. Not to mention that in the Bible there's no list of sins going from bad to worst; all sin is sin and the wages of any & all sin is death.

So just how much do I love Yeshua? Do I love Him enough to reach out in love to the homosexual I work with? Do I love Him enough to reach out in love to men & women behind prison bars, regardless of the crimes that have put them there? Do I love Him enough to reach out in love to the homeless person lying on the sidewalk who smells and looks disgusting? Do I love Him enough to reach out in love to that angry teen with weird body piercings and a foul mouth? I think you get the idea here. Yeshua said that when we reach out in love to another, as we have done it unto the least of these His brethren, we have done it unto Him. That also goes for people outside our ethnic and cultural background. Do I love Him enough to put my money where my mouth is and help those who are less fortunate than myself, even if they happen to live on the other side of the world? Just how much do I love Him? How much do YOU love Him?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Yeshua or Torah?

In looking back at some of my posts, I thought I'd better take a few minutes to make one thing crystal clear here, just in case there's any doubt. My goal in this journey of faith is to follow Yeshua, to be like Him. Learning about Torah, about Sabbath keeping and the festivals of God, all of that is important only in that it helps me to know Him better and to follow Him more closely.

You've probably heard some preacher somewhere say that "Jesus is the Word made flesh." Well actually, that is in scripture, too: John 1:14 (Amplified) And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth. [Isa. 40:5.] The Word of God includes ALL of His Word, not just the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. So it would be appropriate to say that Yeshua is the Torah made flesh. Through His life and teaching, we learn how to live out the holiness that God commands us to walk in, which was first commanded in the Torah. If you don't believe me, look up these verses: Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7, 26, 21:6,8; Numbers 15:40, 16:5; Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2, 21, 26:19, 28:9. They sound surprisingly like 1 Peter 1:14-16! It's amazing how many things in the New Testament can be found FIRST in the Old Testament; there's really nothing "new" at all about the New Testament or anything "old" about the Old Testament. The New Testament builds on the Old Testament and is like commentary on it, helping us learn how to live out the commandments and ordinances of God revealed to us in the Old Testament. It was never intended to replace the Old Testament writings. But anyway, I am getting sidetracked here. By studying and learning how to obey Torah, I am learning how to obey my Father God and to be like Yeshua, Who knew the Scriptures inside out and obeyed His Father in all things.

I do NOT obey the Torah to earn my salvation or to prove myself worthy of salvation. Just as there is no other name given among men under heaven by which we must be saved than that of Yeshua the Messiah, likewise it is only by His blood shed on the cross that my sins have been forgiven and the wages of sin is set aside. The debt that I owed, He paid with His shed blood. There is NOTHING, NOTHING that I or anyone else can do that will make us worthy of God's forgiveness, that will wipe out the record of our sins, that will enable us to live eternally in God's kingdom. We must accept His sacrifice on our behalf and turn from our sins to live a life marked by faith in Him.

Ephesians 2:4-10 (Amplified) But God--so rich is He in His mercy! Because of and in order to satisfy the great and wonderful and intense love with which He loved us, Even when we were dead (slain) by [our own] shortcomings and trespasses, He made us alive together in fellowship and in union with Christ; [He gave us the very life of Christ Himself, the same new life with which He quickened Him, for] it is by grace (His favor and mercy which you did not deserve) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ's salvation). And He raised us up together with Him and made us sit down together [giving us joint seating with Him] in the heavenly sphere [by virtue of our being] in Christ Jesus (the Messiah, the Anointed One). He did this that He might clearly demonstrate through the ages to come the immeasurable (limitless, surpassing) riches of His free grace (His unmerited favor) in [His] kindness and goodness of heart toward us in Christ Jesus. For it is by free grace (God's unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ's salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law's demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.] For we are God's [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].

Keeping the Torah cannot save us. It is only through faith in the Messiah that we can find salvation. That does NOT mean there is no value in keeping the Torah, however. Once we are "born again," as Yeshua told Nicodemus in John 3:3, we need to live out our lives like the children of God that He allows us to become. John 1:12 (Amplified) But to as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the authority (power, privilege, right) to become the children of God, that is, to those who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) His name--[Isa. 56:5.] The Torah teaches us what behavior on our parts is acceptable to God the Father. You could say that Torah is His "house rules." Every family has rules that its members live by. Those rules usually aren't written down but nevertheless they are understood by each family member. In this case, we have the benefit of His written "house rules", so we are without excuse when we live in ways that do not honor Him or bring Him pleasure. Remember James 2:17? (Amplified) So also faith, if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power (inoperative, dead). Yeshua Himself said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14:15)

So I base my salvation on the shed blood of my LORD Yeshua the Messiah and I do my best to obey His Torah because I love Him. It's Yeshua FIRST and Torah second. 1John 3:24 (Amplified) All who keep His commandments [who obey His orders and follow His plan, live and continue to live, to stay and] abide in Him, and He in them. [They let Christ be a home to them and they are the home of Christ.] And by this we know and understand and have the proof that He [really] lives and makes His home in us: by the [Holy] Spirit Whom He has given us.

Monday, June 05, 2006

I Do Not Believe...

A couple posts back I wrote a post about what I do believe. Then I got to thinking that it would be interesting to write about what I do NOT believe. And so we'll see where this goes...

1) I do NOT believe that Israel and the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have been set aside by God or have been replaced by the Church. I find no scriptural foundation for such a belief and will not buy into it. Replacement theology, in my opinion, was birthed in the pits of hell and has been used by Satan to cause great harm to the Jews at the hands of Christians throughout the ages. Satan, in my opinion, has also used this to deceive many Christians into believing that they are now God's chosen, at the expense of the Jews (lumping all physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob into that group), that the Jews have been set aside and forgotten in God's plans.

2) I do NOT believe in dispensationalism, that God has acted towards man in different dispensations throughout history. I DO believe in the "dispensation of the grace of God" which is mentioned in Ephesians 3:2 and in the "dispensation of the fullness of times" mentioned in Ephesians 1:10.

3) I do NOT believe that there are many paths to God, that any and all religious beliefs bring one to the same place, of peace with God and a place in His eternal kingdom. Yeshua made it very plain when He said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by (through) Me." (Amplified) --John 14:6 Also, Acts 4:12 says, "And there is salvation in and through no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by and in which we must be saved." (Amplified) Then Yeshua said in John 3:16-18, "For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him. He who believes in Him [who clings to, trusts in, relies on Him] is not judged [he who trusts in Him never comes up for judgment; for him there is no rejection, no condemnation--he incurs no damnation]; but he who does not believe (cleave to, rely on, trust in Him) is judged already [he has already been convicted and has already received his sentence] because he has not believed in and trusted in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [He is condemned for refusing to let his trust rest in Christ's name.] (Amplified)

4) I do NOT believe in a pre-tribulation rapture of the saints. I believe that the book of Revelation and Yeshua's own words in Matthew 24 make it clear that the saints need to stay on their guard and be alert. Repeatedly, we are enjoined to persevere and to endure. I cannot see why God's people throughout history and even now in our times would have to endure suffering and persecution, but we western, American Christians would get raptured out of all of that.

5) I do NOT believe that Christmas and Easter are acceptable substitutes for the commanded festivals or appointed times of my Father God. I do not believe that we can pick and choose which commandments we will keep and which commandments we will decide are obsolete and no longer in effect or worthwhile for believers to keep. I do not believe that God has given to any person or institution the right to set aside His commandments and ordinances, replacing His with their own.

6) I do NOT believe that the Church was suddenly "born" in the book of Acts. I believe that the Church began at Mount Horeb, when God gave His commandments to Moses and separated a people for Himself. I believe that Yeshua showed us HOW to be the people of God, His called-out ones, and opened the way for Gentiles to join His Church.

Well, I think I will stop with that. If I think of any others, I will post them at a different time. Have YOU ever stopped to define what YOU do and do not believe?

What "Religion" Are You?

Last night at work I was asked, "What religion are you?" They wanted to know if I was Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist or whatever. I told them I wasn't any of those; I am just a follower of Jesus the Messiah. I'm not sure my answer satisfied them because it doesn't fit with any of the "boxes" we've created to define our religious preferences and practices. I smiled to myself, though, as I tried to picture Peter or John or James or Paul being asked such a question and how they might have answered. "What do you mean, what religion am I? I am a disciple of the LORD Yeshua HaMeshiach. I follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." I wonder what they would have to say about all of our different denominations.

This question does raise an interesting problem, though. Since I do not define myself by a denominational affiliation, when someone wants to know what I believe and adhere to, what DO I call myself? In truth, I am a believer in and follower of Yeshua the Messiah. I believe in living according to the whole counsel of the Word of God, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelations 22:21.

I do not really want to say that I am a Messianic believer for a couple of reasons. One of those being that most of the people I talk to have no clue what a Messianic believer is; they've never even heard the word before. Another reason I prefer to avoid that name is that those who have heard that term have some preconceived ideas about it, including that Messianics are Judaizers or that they are Jewish wannabe's, neither of which is true of me. As for Messianic Judaism, since I have no Jewish ancestry that I am aware of, I don't believe that this name fits me, either. I am not a Jew who has accepted Yeshua as the Messiah and chosen to follow Him. Nor do I have any interest in going through the Jewish conversion process. As far as I know, I am a Gentile, who has come to faith in the Messiah Yeshua and He has accepted me just as I am, adopting me into His family, and has given me no indication in His Word that I need to "convert" to Judaism.

Saying that I am a Christian has similar drawbacks. Too many people equate being a Christian with belonging to a church, as though just belonging to a particular church or attending a certain church can make you a Christian; sorry, but this just ain't so! That's like saying that if I sat out in the garage long enough, I'd become a car; just ain't gonna happen! People have a lot of preconceived ideas about Christians, too, like they're judgmental and condemning, holier-than-thou and hypocrites. The term "Christian" carries a lot of baggage with it, most of which I don't want to carry around with me. So I apologize if you have a strong connection to that name, wear it proudly and what I've said is offensive to you; I don't mean to offend or to put anyone else down who chooses to wear that name, but it doesn't fit me any more.

So when all is said and done, I think I will have to stick to saying that I am a believer in and follower of Yeshua the Messiah, only begotten Son of the Eternal God and Creator of the universe, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and Savior of all mankind, Who in His flesh has made us all--Jew and Gentile--one body.