Summer Growth: G – R – O – W – T – H

H     –    HOPE and HALLELU’YAH!

The Promise of Hope

It is fitting that we conclude our season of summer growth with a confirmation of the source and reason for our hope, and with a resultant outpouring of our hearts in gratitude and praise.

In his very relevant book Future Tense, Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of England, quotes economist Alan Greenspan’s observation that we are entering an age of turbulence, which can engender fear. However, as Rabbi Sacks describes, “The antidote to fear is faith, a faith that knows the dangers but never loses hope.” [1] He connects this hope to the Jewish people and says: “The Jewish people are ancient but still young; a suffering people still suffused with moral energy; a people who have known the worst fate can throw at them, and can still rejoice. They remain a living symbol of hope.” Significantly, the stirring and beautiful national anthem of Israel is simply entitled HaTikvah, “The Hope.”

The greatest aim of the enemy of God and His people, the enemy of our souls, is to rob one of hope. To be rendered ‘hopeless’ can be likened to being ‘lifeless’. There is indeed truth in the axiom, “Where there is life there is hope” and vice versa. Central aims of the perpetrators of terror and violence in the world today are to instill fear and to extinguish hope. We know, however, that the One who promised is faithful; He who said,
“I know the plans I have for you… plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). The Lord’s love and truth cast out all fear. As Yeshua proclaimed, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36). He assured us, “Shalom I leave with you; my shalom I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John14:27).

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The apostle Paul beautifully expresses our peace and hope in Messiah in his epistle to the Romans,

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord and Messiah Yeshua. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (5:1-2).

Paul continues his exhortation with the acknowledgement that it is through our trials and challenges that we are strengthened and grow in character. In turn, this growth strengthens our resolve and our hope. He writes:
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Yes, our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy Name. Let Thy steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in Thee.
(Psalm 33:22-23)

Dear brothers and sisters, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)

 

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The Joy of HalleluYah!

Inherent to our faith is a recognition of the infinite greatness of God and the astonishing realization that God believes in us as well. Just as His Presence was evident to the Israelites at the shore of the sea, God our Father and Redeemer is with us and actively assists us in achieving His plans and purposes for our lives. This knowledge should cause a personal song of praise – one’s own HalleluYah – to rise up and go forth to harmonize with God’s great, eternal symphony; the all-encompassing song of Creation that lifts up endless, glorious praise to the great Creator. When we are “in tune” with our Father’s calling and fulfilling His mission for our lives, our souls will sing in resonance with His Spirit of holiness. It will be a song of grateful praise and celebration – a healed and jubilant HalleluYah!

The Hebrew letters of the word Mashiach, mem-shin-yod-chet, can be rearranged to form the word yismach – to rejoice! The Song of Messiah is a full and glorious crescendo in the Symphony of God – the song that will burst forth at the Final Redemption, when all will be brought into one, whole, free and joyful Psalm of Praise!

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes!
…He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with his truth.
The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
(Psalm 96:11-13; 97:1)

Clasp your hands together, all peoples!

Shout to God with loud songs of joy! (Psalm 47:1)

Hallelu’Yah!

GROWTH 3

 

~Keren Hannah Pryor

Footnotes:

1. Johnathan Sacks, Future Tense, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2009, 10.
2. Tamid 3:8
3. 2 Samuel 23:11
4. John O’Donohue, Beauty – The Invisible Embrace, Harper-Collins, NY, 2004, 71.

Summer Growth: G – R – O – W – T Part 2

Taming the Tongue (T – Part 2)

The Power of Words

“The instruments of both life and death are contained within the power of the tongue.”
(Proverbs 18:21)

Our gift of speech is one aspect that defines us as human. How we employ this gift is of great significance in our daily lives and in our relationships. The momentum caused by the combination of our intellect, emotions and experience stir in us the desire and the need to communicate. Each one of us has something to say that no one else can say. We each are unique in our being and in our circumstances and we offer a perspective and can make observations that are totally original. What we have to offer is a precious contribution in the “open forum” of life. Sometimes we need to be encouraged and reassured that our ‘voice’ has value and deserves to be heard. At other times, when we forget to share in words that are thoughtful, gracious and delivered in love, we need to be gently cautioned and silenced. Only when we are at peace within ourselves, and secure in the knowledge that we “have our being” in our Father God and are growing and maturing in His loving care, can we feel free to fully and humbly offer our gift.

There may never have been a time when the use of negative, “put down” rhetoric has been such a prevalent force in Western culture. It is rife in every form of media and steadily seeps into the minds and souls of its viewers. As well as in the breakdown of marriages, we have seen the fruit of this in our schools with the ever-increasing rate of suicide and murders that are directly connected to intimidation, verbal abuse and bullying. The onus for rectifying this behavior is not only on the students but particularly on parents and teachers. Educator, Haim Ginott, made the astute observation on the difference a teacher can make:

I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in my classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate… As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.

How much more can we apply these words in the home? What influence do we have as a spouse, parent or a sibling? For that is the power inherent in every tongue – to be “a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.”

GROWT 2 - 1The wise King Solomon describes the damage and wounds caused by careless, foolish speech and, conversely that of kind, thoughtful words;

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18).

Rabbi Lazer Brody, a mentor and spiritual leader in Israel, beautifully sums up the importance of the tongue in his article, “The Greenhouse”:

One of the first things in child education that I learned … is that criticism and negative comments destroy a child. Parents hate criticism and negative comments, so why do it to their kids? A child’s home should be a greenhouse of warmth and sunlight. Smiles, compliments and positive reinforcement are the water that helps a child’s soul bloom like a beautiful flower.

In avoiding angry, negative and critical words a retreat into grim and ‘loaded’ silence is not a solution. A frowning, disapproving countenance speaks a thousand words! As do a critically raised eyebrow or a dismissive shrug. A calm silence, however, is often very wise, and controlling one’s tongue includes not talking unnecessarily, as one of the Sages commented: “I found nothing better for oneself than silence… and one who talks excessively brings on sin” (Avot 1:17). On the other hand, withholding necessary communication also can be harmful. We need to use the gift of our voices to share kindness, assurance, reinforcement. While a smile and a few words of encouragement may not seem like a big deal to us, to a lonely, hurting soul they might be something they will cherish for a lifetime.

Another prominent teacher, Hal Urban, places great emphasis on the need, as he well expresses it, “to create a caring community in my classroom.” Central in doing so, are his efforts to help his students understand the impact for good or for ill that their language has, on themselves, on others and on the very environment. He posts notices on the walls of his classroom as reminders. Many are positive and encouraging such as, “Win-win Words” “Celebrate Today!” and “Kind Words cost Little but Accomplish Much.” The first one to which he always draws their attention says: “No Put-downs” enclosed in a red circle with a slash through it, and below that, “Compliments Spoken Here.” One set of signs all have one word in a red circle with a slash and are grouped around the word “Poison.” The words are: “Complaining,” “Moaning,” “Groaning,” “Whining,” “Swearing,” “Gossip.” When he asks each group of students what this signified, they always come up with the right answer: “Doing those things is like spraying poison into the atmosphere.” [1] Too much poison can kill.

We read in Genesis that Joseph’s brothers “so hated him that they could not speak a friendly word to him” (37:4). Their hatred was based on anger and resentment that he was their father’s favored son. A commandment in the Torah warns: “Do not hate your brother in your heart” (Leviticus 19:17). Well known Jewish author and ethicist, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin advises how to act, once you are in a calm frame of mind:

If you are angry at another, don’t just nurse the grievance in your heart but raise the issue with the person who has enraged you and make it known how he or she has hurt you. Few people do this. Most either nurse their anger in sullen silence, or speak of it incessantly to their friends. [2]

The confrontation that is required to approach another and bring an issue to light is usually difficult to accomplish, which is why it is so often neglected. However, it is vital for healing and reconciliation and failure to do so will generate sin upon sin. As Telushkin described, a person will carry a growing anger and hatred in his heart and/or engage in spreading gossip.

LaShon Ha’Ra – Evil Speech

In Judaism, the subject of ethical speech is considered of great importance. Controlling one’s tongue is a huge challenge. In fact, the Talmud asserts that, in ordinary situations, virtually everyone will transgress the rules of ethical speech at least once a day (Bava Bathra 164b-165a). In Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers, it is written, “Who is strong? …He who is a master of his passions [who can control himself, including his tongue] is stronger than the conqueror of a city” (4:1). While outright lying and slander are clearly recognized as immoral and illegal, the so called “minor infractions” of speech are often disregarded. The Hebrew term for this type of infraction is lashon ha’ra, which is literally translated as ‘bad tongue’ or ‘evil language or speech.’

GROWT 2 -2Lashon ha’ra includes, for example, passing on to another a statement about a person that might be true but casts the person in a negative light. This is an aspect of the central temptation of lashon ha’ra, which is rechilut – gossip! These days, gossip is a major industry and is very thinly disguised, if at all; rather it is promoted and taken pleasure in. In our Father’s eyes, it is a sin. As with any sin, such as murder or theft, one does not wish to be the one sinned against and one feels the pain of being the object of gossip or the butt of a joke. Yeshua’s teaching can well be applied here, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31).

Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1838-1933), more generally known as the Chafetz Chayim (which means ‘Desire Life’; Psalm 34:13), a chief protagonist on the subject of lashon ha’ra, emphasized a valuable element of the subject of bad and negative speech: “Don’t speak lashon ha’ra against yourself.” How we think about ourselves will affect our reactions to, and dealings with, other people. Leviticus 19:18 explicitly states that we “love our neighbors as ourselves.” This implicitly commands us to love ourselves; obviously not in a narcissistic way but with a healthy self esteem in the knowledge that we are made in the image of God. When we do so, we are able to view others in the same light and, just as we would not speak negatively and disparagingly about someone we love, so we will avoid putting ourselves down in any way. However, more often than not, on a conscious level we are more inclined to commit lashon ha’ra against others. Joseph Telushkin cautions against the many seemingly small ‘slights’ that are in fact sins of “putting down”. For example, verbal innuendo, such as, “Don’t mention Robert’s name… I don’t want to say what I know about him!” Or sarcastic comments like, “Yeah, he’s a real genius isn’t he?” when someone has done something foolish; or to show someone an unflattering picture of someone and to laugh about it. [3] All these may be relatively insignificant in our eyes, but all are sins in the sight of God.

We are assured in His Word that when we sincerely repent of our sin our merciful Father will forgive and cancel that sin, just as if it never happened. An important element of repentance, including in the case of lashon ha’ra, is restitution. We need to act on our repentance to the best of our ability. If we wronged someone we need to apologize and make amends; for example, if something was stolen it must be returned. Regarding sins of lashon ha’ra it is difficult, and often impossible, to make amends, which is all the more reason to train ourselves to avoid it in the first place.

A rabbi once wanted to instill this lesson in the minds of his students. He asked one to fetch a feather pillow. He cut the pillow open and shook the contents from the window of the second story classroom. The wind caught the feathers and they twirled away over the town. The rabbi instructed the students, “Now go and collect all the feathers!” They realized it was a fruitless task and he said, “It is just as impossible to take back foolish talk or unwise words.” We can never know the extent to which our lashon ha’ra will travel or the damage it will do.

GROWT 2 -3“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord
Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

Love Yourself?

Recently, I read in a prayer letter Praying God’s Heart in Times Like These! a moving reminder by a Baptist minister, Dr. Greg Frizzell, of the importance of sharing His love with one another as opposed to bringing pain to the Father’s heart.

It is the desire of God’s heart that His people live in powerful love and oneness to the glory of His name. With God, everything is about relationships! We must remember that the two great commandments emphasized by Yeshua are to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves.” (Matthew 22:38-39) It is further clear that love and unity between believers is key to an empowered witness to a lost world. (Jn 13:34; 17:21) While loving unity brings God glory, bickering among believers horribly profanes His name and grieves His Spirit. In Scripture, there is no doubt that right human relationships are crucial to right relationship with God and answered prayer.
(Matthew 5:23-24, 6:14-15) [4]
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
(Mark 11:25)

Let us agree with Dr Frizzell’s prayer to our Father:

“Help us tear down the strongholds of bickering and disunity that so ravage our churches, denominations and families. Move us to ask forgiveness of everyone we have offended and extend forgiveness to all who have offended us. Forgive us for saying things in person, in print or on-line that profane Your name before a watching world we are supposed to reach.”

The proactive way to tame the tongue is to consistently speak words of blessing and kindness. Relationships are built and strengthened by loving words. The Jewish custom of husbands speaking blessings over their wives and children on the eve of Shabbat deeply strengthens family bonds. The immeasurable importance of parents speaking words of love and affirmation to their children, as well as the actions demonstrated, is described by Rabbi Wayne Dosick:
Every word that parents and their children speak, every action that parents and their children take, and every deed that parents and their children perform help to create the children’s “memory bank.” That record becomes the parent’s history and posterity. For the children, it is [a great factor in] their inheritance and their destiny. [5]

GROWT 2 -4*My thanks and appreciation to the anonymous producer of these delightful illustrations, “You are a good egg!”

~ Keren Hannah Pryor 

Footnotes:

1. Hal Urban, Positive Words, Powerful Results, Fireside, NY, 2004, 145
2. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, The Book of Jewish Values, Bell Tower, NY, 2000, 69.
3. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, The Book of Jewish Values, 293.
4. Dr. Gregory Frizzell
5. Hal Urban, Positive Words, Powerful Results, 134.

Summer Growth: G – R – O – W – T Part 1

Truth and Trust (T – Part 1)

What is Truth?

It is wise to determine the truth of a matter before we fully invest our trust in anything or anyone. On the other hand, we need to be aware of the fact that one’s view of ‘truth’ is established according to one’s understanding, which is, more often than not, very subjective. People tend to believe what they want to believe, rather than assessing facts from a wider perspective outside of their personal inclinations. We can assume, for example, that both sides in a battle believe that their cause is right and true. Ergo the opposing side is the “enemy” and is wrong and wicked. Without an absolute, enduring basis for truth men will simply choose to believe and to do whatever suits their own selfish purposes. We each are responsible for our beliefs and choices, and can probably give good justification for them, but King Solomon cautions: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Proverbs 21:2). Our Creator clearly sees and knows the full truth and the deepest motivations of our hearts.

The prophet Jeremiah makes a powerful proclamation to the people of Israel: YHWH Elohim emet! “The Lord thy God is Truth!” (10:10). The Hebrew word meaning truth – emet; spelled aleph, mem, tav, read from right to left – is very revealing. Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, mem is in the center, and tav is the last letter. For something to be true it must be comprehensive – true from beginning to end. Just as God says of Himself: “I Am the first and the last” (Isaiah 44:6).

GROWT 1 -1The Hebrew Scriptures, which we believe to be the foundation and measure of all truth, is comprised of letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet (alphabet). In fact, the Sages of Israel point out that they were used at Creation when God spoke all things into being. They carry life. The gospel of John describes how this same Word of life “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (1:14). In John’s mighty vision after the Resurrection and Ascension, the Risen Lord says: “Fear not, I Am the first and the last, and the Living One” (Revelation 1:17). And again, in Revelation 22:13, Yeshua proclaims: “I Am the Alpha and Omega (the Aleph and Tav), the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Aleph, as the first letter, has the numerical value of 1. It is therefore fitting to represent the One God of the Universe, Elohim; which, in Hebrew, also begins with an aleph. He is the Creator and Source of all life. Interestingly, the first two letters of the word emet spell em, mother, signifying birth – the beginning of life – and the last two letters spell met, meaning death. Our Father God watches over us in truth every day of our lives, from the first to the last! In the context of time and life, aleph can represent the past, mem the present, and tav the future goal. The letter mem, being in the center, is the letter of transition from first to last, the bridge, as it were. It is appropriate, therefore, that the middle letter mem begins the word Mashiach, Messiah! In Messiah the past is contained and the future is born.

Mem also is the initial letter of the word mayim – water. Messiah Yeshua embodies the life-bearing Water of the Word, as he proclaimed at the water pouring ceremony at the height of the joyous Feast of Tabernacles celebration in the Temple: “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). As we immerse our lives in his, the past is cleansed and the prospects for the future are born. In Messiah we find the place of perfect transition and change. One re-enters the stream of time born anew, and can walk forward into the future as a new creation bearing the living water of his resurrection life.

I Understand, Therefore I Believe?

King Solomon is considered one of the wisest men who ever lived. Leaders and scholars travelled from the far corners of the world to consult with him and to learn from his great store of wisdom. In reference to certain laws of life and the Torah, such as the Red Heifer (Numbers 19:2), Solomon proclaimed, “All this I have tested by wisdom; I thought I could be wise; but it was beyond me” (Ecclesiastes 7:23). He acknowledged that full understanding of the Word of God is beyond the limited reason of man. As finite beings, how can we possibly presume to understand and to explain the Infinite?

This truth, however, does not absolve us from studying the Word He gave to us as His people and to apply it to the best of our ability. It is the precious truth of the Father, given as guidance for life to His beloved children. Our reason for studying and our basis for obeying our Father’s commands cannot be because we aim to fully understand them. We believe them to be true, for the One who commands is True. Our faith is in the Giver of the Word even when we see no reason in a particular facet of it. At times the circumstances we face in life are threatening and bewildering and beyond the scope of our understanding. Like a child, we can then place our hand confidently in the hand of our Father and trust Him to lead the way and to bring us safely through.

An intriguing verse in the Psalms reads: “Truth grows from the ground.” Rabbi Mendel of Kotsk, in 18th Century Poland, commented that this teaches us that truth is expressed in “honest behavior here on earth.” [1] He insisted that “religion needed to be rooted in this-worldly decency, rather than lofty flights of fancy.” [2] This is echoed in modern vernacular as, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good!” However, with the modern emphasis on scientific, critical analysis, and the dictates of the physical, there is a growing spiritual hunger and an awareness of the need for the ‘supernatural’. The key is found in the middle ground, in a healthy balance of the physical and spiritual, the earth and the heavens.

Picture: Judean Desert, SW of Jericho, Norma & Martin Sarvis, via Christine Darg

Picture: Judean Desert, SW of Jericho, Norma & Martin Sarvis, via Christine Darg

This balance is illustrated in the pattern of the six ‘workdays’ and the day of Sabbath rest. We are able to see God and serve Him in the ordinary, every-day moments of our daily lives and our regular physical activities. On the other hand, we need a set time apart from our weekday routines to devote to the needs of our spirits, our ‘inner man.’ The Creator exemplified this principle when He set apart and “blessed the seventh day” (Genesis 2:3). It is a day to allow the Creator to take precedence over the every-day works of Creation. The weekday work is good and necessary, but the goal is the Shalom and the shlemut, the wholeness, of Shabbat. Similarly, the goal of a well-lived life in this world is the glory of the next – eternal life in the Light of the Presence of our Creator. One is the balance and the meaning of the other.

Trust and Obey

Wedding pictures of the bride and groom making their vows or walking down the aisle into their new life together are beautiful pictures of trust. Each is placing his or her life into the hands of the other, trusting that it will be valued and safe. So, too, are pictures of a child happily jumping from a height into his father’s arms, fully trusting that he will catch him. Less heartwarming situations of trust occur when you open your mouth in a dentist’s chair, or board an airplane, or eat a meal in a restaurant. There are innumerable settings in which we need to believe that those providing a service or doing their jobs are trustworthy. Unfortunately, as one journeys through life, one’s trust can be dented and sometimes shattered altogether and one is inclined to agree with the credo, “In God we trust, all others are suspect!”

The element of trust is significant in all forms of interaction. Sincere, willing, and loving obedience can only be extended to one in whom we fully trust. In the Kingdom of God, the foundation upon which our faith is built is total trust in our King. When God met with His people Israel at Mount Sinai and presented the ‘company rules,’ as it were, their response was Na’asseh ve’nishma! “We will do and we will obey!” (Exodus 24:7). So great was their faith in their Redeemer that they could pledge their allegiance to Him before they knew what would be required of them as His subjects. They could commit themselves to obey His commands, not based on logic or understanding, but because it was the One true God who commanded.

GROWT 1 -3It is worth noting that many commandments prescribed in the Torah pertain to the Land itself and can only be followed when one is living in Israel. These instructions on how to live in the Land were a preparation as well as an assurance to the Israelites at Sinai that they would eventually reach the Promised Land. They also are significant now that God has restored His people to the Land of Israel in modern times. An interesting and challenging command is that of Shemittah, the Sabbatical Year, which states that when the people of Israel are in the Land of Promise the soil must be left to lie fallow every seventh year (Exodus 23:10-11). There should be no plowing, sowing, or working of the land; it must rest. Those who have faith and trust in the God of Israel are endeavoring to live in obedience to His commandments regarding the land. Interestingly, records show that those farmers who are implementing the rule of shemittah on their farms enjoy bumper crops in the sixth year, enough to sustain them through the harvest of the eighth year. If we consider the commandment of a Sabbatical year for the land, we can appreciate the benefits to the soil in replenishing itself as it lies fallow for a year. The true benefit, however, accrues to the farmer himself. He has a Sabbatical. Farming is a very demanding, “twenty-four seven” occupation. In laying down the land for a year he is, in effect, acknowledging that the land is not his but God’s. He is reminded that the true Provider of his needs is his Father in heaven. God is in control and we are His loving and trusting servants.

Again, in accord with the Sabbath day, the Sabbatical year is a reminder of what is of major importance and of true significance in life. As the peace and respite of the seventh day of Shabbat is enjoyed every week, time is afforded during the Sabbatical year to focus one’s full attention on the Creator Himself; to study His Word, to draw closer to Him and to solidify the foundations of our relationship with Him. We are able to clarify His purposes for our life in the weeks and years ahead and can go forward remembering that our true calling and mission are in the service of God.

As we serve our Father and King, may we be encouraged in accord with Paul’s words to Timothy,

“I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Messiah Yeshua; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us” (2 Tim.1:12-14).

Footnotes:

1. Arthur Green, The Language of Truth, The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, The Jewish Publication Society, PA, 1998, Introduction xxii.
2. Ibid., Introduction xxii

 

Summer Growth: G – R – O – W

GROW 1Worship and Warfare

City of God

Most people can agree that life is a battle and that we need, in the words attributed to Paul, to “fight the good fight” (1 Tim. 6:12). The late Derek Prince, a well respected Christian Bible teacher and author, made a very reassuring observation with reference to the modern State of Israel, one that we can well apply to ourselves as His children: “God has a different attitude toward the property that is His!” [1] The comment highlights the fact that, although all the earth is His in a broader sense, God particularly accepts maintenance of and responsibility for the Land of Israel. It is the only piece of real estate that He chose as a location to build His House and where He “placed His Name, forever” (Ezra 6:12; Nehemiah 1:9). His name plaque is on the door! Any other claims of ownership are unjustified and false. The Land is His and the capital city – Jerusalem, the city of the Great King – bears His Name. They belong to Him alone. As do we, when we bear His Name.

The ongoing, vicious and relentless attacks of the enemy, both in word and deed, against the restored State of Israel can be seen as an earthly outworking of the spiritual battle taking place in the heavens. As the spiritual battle will continue until Messiah arrives in Jerusalem to reign as the King of kings, we can expect the onslaught of the enemy of the God of Israel to continue on the earth until then.

It also is a reflection of the battle we must face as a child of God throughout our earthly lifetime. It is ongoing for we cannot make peace with a lying foe who is bent on our destruction and who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). As we see exemplified in Israel today, when our trust is in Avinu sh’b’Shamayim, our Father in Heaven, the Owner of the House, we are able to enjoy peace in the midst of strife and He prepares a banquet table before us in the presence of our enemies. He anoints our heads with the oil of gladness, and our cups overflow with His abundant life (Psalm 23:5).

Another well-known teacher and “father” of the bridging between the Church and Israel is Lance Lambert, who is also a Jerusalemite. In a teaching he gave in Jerusalem, Lance made the intriguing comparison of a man’s wife and a capital city. He referred to Revelation 21:9-10 where the Bride of Messiah is called “the New Jerusalem” and said, in his characteristically humorous way, that he had never heard a man introduce his wife by saying, “This is my capital city!” He did not elaborate, and I was left wondering about the implications of this interesting idea.

Every city has its own atmosphere. Think of New York, New Orleans, Miami Beach, London, Paris, Venice, etc., etc. The city will reflect its inhabitants and its central focus and purpose. As a “city” of the King of the Universe what sights, sounds, industry and such are exhibited to those who visit or live with us? What is the focus and purpose of our “city”? Is it clear that this is an exclusive property of the One true God; one that is ‘set apart’ from the world and treasured as His dwelling place?

Recently, while reading Rebecca Petrie’s book, Falling into His Grace, I learned something about the city of Rome. She records a visit from a friend who had studied in Rome and who shared how the city was full of fountains, “…many dating back to the time of Christ and before. In that era there were, of course, no motors or pumps. To provide pressure, they built aqueducts high above the city. The water plunged down from above, forcing it into plumes in the fountains.” [2] This beautifully illustrates how, when our lives are yielded to the Lord and laid out according to His plan and we keep the “plumes” clear, His life can flow through us like living water from above and pour forth as something of pleasing and refreshing beauty. The “city” of our life is beautified. As Yeshua said, “He who believes in me …out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). The consideration that we, the people of God, are His living, breathing “capital city” in the earth, adds extra weight to Paul’s exhortation to the believers in Rome:

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
(Romans 12:1-2)

Observant Jews pray a special prayer three times a day, morning, afternoon and evening, that includes the words, Uv’nei Yerushalayim Ir haKodesh, bimherah, b’yameinu. “And build Jerusalem, the Holy City, soon and in our days.” When I pray this prayer (I admit not three times a day!) I always add, “U’b’chaiyeinu – And in our lives.” As the present earthly capital of Jerusalem is being rebuilt and made holy in preparation, we are part of that process as ‘living stones’ – representatives of the City of the Great King.

 Picture, New Jerusalem, John Ligtenberg, Blue and White Gallery, Jerusalem, Israel.

Place of Worship and Warfare

The Scriptures record the strong God-forged link between worship and warfare. The study and proclamation of His Word is a form of worship, as is prayer. God calls His dwelling place “a house of prayer.” I am reminded of a meaningful, anonymous quote:

“Something happens when we pray, powers of evil lose their sway, we gain strength and fear gives way; therefore, let us pray.”

Prayer and praise are both ‘weapons of our warfare’. The Temple in Jerusalem was not a hushed, silent sanctuary; it was continually filled with vocalized prayer together with the anointed song and music of the Levitical priesthood. King David is the archetype. He was a skilled warrior, who with his band of mighty men fought valiant battles and “struck down the Philistines; and the Lord saved them by a great victory” (1 Chronicles 11:14). At the same time, he was “the sweet singer of Israel” who directed the Levites who “were trained in singing to the Lord…all were skillful” and employed “cymbals, harps and lyres, for the service of the House of God” (1 Chron. 25:6-7).

The first powerful sign of a worshipful act influencing a physical battle occurred when Moses looked down from a hilltop and raised his arms while the Israelites were doing battle in the valley against the attacking Amalekites (Exodus 17:10-15). While his hands were raised, the people of God prevailed; when he lowered them they weakened. We understand that as long as he raised his hands to the Lord, with the help of Aaron and Hur, God fought for Israel. After their victory Moses built an altar of remembrance and called it YHWH Nissi – God is my Banner. Joe Garlington, a modern-day worshipper and prayer-warrior, declares that, likewise, “Battles are won wherever holy hands are lifted up to God.” [3]

Another powerful example of the connection between worship and warfare is found in the book of Second Chronicles, when Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem are facing invasion by a large enemy army. The king, Jehoshaphat, declares a fast and he and the people gather in the Temple court and pray and cry out to the Lord. A prophet, Jahaziel son of Zechariah, says to them: “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s” (20:15). He presents them with a practical strategy and then proclaims, “You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of YHWH on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem!” (20:17). How do they respond to this awesome news? King Jehoshaphat humbly bows down with his face to the ground, “…and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before YHWH, worshiping YHWH. And the Levites … stood up to praise YHWH, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice” (20:18-19).

Early the next morning they went out to face the enemy. The king addressed them and “he appointed those who were to sing to YHWH and praise him in holy array, as they went before the army, proclaiming:

Hodu la’Adonai ki tov, ki le’olam chasdo!
Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures for ever.

“And when they began to sing and praise, YHWH set an ambush against the [enemy] who had come against Judah, so that they were routed” (20:21-22). As prophesied, the army of Judah did not need to fight and the Lord gave the victory. With joy and praise, “they came to Jerusalem, with harps and lyres and trumpets, to the house of YHWH. And the fear of God came on all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard that YHWH had fought against the enemies of Israel” (20:28-29).

GROW 3Weapons of our Warfare

The people say it’s just a simple song. God says our song is a symphony of praise unto Him and a dirge of destruction to the enemy. The people say it’s just the clapping of hands, but God says in the heavenly realm …it’s a thunderclap bringing fear to the enemy. …The people say the waving of flags [or the lifting of banners] is just a silly thing, but God says it is a signal to the enemy of his imminent defeat and is a wave offering unto God. [4]

The apostle Paul clarifies in his letter to the Ephesians, that “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the worldly forces of darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12). Therefore, as he also explains, the protective armor God provides, which enables us to stand against the wily attacks of the enemy of our souls, is spiritual – the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the shoes of the gospel of peace. Also, when we are on the offensive, “…the weapons of our warfare are not worldly [carnal] but have Divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). They are the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph.6:12), fervent, watchful prayer, and our praise and worship of God.

Although the actual battle may be taking place supernaturally, in “heavenly places”, it is clear that our earthly, physical actions have a direct impact on that battle. In addition, our spiritual ‘warfare’ has a supernatural effect on our physical circumstances. A great illustration of this is found in the account of Paul and Silas in the book of Acts. They were unjustly arrested as Jews who were disturbing the peace in the city of Philippi in Macedonia. “The crowd joined in attacking them; and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison” (16:22-23). The jailor was charged to watch them carefully and he incarcerated them in a high security cell and fastened their feet in stocks. It was the middle of the night, they were beaten and in pain, isolated and uncomfortable. What were they to do? Paul and Silas started praising God and singing with all their hearts, so loudly that all the prisoners heard them. The whole atmosphere of the place changed, for right there in the dark, dank prison they were building a throne for the Presence of the King! (Psalm 22:3). Sure enough, the Lord intervened and the situation changed dramatically. “Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened” (16:26). Did they run off and escape into the night? No! The Lord had greater plans, which included the salvation of the jailor and his household as well as the opportunity to stand up to the unjust magistrates. We must never underestimate the power of God as we offer up our heartfelt songs in His praise!

The origin of the English word ‘worship’ is the Anglo Saxon compound word weorthscype. The first part weorth, means “worth, value, respect” and scype means “to shape or to build something.” Together they carry the meaning of “to shape or build worth, value or respect.” [5] Comparable to the veneration of an earthly ‘lord’ by his ‘vassal’ (underling, servant), so too, when we offer worship to God, we literally become vessels immersed in His infinite worth and value. The Lord is worthy to be honored and praised!

Let us lift our hearts, and hands, and voices to join with the four living creatures in the Throne Room of God, who day and night give glory and honor and praise to Him saying:

“Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh! Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord, God,
the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come!” [6]

 

Footnotes:

1. Derek Prince, Secrets of a Prayer Warrior, Chosen Books, USA, 2009, 124
2. Rebecca Petrie, Falling into His Grace, The Power of a Life Laid Down, Belgium, 2009, 130.
3. Joseph L. Garlington, Worship, The Pattern of Things in Heaven, Destiny Image Publishers, USA, 1997, 45.
4. Ibid., 72
5. Ibid., 18
6. Revelation 4:8

Summer Growth: G – R – O

Obedience and Order

Obedience – The Yoke of the Kingdom

In an exquisitely tender exhortation, Messiah Yeshua said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). His yoke was that of the Kingdom of His Father in heaven. Yeshua’s life was the perfect demonstration of a life lived in one accord with the will of King of the Universe. Some may view any yoke as a restriction, something that will chafe and bind and weigh one down, hence they run from it and reject God’s ‘yoke’ either in fear and ignorance or in different forms of rebellion.

Obedience that pleases our Father is not based on unhealthy fear or compulsion. God does not overwhelm us with His power and force His will upon us; rather, He woos us patiently in His love. As with the Israelites, He draws us to Himself in a secret place of desert-like stillness and always offers the choice to respond. He desires that we order our lives according to His will, which is perfect and in our best interest. Following the directions of His Word and Spirit, and walking in His ways, enables us to become the person He created us to be. This is not simply an issue of being a good person. In his classic, Mere Christianity, author C.S. Lewis warns that if we try in our own strength to “do good,” to live moral and decent lives simply because that’s the “right” thing to do, one of two things will result: “Either we give up trying to be good, or we become very unhappy indeed!” Obedience must go deeper than trying to change our surface behavior. Lewis adds: “I must be ploughed up and resown!”

Again, the farming metaphor: a farmer will never leave a field untended after the harvest and expect a new healthy crop to grow the following year. It must be cleared, ploughed up, made ready with any necessary fertilizer, and sown with new seed. So with us, as we yield ourselves to our ‘Master Gardner’ and allow the Lord to do His work in us we can expect our lives to bear eternal fruit. Our Father transforms us from the inside out as we “let go” of our selfish desires and predilections. When we yield in peaceful surrender and allow His life to soak right through us by His Spirit, we find that His light and wisdom and truth begin to illumine our days and to brighten our world. A new and beautiful crop of righteousness grows in our life, for His glory.

Interestingly, Yeshua’s first miracle was one of transformation. At the wedding in Cana he turned jars of water into wine – a symbol of joy. A key factor was highlighted when, after the host’s supply of wine was depleted, Yeshua’s mother Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). He told them to fill six large stone water jars with water, and we are told, “…they filled them up to the brim.” This illustrates that to the extent that we obey, so will be our joy. When God asks us to do anything, we should do it to the utmost; then we will discover that “our cup overflows” and our joy will be full!

GRO 1The miracle was also a picture of God’s life in us and a reminder that, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). When, in Yeshua, we present our hearts to the Father in childlike faith and in humble obedience, we become as “…vessels, sanctified, meet for the Master’s use, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). We are the containers; the Spirit of God fills us, and our lives become a dwelling place for God’s Presence in the earth and a source of living water to others.

In his booklet, The Key to Everything, Norman Grubb points out that, as we are living vessels, we are not meant to be passive containers. In this regard, Yeshua gave us further illustration in his teaching of the vine and the branches. In him, as the vine, we the branches are brought into living relationship with our Father God and can draw on the “sap” of His Kingdom life. Abiding in this “one-ness” we then can participate effectively with Him and produce the leaves, flowers and fruit He has ordained for us. Grubb underscores that the activity of the branch is secondary to its receptivity. “We fail when we make activity a substitute for receptivity. He is the Lord and we are the co-operators, the receivers.” Only in this relationship with Him can we become the true givers of His life, beauty and light. Then we become, as in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famed verse, “…a common bush aflame with the Presence of God.”

Participating in God’s Order

We soon realize that the new creation, God-centered life we receive is not an instant, miraculous replacement of our old “self-centered” life. Rather, it is a process of transformation. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of England, points out in his book, Future Tense, that the concept of a future that is substantially different from the past is first revealed in the Bible. Abraham was called from a Mesopotamian city-state to camp in desert places and to share the truth of the One God and Creator of all. Moses left the life of a prince in Egypt to live as a shepherd; only then was he called to be the leader in the birthing of God’s chosen people as a nation and, ultimately, to be the one to receive and reveal God’s Torah. Joseph and David were brought from lowly places to be among the greatest kings of history. We are able to apply this same concept in our lives as children of God and also to the history of the world itself. God is a God of Redemption on every level. Rabbi Sacks quotes anthropologist Mircea Eliade who says, “The Hebrews were the first to discover the meaning of history as the epiphany of God.” [1] The God who said, “I will be who I will be” is constantly involved in the present affairs of the world and its people, bringing change and transformation and directing it all towards His planned future. Reflected in the Israelites’ wanderings en route to the Promised Land, we also are on the unpredictable journey that, in the fullness of time, will bring us to God’s Promised Future!

The question now is, “How, then, do we travel?” We can find many answers in a study of the journey of the Israelites. To name a few:

  1. We travel in faith, believing the words of the Almighty, whose wonders we have seen and whose provision and Presence we enjoy.
  2. We travel in order, with God at the center; not as an undisciplined mob but in assigned positions, each with a particular purpose.
  3. We travel in obedience to God’s instructions. We move when He says to move and we camp when He says to stay put! God is in control and we follow Him.
  4. We focus on His Word, diligently hearing and studying, and increasingly learning more of Him and His ways.

Dallas Willard made the startling and in many cases sadly true observation that, “the churches are filled with undiscipled disciples!” The great co-mission given to disciples of Yeshua is more accurately translated as, “In your going, make disciples of all nations …teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The word ‘disciple’ occurs 269 times in the Brit Chadasha, (New Testament), which signals its importance. The Hebrew equivalent is talmid, meaning student or learner. The purpose of making more students was to “teach them to observe,” to put into practice, all that he had taught them and commanded them to do. Yeshua taught and demonstrated, clarified and filled full of meaning the Word of God, because that is who he was – the Word made flesh; the Bread of Life broken for us that we might eat of it and digest it and absorb it into our very being and become one with it, with him. Yeshua therefore makes the wonderful promise that throughout the process of becoming more like him, studying the Word, living it and sharing it with others, raising up other disciples, he is there: “…and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He is here, with us, constantly, until the end of time as we know it and then through eternity.

We have the freedom to learn and change and to do things differently. Inseparable from true freedom in Messiah is the dignity and value of every human being, including ourselves. When we realize our worth as His child and we partner with God in His purposes for our lives, we become an ambassador of hope in the world; a participant in His unfolding plan of redemption – for His glory!

GRO 2May we, “in our going,” wherever the Lord has placed us or takes us, abide in His love, be obedient to His commands, continue to be students of His Word, and be filled with His joy. Yeshua assures us:

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
(John 15:9-11)

 

Footnotes:

1. Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2009, 243.

Summer Growth: G – R

Repentance and Righteousness
Turn and Return

Repentance was the first message preached by both John the Baptizer (Matt. 3:2) and by Yeshua (Matt. 4:17). In Hebrew, the language of revelation, the word translated as repentance is teshuva, which has root meanings of ‘to turn around’ and ‘to return’. The classic example of teshuvah is found in Yeshua’s parable of the prodigal son and the merciful father. The younger son dishonors his father and goes his own way. The further he goes the worse his situation becomes until, finding himself living in a literal pigsty, he wakes up to reality and makes the decision to return to his father’s house as a servant.

A lesson we learn from the parable is that repentance is a process; the steps of which are:

  1. to recognize that you have taken actions based on wrong decisions, which stemmed from thoughts and attitudes that were not in accord with the Father’s will,
  2. to regret and confess those thoughts and attitudes and actions,
  3. to make the wise decision to turn around and return to the Father and His ways, and
  4. to take the necessary action to do so.

Whenever we do this, we find our Father is always there, willing to receive us with open arms, waiting to enfold us in His love and to restore us in joyous celebration as His son or daughter. This is particularly relevant when a major ‘course correction’ is made in one’s life. In addition, as we know only too well, regular acts of repentance are necessary to ensure we stay on course!

GR 1

In accord with the metaphor of a farmer tending his crops, we may consider that during the hot summer months an important task is to keep vigilant watch for the enemies of the growing plants and to eradicate them when found. Predatory critters, insects, mold and disease, or the proliferation of weeds can harm and kill the new growth. The enemies of our spiritual growth are wrong attitudes, negative thoughts and poisonous words; all of which produce the fruit of “dead works” in our lives. The writer of the book of Hebrews mentions the concepts of “…a foundation of repentance from dead works” (6:1) and “…purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14). My beloved and wise husband, in a teaching on the Kingdom of God, gave a great definition of ‘dead works’ as: “…anything in thought, word and deed that does not align with God’s nature, God’s will, and God’s purpose for your life.”

God is Love. It follows that the love of God should be the source of the thoughts that fill our minds, the words we speak, and all we do. Our actions, our deeds or ‘works’, are the end result and the outward demonstration of what we harbor and nurture in our minds and hearts. Any deed that falls short of the expressed will of God and does not honor His Name and build up His Kingdom is a ‘dead work’. It does not flow from the love of the Father, but from one’s self-centered ego and, sadly, undermines the Kingdom of God and serves to build and strengthen the kingdom of the enemy of our souls.

This highlights the urgent need to be aware constantly and to examine our lives in the light of God’s Word of Truth. Once we spot the ‘bugs’, the ‘mold’ or the ‘weeds’, He has given us the powerful gift and tool of repentance to eradicate these ‘enemies’ that hinder our growth in righteousness and that cloud His image in us as His children.

The prophet Isaiah describes the sadness of a spoiled harvest:
And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field; and in the vineyards no songs are sung, no joyful shouts are raised; no treader treads out wine in the presses; the vintage shout is hushed (16:10).

In contrast he describes how, when “…the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field; then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever” (32:15-16).

We can rejoice in the fact that, as the redeemed of God, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10). Indeed, as the apostle Paul reminds us, “The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

Thus we see that the constant vigilance of Repentance – dealing with the life-robbing enemies of growth – and the precious fruits of Righteousness go hand-in-hand.

Righteousness – a Way, a Life, a Robe, a Temple?

There are numerous descriptions of righteousness in the Bible. It is a path to follow, as in: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). It is a way of life to be pursued, “The way [of life] of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH, but He loves him who pursues righteousness” (Proverbs 16:9). And it is beautifully described in the final book of Revelation as a robe of fine linen to be woven and worn by the Bride of Messiah at the glorious wedding feast!

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure” — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (19:7-8).

The concept of a garment of righteousness is also found in the book of Psalms: “Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness, and let thy saints shout for joy” (32:9). This makes an interesting connection between the “priests” of God, those who serve in His Temple, and the Bride.

GR 2Our God has revealed to us through His Word that His desire from the beginning was to dwell with His people, who were to be to Him “… a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). This is evidenced by the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness as a place of dwelling for His Shekinah Presence; and then the building of His House, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. His desire came to further fullness when God “came down” to earth in the person of His Son. The revelation of the Almighty God in His Torah was now also incarnated in flesh in His anointed Messiah.

Through his life, teaching, death and resurrection as the first-fruits of new creation life, Yeshua became the High Priest of a new priestly order; those who would build a holy temple for the Presence of God in their hearts. He could dwell within them by His Spirit of holiness. A natural reaction of man often is: “But God is omnipotent. He is so transcendent and beyond us! Being human is enough of a challenge; I’m not sure I want God living in me!”

It is good to believe that God is, and that His Word is true, and to do one’s best to live according to His commandments – to be a good and dutiful son or daughter, like the older son in the parable. But, God has revealed that He longs for more… He longs for the “perfect”; which is why Yeshua exhorts his disciples, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Oy! Being ‘good’ is enough of a challenge, being perfect seems impossible!

Let us consider a few implications of ‘perfect.’ The perfect transcends the good, even as His Being transcends His will, and His Love transcends His Word. The merging of all these elements was revealed in Yeshua himself, the one who lived perfectly. Yeshua’s love for the Father was so great that the undergirding theme for his life on earth was, “Father, not my will but Thine be done!” In awesome humility, he fully yielded his life to Him with total trust in the knowledge that our Father, the King of the Universe, is all loving, all powerful, all holy – perfect!  Similarly, as we follow Messiah in the paths of righteousness, and absorb his life into our own, and have our minds renewed by the washing of the Word and our hearts filled with the Spirit of holiness, we will be enabled to “put on the new [perfect] nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

In essence, we become priests set apart to serve Him and our lives become a living Sanctuary – a Holy Dwelling for the Presence of God. As Paul describes in his second letter to the Corinthians:

For we are the Temple of the Living God; as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (6:16).

As priests in the Kingdom, we can echo the beautiful prayer of the priest Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer, which he proclaimed when he received the revelation of the imminence of Messiah while offering fragrant incense in the Holy Place of the Temple: “Blessed be YHWH, God of Israel …that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life” (Luke 1:68-76).

Righteousness is not a state to be reached when one can say, “Ah, now I’ve arrived – I am righteous and holy!” Rather, it is an ongoing creative act of being in relationship. Personally, I like to define it as “…being in right relationship with our Father; seeking to walk creatively and passionately in obedience to His will; in love desiring to please Him”.

A relationship is never static. It is always in a state of evolution and change; it either grows and strengthens or weakens and fades. To be in right relationship requires the same constant attention and loving involvement that a good farmer bestows upon his crops.

GR 3Dear companions in the study of His precious Word, “…it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent [perfect], and may be pure and blameless for the day of Messiah, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Messiah Yeshua, to the glory and praise of God our Father” (Philippians1:9-11). Amen.

Summer Growth – G

Gratitude and Generosity 

We are setting out on our journey through the busy season of Summer Growth! Before we start, there are a few basic, foundational concepts that we need to have clear in our understanding.

  1. You are Worthy.
  2. It is God’s Will that you grow.
  3. You are equipped, by His grace, with all you need to grow.

The mental foundation stone of growth in character and spirit is the knowledge that you are worthy of growth. Our Creator stresses in His Word that each of His children is uniquely created and is of inestimable value in His eyes. This truth is not always reinforced by one’s earthly parents or circumstances and often much healing and nurturing of one’s wounded spirit in the love of Yeshua is required before the full truth of this concept can settle securely in one’s heart and mind. This may be a gradual process of acceptance, but at each stage of realization of one’s uniqueness and value a deeper “setting apart” of oneself to God can occur. What does this mean? The verb ‘to set apart’ in Hebrew is le’kadesh – to make holy. In the Bible, the first implementation of this occurs when God sets apart the seventh day of Creation “to make it holy” (Genesis 2:3). The Sabbath was set apart for His particular and holy purposes. Likewise, in Messiah, once a person is born into the Kingdom of God one is set apart from the world’s kingdom and is devoted to the will and purposes of God the King. We are able, in Yeshua and the power of the Holy Spirit, to start walking in the particular path our Father has prepared for us and doing the deeds that He prepared for us from the very beginning. “For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

As any loving and caring father, our Father in heaven wants with all His heart to see His children grow in strength and maturity; to become all He knows they are able to be. All the potential is already planted in us, like seeds of His love. As He says: “I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). In our Father’s eyes, you are worth investing time, energy, planning and effort in, so that you might grow more and more in His image and become the person He created you to be. All your spiritual potential can blossom in beauty and can produce an abundance of spiritual fruit. That, at the end of the day, is what brings most joy to our Father’s heart!

With all the pressures of the materialistic world around us, and the constant bombardment of commercial advertising, it is important to remember that our true value is not determined by our external trappings. As Paul emphasizes: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). Possessions, importance of position or the work one does, wealth or lack thereof, marital status, good looks, natural talents, etc. etc. are not the true measures of worth in our Father’s Kingdom. Overdue concern with these things, and being caught up in the worldly “rat race” with its competitive basis for judging value, will cause us to lose sight of our essential value and our true and unique identity can be lost.

As a child of God, every person is created in His image and is beloved in His sight. This truth gives us an intrinsic worth that should be nurtured, safeguarded and cherished. When this is done, each child can grow in knowledge of Him and become the fullness of who He created them to be.

G 1First Stage of Growth – Gratitude and Generosity

“Have an attitude of gratitude!” sounds like a cliché these days. However, there is great truth in the fact that gratitude is an attitude of the heart; one that significantly affects one’s approach to life and, consequently how one lives.

Possibly the greatest biblical example of living a life of gratitude is King David. Through his psalms, he poured out his heart to our Father God. They were songs written in times of joy and despair, yet they always expressed a foundation of love and trust. Throughout the psalms there is a strong connecting thread of gratitude to God for life itself and for the sure knowledge of His constant care and unchanging goodness. A small selection:

I will give thanks to YHWH, the Lord, with my whole heart… (9:1).

The Lord, YHWH, is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him (28:7).

It is good to give thanks to YHWH, to sing praises to Thy Name,
O Most High… (92:1).

I bow down toward thy Holy Temple and give thanks to Thy Name for Thy steadfast love and Thy faithfulness; for Thou hast exalted above everything Thy Name and Thy Word (138:2).

The Psalmist echoes God’s response:

“He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors Me; to him who orders his way aright I will show the salvation of God!” (50:23).

God loves a cheerful giver!

A direct result of true gratitude is the desire to give. One cannot be sincerely grateful for the abundance of God’s gifts and provision and at the same time be a selfish hoarder. The Bible also exhorts us to give cheerfully. (2 Cor. 9:7). The ‘doing’ of giving is highly important, but maybe even more so is how we give. If one, for example, gives to a beggar one should give in a kind and encouraging manner. The great ethicist Maimondes writes in his code of Jewish law:

“Whoever gives charity to a poor man ill-mannerdly and with downcast looks has lost all the merit of his action… He should give with good grace and with joy and should sympathize with his plight…
(Mishnei Torah, “Laws of Gifts to the Poor” 10:4).

When our giving comes from a grateful heart, we can offer our gifts to others with a cheerful countenance and a caring, gracious attitude.

Generosity is described as having a “good eye”. To look away and ignore the needs of others is therefore considered a “bad eye”. An example is found in Proverbs: “He who gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse” (28:27). Our spiritual ears are also important! Singer and teacher, Shlomo Carlebach, was convinced that we are in spiritual danger when we ignore the plight of the poor. He said, “If your ears are not open to the crying of the poor, then your ears are dead, and you will not hear God calling you either.” [1]

The Hebrew term for giving money or goods to the poor and needy is tzedakah, charity. Tzedakah, according to God’s Word, is a duty and not an option. A righteous, godly man is described as: “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor…” (Psalm 112:9). In Judaism, while the giving of charity is a regular part of life, performing acts of kindness (gemilut chesed) is esteemed even more highly. In the opening chapters of the Torah the first act of kindness is performed by God Himself when He clothes Adam and Eve after they have sinned (Genesis 3:21). Again, in the closing chapter of Deuteronomy, God performs an act of kindness in burying Moses (34:6). In fact, doing an act of kindness on behalf of one who has died, such as contributing to the burial of one with no means, or helping to take care of the person’s goods or affairs, is considered the highest form of kindness for the person cannot repay you.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his inspiring book on “how to lead a decent, kind, and honest life in a morally complicated world,” draws attention to an excerpt from the Talmud:

Acts of kindness are greater than charity in three ways:
Charity is done with one’s money, while kindness can be done with one’s money or with one’s person [e.g., visiting a sick person];
Charity is given only to the poor, while kindness can be done to both the poor and the rich [e.g., consoling mourners];
Charity is given only to the living, while kindness may be shown to both the living and the dead [e.g., arranging a pauper’s burial]. [2]

Telushkin comments, “Therefore …offering one’s time and one’s heart represents the highest type of giving.” [3] Let us constantly be alert and keep our “good eye”, and our ears, open for opportunities to do acts of kindness, even when it requires extra thought and effort. In so doing we imitate the acts of our Father God, who is the ultimate Giver. May we open our hearts, and our hands, to be more ready and cheerful givers.

There are various forms of giving to consider.

  1. Material Giving – Planned donations to charities; gifts to family, friends and neighbors; spontaneous acts of kindness to those in need.
  2. Mental Giving – Share thoughts and ideas; teach others what you have learnt.
  3. Emotional Giving – Share feelings (this also can be done non-verbally, a smile and/or a hug works wonders!); give verbal or written affirmation and encouragement.
  4. Spiritual Giving – Pray – speak and listen to our Father, intercede for others; worship; give counsel; mentor and raise up disciples.

When our hearts are filled with gratitude they overflow with the desire to give generously. Amazingly, the more happily one gives the more our Great Giver provides us with and the more we are equipped and able to give. As Paul records so succinctly in his epistle to the Corinthians:

The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance
for every good work (2 Cor.9: 6-8).

~ Keren Hannah Pryor

Footnotes:

1. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, The Book of Jewish Values, Random House, NY, 2000; 410.
2. Ibid; 8.
3. Ibid; 8.

A Pre-Summer Pause for Reflection

Every journey needs “pit stops” – planned times to slow down and to pull off the road. These are opportunities to be refreshed, to review the progress made and to anticipate and plan the next stage of the journey. We will take the time to do that now on our “journey through sacred time,” before we press on into the full heat of Summer, and review our progression through the Biblical Cycle of the year. We started the cycle at Rosh HaShanah, at the transition of Autumn into Winter, and have now arrived at week thirty-four. We have passed the half-way mark and are about to venture forth on the homeward stretch of this year’s journey.

Now is a time to pause and to examine our hearts. We find, as with an extended physical journey, that as we travel through the annual cycle of sacred time there are ups and downs! We experience many joyful “high places” but there are “lows” that seem dark and are filled with sadness or confusion. These, too, have a purpose. We slowly discover that the darkness serves to enhance and brighten the light that follows. When we experience a “descent” – a difficult time of trial and testing – we can endure it in faith. We can persevere in the knowledge that our Father has our lives in His hands and He will redeem the situation for our greater “ascent”. Each time we stumble or fall, or circumstances bring us down, He is there when we call to Him and He will lift us up. We discover, at times, that it is necessary for us to be brought low, to humble ourselves; then He can lift us up to a higher place than we were before.

“Because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord… and wept before Me, I also have heard you,” says the Lord.
(2 Kings 22:19)

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:10).

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven (Lamentations 3:40-41).

In any painful circumstance we need first to examine our hearts and deeds in humility and recognize if there is any sin for which we need to repent. Are we allowing anything to impede our relationship with our Father? If not, we can accept that He is teaching and disciplining us for a reason known to Him. We can rest in His wisdom and love, and we can trust that He will reveal His purpose in His time. Our loving Father continually corrects and disciplines us, like a good shepherd using his rod to guide and direct his sheep. He prods us still further for our eternal good and for His glory.

My child, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves the one he loves, as a father the child in whom he delights.
(Proverbs 3:11-12)

Where are we Heading and Why?

P n R 1

When, for example, a hiking trip is long and demanding, it is a wise and productive exercise regularly to review the reasons for the trip and the destination for which one is aiming. To move forward and to invest the effort involved in accomplishing the hike, we often need to reinforce our motivation and determination to press on. The same applies to our spiritual journey. It is a constant challenge of upward growth – growth in spirit, in character, and in relationship with our God, which is reflected and worked out in our daily actions and earthly relationships. This journey of the spirit continues throughout our life on earth for the destination is found in eternity. As a result, there are no “instant fixes” in spiritual growth. We need constantly to learn and grow in order to overcome negativity and the desire to quit and simply drift. If we are not moving forward intentionally and purposefully, then we will stagnate and drift further and further backwards – away from our true purpose in life, away from our God. When we review our journey and remember our ultimate goal, which is to be in the Presence of our Father and the Beloved of our souls forever, we can be grateful for each new day that He gives us and treasure all the possibility it holds. Every step forward, no matter how faltering, is in fact a giant leap!

Let us look back on the way we have come.

P n R 2

We came through the darkness of winter illumined by the light of His Word and His Presence. We experienced the “Time of our Freedom”, our Exodus from slavery, drawn forth by God’s mighty outstretched arm and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We celebrated the First-fruits of Messiah’s Resurrection Life and the joy of spring and new growth. We counted the days, the seven weeks of the Omer, until the gathering of the harvest in Shavuot when we sang grateful praise for the bountiful provision of our King. We rejoiced at the great gift of His Torah, His eternal Word, and in the outpouring of His Holy Spirit in a bursting forth of new Kingdom life.

Now, refreshed and empowered, we stand ready for the next phase of the journey – the long, hot summer during which all the fields and crops need to be tended carefully in order to celebrate the final great harvest in the Autumn of the year – the Fall Festivals of Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and the joyful Feast of Tabernacles – Sukkot.

A Time to Grow

Summer is a time of rapid growth. As we nurture our spiritual growth, we need to be as watchful, careful and industrious as good farmers who tend the crops in their fields. To be assured of a bountiful and fruitful harvest, invading insects and scavengers need to be warded off, the weather needs to be monitored, unwanted weeds must be uprooted and disposed of, crops must be watered and fertilized. Then, in the Fall, they can rest back in contentment and celebrate the fruits of their labors and give generously in gratitude to the One who is the Source of it all.

Through the coming Summer months we will have the opportunity to monitor our growth, as it were, by exploring and considering the following topics, for which the word ‘growth’ is an acronym:

P n R 3 G – Gratitude and Generosity
R – Repentance and Righteousness
O – Obedience and Order
W – Worship and Warfare
T – Trust and Truth
H – Hope and HalleluYah!

At this bridge between Spring and Summer it is a worthwhile exercise to examine and clarify our motives for the journey. Why are we on this road at all? And why do we, and should we, desire to grow?

A few positive motives to consider:

  1. To fulfill God’s plan and purpose for my life, as His child.
  2. To receive and take pleasure in the many gifts of life that He has given us.
  3. To give back to Him through offerings of worship and obedience, and through tzedakah – giving to charity and acts of loving-kindness.

Negative patterns of motivation that hinder our Father’s purposes in our lives need to be recognized and dealt with according to His grace. Some of which are:

  1. To impress others and gain favor.
  2. To cover insecurity.
  3. Fear of reprisal or punishment.

Let us consider the account of Cain and Abel and the offerings they brought to God. They both did the right thing in bringing an offering, but Abel’s was accepted and Cain’s rejected. What was the difference? The motivation of the heart! Abel desired to please God and brought the best from his flocks. Cain thought just the ‘doing’ was enough and did not seek out the best of his crops to offer God. Nevertheless, although God rejected the sacrifice, He did not reject Cain himself. As a loving Father, He came to him and gave him the opportunity to repent and to learn His ways. In response, Cain did not humbly and gratefully turn to God and take heed of His guidance. Instead, he was filled with jealousy and anger and murdered his brother in baseless hatred (Heb. sinat chinam). This same baseless hatred was cited as the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple – God’s Holy House in Jerusalem. Sadly, we see it at the root of the ongoing wars, violence and wanton murder that pervade our world to this day.

P n R 4 When our motives are pure and we are walking and working with God, our progress will be strong and will endure. The positive growth will be meaningfully etched in our characters. May all that we do flow from our heart’s desire to bless our Almighty God and Father, in the love of our Messiah Yeshua and in the power of the Spirit of holiness.

~ Keren Hannah Pryor