Friday, January 27, 2017

Substance and Evidence

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  
 (Hebrews 11:1)

This is one of the first verses I memorized as a child.  It has been a source of inspiration and hope all my life.  I have to admit, though, looking back on my ‘relationship’ with this verse, it’s almost like I omitted the words ‘substance’ and ‘evidence.’  The verse came to me more like “Faith is…things hoped for, …things not seen.”  That’s where my focus was; on the things hoped for and the things not seen.

As a result, my approach to faith was actually misguided and stunted.  I saw faith as something wholly intangible.  I suppose, in the context of the material world it is invisible, emotional, esoteric, ethereal – and in our modern scientific milieu it is therefore less worthy of prolonged consideration.  Not sure why this is true, when I think about it, because there are invisible gases that can kill you; and microscopic bacteria that can kill you.  Important parts of our daily lives, such as electricity and radio waves, are invisible. Nevertheless, in general, and I do not think I am alone in this, anything one cannot perceive directly with the commonly accepted “five senses” is relegated to the realm of superstition and pixie dust.  We don’t have reliable “hand-held” means to measure, capture, study, or deconstruct faith.

Still, faith is clearly a mandatory component of life for all who profess belief in the Creator; i.e., YHVH Elohim, who spoke the world into existence.  Yeshua valued faith, and even considered it something measurable.  How many times did he say to his disciples, “O, ye of little faith.”  He declared that one who has faith the size of a mustard seed will be able to accomplish miraculous deeds.

“…if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”  (Matthew 17:20)

“If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.”  (Luke 17:6)

Most of us have conceived of faith as being about knowing (in the sense of abstract knowledge, not empirical experience or fact-based affirmation), or giving mental assent to something.  We have equated it with belief.  A sweet and precious gift, but really hard to grasp, to explain, to understand, to share, or to act upon.  We have been taking faith on faith.  Hoping that our faith was real, but usually wondering if it was enough.

Recently, I read a meditation by Jonathan Cahn, in his “Book of Mysteries,”** that has caused me to see Hebrews 11:1 (and many other verses about faith) in a whole new light.  Jonathan Cahn explains how faith – emunah in Hebrew – carries the meaning of “steadfast, established, stable, and steady.”  This turned my thinking about faith almost entirely on its head.  With great clarity, I realized I had been keeping my understanding about faith inside a crude homemade box that prevented it from being seen, appreciated, and used rightly.

Mainly, I suddenly realized that Hebrews 11:1 actually states that “Faith is substance, and evidence.”  I wish there was a stunning visual way (other than ridiculous emojis) to express my wide-eyed, visceral response to the sudden flip that happened in my mind.  Faith instantaneously went from being “hoped for” and “unseen” to being “substance” and “evidence.”  What?

It is right there as plain as day!  I cannot tell you how many of these types of events have happened to me in the past ten years or so.  Passages I had read dozens, if not hundreds, of times – or, as in this case, actually memorized – were suddenly opened up to me in stark ways that were undeniable.

Now, I confess, this new look at faith is such a recent and startling discovery that I am still reeling a bit, and processing.  But I am excited!  How will this new understanding affect my walk with YHVH?

Over the years of my life, I have seen faith in action many, many times; including what I would call “my” faith; meaning I had faith something was going to happen, and it did.  As a side note, it is OK to take ownership of your faith.  Scripture declares it is a gift, it was given to you; it is now yours to steward and to exercise. See Ephesians 2:8 and 1 Corinthians 12:9.  Furthermore, according to Romans 11:29, it is permanent!  “…for God’s free gifts and his calling are irrevocable.”

YHVH does not give gifts in the manner to which we have become accustomed.  Our gift-giving society has come to view gifts usually as disposable, exchangeable, and more or less temporary.  When you receive something from YHVH it is to be kept, guarded, and cherished, and usually it is to be put to use, to share with others, and to demonstrate his magnificent glory.  He does not enclose a “gift receipt” with his gifts.  Yet another example of the diabolical nature of our English language and our western culture.

The fact that you have given yourself to him, to be his child and to walk with him, means you now possess faith.  It was part of his welcome package to you.  But it is your choice what you do with your faith.  His Word indicates it can be increased.  

Do you want the substance and evidence of your faith to be enlarged?

** IMPORTANT NOTE: I included this link because it relevant excerpts from Jonathan Cahn’s meditation “The Power of Emunah.”  This does NOT necessarily mean I agree with everything on that particular website!


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Bible Heroes and Action Figures

Remember flannelgraphs?  They were designed to summarize and simplify a story to make it easily consumable by children.  If my memory serves me correctly, this method of storytelling embodied my earliest exposure to almost all of the major characters of the Bible.  From Adam and Eve to Paul and Silas, I saw their heroic tales through the colorful medium of paper dolls on flannel.

This was not a bad introduction to the concept of YHVH working in and through the lives of humans.  However, just like our modern perception of celebrities, we have a tendency to think of Bible characters as being in a separate, more exalted category from us in our daily mundane existence.  They are bigger than life!  They had special skills or unique qualifications or a specific anointing for the work YHVH called them to accomplish.  They are better than me.  That is what we tend to think.

But if you take a careful, text-based look at these characters, you will find the stark humanity in all of them.  We know there has only been one truly perfect human, the man Yeshua haMashiach Go’aleinu (Jesus the Messiah, our Redeemer).  Yet we still tend to assign superhuman traits to our favorite heroes of the Bible.  We do it for other historical figures, too.  We have to try really hard to see the ordinariness of people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, and hundreds of other historical humans.

We celebrate these special people because of the accomplishments for which they have become known.  They DID something that makes them worthy of our attention and our adulation.  We value people who DO something; who take action; who achieve some level of greatness, regardless of the specific definition of greatness that applies to them.  History applauds them.  We take notice, and we wonder what we can do to deserve a place with them in the annals of human history.

Going back to our Bible heroes.  They are recorded in scripture because of something they DID; some action(s) they took.  They are, in some ways, the original action heroes.  Noach, Avraham, Yosef, Miriam (Moshe’s sister), Moshe, Y’hoshua, Sh’muel, David, Gidon, Miriam (Yeshua’s mother), Sha’ul, and many, many more.

All of these people DID something wondrous and amazing.  Some of them did several things that were extraordinary.  That is why we revere them.  For what they did.  We want to be like them.

We don’t have space in this blog entry to examine closely every Bible character and their story.  But let’s take more than a cursory glance at some of them; more than a flannelgraph fly-by.

For example, let’s look at Noach.  Amazing.  He built a huge boat, gathered hundreds of animals, took care of them, and saved all of them from disappearing from the earth; not to mention making a way for humans to continue living on the earth.  No doubt about it.  Noach DID some things worthy of note.  Why?  Because YHVH told him to.  And not just in a casual conversation over coffee, or in a general suggestion.  Nothing like YHVH saying, “Say, Noach, I’ve got an idea.  Why don’t you save humankind and all of the animals from extinction?  Make a plan.  Do it however you like.  It’ll be great.”  No.  YHVH told Noach exactly what to do and how to do it.  Noach’s relationship with YHVH gave him the ability to hear YHVH’s voice and to do what YHVH told him to do.

What about Yosef?  He saved most of the known world from starving to death during a prolonged famine.  Quite an accomplishment.  How did he do that?  YHVH gave him certain important skills and charisma, even good looks, apparently.  But once again, Yosef’s relationship with YHVH is how he was able to hear YHVH’s voice and step into the assignment he received.  He could have chosen to be angry and bitter – a victim mentality – and he probably would have remained in prison; and we would probably never have heard of him.  Instead, Yosef listened to YHVH’s instructions, and Egypt (and many others, including his own family) was saved.

Y’hoshua, son of Nun, was responsible for bringing the children of Israel into the Promised Land.  Undeniably, an accomplishment of biblical proportions (sorry, couldn’t resist).  There are many miraculous stories involving Y’hoshua.  Let’s just look at the walls of Yericho (great flannelgraph story!).  Y’hoshua led the people of Israel to a great victory.  What a terrific, unusual strategy to encircle the city seven times, blow shofar, and shout!  Good thinking, Y’hoshua!  You DID it!  But, look at Y’hoshua chapter 6.  YHVH gave Y’hoshua the strategy, specifically.  This does not take anything away from Y’hoshua’s great accomplishment.  In fact, it makes it even greater!  He and the people still had to DO the physical work of walking, blowing, and shouting.  Success came because they were following YHVH’s instructions.

OK, let’s look at just one from the B’rit Hadashah (New Testament).  Sha’ul (Paul) accomplished stunning deeds.  The tales of his life involve mystery, adventure, and miracles.  We know about him today because he DID some amazing things.  Similar to Yosef, YHVH gave Sha’ul some notable gifts, particularly in the realm of communication.  But the stories we read reveal a recurring theme.  Sha’ul sought the purposes of YHVH without fail.  In prison (Acts 16), he was singing praises to YHVH when an earthquake happened, which opened the doors of the prison and all of the prisoners’ chains fell off.  Did Sha’ul orchestrate, plan, devise, script, structure, or otherwise directly cause the earthquake?  No.  That was YHVH.

“A person may plan his path, but YHVH directs his steps.”  (Proverbs 16:9)

What is my point?  The heroes of the Bible are heroes because their relationship with YHVH gave them the ability to hear YHVH’s voice, and their trust in YHVH led them to take action according to the instructions YHVH gave them.  Even Yeshua said, “Yes, indeed!, I tell you that the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; whatever the Father does, the Son does too.”  (Yochanan (John) 5:19)  This is Yeshua!  He is telling us even HE only does what the Father tells him to do.

Press in to YHVH.  Spend time with him.  Study his Word.  Practice two-way prayer; i.e., don’t spend you whole time in prayer talking; listen, too.  When you are being pressed to take action, be sure you are hearing from YHVH as to whether what you are being pressed to do is in accordance with HIS instructions to you.  No one may ever call you a hero; and you may not ever have your own action figure; but some day you will hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Better than any “participation trophy” EVER!


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

From Darkness to Light

The theme of darkness and light is present in scripture from the first chapter of B’reshit (Genesis) to the last chapter of Revelation.  Based on how that theme is presented, and on our own life experiences, we have come to understand that, in our lives and in our walk with YHVH Elohim, we progress FROM darkness TO light.  Even the concept of going from being lost to being found holds within it the idea of darkness and light:  once we were lost (in darkness; blind, hidden, and vulnerable), but now we are found (in the light, we can see and be seen).

Just a few illustrations:

B’reshit (Genesis) 1:2-3, “The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water.  Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” 

Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 9:2, “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; upon those living in the land that lies in the shadow of death, light has dawned.”

Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 60:1-3, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of Adonai has risen over you.  For although darkness covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples; on you Adonai will rise; over you will be seen his glory.  Nations will go toward your light and kings toward your shining splendor.”

1 Kefa (Peter) 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, the King’s cohanim, a holy nation, a people for God to possess!  Why? In order for you to declare the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Romans 13:12, “The night is almost over, the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and arm ourselves with the weapons of light.”

Revelation 22:5, “Night will no longer exist, so they will need neither the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because Adonai, God, will shine upon them.  And they will reign as kings forever and ever.”

In all of these verses (and many others) the clear progression is FROM darkness TO light, until ultimately, when we are with YHVH forever (depicted in Revelation), there is ONLY light; no more night forever.  Darkness is the condition from which YHVH rescues/delivers us.  Living and walking “in the light” is the benchmark and the goal, which we can see demonstrated to us in nature every day.

As I mentioned in the previous entry, the traditional Jewish understanding of the twenty-four hour cycle of day and night begins at sunset (technically, when three stars are visible in the sky); i.e., when it is well and truly DARK outside.  This is based on how the days are described in B’reshit.  “…there was evening and there was morning, one day.”  The measure of the day seems to begin when darkness arrives.

I will concede there is some debate about this interpretation, but this way of seeing it has endured for several millennia, so… pretty convincing, I’d say.  For Jews, the evening prayer, maariv, is actually the first prayer of the day (although, of course, you will usually see it referred to as the third prayer, after morning and afternoon, because, hey, the world’s interpretation of the daily cycle is prevalent). 

One of the reasons I am willing to accept this extraordinary perspective, besides the fact that Israelites/Jews have seen it this way for thousands of years, is that I believe, when we think about it, it is an utterly natural way to see it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have not personally managed to put this interpretation into true daily practice; but I am working on it!  A lifetime of being out of step – and being surrounded by a world that insists on keeping it that way – makes it seriously difficult to behave differently.

Each day begins when the darkness arrives (again).  How can this be a natural way to view this?  Because it is a daily reminder that we move FROM darkness TO light.  Our starting point is darkness.  THEN we come to the light.  We are drawn out of darkness into light.  That is what YHVH’s instructions (Torah) tells us repeatedly.  That makes this perspective a command, actually.  How eloquent is that?

Let’s face it.  Our accepted standard is that each day ‘begins’ at midnight.  Do we really operate that way?  I’d venture to guess that most of us feel like our day “begins” when we get out of bed in the morning.  For most of us, that is usually five to nine hours after the ‘calendar day’ began at midnight.  Or maybe we feel like the day begins when the sun comes up.  It might even be that some of us don’t feel like our day begins until we are “at work” or until we have had our first cup of coffee or when we receive that first phone call or greet the first customer.  See?  We spend most of our time “in the light” wonderingIn truth, we are out of synch.

I believe we are actually kind of confused about when the day begins.  I know this is essentially a subliminal phenomenon.  We go through our days, doing what we do, not consciously concerned about “when” the day started, so to speak.  Nevertheless, I am convinced (admittedly, I am speaking from my own experience, so this is ‘anecdotal’) that we could attribute at least some of our social fatigue (which, from what I can tell, nearly all of us have to one degree or another) to the idea that we are operating outside the rhythm of YHVH’s kingdom, even in our daily existence.

I am honestly not quite sure how to incorporate the idea of “day begins after the sun sets” into our daily patterns of life.  But I think if we can figure that out, it will help us begin to see kingdom truths more clearly.  So, please stand by.  I am working on it.  At the very least, I am starting with trying to remember to take a moment every day after the sun sets to acknowledge the beginning of a new day.

Let’s see where that leads.

Meanwhile, we can learn to sing The Bedtime Sh’ma” on our way to sleep each night.