Social Media Bullying: Is Saying God and Lord Acceptable?

You’re quite fortunate if you run in social media circles within the Hebrew Roots/Messianic movement or other denominations of Christianity and haven’t had a run in with people who are quick to tell you why this or that is pagan, sinful, or just plain wrong. One of the most popular areas in which newcomers are attacked is in the usage of the honorific titles of Lord and God, which are used as English language equivalents to the Hebrew words, Adonai and Elohim. And I am not referring to people who simply prefer to pronounce the Tetragrammaton, I am talking about the people who go out bent on conquering, making it a salvation issue.

Now, it’s one thing when seasoned veterans get bombarded with this stuff – but the folks preaching this, often very unkindly and with threats of damnation, do not pay the slightest bit of attention to whether someone has been a believer one hour, or fifty years, or whether they are thirteen years old, or eighty years old. Truly the great evil of social media religious preaching is that we do not have a relationship with the people we are approaching, and therefore have no idea if we even should approach them. We lack the wisdom to know if we are instructing them or confusing them, or even damaging them. I don’t want this to happen to anyone’s kid and so after years of pondering this, I am finally setting it down in writing.

So, let’s look at the use of honorifics in the Bible – and we will use a specific example from my own social media wall a couple of weeks ago. I was talking about it being the anniversary of coming to an understanding of Torah being for today, and I praised “Adonai.” This was the response I got from someone who I had never heard from before:

“Well, I guess you are still waiting for Him to ask you what His proper name is! His name is not Adonai or Lord or God but…”

FYI, I removed His Name from the quote because the sarcastic and ignorant nature of the comment brought His Name to shame. I literally felt embarrassed for my King. Of course, I know the Name, the four letter Tetragrammaton – it was silly, arrogant, and undiscerning to presume otherwise, just because I chose to use a formal title that means “My Lord” or “My Master.”

Before I start, I want to give a little bit of an example of how the usage of intimate Names compares with the usage of honorifics when addressing someone with whom we are not social equals:

Your Majesty,

I applaud your Highness on your recent speech to parliament. It was a privilege to hear the wisdom of your Grace addressing the legislature. Long live the Queen!

Okay, that letter was respectful, right? Let’s try it again without the honorifics, but still speaking with nothing but kindness:

Elizabeth Windsor,

I applaud you, Elizabeth, on your recent speech to Parliament. Liz, it was a privilege to hear your wisdom as you addressed the Legislature. I hope you live forever.

Notice that I said nothing uncomplimentary in either letter. But the tone was different – in the first, I was speaking to someone socially way above me and in the second I was either speaking as a peer, a buddy, or a cheeky little monkey. Probably her Majesty would see my impertinence as a qualification for the latter lol. The point is, did I dishonor her in any way by referring to her with honorifics instead of her actual name? Certainly not, if anything, I elevated her – and that is exactly what happens when an honorific title is used instead of the Tetragrammaton or its short form Yah.

So, is there cause to rebuke anyone for using a respectful title? What do we see in the Scriptures? In the Hebrew, and the Greek, do we see the use of titles or only the use of the Name? (I will note here that I have no beef with anyone who pronounces the Name – we see it used all throughout Scripture as well – just not exclusively).

Let’s look specifically at Adonai – first used by Abraham in Genesis 15:2 directly to God, and God doesn’t get the slightest big offended and say, “Why aren’t you calling me by my Name? Do you want the pagans to think you are talking about someone else?” Nope – why would God take offense to a man submitting himself as a servant? It was a fitting and appropriate thing to do. The prophets thought so too – as Adonai is used 434 times to describe God as Lord and Master.

How about El/Elohim? El is a word that is the Hebrew equivalent of the English God (which came from the Germanic Gott, and is not to be confused with the pagan deity Gad or the Tribe of Gad in the Bible – there is no link between Semitic and Germanic languages – we can’t rightly say that the languages were divided at Babel and also say that they are still all related) and shows up within the monikers El Elyon (Most High God) nineteen times in the Psalms, El Olam (Everlasting God) and the more commonly known El Shaddai (commonly rendered Almighty God) throughout Genesis.  Elohim is a generic word meaning mighty one or god, and refers to both the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and various false gods, angels, civic leaders, judges, etc.

Elohim itself is used over 2600 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and has a lot of different meanings – one of which is a title of the Supreme God. Although I could go into more detail on this, suffice it to say that it is used exclusively for God in Genesis 1-4.

One of the really interesting aspects of the charge that it is a sin to use titles or that it is somehow disrespectful, besides the fact that just about every Biblical figure of note uses them when speaking of/to God, is that we also have the testimony of Yeshua/Jesus and the Apostles, none of which ever utter the Tetragrammaton – even though there was one in Greek that we have archaeological evidence of. In English, the first-century Greek version of the Tetragrammaton would be rendered Iawe (ee-ah-way), and here is a link to another blog post with the information on that.

So are we to accuse Yeshua of sinning, or of not knowing the Name, or of being disrespectful, or any one of these accusations we see commonly flying around? May it never be! Not only did Yeshua never sin, but He always did the will of His Father. If He said the Name, it would be recorded for us. What we do see is Theos, Kyrios, and Pater – the Greek equivalents of God, Lord/Master, and Father. Abba (Aramaic for Father) is used only once by Yeshua (Mark 14:36) and twice by Paul (Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6).

The case for using only a pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton YHVH, yod-hey-vav-hey, or the short form Yah is therefore without merit and would require one to ignore both the Hebrew and Greek canonical text, as well as the Septuagint (LXX), Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigraphic writings, as well as all other Jewish writings through the Millenia. This is really a non-doctrine if someone is trying to enforce it – it has to be strong-armed because it has no Scriptural merit excepting for an out of context reading of verses which promote the proclaiming of the Name – which is problematic to read exclusively as referring to a personal name because the word shem (name) also means reputation/renown. In the ancient Near Eastern world, everything was about honor/reputation/renown – in fact, we still equate a man’s “good name” as being equal to his reputation, not a collection of expressed syllables.

So should we be concerned about the Name of God? Absolutely – and I am talking about His reputation here. Speaking syllables is easy, anyone can do it according to their theory of how it was pronounced – but if we speak those syllables with our bad character backing it up, we are dragging that name through the manure we are wallowing in. No, we must take care that our character is superlative, that we go from glory to glory, becoming more and more like Yeshua, the express image of God and our example in all things.




The Bridge – **FREE CHRISTIAN BOOK** for the next 3 days 5/12-14, 2017

All of the instructions (I have over 5000 successful downloads of the first edition based on them and I lost count on the new) and all the links work. Everything you need is here – I even added a picture into the instructions. Please read them as I will not be available for questions.

No Kindle required – all you need is any online device – PC, Mac or android!! Read all the instructions, the links are in blue. PLEASE read all the directions as I will not be able to help you beyond that. Absolutely everything you need is here.

If the country you live in has an amazon platform, this will still be free for you, but my links will only work in America. Just do a search for my name – Tyler Dawn Rosenquist – and you will hopefully see the book listed.

So what is The Bridge?  The Bridge is a book that spans the gap between 1st and 21st century Christianity, sending the reader back in time to the faith once delivered to our fathers, so that we can understand what they understood, and see the Kingdom as more of a family instead of a religion.  If you ever wanted to explain to anyone, in very simple and non-threatening terms, why you believe what you believe – this will help you.  Why does God describe Himself as Father, King, Master, Husband?  Why does He call us to become a child, ambassador, bondservant, and bride?  What do those relationships teach us about His promises and expectations?  The Bridge:  Crossing Over Into the Fullness of Covenant Life is a book designed to explore those relationships and restore you to the path that leads to the intimacy that we were always meant to have with our Father. I have revamped much of the book, especially the last half, adding in 20,000 words that reflect better research into the ancient Near Eastern and First Century context of many issues – and, my original reason for the rewrite, I removed some popular urban legends that I took for truth – I simply had not verified because so many people were teaching them and besides that, I had an agenda and really wanted to believe them.

If you want the book for free:

1. If you don’t already have it, and you already have a kindle or the free app, just get it free here or do a search if you are from another country on your respective amazon platform. Hibuy-nowt the “Buy it now with 1-click” before Sunday 4/14 at midnight PST.

2.  If you don’t have a kindle, download this app first on PC, Mac, or android.  When that is done, download the book, but make sure you do it before midnight PST on May 14, 2017.

You can also buy it in paperback here if you are like me and hate reading things on Kindle.

You can help me by getting the word out about the free offer, and once you have read it, I would appreciate reviews. If you like The Bridge, then check out the sequel, written from the Ancient Near Eastern and First Century Perspective – King, Kingdom, Citizen: His Reign and Our Identity, which proves our rights to Citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven through Messiah. You can also check out my family curriculum series Context for Kids, Vol I: Honor and Shame in the Bible  and Volume II: Ten Commandments and the Covenants of Promise – I believe in teaching children the same things I teach adults, within reason, I don’t dumb it down, I just teach it more slowly. I’ve had kids from 7 to 62 go through Volume I with no problems, and a University professor as well (Volume II is better suited for 10 and up). If you haven’t caught my weekly youtube teachings for kids, check out my Context for Kids youtube channel linked on the sidebar – last year took the kids on an archaeological journey through the ancient Near Eastern context of Scripture from Genesis through Deuteronomy and started teaching New Testament Backgrounds during the winter. Coming soon will be Context for Adults: Sexuality and Social Identity in the Bible – covering a lot of those really uncomfortable Bible questions that both seekers and children will probably ask you about at one point or another, but you really wish they wouldn’t.




The Woman with the Issue of Blood – The Story Behind the Story

I love it when I find something that I have never heard taught before.

In my studies of Israelite marriage and betrothal customs and laws, I was reading the Kehati Mishnah Commentary of Tractate Ketubot. Tucked away in Chapter 4, Mishnah 9 was a remarkable passage about the rights of a man to divorce his ailing wife and the various opinions of scholars on the subject, most notably Rambam and Ravad, both 12th-century commentators on the Mishnah. The Mishnah (finalized in 200 CE by Yehudah haNasi) contains Sanhedrin rulings and opinions gathered over the course of several centuries related to Torah Law – it is not much different than the formal written proceedings of the United States Supreme Court in that we have basic laws, and it is the job of the Courts to interpret those laws when disputes and cases come before them. The Sanhedrin, the “supreme court” of the Jews, served in that function as outlined in Exodus 16, as well as Deut 16, and 17.

As with the “right to privacy” here in America, which originally meant limitations on the right of the government to illegal search and seizure without probable legal cause, yet was later twisted into the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy – we also have cases of the Law of God being twisted out of its original purpose of commanding us to love our neighbors.

I believe that the “woman with the issue of blood” mentioned in Matthew 5, Mark 9, and Luke 8 suffered under just this type of twisting of the intention of the Law by men who were very much the products of their time:

Mark 9:25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years,26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Kehati Mishnah Tractate Ketubot 4.9:

“If she was taken captive, he is obligated to ransom her. And if he said, “Here is her get (her divorce document) and her ketubah (the money owed her by contract if divorced), let her ransom herself!” – he is not allowed. If she fell ill, he is responsible for her healing. If he said, “Here is her get and her ketubah, let her heal herself!” – he is allowed.” (Pinchas Kehati, translated by Edward Levin, Mishnah Seder Nashim Vol 1, Ketobot pg 63-4)

Although this may sound confusing, when taken in context with the rest of the Tractate, and especially the whole of Chapter 4, it states that a man was not allowed to refuse to ransom his wife if she was taken captive. He could not simply take the opportunity to get rid of her by saying, “Wow, what a stroke of luck, I’ll just divorce her and give her the 200 dinars (if she was a virgin when he married her, otherwise 100 dinars) and she can ransom herself!” It was a literal court order that no matter what was written in the ketubah, he was in fact required to ransom his wife. In fact, it has been eye-opening learning exactly what was in a ketubah originally – it made divorce prohibitively expensive.

If the wife was sick, however, that was a different situation which was subject to much commentary. Healing was a part of the maintenance a husband owed his wife, in exchange for her acting the part of a wife – but a divorced wife was entitled to no such care from her husband. The question became: when can you divorce a sick wife?

RAMBAM (Maimonides aka Moshe ben Maimon d. 1204) interpreted this ruling as saying that if a woman had been ill for a long time and it was going to be too costly to care for her, a man could, in fact, divorce her if he was willing to give her the get and ketubah – however, in Hilcot Ishut 14.17 he plainly stated that “this is unfitting and improper behavior.” In other words, they may have ruled that this was kosher, but Rambam didn’t approve. As Rambam is the most respected commentator in history, his view is going to reflect the overwhelming majority view among Jews today.

RAVAD (Abraham ben David d. 1198) claimed that the case law applied only to a woman who was not bedridden. A bedridden wife had to be cared for until she healed or died. Therefore, a woman who was sick but not bedridden could be given a divorce and her inheritance money and forced to fend for herself. This interpretation brings us to the woman with the issue of blood.

The woman in the Gospel accounts was obviously not bedridden, as she was able to approach Yeshua and reach out for the hem of his garment. She had also spent “all that she had” in trying to be cured. I submit that this woman, sick for twelve years, had probably been cast off and paid off by her husband once it became clear that her disease would render her unable to provide him with children. A woman who was constantly bleeding, as per Torah Law, could never be approached sexually – it was an abomination (Lev 18:19). Because he could no longer derive that benefit from her, he divorced her and gave her the (probably) 200 dinars owed to her by the ketubah.

As Rambam rightly declared, “unfitting and improper behavior” indeed.

The woman who approached Yeshua committed no sin in doing so, as it was no sin either to be unclean or to render someone else unclean via an issue of blood (excepting in the case of sexual contact) as long as it was not done within a sacred area – in fact, anyone who wished to go to the inner Temple Courts would have had to mikvah and wait until after sundown anyway, and this changed nothing. If I am correct, then this was an ailing woman who had been handed a divorce by her husband, along with her inheritance money, and booted from her home. Her father and brothers owed her nothing once she was married, so she was probably on her own and had spent all of her money in a desperate attempt to be cured. At this point, her life was pretty much hopeless. She could not marry, or earn a living; she had no access to modern medicine and no money left for it anyway – this prophet from Galilee was her only hope in the world. And she believed with all her heart that merely touching his garment would heal her.

So she reached out and touched the hem of his garment – the hem of the firstborn son which traditionally carried the authority of the family. (If you are interested in the ancient context of the hem of the firstborn son, check out www.rootedintorah.com “The Hem and Garment Concept Block”)

I find it interesting, this phrase, “Who touched my garments?”

As a divorced woman, unattached to her father, her brothers, or a husband, she lacked identity in that world. She couldn’t say that she was X, wife of Y or mother of Z. Because of her issue of blood, she had been deprived of her identity as a woman – that of wife and mother – and when the Word says that she “told Him the whole truth,” I am pretty sure that she probably told Him a story akin to the one I just laid out for you.

How does Yeshua respond?

Daughter, your faith has made you well….”

Did you catch that? He gave her an identity again. Yeshua gave her life back, her health, her identity, and her honor as well. He reminded her (and the entire crowd) that even though her husband had abandoned her, she was still a daughter of Abraham. Yeshua had ushered her back into the realm of the living. Her husband unjustly cast her aside, while the Bridegroom, in an act of compassionate justice, healed her and gave her honor back.




Juicio en el Tercer Cielo: Mi Testimonio

My grateful thanks to my dear sister Lisa Velazquez for translating this faster than I actually wrote it. She is a marvel! Her teachings can be heard regularly on teshuva.tv

Esta es una historia que rara vez comparto pero mi amiga Dinah me animó hace un tiempo, y en el interés de mantener la levadura fuera de nuestras casas esta semana voy a seguir adelante y compartirla aquí. Esta no es una historia de cortesía sobre mí – no me hace especial; creo que sucedió porque era un caso tan desesperado y una persona tan peligrosa – y, sin embargo, Dios todavía tenía un plan para mi vida.

(FYI: me tomó una eternidad ponerle a un título a esto y todavía no estoy contenta con él – suena pretencioso, pero si sigue leyendo entenderá por qué no tengo razón para estar orgullosa de lo que pasó)

Yo estaba viviendo en un pequeño pueblo de Nuevo Mexico en 2008  – mis hijos estaban en primer grado, y era otoño – lo recuerdo porque estaba en el patio trasero rastrillando hojas. Hace unos meses, ore un tipo de oración que sólo la gente desquiciada ora: “Señor Jesús, júzgame en esta vida mientras todavía tengo tiempo de cambiar”.

Dije esa oración con todo mi corazón. Yo estaba enojada, herida, hecha un desastre de persona. Confiaba en Dios, amaba a Jesús y no veía cómo evitar ese conflicto inherente, pero aunque desconfiaba de Dios, deseaba desesperadamente que me amara. No voy a entrar en las razones por las que me sentía de esa manera sobre Él. Hay demasiadas, y ese no es el punto.

Yo era un racista, y mi marca específica de racismo estaba en plena alerta viviendo en un pueblo que era en su mayoría extranjeros ilegales con sus hijos y nietos. También ayudo el hecho de que, en esa ciudad, había una calle bidireccional definida.

Pero tampoco sabía nada acerca de cómo ser una persona cariñosa – sabía ser una persona crítica, desagradable. Yo sabía cómo justificar mi dureza como la “verdad hablada en amor”. En resumen, yo era una experta en llegar con las razones por que todo lo que hice y pensé que estaba muy bien, y esas justificaciones subieron rápidamente, y sin un pensamiento cada vez el Espíritu Santo se acercaba a mí sobre lo que estaba haciendo.

Yo era el tipo de creyente más peligroso: era increíblemente inteligente, leía bien, era celosa, confiada en lo que estaba haciendo en mi “unción”, pero por dentro era tan asesina como Pablo lo fue. Desgarraba a una persona que no estaba de acuerdo conmigo sin mirar hacia atrás. El problema era esto: yo también tenía sueños de estar rodeada de niños, y durante esos momentos en que mi guardia estaba baja, el Espíritu me estaba impresionando urgentemente que yo no estaba en modo alguno preparada para ser el tipo de persona que los niños necesitarían.

Esa es la parte fácil de la historia para contar – la parte que nadie tiene problemas para creer. Eso en realidad no es embarazoso hablar más de lo que Dios tenía que hacer para que yo comenzara a cambiar y es por eso que estoy llorando ahora mismo.

Como dije, estaba rastrillando hojas. Entonces, de repente, ya no me encontraba en mi patio. Supongo que tal vez estuve en lo que Pablo llamó el “tercer cielo” – no lo sé. Para ser honesta, no miré a mí alrededor, estaba consciente de que la Shekinah estaba en el trono frente a mí, y un hombre de pie a mi izquierda, vestido de blanco. Nunca vi su rostro; nunca miré hacia arriba. Nadie nunca habló. Cuando te juzgan, no te das cuenta de nada más. Simplemente no puedes. O al menos yo no pude.

Hay un versículo sobre ser juzgado por cada palabra descuidada y otra que explica que la Palabra juzga los pensamientos e intenciones de nuestro corazón.

Quiero que imagines todas las cosas terribles que hayas pensado y dicho, no las cosas que sabías que estaban equivocadas y que luego te arrepentiste de ellas, pero las cosas que rápidamente te disculpaste y mentiste acerca de las cosas que hiciste para herir a la gente porque querías ser hiriente, querías que supieran que eras un mejor creyente o superior; piense en las intenciones reales y las motivaciones ocultas en sus palabras y las acciones que te mentiste a tí mismo, y mentiste tan a menudo que realmente comenzaste a creerte tus propias mentiras. Aquellas mentiras que trabajaron para protegerte de la verdad acerca de lo cruel que realmente eras e incluso tuviste la intención de ser – verdades tan dañinas que no te atreves a enfrentarlas una a la vez, y mucho menos todas a la vez.

Nadie, y especialmente yo, nunca dije una palabra. Estaba en una agonía que no puedo describirla. Estamos acostumbrados a nuestros propios egos que vienen a nuestro rescate cuando nos comportamos de una manera malvada; esos mecanismos de defensa aparecen antes de que lo sepamos y son tan hábiles en engañarnos que rara vez recibimos una punzada en nuestra conciencia después de un tiempo. Queremos las mentiras, no la verdad. Es fácil decir lo contrario antes de estar delante de Dios para enfrentarlos a todos a la vez.

Ahora me doy cuenta de que fui llevada allí, no porque merecía una vislumbre de la sala del trono de Dios, sino porque ese era el único lugar donde mi ego se pondría de pie. En presencia de pura luz y verdad, no sólo mi boca estaba cerrada, sino también mi voz interna. No tenía abogado de la defensa en esa habitación – estaba expuesta completamente sin capacidad de justificar nada. Lo que me di cuenta fue la verdad acerca de todo lo que había dicho o pensado o hecho – y la verdad acerca de por qué dije y pensaba y hacía esas cosas. Simplemente no puedes imaginarte viéndote a ti mismo como quien realmente eres.

Lo irónico – fue estar en la habitación con Padre y el Hijo y no oír sus voces, ni condenación. Ninguna instrucción, ninguna revelación de la doctrina, ninguna corrección a lo que ya creí. Sin calendarios, sin nombres, sin retos sobre lo que estaba comiendo o haciendo en mis sábados. Todo era sobre mi carácter, que era muy, muy malo. Esa fue la razón por la que estuve allí – evidentemente, esa fue mi cuestión más importante – el mayor problema.

Todavía estoy sorprendida de que yo era capaz de soportar, pero a veces me pregunto si sólo estaba congelada en ese lugar. No lo sé; todo lo que sabía era la agonía de verme a mí misma como yo, sin tregua ni refugio. No sé cuánto tiempo tomó – la eternidad es diferente. Lo que cada vez más me di cuenta de que sucedió fue que el Padre y el Hijo no estaban allí para condenarme, sino para exponerme y apoyarme. Empecé a darme cuenta de que si no estuvieran allí, probablemente habría muerto por la tensión. Ni siquiera puedo empezar a relatar lo horrible que es verte sin el filtro autodestructivo y protector del ego.

Cuando terminó, estaba de vuelta en mi patio – con el rastrillo en la mano como si nada hubiera pasado. Me sentí avergonzada; de alguna manera me sentí muy vacía, y de otras maneras, me sentí muy llena. Por lo que recuerdo, en realidad fue una semana o dos antes de mi ego trató de retroceder y empezar a mentirme a mí de nuevo – pero nunca tan exitoso como solía ser. El ego se fortalece cuando estoy enojada, herida o traicionada – pero mi éxito en engañarme ha sido obstaculizado – cuando estoy actuando como una idiota, generalmente estoy muy consciente de ello y tengo que forzarme a creer lo contrario – el engaño ya no es fácil. Estoy constantemente frente a mis defectos.

No, no puedo decirte de qué color es el Mesías, si vi las manos, pero no fue así – color como lo pensamos. Blanco pero ciertamente no blanco, y, sin embargo, blanco. Nunca levanté mis ojos más allá de las manos. No, tampoco vi agujeros de clavos, sólo las manos de la vista lateral donde no estarían visibles de todos modos. Yo estaba consciente de mucho pero vi poco; la experiencia fue demasiado abrumadora y terrible. También fue lo mejor que me ha pasado. Drásticamente el mal carácter requiere medidas drásticas de parte de Dios. Tenía un llamado para trabajar con niños – por eso oré esa oración en primer lugar – sabía que no estaba lista. Ministrar a los adultos es bastante difícil, pero con los niños, no hay espacio para estar en la carne todo el tiempo.

Odio compartir esto porque alguien podría pensar que estoy jactándome – pero créanme, esto no era como cualquiera de los viajes de los profetas en el trono. No estaba escuchando el consejo secreto de Dios o viendo las cosas gloriosas allí. No comí una comida de convenio, ni escuché Su voz ni escuché a los ángeles cantando. Yo no merecía nada de eso. En términos muy humanos, fui llevada a la oficina del director y despojada de mi falso orgullo, privada de toda excusa y pretensión que – todavía es difícil de explicar. Cuando volví, estaba sin una pizca de fe en mí misma. Nunca he confiado en mí desde ese día, y es por eso que constantemente me cuestiono a mí misma, especialmente cuando siento que estoy en lo correcto. La mayoría de la gente no tiene ni idea de las profundidades del autoengaño de qué son capaces, pero ese conocimiento fue el regalo de Dios para mí. Es una verdad innegable. La conciencia se hace más profunda con cada año que pasa – lo que enfrenté en la sala del trono fue sólo la corrección, no fue el final. Me anima a parecerme más a Él, porque permanecer como soy es demasiado doloroso para contemplar.




Judgment in the Third Heaven: My Testimony

This is a story I rarely share but my friend Dinah encouraged me to a while back, and in the interest of keeping the leaven out of our homes this week I am going to go ahead and share it here. This is not a complimentary story about me – it doesn’t make me special; I think it happened was because I was such a desperate case and such a dangerous person – and yet, God still had a plan for my life.
(FYI: It took me forever to come up with a title to this and I am still not happy with it – it sounds pretentious but if you keep reading you will understand why I have no reason to be proud of what happened)
 
I was living in a small town in New Mexico in 2008 – my kids were in first grade, and it was Fall – I remember because I was in the backyard raking leaves. I had, a few months earlier, prayed the kind of prayer that only insane people pray, “Lord Jesus, judge me in this life while I still have time to change.”
 
I meant that prayer with all my heart. I was an angry, wounded, hot mess of a person. I distrusted God, loved Jesus, and saw no way around that inherent conflict – but although I distrusted God, I desperately wanted Him to love me. I won’t go into the reasons why I felt that way about Him. There are too many, and that isn’t the point.
 
I was a racist, and my specific brand of racism was on full alert living in a town that was largely illegal aliens and their children and grandchildren. It was also helped along by the fact that, in that town, it was a definite two-way street with all too many people.
 
But I also didn’t know anything about how to be a loving person – I knew how to be a critical, unpleasable person. I knew how to justify my harshness as the “truth spoken in love.” In short, I was an expert at coming up with reasons why everything I did and thought was really okay, and those justifications went up quickly, and without a thought every time the Holy Spirit approached me about what I was actually doing.
 
I was the most dangerous kind of believer – I was incredibly intelligent, well-read, zealous beyond belief, confident in what I was doing and in my “anointing” – but on the inside, I was as much of a murderer as Paul ever was. I would tear a person who disagreed with me down without so much as a look backward. The problem was this – I was also having dreams about being surrounded by children, and during those moments when my guard was down, the Spirit was urgently impressing upon me that I was in no way prepared to be the kind of person whom children would need.
 
That’s the easy part of the story to tell – the part no one has any trouble believing. That actually isn’t embarrassing anymore to talk about – what God had to do to me to get me to begin to change is why I am crying right now.
 
Like I said – I was raking leaves. Then all of a sudden I wasn’t in my backyard anymore. I guess maybe I was in what Paul called the “third heaven” – I don’t know. To be honest, I didn’t look around, I was aware of the Shekinah enthroned in front of me, and a man standing to my left, wearing white. I never saw His face; I never looked up. No one ever spoke at all. When you are being judged, you don’t notice much of anything else. You just can’t. Or at least I couldn’t.
 
There is a verse about being judged by every careless word and another which explains that the Word judges the thoughts and intentions of our heart.
 
I want you to imagine every terrible thing you have ever thought and said – not the things you knew were wrong and repented of, but the things you quickly made excuses for and lied to yourself about – the things you did to hurt people because you wanted to be hurtful, you wanted them to know you were a better believer, or superior; think about the real intentions and hidden motivations  in your words and actions that you lied to yourself about, and lied about so often that you actually began to believe your own lies. Those lies that worked to protect you from the truth about how cruel you really were and even intended to be – truths that hurt so bad that you dare not face one at a time, let alone all of them at once.
 
No one, and especially not me, ever said a word. I was in agony that I cannot describe. We are used to our own egos coming to our rescue when we behave in evil ways – those defense mechanisms pop up before we know it and they are so deft at deceiving us that we rarely even get a twinge to our conscience after a while. We want the lies, not the truth. It is easy to say otherwise before you stand before God to face them all at once.
 
I realize now that I was taken there, not because I deserved a glimpse of the throne room of God, but because that was the only place where my ego would stand down. In the presence of pure light and truth, not only was my physical mouth shut – but so was my internal voice. I had no defense attorney in that room – I was exposed completely with no ability to justify anything. What I became aware of was the truth about everything I had ever said or thought or did – and the truth about why I said and thought and did those things. You just can’t imagine seeing yourself for who you really are.
 
Funny – to be in the room with Father and Son and not to hear their voices, or condemnation. No instruction, no revelation of doctrine, no corrections to what I already believed. No calendars, no Names, no challenges about what I was eating or doing on my Saturdays. Everything was about my character, which was very, very bad. That was the reason I was there – evidently, that was my most important issue – the biggest problem.
 
I am still shocked that I was able to stand, but sometimes I wonder if I was just frozen in place. I don’t know; all I was aware of was the agony of seeing myself as I was, with no respite and nowhere to hide. I don’t know how long it took – eternity is just different. What I became increasingly aware of as it went on was that Father and Son were not there to condemn me but to expose and support me. I started to realize that if they were not there, I probably would have died from the strain. I cannot even begin to relate how horrible it is to see yourself without the self-deceptive and protective filter of ego.
 
When it was over, I was back in my backyard – rake in hand as if nothing had ever happened. I was ashamed – in some ways I felt very empty, and in other ways, I felt very full. As I recall, it was actually a week or two before my ego tried to kick back in and start lying to me again – but it has never been nearly as successful as it used to be. Ego gets stronger when I am angry, hurt or have been betrayed – but my success at deceiving myself has been hampered – when I am acting like a jerk, I am generally keenly aware of it and have to force myself to believe otherwise – self-deception is no longer effortless. I am constantly faced with my shortcomings.
 
No, I can’t tell you what color Messiah is, I saw hands, but it wasn’t like that – color like we think of it. White but certainly not white, and yet, white. I never lifted my eyes past the hands. No, I didn’t see nail holes either – just hands from the side view where they wouldn’t be visible anyway. I was aware of much but saw little; the experience was too overwhelming and terrible. It was also the best thing that ever happened to me. Drastically bad character requires drastic measures from God. I had a calling to work with children – that’s why I prayed that prayer in the first place – I knew I wasn’t ready. Ministering to adults is bad enough, but with kids, there is no room to be in the flesh all the time.
 
I hate sharing this because someone might think I am bragging – but believe me, this was not like any of the throne room trips of the prophets. I wasn’t hearing the secret counsel of God or seeing the glorious things there. I didn’t eat a covenant meal or hear His voice or listen to the Angels singing. I didn’t deserve any of that. In very human terms, I was taken to the principal’s office and stripped of my unearned false pride, deprived of every excuse and any pretense of – it’s still hard to explain. When I returned, it was without a shred of faith in myself. I have never trusted myself since that day, and that’s why I am constantly questioning myself – especially when I feel like I am in the right. Most people have no clue the depths of self-deception they are capable of – but that knowledge was God’s gift to me. It is an undeniable truth. The awareness goes deeper with each passing year – what I faced in the throne room was just the correction, it wasn’t the end. It spurs me on to be more like Him because remaining the way I am is just too painful to contemplate.



Question: “How Do I Find Meaning in the Feasts of the Lord?”

How do I find meaning in the Feasts of the Lord?
 
(I won’t accept any comments about Christmas and Easter, or digs at our mainstream Christian brothers and sisters or Christianity because that is not the point of this message and never should be. We have spent too much time looking in the rearview mirror and not enough focusing on our Biblical heritage.)
 
One of the most common questions I get before the Feasts – and I am not making fun or anyone or criticizing here because I struggle with this as well – is the result of a mindset that was trained into us in mainstream Christianity and therefore is entirely understandable and natural. In fact, it is terribly difficult to break out of because we don’t even realize that the question itself is not the right question but instead a symptom of a much larger problem.
 
“How do I find meaning in the Feasts/how do I make the Feasts meaningful for X.”
 
Now that didn’t seem like a strange question, did it? Of course not. We were brought up in a commercialized mess around Christmas and Easter, and the slogans abounded – “don’t forget the true meaning.” We therefore just naturally learned to think about modern Christian observances in those terms, because it really was hard to think about the “true meaning” in the midst of an incredibly secular holiday that bore little resemblance to anything that Yeshua (Jesus) or the apostles would have done in their lives. As individualists, it is vitally important to us that we find personal meaning in what we do, and we don’t like doing things that don’t have meaning to us – as though God should only be acknowledged in praise if we are in the mood, despite our need and obligation to acknowledge His glory even when we don’t “feel it.”
 
So when we find out about the Feasts, we are very used to holidays that were tailor made to “have meaning for us” and were frankly designed to appeal to all our desires for fulfillment through entertainment, gift giving and receiving, celebration dinners, wonderful family times, lavish decorations designed to engage the senses, etc. We are used to “holy days” being a lot of fun by modern standards. We lost sight of why God’s holy days were actually enjoyable to His people in Yeshua’s day.
 
Feasts in Yeshua’s day were enjoyable because all the people in the Land, and some from far off Lands, had all come together to worship the King of kings and Lord of lords. That was a good enough reason for them to be joyful – it thrilled their hearts to hear the Levites sing Psalms and play instruments. It was meaningful for them to watch the daily Tamid offerings in God’s honor. The meaning of the Feasts was not about them, their enjoyment or personal fulfillment – they naturally felt enjoyment and were personally fulfilled because their God was being exalted. They heard His Name being praised and that was enough, they found joy in it. They saw the Temple ceremonies, and that was enough, they found joy in it.
 
Ancient people intrinsically understood that worship was not about themselves and they didn’t need to find deep meaning in it – they knew the God/god/goddess was deserving of all honor, glory, and praise and it gave them joy when that was being performed. They worshiped not as individuals but as a community, on the same day and doing the same exact things and that oneness gave their praise all the meaning it needed.
 
We, on the other hand, are just shamelessly individualistic and we seek out the meaning for ourselves, for personal reasons to get us in the mood. It is very important “what this means to me, ” and that feeling is amplified when we no longer have the shared cultural experiences of Christmas and Easter when even the secular world joins in the celebration to one extent or another; we still derive meaning and satisfaction and relief when we are joined with many other voices in what we are doing, as if that lends a sense of legitimacy in our psyche.
 
When we switch over to the Feasts, we find ourselves in a pickle with Biblical days that look incredibly foreign to us and are not designed to appeal to our traditional sensibilities of what it looks like to honor God; we often unconsciously seek that same sort of meaning in the new/old as we did in the Christian celebrations. Add to that the unfortunate tendency of too many to tear down absolutely anything “traditional” – often due to a lack of understanding – and people feel empty and drifting. On top of that, some desire to “only do what Scripture says” when Scripture gives us about 30 minutes worth of instructions and leaves us flat the rest of the day. I don’t know about you, but I can only eat and drink so much before I am not joyful anymore.
 
We have a problem – we subconsciously want to find meaning in the Feasts on Christian terms while pushing away Christianity and want to find our Hebrew Roots without looking at how the Jews do things. We end up, all too frequently, between worlds – turning our noses up at anything that looks Christian while still seeking out the kinds of joy we had at Christmas and Easter, and shunning anything Jewish while deeply desiring the obvious joy that they take in the Feasts.
 
End game: we are still approaching things the same old way we did as individualistic Western Christians, except that we no longer have the joy that they have and we refuse to move on to the way community-centered Jews do things and don’t have their obvious joy in worshiping God either. We denounce their traditions and “Halakah” and are forced to make up our own based on what little is written in Scriptures – and then lament that we find little joy or meaning in them. Food for thought, “Why is our Halakah, our made up traditions based on what we think the text is saying, any superior to theirs?”
 
Of course, we find no joy! – If our goal is to find meaning for ourselves when the meaning is and always has been the exaltation of God through community psalms, prayers, dancing, feasting and yes, traditions – then we will fail. If our goal is simply to not do things in a Jewish or Christian way and presume that what we come up with will be more “authentic” then again, the focus is on ourselves and our own efforts. We spend anti-holy days – days devoted to not doing this or that instead of days devoted to God. It feels righteous at first, but all too often our efforts are fear-based, and an exercise in futility – and they become self-righteous instead.
 
Feasts are not about us; they are about the worship we owe to the Creator, to come together as one on set days and be united in our praises. That is what we should take joy in, the way that collective praise thunders through the universe on set days. It isn’t about us – it’s a celebration of what He has done for us.
Is there meaning in the Feasts beyond that? Of course – historically and spiritually, at the plain text as well as in the deepest mystical levels, there is a fountain of meaning deeper than the universe itself – but first, we have to learn to take joy in something that, at its most basic and profound levels, is all about Him. We must learn to worship without any part of it being about us.



Guest Blog: You’re In God’s Army Now!

So, my second official Guest Blog, I hope you are as excited about it as I am. About a month or so ago, I got this awesome idea of comparing the concept of being the image-bearers of God to the real life context of how soldiers represent their country. I just had a small problem – I have never been in the military and would be forced to fake an article, which I was not willing to do. Fortunately, I have this amazing colleague who actually is military, and who studies with the Wisdom in Torah Talmidim teachers – so when I told him that I wanted and asked politely (begged might be more accurate), he said yes! So, without further ado – here is Matt Nappier of Beit Shalom congregation in Monroe, La.

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I often like to take inventory of my personal space and the interactions around my small slice of this world to see God wherever it is I happen to find myself.  Over time and as I’ve grown, like all of us, I’ve found Him within many different experiences.  When my wife and I decided to start a farm, our sole focus in the beginning, and hopefully still, was to learn to see God in a deeper way through His creation, digging our hands into the most basic aspect of it.  Before that, we became parents, and our prayer was that God would not only show to us how to be great parents but also reveal to us a deeper understanding of Him as Father.  Going even further back, as we were married, our prayer was that God not only would teach us to be fruitful spouses to each other but also that he would guide us in showing the world that relationship He desires to have with all of creation.

One other identity I hold is that of an Army soldier over the last 15 years.  Having just graduated from another leadership course, I find myself also looking for God in those experiences.  As the Army has trained me over the years to be a leader within its ranks, I have prayed God that God will continue to show me how to use those tools to be a leader within the ranks of His Kingdom on earth.  While I was away, one emerging area of contemplation for me has been that of the ancient concept of humans as the image-bearers of God; as a result, a physical picture of what that means has presented itself, as so many other times, in the experiences around me.

I’d like to offer somewhat of an analogy, a physical comparison of something we may relate to today to help illustrate what it means to be the image-bearers of God on earth.  I’d like to paint this picture through the palette of my career in the US Army.  Let me be clear that I’m not suggesting that the Army of the United States is a good or equal comparison to God’s Kingdom and reiterate that this is simply an analogy in the physical world around us.

Although my focus for this comparison is our current worldview and responsibilities as image-bearers in the Kingdom of God here on earth, carrying the identity we have through Yeshua (Jesus) our Messiah, it wouldn’t be correct if I failed to mention the original image-bearers of God – Adam and Eve.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So, God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
-Genesis 1:26-27

At the very inception of our existence as human beings, the intention was that we should be the image-bearers of God.  Often, we overlook the middle section of those verses that states our image-bearing is in relation to the dominion of the world, bringing God to all creation.  Anglican bishop, professor, and theologian N.T. Wright explains that image as being like a mirror one looks into at an angle – seeing a reflection, not of themselves but another that is standing a few feet away.  When creation looked to Adam and Eve, they should have been able to see God, but Adam and Eve corrupted that image.  Since then, God has been working through His creation to restore the Creation Covenant made with us, humans, to restore us as His proper image-bearers on earth.

Fast forward to the first century, and we are given Yeshua, the incorruptible image of the invisible God, the One Who came to establish order and restore the image-bearers back to the intended image.  Through His restorative act of the resurrection, we are no longer captives to sin, nor are we slaves to bearing the burden and image of Egyptian captors, but are instead set free to walk out into the world bearing the true image of our God, King, and Creator.  That freedom, however, comes with a heavy responsibility.

When a person joins the military, their very first action as a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman is to raise their right hand and swear to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies.  We even call on God to help us do this, and this moment is always a very solemn one.  I don’t know many brothers or sisters in arms that don’t remember that moment of raising their right hand.  It’s serious.  There’s a real task at hand, one that can very well include an enemy threat.  As I assume anyone reading this would agree, the seriousness of the task we undertook by coming into Covenant and swearing allegiance to the Body of Messiah has often been diminished.  Can you imagine the seriousness of God’s oath to Abraham when it was promised that his offspring would be a blessing to all nations?  Can you imagine the seriousness of the oath taken at the base of Mt. Sinai, which carried the expectation of being true image-bearers to the nations?

Once the oath is sworn, new recruits are then sent to Basic Training, the discipleship camp that transforms those who have never served into the image of a United States soldier.  Through long hours of training and intense study of material, those who once only dreamed of what it looked like to be an Army soldier now embody the role.  They’ve been given a uniform, taught how to stand and walk, and trained rigorously to be fit to fight.  The great transformation occurs over a short nine weeks, and it’s a remarkable change.  Parents and loved ones often have trouble recognizing the new soldiers after they’ve completed those weeks.  They’ve been transformed into the image that the Army desires.

These exterior changes, however, are not the important ones nor are they the most significant.  These changes are merely the simplest and easiest.  We throw some clothes on them, give them a haircut, and workout with them for nine weeks; this only accomplishes the external, or physical, changes.  The harder task is changing what can’t be seen: what’s inside the soldier.  The greatest change is only evident when we can see that a person has fully embodied the intent of their Army training – to be instilled with the Army Core Values that motivates us not only to be soldiers who can not only win any war but also have the integrity to win that war honorably.

For those who haven’t heard of the Army Core Values, they consist of Leadership, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.  These are the weightier matters of our service.  That’s quite a hefty list of characteristics, and so it is readily understandable that Basic Training can only be the beginning of this molding process.  For many, it takes years to truly internalize these values, and for some, it never happens.  Yet, this is the intent of the Army – to train soldiers that will fight and fight honorably.

The United States Army has been the leading army in the world for quite some time now, and when we think back on why, it’s because we fight the honorable fight.  Sure, we may have hiccups along the way, but overall, we have fought to restore justice and righteousness in the world.  Being the strongest army isn’t all that matters – being the strongest and most honorable is.  Think of WWII when we saw the Nazis as enemies, a force that fought hard yet failed to overcome the prowess of the United States.  Yet, their strength never matters to anyone today because the world looks back with almost universal disgust at the shameful acts committed.  They may have had strength, but no honor.

The Body of Messiah should work in similar fashion.  We should be taking new believers through Basic Training, explaining to them in a quick, efficient manner those things which we are not to do at all. Our example is Acts 15 where we see new converts instructed to stop their overtly pagan practices, which was then supplemented with weekly training on how to walk out the task of becoming the image of God on earth.  These quick changes, doing away with idolatry and the overt acts of worldliness, are akin to the uniform and haircut given within the first week at Basic Training.  Yes, it changed our image a bit, but it wasn’t a full transformation.  Some may still look as weak and skinny as I did when I left for Basic Training.  Others may still need to trim a little fat.  Most importantly, they all need to continue to learn the values of how to take on the desired image honorably.

Every Sabbath, at our weekly training session, we should be learning more and more about what our new image in Messiah looks like and, following our Acts 15 example, that learning can and should come through the writings of Moses –  the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.  This is, functionally, the mission statement of our congregation, Beit Shalom Messianic Congregation.  In our beginnings, we made a decision that, no matter what else was taught, the instructions of Moses would be read in our community every Sabbath.  Therefore, every service opens with a reading of the entire weekly Torah portion.  This corresponds to the training, the putting on of the uniform, and the resultant trimming down or bulking up.

In the Messianic or Hebrew Roots movement, we’ve taken this new uniform or realized that maybe we weren’t given the full uniform when we became believers in Messiah.  Those that led us in giving us a haircut and a brown t-shirt sometimes innocently left us sitting in the barracks.  We weren’t given the full picture of what it meant to walk in the image of God.  Yet, in our current understanding, we’ve found the uniform and performed those nine weeks of training – only to forget that the original intent was to instill those unseen values within us that would allow us to become members of God’s Army fighting the enemies of His Constitution, the Torah, honorably.

We’ve taken these externals that are definitely part of the image of God, the uniform that anyone who sees us should know us by, and we’ve made that the end-all focus of our training as image-bearers.  We’ve taken the easier things to change, tying on tzitziyot, taking some days off of work, and changing our diet; we implemented those while forgetting to tackle the tough, internal sins that serve to separate our character from God’s character – as displayed in His love, righteousness, mercy, justice, and kindness.

In the Army, we judge those within our ranks to a harder degree, and this is done in the name of maintaining the proper image of an honorable institution.  When soldiers get caught doing that which is dishonorable, things that go against the Army Core Values, they aren’t allowed to remain in the ranks, and when we release them from the ranks, it’s usually done in a manner that publicly shows what we expect in terms of honor.

However, if soldiers simply fail in maintaining the outward appearances, those physical changes that are easy to adjust, we help our brother or sister in arms make the necessary corrections.  If we see a deficiency in a uniform, we make a simple on-the-spot correction, and we do so respectfully.  We don’t rip their uniform off and show everyone in the unit how they had missed a string on their pocket or had their boot laces out.  If someone gains a little weight and can’t pass the physical requirements, we put them on a program towards success and get them back in right standing, again, doing so respectfully.

I can see our flaws as a movement through these experiences – and how we can improve.  We put on these uniforms, get a haircut, lost a little weight, and then we go around kicking in the doors of innocent people – poking our chests out as though wearing medals, yet having earned none.  We’ve put on the easy physical changes, but haven’t embraced the deeper changes that come through painful refinement.  I see our Core Values plainly laid out in the Scriptures, but are we working diligently to make sure those are our priorities in training?

For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.
-Genesis 18:19

We all know that Abraham was blessed for keeping the instructions of God, but Abraham’s leadership, his installation as the progenitor (commander) of the Israelite people, is ascribed to his walking in righteousness and justice.  He not only kept the instructions of God but kept them honorably.  He took the full image of God, inside and out, and went train those others coming after him, the children and his household to do the same.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
-Matthew 5:3-12

Are we walking in the deeper image that was shown to us through the perfect image of God made manifest in the flesh?  Are we seeking mercy, peace, and righteousness?  Are we turning the other cheek when others mock us through the new 1st Century world of shame: Facebook and YouTube?  Are we putting on the uniform and cutting our hair but forgetting to comfort those around us, humble ourselves, and serve as Yeshua taught us to serve?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
-Galatians 5:22-23

This list, given to us in Galatians, represents our Core Values.  When people look at us, the covenant members of Israel and God’s Army, do they see love, joy, and peace, or do they see a bunch of strife, bitterness, and hatred wrapped in the physical changes of tzitziyot, Sabbath, and Feast Days?  I can’t tell you how many times in the past I’ve been involved in arguments full of sarcasm and negative speech towards others on the Sabbath, and I see it going on every week around the world.  Are people seeing us and seeing the image of a longsuffering God, or are the seeing short-sightedness that cuts people down if they don’t immediately mold to the image of ourselves?  Do people see kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness in our walks, or are they seeing harshness and rudeness towards those that don’t agree with us?  And finally, do they see the image of our God in self-control, or do they see people who can’t control their tongues?

Have we become First Century Judaism, a sea of people trying to build others into the image of ourselves rather than the image of God, not hesitating to cut down our brothers and sisters when they don’t conform?  Have we lost sight of the fact that we are supposed to be the image of a God who is abounding in mercy, goodness, graciousness, and longsuffering?

And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
-Exodus 34:6-7

I want to share one more Core Value verse with you, one that has been a focus for me over the past year, one that God keeps bringing back to me.

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord
-Hebrews 12:14

How do we present the image of the one true God to the world, being right and honorable image-bearers for His name’s sake?  – We pursue peace with all people, as well as holiness.  We don’t forsake those things that we realized we weren’t taught, the holiness in our walk of Sabbath, Kosher, Feasts, Tassels, and more.  We most definitely need those physical acts of holiness to point the world around us to the invisible God that desires an intimate relationship with all – but when we pursue holiness without peace, without walking out that holiness honorably, the world cannot and will not see the true image of God.

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Twisted Scripture: Do We Really Get Blessed for Leaving Our Family?

Someone asked me a question on social media this morning and I am so glad they did! Having just finished a writing book on the community mindset and kinship relations of the ancient Near Eastern and First Century world of the Hebrew Bible, the time is ripe to tackle Matthew 19:29:

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (ESV)

Sadly, in our modern world we get overly dramatic about this very dramatic verse – but in the entirely wrong direction. As Western individualists, we do not even begin to comprehend the absolute uniformity of belief that existed within ancient families – and how radical belief in Yeshua as the Divine Messiah truly became. We presume that this verse gives people permission to abandon unbelieving family, sometimes even over the slightest differences (let’s face it, for some folks there are no small issues). Of course, along with these delusions of permission to walk out come fantasies of returning one day with soap poisoning and then they will be sorry, or not. Maybe not.

Anyway, I routinely get asked about this verse from people who are warned that they are in sin if they don’t leave a spouse who does this or that thing because they honestly and genuinely don’t believe that Torah is for Christians today. So, let’s investigate this in context. But before we do – I want to tell you what I always tell them:

“Is your spouse guilty of anything other than being the exact same person you fell in love with and swore an oath before God to love, honor and cherish? You changed and they didn’t – you don’t get to punish them for that. They are the person you committed to, don’t blame them for being that person.”

People in the ancient world were defined by their family unit:

Deborah, wife of Lappidoth

David, son of Jessie

Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus

Mary, wife of Cleopas

Jonathan, son of Saul

Identification by family told people who you were, your honor level within the community, identified your beliefs, and whether or not you could be trusted. If the head of the clan believed in and worshiped god X, then so did everyone else in the family from greatest to least. Period. It wasn’t like it is today where the same family could conceivably be made up of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. Such a situation in the ancient world was unthinkable! The kinship group (extended family unit) was a sacred thing – loyalty towards one another was at the very core. Many of the commandments we take for granted – loving your neighbor commandments – were instituted because in the ancient world you loved your kin and to heck in a handbasket with anyone on the outside. That kind of absolute unity required, well, absolute uniformity of belief on everything from religion to politics. Any deviation introduced chaos into the family unit and was seen as the height of selfishness – truly destructive behavior. To have a different belief was to “leave” your house (not your physical abode but your extended family unit’s core values), brothers and sisters (the most sacred of all kinship relations was that with your siblings), father (and the beliefs he set for the family), mother (and her diligent instruction in the beliefs of the father), children (and whatever you might have already trained them up in), and lands (literally meaning cultivated fields, which I believe is metaphoric language relating back to that which is inherited from the fathers – in those times, the most important inheritance was land).

To accept Yeshua as the Divine Messiah and the coming Davidic King,  which many were beginning to do before His death, would potentially mean a significant break with the beliefs of the rest of the family. Jews were deeply divided about Yeshua, both before and after His death and resurrection. At one point, it is believed that up to 20% of Jews accepted Him as the Messiah – a staggering number but certainly not the majority. One out of five family members believing something different than the rest – it may not seem huge in a world where we prize individuality and freedom to think and choose for ourselves what to believe – but that world was created at the Cross, before the cross such freedom never existed. It was practically unthinkable and very, very rare.

It had already begun long before Yeshua’s death – people were divided over Him. It was causing problems but Yeshua assured His followers that it was not, in fact, evil to break with family uniformity in order to come to faith.

What Yeshua would never countenance is people actually breaking relationship, on their end, with family over Him. Destruction of family strikes at the heart of everything the Bible stands for. When Abraham left Ur, he was in his seventies, and he took with him his wife and entire family unit. Abraham changed location – he didn’t pick up and abandon people just because they disagreed and we have no evidence that he ever broke relationship with his kin – in fact we know he didn’t because he sent his servant back to his still loving family in order to procure a bride for Isaac.  Abraham moved, yes, but never abandoned. He is our example, and yet in the first century, we add a new wrinkle and Yeshua makes it possible, in fact, gives permission, for people to lovingly believe in Him on an individual basis.

It may not seem radical to us, but Yeshua was addressing a very real problem that existed within very real first century families. It gives us permission to be lovingly separate in a belief, not license to act like boorish toddlers who threaten to run away if everyone refuses to bow to our beliefs. After all, what family would look kindly upon any belief that would break apart loving relationships? They would, rather, see it as proof of being decidedly un-Christlike and perhaps even dangerously cultish.

As my brother Ryan White mentioned when I brought this up this morning, “Allegiance to your current kinship group should never trump relationship with God.”

Exactly.

An excellent starting place for learning about kinship relations and Biblical social sciences, in general, is David deSilva’s Honor, Patronage, kinship and Purity.

Look for my next book in a few months – still waffling on the title.




Why Women Should Never Counsel Men Privately on Social Media

Newsflash: Men and women will never be held to the same accountability standards. It isn’t right, but as women, we have to come to terms with it and protect ourselves.

Nowhere is this more evident than when one woman makes unsubstantiated claims that she was wronged by another.

Oftentimes, women will be approached on social media by people who claim to have difficulties – the difficulties may be real or imagined: a sick kid or spouse, financial troubles, emotional challenges, past abuse… whatever. It is hard for a woman to turn away a wounded animal – much less a person, we are naturally compassionate and therefore, when anyone, male or female, needs comforting we kinda flow into that perceived vacuum. It’s a good thing about us, but it is also easily used by professional victims and those who are merely seeking to have their own needs met. Women, above all else, want to nurture – it is hard-wired into us. We want to heal hurts and make things okay again.

When this person is a woman we have some level of protection from accusation, but not much. If we are counseling someone through abuse and they later accuse us publicly of things that happen during the talks – we are left with a conundrum – yes we are accused, but dare we make the conversations public and expose their struggles? Generally, in such cases, women will just stomp off and not say anything about their former confidant because they do not want to risk exposure – but when the willing ear is a woman and the person with a sob story is a man, things can get dicey – leaving the woman with no way to protect herself if accusations are made.

Case in point: What happens when a woman has been counseling a man “and his wife” through some tough times but who has only been led to believe that the wife is privy to everything that has been said? We don’t like to think that someone is actively misleading us, that our compassion has overridden our natural common sense, but it happens. The internet is full of men who want a sister, mother, or sadly, surrogate wife to pour their heart out to. Hopefully, they are only looking for a sister or a mother, but you can never know for sure. A man looking for someone to use as a surrogate wife isn’t exactly going to jump up and reveal his true intentions.  Of course not, this counseling situation is all about him – he will do whatever it takes to continue to get his needs met, whatever they are.

If the man is unmarried, it is far too dangerous to speak with him at length privately – emotions can easily get confused when we do not have the professional training to spot and deal with them (and sometimes even that isn’t enough). If a man is married, even if you believe that his wife is in on everything, it is even more dangerous. I am telling you, right now, unless you know everything there is to know about each of them – from past sins to current mental health – a woman is setting herself up to be accused by an angry wife. The would-be friend/counselor’s intentions will not matter when the wife starts making accusations. They won’t ask for proof, or inquire about her mental health, or anything. Accusations against a woman’s virtue tend to stick, regardless of their veracity. People glom onto the perceived victim against the “tainted” woman – even if that victim is, in fact, the perpetrator – it’s why bullies go around on facebook running roughshod over people and then, when they get blocked, go whining that they are being persecuted for righteousness and why people believe them without asking for details or checking out their story.

If someone’s wife makes an accusation of an “internet affair” against you – even if you are guilty of nothing more heinous than listening to him as he laments about how sick she is – she will be believed, without a demand for proof, by the majority of people she talks to because those people will immediately identify with her proposed victim status. Most of the people she talks to, in fact, won’t even know a thing about you because it is social media. Even people who don’t exactly believe her will figure that you must have done something, they will assume fault – not with the husband but with you. You will be seen as the intruder into the marriage, and there is no way around it – even your own friends will count you as the person who should have known better. That goes especially for men – who just don’t understand the compassion that overwhelms us when presented with an apparently hurting person. They don’t have that maternal impulse, and so they do not take it into consideration. Other women will see you as, frankly, a potential threat because even if they see you as blameless, you will be regarded as somehow tempting to their own husbands.

Here’s the problem – you may not know their past when you start talking to a guy. You may not know that he’s been accused before of inappropriate behavior. The guy may actually be an adulterer. He may not be being honest with you about how he feels about this counseling relationship. When he says his wife knows everything you are talking about, he may be flat out lying so that he can continue using you in order to fulfill his needs – consequences to you be damned.

If an accusation is made, believe me, he will drop you because he was in this for his own reasons. He didn’t come to you for your sake, but for his. When this happens, and if the accusations go public then he will have a choice to make – be a stand-up guy and vindicate you (which will require coming publicly against his wife), or drop you without a word, treat you like the guilty party and do whatever it takes to mollify his wife.  His wife will have a choice to make – blame her husband or blame you. Which of these choices do you think she will make? Clearly, your head is the safest to place on the chopping block and it won’t matter how many hours you have prayed for them, or tried to help them, or even if you have sent them money or – whatever.  Everything you have done is now irrelevant to both of them – they are in it for themselves. Your own marriage, kids and reputation won’t be as real or relevant to them as their own – congratulations, you have become expendable.

To make this situation worse, ladies, mutual friends will resent you for getting them into an uncomfortable situation. The guy and his wife won’t be held responsible – you will. The guy and his wife will move on, and they can, since they are not the slandered parties – it will be easy for them. Sadly, women are seen as life’s goalies – we aren’t supposed to allow anything bad to happen and when it does, we are the ones left looking bad. We are the ones whose reputations are damaged, we are the ones left holding the bag and expected to live with the shame and consequences while everyone else carries on with their relationship normally. People will not want to take sides – and so they won’t, kinda. Guess what? Your ongoing pain and shame will not move them to sympathy but to resentment – you, and not him, are a reminder that something is not right. He will want to move on and forget it while you live with the consequences and everyone else will want you to quietly live with the consequences as well.

Ladies, best not get into that sort of situation in the first place. Yes, God will vindicate you at some point – but until He does you are in for a life of pain that was unnecessary. You put your marriage at risk, your family at risk, your reputation at risk, and all your relationships at risk – because you cannot control how other people will respond, or what they will do to protect themselves, their reputations, or even to just make their lives a little bit easier – no matter how much it costs you. Your hurt will simply be an annoyance to others, make no mistake. The Body will almost certainly not come to your rescue.

Men need to go to other men for counseling. It’s as simple as that.

 




Beyond Postpartum Depression After Miscarriage and Child Loss: The Healing

Last year I publicly went through the most common yet least reported type of postpartum depression (Part 1 and 2 here) – the type based on true tragedy, unrelated to a chemical imbalance, the kind of depression that has, as its source, actual loss, and grief. Having gone through many miscarriages, and faced with the almost absolute lack of compassion in the believing community, I and many others were forced to stomp down and swallow that pain, to face it alone, to endure shaming because of the unresolved and therefore unending grief. The end result was catastrophic – unresolved grief, anger, bitterness, shame, jealousy – you name it. I lived it day by day for over sixteen years until the day came when God said, “No more, this is going to get dealt with now.” Just like that, He stripped away all of my protective mechanisms and the full onslaught of the pain was raw and inescapable. It was horrific and outside of my control – I was literally insane with grief and anger at times. It got worse before it got better – but now it is finally better. I saw the first hard evidence of healing two weeks ago when a friend asked me if I minded if she named her baby after me. My response was, “You’re pregnant?”

What shocked me was that my surprise was only a surprise, that there was no resentment or anger or jealousy involved – I didn’t hurt inside, at all. I didn’t even feel numb about it. I didn’t have to fake a congratulation. As I sat there, I found myself able to feel pleased for her – even though she already has a house full of youngsters. But, I thought – she is naming the baby after me – maybe it’s just my ego. (My ego is sizable, so it was a legitimate consideration)

This morning another friend with children announced her pregnancy to me as well (see her beautiful ultrasound above). No, they aren’t naming the baby after me. LOL. And much to my surprise, I had the same exact response – I actually am happy for them. Her pregnancy did not arouse even the slightest pain within me, no twinge of jealousy. That’s huge. I actually even got a little weepy for them, which is even more than I felt for my first friend.

I can’t even begin to tell you how terrible it is to hate other people’s good news, their blessings, and to have no power over those feelings. It is terrible to want to be happy for them, to know you should be and to feel ashamed that you don’t, yet to have the pain flood in and destroy all feelings of warmth and compassion.

Since May of 2000, I have not been happy for anyone who was pregnant – unless they were like me and knew nothing but infertility and loss – and now, all of a sudden, because God forced me to deal with the pain I really can rejoice with those who rejoice and not simply weep with those who weep.  It was a strange dichotomy – certainly not wishing infertility, miscarriage or child loss onto anyone and yet being full of pain and rage if people were not so afflicted! Such is the nature of unresolved pain, of not being given permission to mourn by those around me.

You need to know that I didn’t choose to have this happen – I had so many protective barriers built up to shield myself from the constant pain that I was no longer able to choose how to deal with it. I was in crisis mode – I always tried not to think about it, and I always tried not to allow it to control my actions. All I was ever able to accomplish was not allowing it to hurt other people – and that took a lot of self-control.

There is truly no “snapping out of” grief – it has a mind of its own and takes as long as it takes. There is no shame in it. In Bible times, grieving was very scripted – people were expected to weep and wail and be externally nonsensical with grief. It would be very strange indeed not to mourn deeply. Because it was expected, and accepted, people were usually able to move through their grief and anger and get on with their lives, with the notable exception of Jacob at the loss of Joseph. Death happened in the ancient world, it was expected and acknowledged as a society – it wasn’t expected to be pushed aside or experienced alone.

It is strange that today we feel differently, though we credit ourselves with greater compassion and pride ourselves with being more in touch with our feelings. Perhaps the trouble is that we are in touch with our own feelings but have lost sight of everyone else’s feelings.  We don’t want to be bothered with them; we don’t want to sit shiva with mourners for a week and cry with them. We are moving too fast; we want them to get beyond their grief so that we won’t be burdened by the obligation to mourn alongside them. We want to be entertained, not bored with someone else’s personal tragedy. If we don’t feel the same feelings, we really don’t much want to pretend like we do.

What I went through was a big wake-up call for me about the importance of grieving as a community, of having it be okay to treat grief like the insane thing that it truly is. Acknowledging death and loss as decidedly unnatural – well, maybe that is part of our mourning over what we lost in the garden. Humans weren’t originally equipped for death, and we probably still aren’t. That it still happens, that we are not yet what we were created to be, I guess it should cause a greater disconnect than it does.

Maybe every death really is supposed to be greeted with the cry, “This was never supposed to happen!” And in that case, anger and mourning both seem both natural and healthy.