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Archive for the ‘Hebrew Roots Movement’ Category

I recently discovered a really beautiful, refreshing blog, Mongoose Mom – purely by “accident”.  Just wanted to share this post with you because it’s so relevant to the entire purpose of this blog too.

The other day I heard a Christian radio talk host, whom I enjoy listening to a lot and who my kids think is very funny and entertaining, talk with a caller. The caller was a young father who called in to talk about his New Year’s resolution/ desire for change. The young father was obviously broken over his own failures as a father, and he talked about how he had an abusive father and could not seem to give love to his children. His children constantly reminded him of his own father – it was like holding up a mirror to his hurt and brokenness. The caller was torn up about his own failures and talked honestly about calling out to God for the grace to change and give his kids the love he never had. He stated it was so much easier and more natural for him to correct them or to tell them what they had done wrong than to give them praise and affirmation. The radio host gave the caller encouragement to some extent, and then he hit him with the law…..   FINISH READING

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The Hebrew Roots Movement’s often unstated belief (but seen in practice and focus) is that the greatest gift to man was the Torah itself.  So much so, that for an HRM follower, Jesus Himself must be equated with it – as the living version of the stone tablets and scroll.  This is how we justified in our minds, venerating a piece of wood with paper round around it, containing Hebrew writing.  Regardless of how old it is, where it came from, or who owned it last  –   it’s nothing more than wood and paper that was sent out into the world to say, “Look for the One who is to come and hear Him!”  It didn’t bleed and die on a cross, or come back to life, and it most certainly doesn’t forgive me.  No amount of adoration ever helped my black wool turn to white.  It just lies there on the table, or goes where it’s carried.

The main character in the story of Sinai isn’t a Law, but a living God who spoke and lived in a pillar of fire!  God Himself was with them!  In fact it was precisely when they begged God to stop speaking that Moses had to go up the mountain and get the message for them.  The written Law was necessary in part, because the living relationship was too terrifying.  Not that God didn’t have a purpose in how things transpired.  I’m not one who believes God is surprised or has a plan B in His back pocket.

While Moses was gone to get further instructions, they immediately set out to do exactly the opposite of which they had just promised God they would do, which was chiefly to love and worship Him only.  As a consequence of this bold and immediate disobedience, God threatened to not go with them anymore.  He said He would send His angel ahead of them to fight their battles, but He wasn’t going to follow along or lead because, He explained, the result would be consumed people, not chosen people.

But Moses steps in.  He intercedes, and he implores.  And God listens.  I have always loved this part of the story

For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.'” Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.  

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp.  Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.

When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.  Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’  Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”  And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  

Exodus 33:5-19 ESV

There are so many gems in this passage, it’s tempting to dig them all out.  Firstly though, they now had the book of the Law, (as soon as Moses was sent to make another set of stone tablets) but it as not in this that they found their comfort and direction.  No, they knew their Living God must be with them or they were nothing in this world.  An angel wasn’t going to be enough for what they had waiting for them on this journey, or in the Promised Land.  A book could not tell them in a moment to turn to the right or to the left, and it could not bring water from a rock or manna from the sky.

He made His presence known at various times throughout their history.  The goal of the temple worship was to have the offering accepted and blessed by His presence.   This factor alone is what precipitated the detailed instructions for the priests, and why Aaron lost two sons in a day for not realizing the magnitude of what His Presence meant.  Without it, there would have been nothing to obey, nothing to fear, and certainly nothing to desire or love, as we see Moses here begging God – to really know Him and His ways, and see His Glory!

This was our desire in Torah Observance above all things.  We believed that through this definition of obedience, we would finally know God as we desired.  But in order to experience the Presence as Moses and ancient Israel did, you must have a temple and an Ark of the Covenant, and sacrifices.  Oh, and a priesthood.  Modern Judaism has none of these, and neither does any Torah Observant person.  They have replaced the Presence with a document.  The goal of the book was the Presence, and this goal was met most fully in Jesus.  To go back to the Law and miss Jesus as the fullest way to know God, is tragic.

But what a bold a request Moses made!  He wanted to KNOW God, and His ways.  He wanted to see His Glory.  And this AFTER he had heard the entire book of the Law the first time.  What knowledge of God and His ways did he still lack after this experience of receiving the Torah? I think the answer might be somewhere in the word “mercy” there at the end.  But Moses was already exhibiting the mercy and self-sacrifice of His Maker, because he was bathed in the light of His presence.

I have had the deep yearning for God’s presence and been saddened by those who didn’t even know there was something to miss in their churches, or felt they needed to manufacture the illusion of it instead.  There is the emperor who doesn’t know he hasn’t any clothes, and one that clothes himself with falsehood, and remains naked still.

I can’t take credit for this post really because it was inspired by a sermon on the radio this week, and it’s been well over a year I think since I even turned on a preaching station.  He didn’t make the same applications here as I have, but the implications began to grow in my mind as I listened.

The first thing that came to mind as I heard this sermon (will share an excerpt below) was not the Hebrew Roots Movement, but a young person who doesn’t see anything that portrays God as a reality rather than an idea.   I faced the same struggle at that age.  We as the Church have forgotten what makes us distinct among the peoples of the earth.  His purifying Presence.  There is so little evidence in most congregations of lives being transformed in repentance to God and His apage love for one another.  (Let’s start here before we even move on to signs and wonders please!)  These things can come only through His Spirit in us and with us.  Without Him, we are a facade, a cheap imitation, and a wizard with nothing more than a microphone and a big screen.

The Hebrew Roots Movement cares little for the Presence.  Many come from charismatic circles, and leave behind the excesses of that movement for something more concrete in this one.  Soon the Trinity and the Spirit are relegated to heresy and little more than “wind”.   Others come from churches where immorality and worldliness are rampant with no reverence for the things of God.  Soon they believe they can start a Law-observing campaign to address this heathenism in the ranks. The church has abandoned His Law!!  And yes, it has.  But the Law of Christ.  It cares not for His Presence or His words.  This sermon brought in a parallel New Testament verse that I never saw in this way before.  “

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”  Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  John 14:21-23

He can lead us by an angel, or we can ask for His Presence.  We can seek to know Him and His ways. Jesus said, “my commandments”.  (If you think He didn’t say anything Moses didn’t say, try reading Him again.) The really awesome thing here is that God gave Moses what he asked for!  And I believe this is His heart for us also.  The other verse that comes to mind is “By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  The pillar of fire made the Israelites distinct among the nations.  Love is supposed to be our identifying mark in the world.  And that is where we must begin and never end.

Here are the words of the mighty preacher with a delightful accent (sorry couldn’t type that in), who is far more eloquent and educated than I… and a link if you would like to hear it all.

 (quoting Moses) How will anyone know you are pleased with me and your people UNLESS YOU GO WITH US?

That’s the great question of the New Testament.  That’s why the promise of Jesus is, “If a man loves me he will keep my commandments, and I and my father will come to him and make our home with him.”

How will anybody know unless Your presence is with us?
Is there anything remotely tangible about God in my life? That’s the question.  
Is there anything distinguishable about me? I fear lest the answer is, “no.” 

He (Moses) says the only way that people will know is if you are with us. If You’re not with us we’re on our own. And the same is true as you go to your office tomorrow and as we gather here to worship. This is the cry of our hearts, “God, show us that you’re with us.” Otherwise how will anyone be able to distinguish between this and any other event. The only thing that will make it a reality is if you show yourself to be here.

Oh we can get together and have a shindig.  We can get together and sing songs. We can get together and have revelry. We can sing everything on a horizontal level, and make the bystanders walk in and say, “You know, that is a wonderful time.” But we will not see men and women turn from their sins. We will not see men and women broken-hearted before God, unless God comes by His Spirit among His people.

Do you pray for revival in church? Do you pray for the Spirit to be poured out on our congregation? Are you telling me you are content with things the way they are? Are you content to take your place while our neighbors and friends are lost without Christ? Or maybe you’d like another kind of leader, someone who would say simply kind things to you, and tell you, “Listen, it’s just fine.” Loved ones, it is NOT fine. The night comes when no one can work.

….  And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the thing that you ask because I am pleased with you, and I know you by name.”   And Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” It is for this then loved ones, that we long, that God would honestly respond to the cries of our hearts and that He would show us his glory, the revelation of His goodness and his name, a glory that will be seen far more in his mercy than His majesty. A mercy that is fetched from within Himself, and not from any merit in His creatures. I can’t ask God to be merciful on the strength of who I am because who I am is a can of worms. The only way we can ask God to show His mercy is because He fetches His mercy from within Himself. Because He is mercy.

Prone to Wander – part B

Alistair Begg

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I don’t think I have anything new to say about this topic I haven’t already shared, but this is a special time of year for us now – whereas we used to dread it because our abstinence created so much conflict and stress.  You think the holiday season is stressful?  Try explaining to everyone again and again why you don’t celebrate it at all!  That gets exhausting because it always leads to more and more why questions, and none of those answers led to Jesus, but to me.  One of the first questions people asked was, “Do you believe in Jesus?” and the answer was “Yes, but..” and in the ensuing explanation, Jesus got set aside.

This year has been incredibly difficult for us.  Looking back I can assess the experiences as speed bumps, but while going through it all, it felt more like racing toward a cliff.  I am looking forward to Christmas here at home with all my kids, and now a new grand baby too.  Just to be together and healthy fills my heart with so much gratitude for what He has brought us through.

Recently we have made a new group of friends who are not all Christians.  Tomorrow the kids are getting together to exchange crafts for a Christmas party.  I don’t have to make some excuse about why I can’t come.  I can go and pray for open doors to share Jesus… even though I am in great need of courage to share Him in a society that doesn’t need Him anymore.

There is another man who has this boldness for Christ and he has inspired me many times.  He lives where there is genuine risk of persecution, but he wants Christmas to be a time to draw people’s attention to Jesus, right in the city of His birth.  We can quibble over days and laws, but I would rather be filled with His Spirit to speak for Him whenever and wherever He leads.  Christmas, Ramadan, or Halloween.   What matters is that people see Him!

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Yesterday I sat down for lunch with two men who will both be 70 within the next twelve months.  They could not be more different if they had been born on separate planets.  One had lost his way in the drugs and parties of the 70’s.  The other had gone to seminary and doesn’t even know a single Led Zeppelin song.  One worked for over 40 years as a union worker, even through the party life, and lives on an adequate retirement, in a rent house.  The other re-built his life from scratch after divorce and career change left him with nothing.  One watches TV most of the day, the other works his small ranch and plays basketball on a city league with men half his age.  They are my fathers – one by birth, the other through marriage.  Even though my husband and I have been married over 20 years, this was the first time our fathers had ever been together long enough to have a conversation.  My dad is a former SDA pastor, and my father-in-law, former long-time member of the Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong.  Over lunch at this home-cooking diner, they found common ground, and I sat in awe of God’s amazing love and faithfulness to all of us over the last many years.

My father left Adventism  in the 80s during the big upheaval when the truth began to come out about their prophet, Ellen G. White, and prominent leaders began to question the doctrine that had been seen as the founding pillar of the group.  He lost his job for the sake of the gospel, and over other matters, his wife as well.  For a long time I feared he was going to give up on faith altogether.  He never seemed to find a church where things worked out after that, and his questioning began to take directions that frightened me as I began my own life with Christ in my early adult life.  But through all the confusion, he has found Jesus to be the only worthwhile Truth.

After Worldwide Church of God shifted their theological position from Old to New Covenant in the early 90s, through the influence of their leader, Joseph Tkach, my father-in-law also embraced the new path.  On a side note, my father’s mother – also a long time member, did not.  She followed one of the many splinter groups that sprung up after the shift in opposition to the change.  My grandmother passed away seeing grace as too good to be true, and my father-in-law drifted out of fellowship and back into drugs.  As often happens when people let go of the Law-based religion, they feel lost and alone, and overwhelmed at the thought of trying to attend a mainstream church. (His old congregation dwindled and floundered badly.)  If you don’t replace the void with a very real Jesus, you will feel hung out to dry.  Simply changing your mental understanding *about* God, does not always spark a living relationship *with* Him.

After losing his wife two years ago, and surviving massive heart attack, followed by bypass surgery this past year, I saw a huge transformation in my father-in-law.  He stayed with us during his recovery and we really formed a new bond with him.  I saw His spiritual heart had been broken when his physical heart nearly ended his life.

Yesterday he was re-baptized at his new church two blocks from his home.  My father, visiting from another state, attended the service with me.  The significance of the day began to sink in as I sat on the pew, between them.  Two men with long journeys to tell.  And a young whelp of a pastor who had no sense at all of the holy ground he was treading on.  He was in a hurry.  Dunk the new member, rush through the sermon, brush off the old man who puts a hand on his shoulder and tries to tell him how much he reminded him of himself as a young pastor back in 1966, with tears brimming in his eyes.  I believed a good lunch was in order so insisted we sit down for some real fellowship after church.  There two men were able to share and rejoice in what God had done for them, with someone who understood.  I sat mostly quiet (I know, hard to fathom) in awe of what God had orchestrated this day.

Early yesterday morning before getting ready for church, I saw a friend living on the opposite side of our planet had posted a quote by Joseph Tkach on his facebook page.  I took this amazing “coincidence” as  gift from God for the day, and printed it for my father-in-law.

We have always understood grace to be unconditional, an unmerited pardon of our sins. But we tended to think of it as one of the components of salvation that needed to be “stirred into the mix” because we can’t keep the law. We need to see that God’s grace is much more than that.

Grace is not just a spiritual supplement that God provides because we can’t keep his law, like a whiff of oxygen to help a sick person breathe a bit easier. Grace is the love and freedom-producing action of God that reconstitutes humanity into an entirely new creation. It transforms us and gives us a new kind of life – life that no amount of law keeping could sustain. Grace is the environment that allows us, God’s new creation, to not just survive, but to grow and flourish.
Joseph Tkach

Sometimes it takes a long time to see what Grace can do.  It knows that life cannot be forced or coerced before its time.  In our short life spans we find it so hard to endure this slow process, in ourselves and others.  It reminds me of the words in Corinthians, that love bears all things, and believes all things.  I have often been like the young pastor, in a hurry and unable to see the miracles in front of my face, wishing for big things to happen.  But God is at work in every moment,  no matter how hard or dark.  I pray to be more aware of every day of Grace!

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The word “cult” gets tossed around a lot, even by people who belong to them.  Many definitions abound, so it’s easy to pick one that might not include your own group, especially if you don’t meet all the criteria on a particular list.  Various degrees of denial make cult definitions a subjective pursuit.  This week my friends shared two helpful links about cults and abusive groups that are worth your time to check out.

Looking back on my life, I have quite a cult resume.

My husband and I would have never considered ourselves in a cult, or worse yet, the leaders of one, when we were in the Hebrew Roots Movement.  We did not follow any particular teacher, although we had friends who did.  We saw the movement as something God brought together because it wasn’t started or led by any one particular person.  People from many different Christian backgrounds came together under one common bond.  While every group had to muddle through many various points of contention, we had given our minds over to one idea which became the foundation of belief and the basis for our fellowship.  Nearly anything or anyone we recognized as having this same beginning premise, we trusted, and believed.

As this election season has heated up, I have watched this phenomenon in the political realm too, and see the human condition is so very prone to wanting a framework with neat, concise answers. We want talking points, dogmas, and simplified answers to our dissenters.  Go-to catch phrases head off any opponents arguments.  We become emotionally attached to our systems and ideas, take them on as part of our personal identities, and tie them on tightly with our fear and pride.

Seeing the political sides take shape, I realized that cults can gel around an ideology just as easily as a person.  Candidates are playing into the idea, trying to appear as if they are closely aligned with the values of the group they seek to represent.

Once the idea has become concrete, this is where the danger comes in.  Anytime we give up asking questions, listening, and investigating, we are in danger of cult-like thinking.  If we pledge our support for something, and emotionally invest in a “side”, we are much less likely to think objectively about our own camp, be it religious, political, or national.  It doesn’t matter how free of an atmosphere we have to ask questions, if we don’t.

Our religious “cult” was not formed or held together by Jesus, but a list of commands that pointed to Him.  We saw them as Him.  And He came to open the way for so much more than this in our relationship with Him.  What if I, as a wife, viewed my husband as only our marriage license.  I look at the paper every day, frame it so I can hang it on the wall, and make sure I tell everyone I meet about this agreement and what it entitles me to.  Yet, he is standing there wanting to love and be loved.

Cults of any kind are demanding, but Jesus is inviting.  The spiritual difference is life and death.  People who have not experienced the deep, healing love of Christ are trying to fill a need when they follow a cult of any kind, religious or otherwise.  We want belonging, and we want to be right.  It feels safe and warm in a way, yet we never quite “arrive”.  There is always one more bit of knowledge, or a higher degree of compliance to achieve.

If I could zap you through this screen and give you a sense of how much MORE Jesus has for you than the much less you are settling for, while believing you are in the elite crowd of the chosen few, I would.  But I can’t.  I pray the Holy Spirit does reveal this to you even though you probably found this blog looking for information that you agreed with, and this wasn’t it.  I say, just let Him love you.  He died so You could know the depth of His love, and you are running backward to the shadow.  You don’t have to earn His love, or fear a curse.  Just let Him love you.

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I have often said that telling a story is more effective than arguing a point, and this film, Paradise Recovered, demonstrates this to be true.  It shows a young woman who believes in her church as the very voice of God.  She devoutly obeys every teaching, even looking for a part-time job so she can financially support “the work”, in addition to her position as a live-in nanny to her pastor’s family.  As the picture of perfection begins to crumble, she finds a new friendship at work that challenges her to the core.

The depiction of spiritually abusive religion in this movie represents an interesting composite of various cults as well as some mainstream Christian belief and practice.  As I have maintained here repeatedly, the cults do not have a monopoly on legalism. The injured lambs leaving the cults often find the same spiritual illnesses in evangelical churches.  How can doctrinal orthodoxy produce the same fruit as a heretical cult?  Rightly dissected doctrine by itself (whatever that is) doesn’t affect the heart.  It only creates a mind that knows it’s right.   And we all know where that leads.

Fruits of love come from abiding in the vine – a genuine spiritual experience in Jesus.  The only head-knowledge that produces the fruit of love is the mind of Christ.  Jesus didn’t write a list of doctrines, however useful we may find them.  He lived and died for love.  He spoke truth, but drew people to love God and one another as the highest aim.  Much of Christian religion attempts to wash the outside of the cup.

I found the most poignant scene at the beginning of this film.  Esther, the main character, tries to tell the pastor’s little girl a Bible story with the same felt characters I grew up with in Sabbath School.  She tells her the story of the Good Samaritan with the Law as the focus, not love.  (How we teach our children… topic for a different post).  The little girl squirms and says, “I don’t like this story.  I want to hear about baby Moses.”   How many adults have I known, and how long was I also of this opinion?  We would have never admitted it, but our lives and words professed this:  Jesus, we don’t want to hear you.  Let Moses speak to us instead.

Fear, control, performance-focused thinking,  Jesus-plus-something teaching – these all come naturally to us.  To truly believe and ingest the truth about what Jesus has done feels so unnatural.  He defies logic and we like justice that we have something to do with, not the kind that takes us out of the equation.   Freedom can be terrifying as well, as this young woman in the movie finds out.  I identified with her brief return to the confines and security of the church, even after the abusive treatment.  She said, “I miss God.”  She had not yet experienced Him apart from her church culture.  Just as an abused wife may repeatedly return to her husband because she “loves” him, she possibly has not yet known genuine love.

Someone recently commented to me that we should not worry ourselves over hypocrites in any belief system – no matter what it is.   But I find a problem deeper than hypocrisy.  In dysfunctional families, as well as churches, we find the ability to compartmentalize thinking so that opposing ideals do not touch one another and conflict.  To the greater degree we do this in our own lives, as well as in religious communities, we find various forms of insanity.  The goal of mental, spiritual, and emotional health is to integrate truth into every aspect of our hearts and minds.  That truth, is a Person.  He is Jesus.  Knowing Him, abiding in Him, and allowing Him to fill us up with Himself – isn’t the focus of legalistic Christian practice or teaching.  Instead, we become no different than the Pharisees that sought to promote themselves above the Man who would set the people free.

Some may find this movie uncomfortable in some ways, and challenging, but I hope it gives some the courage to be free, in Christ alone.

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8thday4life was the beginning of my blogging life, or as I like to call it, self-directed therapy with the possibility of an audience.   Since then, I’ve started a few more, for different flavors of subject matter.  This one I’ve tried to keep to the mission – testifying about Jesus and how He delivered us from really distracting, damaging religious ideas.  I have another one for more personal spiritual discussions, one for being goofy and posting pictures, and a private one for poetry.  If I am writing poetry, I’m venting.  I have a new one registered  to talk about nutrition and natural health – which was supposed to start this year. Well not yet.

I thought I had the bases covered for all my various writing outlet needs.  But then my fairly-calm, superficially-organized life with a vague routine and goals in sight, just got splattered all over the map.  I still have the need to write, but ….  what I have to say doesn’t fit anywhere.  I don’t have a file category for what you want to say when everything you don’t expect happens in three months’ time.  I’ve tried to always maintain a level of pessimism high enough to not be shaken by all the various disasters that could emerge from the void of the future unknown.  I believed this ability to expect the worst insulated me from the shock of unexpected crises.   I’ve said it before on this blog, and I say it again now.   I was wrong.  Not only have I been taken by utter surprise more than once, but some of my very close friends have as well.  It’s like we’ve all been thrown into the cauldron at the same time.  I don’t want to give my enemies a cause to rejoice so I will just say, what the enemy has meant for harm, God has intended for good.  Always. (Romans 8)

But I am here to testify that GOD IS GOOD.  No matter what.  If I started to list here all that He has done, and all that we are thankful for right now, I’d run past the word limit where people stop reading and go back to facebook.  He has made His presence and direction so evident that it cannot be explained in any other way than to know – there IS a God, and He is an awesome God!  I hope someday I can tell the whole story, but it’s not time right now.

I also used to believe (another one of my legalistic fallacies…. adding this in so this post is still relevant for 8thday4life :)) that a person’s spiritual level was a mathematical equation directly related to how much time they spent reading the Bible every day.  (BIG Qualification:  We do need to read the Word.  ALL the Word.  As much as possible.  Every day is highly desirable!)  I thought spiritual strength and faith would wane if this practice was neglected for any reason at all.  I judged other people for their lack of habit in this regard as less spiritual.

Right now I’m in a season, one I’m praying is over soon, where I am not keeping this habit up.  (Another reason I have not been writing here).  I don’t like it.  I want back what I had before life got crazy.  I can’t focus to read much of anything, let alone the Word of God.  I do know that what I’m going through would be immensely harder if I had not invested so much time previously renewing my mind.  But I miss it.  Maybe this is to teach me not to even trust my ability to do ANYTHING in my own power toward being a “real” Christian.  Here’s my mind battle.

The old programming says, “If you were a REAL Christian you would have more discipline no matter what was going on.  You will fail if you don’t hold up your end of the duty.”  My NEW program, which I choose to listen to, says, “Pray for strength to be restored, and the ability to digest spiritual food again.  It is HE who wills and enables you.  Trust Him to get you through this season and to restore what has been set aside, even greater than it was before.  Patiently wait for the Lord.  Don’t trust your striving, but wait for the Lord.  He will revive you”

Only Jesus is the rock.  The Word is precious, but He is the LIVING reality of it, the Rock that gives water in the desert.  Our family and friends are the most beautiful gifts from Him on earth, but He is the Rock.  Even though I don’ t know the final outcome of all the various situations going on right now I know enough to say for sure, Jesus is enough!!  More than enough.  He is everything.

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Today I ran across a post on facebook and learned of Knowing Me Ministries in Portland, Oregon.  It caught my eye because they work with the homeless population, an avenue of ministry our family also has been given a heart for. What intrigued me, besides their amazing testimony and witness (check it out!), was the verse that inspired their name:

  He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.  Is not this to know me? declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 22:16

It reminded me of another group who derived their name from a passage in Jeremiah.  We called ourselves “Yada Elohim”  which means “Know God.”

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 9:23,24

The Hebrew word indicated a very intimate relationship.  The same word is used in passages were a when a man “knew” his wife.  We desired this intimate knowledge of God so much, and believed that increasing our level of obedience to Old Covenant commandments would bring us to this closer understanding of God.   We believed if we walked as Jesus walked, in the Jewish sense, we would know God like we had never known him before.   We seemed to have missed the verse in chapter 22.

Our desires were noble, but our method could be compared to trying to make the trek of Lewis and Clark, as they did; by boat, on horseback, and on foot.  Why do that when you can now drive to the Pacific coast?  It might be a great adventure, but if you were to tell people they must go this way to get there, as you sport your leather moccasins,  this would be a silly and even dangerous assertion.  Yet, that is in effect, what we believed.

Later as I read Matthew, I realized what the words of Jesus said about who HE would know, and I became suddenly aware that the fruit in our lives did not resemble the group which were commended.  This began the gift of seeing Jesus as the ultimate Truth.  These words stopped me in my tracks:

On that day many will say to me,
‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

And then will I declare to them,
‘I never knew you; depart from me, 
you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:22,23

And these:

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
Then he will answer them, saying,
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  

Matthew 25:40-46

Not every believer is called by God to directly do all of these things.  But the corporate fruit or our movement, across the board, fell in the goat camp.  Yes.. there are individual exceptions, but this was most certainly not the focus of our “mission”.   (Then again, it’s not the mission of most of what calls itself Christian in the Western world.)

Our mission to know God through the Law and not Jesus Himself did not produce compassion, self-sacrifice for the “least of these” or calling out the Good News to those God is calling to Himself.  Our purpose was to show Christians they had turned their backs on Torah, and that we followed the REAL Messiah.

Today I saw parallels in the names of two ministries, and great contrast in the mission.  It brought to my mind again that these two paths do not converge.

The first reaction upon deliverance from this mistaken mindset was to exchange the Old Covenant “to do list” for the New Covenant one.  “Now I need to make sure I’m doing these commandments of Jesus!”  Yes, but no.  I am thankful God did not allow me to jump into trying to obey even more correctly that I had been doing the last six years.  I wanted to, but He needed to transform my whole outlook.

When I saw the the New Covenant, I saw the Spirit brought this life of compassion.  This fruit comes through allowing GOD to work.  I knew I needed to pray.  Pray for my heart to be filled with love and compassion where it had become cold and hard.  Pray for the privilege to serve those God would lay on my heart to serve.  Pray for the ability and provision to do so.  Pray pray pray.

Life in the Spirit is not about checklists… it’s about being blindly abandoned to Jesus and letting Him fill us up and lead us, and empower us.  We don’t reassure ourselves that God is going to save us because we are doing the works the good guys are doing in the parable.  He confirms the Promise in us when we see that He is doing in us what we know we had no ability to do ourselves, nor even the desire, if left to ourselves.  We see that we become the tool in His hands, and lives are impacted, because of what HE is doing, not us.

Some believers are called to works where they don’t get to see the fruit God will bring from it.  Even here, the witness of love in their hearts, confirms this same thing.   The still small voice that spurs them on comforts them as well.  Are there moments of doubt and despair?  Most certainly.  Look at Elijah and John the Baptist.  God alone is strong and He alone is worthy of glory.

Another verse comes to mind.

But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”  
John 3:21  

The KJV uses the word “wrought” for “carried out”.   Christ is the author and the finisher.   He is all in all.  My good intentions, hard work, striving, and planning in human wisdom… futile.  Sabbath rest in Christ becomes a necessity for anyone who wishes to serve in His army.  We have to trust Him daily for everything from start to finish, and hear Him.

What has God called you to do?  Maybe it’s prayer (what is more effective in this world and how few of us devote our time to this?),  sacrificial giving, or the ability to sit and listen to a broken heart without judging.  Do we desire for our hearts to be broken for the things that break His?  Does our cause in this world match what He has declared matters most to Him?

Next week our family is moving back into the city from a small town.  I have been so excited to know I will be near all the things I love, and need.  No more long drives home.  This time of year especially, it’s easy to get excited about the consumer opportunities.  Today I am reminded of one of the chief reasons I believe God is allowing us to go back in.  He loves people more than He loves Sam’s Club.  I will keep praying for the open doors, and the willingness to allow the Spirit to flow through me to people, whether it’s a neighbor, or a homeless friend under a bridge.

What does it mean to know God?  I am continuing to learn.  But most of all, I am thankful that He has patiently, and lovingly known me.

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Tomorrow we celebrate Thanksgiving!   I have so many things to be thankful for this year, more than ever.  And no material blessing can come close to watching my children learn to know and trust God, to see His Spirit working in them.

Below my 18 year old son graciously agreed to share his perspective of what the HRM environment was like for a young heart and mind.  He saw this world through a completely different lens, one without the filters of denial that protected us as adults.

As a parent, I was heartbroken to learn this is what I put my older children through, and that I could not see I was continuing the cycle of how I was raised in  a legalistic environment.  Only recently have they both begun to share with me the effect the atmosphere and teaching had on them.   This post is the fruit of a heart-to-heart talk my son and I had that went till 2:00 a.m.  The Law did its job.. exactly as it was intended to do.  But the Remedy was seldom mentioned, and if it ever was, heavily qualified with conditions, both in words and our attitudes we projected.  I grieve not only for my own kids, but the several others that we had direct influence on.  I pray God can also bring good out of this in their lives, as He has for Jesse.

I saw a marked change in Jesse when God brought him to Grace.  He was already an amazing son, with a naturally compliant, loving temperament, but he went from “good” to ALIVE.. and that was visibly evident.

Jesse’s Story

Christians today are taught to be more tolerant of different beliefs, sometimes they don’t see the harm in what appears to be a slight doctrinal difference. Yet people are living in bondage not only to sin, but to their own beliefs as well. Another thing that is often overlooked is how alternate beliefs or perspectives can affect children; how they view God, themselves, and the rest of the world. I’m sharing my testimony in hopes that someone will see the danger of the Hebrew Roots Movement.

It started when I was about nine years old. My parents were under the impression that if they did more to please God, that God would bless the family more. The basic idea was that if we kept the law of Moses, and observed all the feasts (old covenant holidays), God would be pleased with us. When we made this change, my mother told me it was just an observation, more like adopting a new culture. We were gaining a new insight into what life and religion was like back in Bible times.

Soon after, we started attending a study group (or as they say in the Hebrew Roots, ‘Congregation’) based at a facility where children with disabilities could ride horses. My friends and I would play out there for hours while our parents would sit together and study the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

A few years went by, we had been to a few different groups by that time, and eventually had started our own with friends we had made the whole time. I was a little older by this time, and I was listening to what the adults were saying. My mother still believed in Jesus, and the sacrifice he had made for our sins, and she thought I believed the same way, but it wasn’t exactly the case.

I believed Jesus died and rose again for my sins, but the obsession with the Law that everyone had gave me the impression I had to keep all 613 commandments to be saved. None of it made sense to me. How could Jesus die for me and still expect me to live a perfect life? I knew I wasn’t able to do it, and as hard as I tried to be perfect, I believed I was headed straight for Hell. I remember crying out to God on several occasions, pleading for mercy, and thinking to myself , “You don’t deserve it, He won’t listen to you”.

Not long after I turned 14, God led my parents out of the Hebrew Roots Movement, and we started going to a Baptist church. I was relieved to know at this point that I didn’t have to follow the Law of Moses to be saved, and that I just had to let Christ into my heart. But it wasn’t until I went with that Baptist church on a week long mission trip to Kansas that I actually got saved. The mission trip I went on to reach others, was really meant for me, so I could be saved. I remember sitting in the church building, my pastor giving us a sermon after dinner, and seeing the pulpit had a cross on the front. While I was listening, I started focusing on the cross. Being the 14 year old boy that I was, I started to think about how the cross looked like a sword, and how Jesus defeated sin on the cross. The image was simple, but it was powerful to me, and God changed my heart right there. I was free!

I know people go through much worse than I have, in a sense, I’m very blessed to have suffered very little, though when I look back now, I don’t so much see myself as I do another 10 year old boy, in torment, feeling unworthy of God’s presence, of His mercy. I hope that in writing this, someone will spare themselves, and their children of the bondage that is in the Hebrew Roots movement.

But until today, when Moses is being read, a veil lies on their heart. But whenever it turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. And the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. But we all with our face having been unveiled, having beheld the glory of the Lord in a mirror, are being changed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:15-18

(Jesse said when he wrote this out, he opened his Bible for a reference, and his bookmark was on this Scripture!  God’s exclamation point! 🙂 )

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Yesterday I had the most amazing experience.  My perspective was completely changed on a subject in just a matter of minutes.  Interestingly, it is an issue I have been conflicted over so much lately.  I suppose that meant I was ready to listen.

I have had this long-standing guilt over being argumentative.  I’ve felt it was wrong, un-Christlike, and a bad witness.  But my personality can rarely walk away from a good debate.  Earlier in the day, I had just explained to a friend why I had left various internet discussion groups.   I have grown tired of all the arguing.  Yet I found myself  immediately in two intense conversations.  I was so frustrated that I can’t seem to just turn around and walk away from them.  But during the course of the last debate I realized, to do so, would have been insulting to the other person who genuinely wanted to discuss an issue.  I was left conflicted.  What is the right thing to do?

I have been in arguments where I felt attacked by those who were supposed to be on my side, as believers. My perspective was not even heard, let alone understood.  I appreciate being heard more than being agreed with!  But when someone doesn’t even listen, and gets hostile, then we are wasting words.  Have I been guilty of this myself? Most definitely.

Later in the day after I briefly explained the above struggle with my friend, I picked up reading in a book I’ve been working my way through, and a completely clear answer came.  I saw through this story that it’s not wrong to argue, but we often argue wrongly.  I have to share this excerpt from the book.  It’s hard to get the full impact of the story this pastor is telling about his “church” in a hard core part of Pittsburgh, without having read the book up to this point.  But I hope you can get the idea.

One Sunday after worship, Amanda and Eric approached me. Amanda is a twenty-something with a mix of blond, black, and red hair. Eric has a black and blue tint to his hair that I’ve always wanted and have never had the nerve to get. Both Eric and Amanda are eccentric, artsy, and love old monster movies and rock-n-roll. Eric and Amanda are the kind of people I want to be when I grow up. So, when they came to me on that Sunday morning with an idea, I listened. “Pastor Jim,” Amanda started, “We want to get involved in a Bible study. Is this church going to have any Bible studies?” I quickly got defensive. That’s what we pastors do when it is insinuated that we’re not providing the right products. “We already have Bible studies going on right now,” I replied. “We have a study on Monday night, a study about Ephesians on Wednesday, and a study on Romans on Saturday nights at the coffee shop.” Eric looked at me, politely, but pained, and said to me very gently and kindly, “Yeah, we went to those.” “It’s just not what we’re looking for, Pastor Jim,” Amanda said. “Well, what is it you’re looking for? Maybe we can get something new going.” That’s when Amanda got bold. I braced myself. “To be honest, Pastor Jim, I don’t like those other studies because it’s just a bunch of people sitting around nodding at one other. I mean, everyone is just agreeing with each other. I feel like we’re being brain-washed or something.” “What are you suggesting?” I replied, kind of confused.

“I don’t know. We want to be part of a Bible study where no one agrees.” “No one agrees?” “Sure, why don’t we have a study where everyone comes and we fight?” “Fight?” “Yeah. We fight about the Bible and theology and stuff.” “Uh … All right.”

And Bible Fight Club was born. When we started Bible Fight Club, the purpose wasn’t, and still isn’t, discipleship. The club isn’t meant to be a place where we grow in our faith, per se. The point to the gathering is not to worship, not to study scripture, and not to fellowship. The point to Bible Fight Club is to fight. It is a time for debate, a time for wrestling, and for doubting and questioning the things that we sometimes hold as gospel.

Sometimes this even means the gospel. For our church, it has been a place where atheists, agnostics, believers, non-believers, and believers of other faiths can come and toss in their two cents. To make sure that the argument is valued and that people are valued as well, we made the following rules:

Bible Fight Club Rules:

1. Respect: this means we love and respect each other, but not necessarily each other’s opinions. Also, respect the argument by being a good listener.

2. Say Anything: this means that there is no judging and no holding grudges. The tattoo shop basement is a safe place where anything can be said. This rule has made it possible for people to play devil’s advocate-taking a side of an argument, they might not completely agree with justto see where the line of thinking goes.

3. Fight: this rule means that all those in attendance must participate. No one is allowed to come and observe. Observers and silent on-lookers skew the argument by inadvertently becoming a kind of jury that people try to convince.

4. Get to the Point: there are no speeches allowed. People are to make their point and shut up so that others can speak. Also, a good arguer listens as often as he or she speaks.

5. Honor the Argument: phrases like, “Well, it’s all just a mystery” or “We’ll never know the answer, so why bother arguing” do not honor the argument. Take a side and fight, no matter how mysterious you think the subject is.

6. Admit When You’ve Been Hit: At the end of the evening, we take time to talk about the argument. Everyone must share something that was said that made him or her think. Sometimes this might mean having some humility. But that’s the point.

As the moderator, it has been interesting to see where certain arguments go. We have tackled such topics as hell, the devil, church and culture, politics, healing, money, angels, and on and on. We have people show up armed with books and commentaries. We have people show up who want to defend their territory. All different kinds of folks, with different backgrounds and faiths, have joined the argument. We’ve had Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and people who practice witchcraft. We’ve had Christians who would identify themselves as liberal and Christians who come from a more fundamentalist background.

During one rather heated argument about the Trinity, one guy stood up, red-faced, threw his Bible on the ground in anger and cried out, “What is wrong with you people?! Aren’t we all Christians here?!” At which point, three or four people shouted back at him: “No!” He slowly sat back down in his seat, scratching his hand and looking around the room suspiciously. He had come for a Bible study, not a fight.

… Some might say this kind of study only helps to confuse people and doesn’t send a clear message of what the gospel is. But I would say that Bible Fight Club has been a better forum for sharing the love of Christ than any other Bible study that I have ever attended. Many times, Bible studies can turn into indoctrination sessions, where the goal is to make everyone “be like us.” Doesn’t that kind of stuff turn everyone off? Because the Fight Club is more about valuing the fight than winning the fight, we all walk out invigorated and excited rather than demoralized. We have had many people return a week after a good fight and share how they did more research on the topic. We’ve had others say that the fight caused them actually to pick up the Bible and read it for the first time.

Are we worshipping Buddha? No, Jesus is Lord. Do we compromise our faith by subscribing to some sort of watered-down relativism? No, Jesus is Lord. Are we encouraging people to think for themselves? Yes. Are we practicing the spiritual discipline of listening so that we earn the right to be heard? Yes. Are we creating a doorway through which people can come and experience the kingdom of God? Yes. We have had more people than I can count join us for worship on Sunday morning, where we preach the gospel, because they got to participate in a discussion on faith in the basement of a tattoo shop.

The most important part of the evening comes at the very end. Observing the last rule at the end of the fight, participants must share one thing that someone else said that was not in-line with their opinion and made them think. This has been a powerful time as we go around the room and honor the fight and the fighters. The act of admitting that someone else had a good point or a challenging argument is a gesture of humility. That small gesture can be the vehicle in which the group binds together. Suddenly, everyone is on the same playing field. We become one not because we all agreed, but because we all contributed to the argument.

During this time of humility and encouragement, the Holy Spirit moves among us, and by the time we’re done, we realize that although we’re all coming from different points of view, we have actually shared in koinonia through the fight. Arguing over God and theology and the Bible doesn’t have to be a bitter, hateful thing we try to avoid. Fighting over the Bible, struggling with the real questions of faith, can actually be a time of koinonia, binding ourselves to one another through our differing opinions. This is possible as long as we come to the fight, not ready to win the argument, but ready to value the argument. This is possible as long as we walk into the fight willing to listen, willing to acknowledge that we don’t know everything, and willing to have humility.

Jim Walker:  Dirty Word: The Vulgar, Offensive Language of the Kingdom of God

I have broken the rules of “fair fighting” so many times.  Rules that preserve mutual respect and honor the other person.  But I have seen here the value of arguing… or if you prefer the word, debating.  In the Information Age and post-modern culture, we have to wrestle for truth.  We have to literally fight through so many ideas and beliefs.. because we are told they are all valid.  But I honestly believe in spite of being told there isn’t absolute truth, people are still looking for it.  If Jesus is that Truth, how are we going to share Him if we don’t allow people to wrestle?  Does it mean we have to win?  No.  Winning isn’t up to us.  Listening and testifying are.

Cults and fringe religious movements do not allow anyone to openly question their sacred cows.  Evangelical Christianity doesn’t generally tolerate it well either.  People find it terrifying.   “Truth” must be controlled and protected.  But the Truth is not afraid to be challenged and tested.  If it is true, it will prevail.  Those who come out of closed cult systems do need to wrestle, sometimes for years, with every part of their belief system they once ascribed to.  It’s a messy business.  I have felt drained and frustrated by watching others in this process, and backed away.  I have felt I no longer had anything to contribute.  But I now see that everywhere there is someone seeking truth (ex-cult or otherwise), this messy business will be necessary.  Just as children are messy treasures, so are God’s spiritual kids, as we are born and grow in Him.

So I repent of my “it’s not nice to argue” error and realize it may be the most complimentary thing you can do for someone.  Acknowledge them.  Challenge them to wrestle with the Holy One of Israel.  May we then become “People of the Limp.”  As Jacob was broken and changed, we also can become humble and broken before God and men.   We can even be allowed, to be wrong.

By the way… I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

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