Discovering the Messiah through
The Lord has often given me words to sit with for a certain length of time. For a long time, my word was perseverance. Recently, it was more. Now, the Lord has given me the word "obedience." The Lord has been calling me out of my comfort zone and into radical obedience.
Often, the thing that most hinders obedience is fear. Knowing that fear is not of God, I would often struggle with guilt for being nervous about something. This is not the heart of God. Throughout scripture, God never speaks against people who are nervous. However, he has very strong words for the one who lets fear hinder himself/herself from the race they were called to run.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites are commanded to take possession of the land of Canaan. When the spies brought back reports of giants, the people chose to let fear dictate their choices. This lack of action or obedience brought disastrous consequences. Every person twenty or older would not ever have the chance to experience God's full blessings. I am currently nineteen, but the vast majority of my friends are a few years older than me. I can only imagine what it would be like to know that none of your friends would ever see God's promise be fulfilled. However, this is the consequence for letting fear get in the way of obedience.
We see another example of this in the New Testament in the parable of the three servants. They were all given something to invest for their master. The first two servants showed obedience - they did what they were told and it yielded results. One more than the other, but both were obedient to their orders. The third servant was too afraid of losing what little he had to take a risk and be obedient. This passage always reminds me that God loves a heart that is willing to take a risk and possibly lose everything for the gospel.
This morning, I was reading in Luke and stumbled on this verse, ""Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." We have no need to be ashamed. We are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. We are warriors for the Most High God, and He desires to expand His kingdom! Carry a kingdom presence. Do not let your fear stop you from being the obedient kingdom warrior you were created to be!
Why study Judaism as an Evangelical Christian?
After our Jewish festival VBS, one member of our team received some negative feedback from someone in the community. We are not Jewish, so why are we teaching about the festivals?
1. Judaism helps us understand the Old Testament. As a whole, the church largely ignores the Old Testament with the exception of a few stories that work well in a colorful children's Bible. This should not be! The Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, provides the foundation of our faith! God creates the world, people mess it up, but God provides a plan to redeem those who love him. The church really doesn't study books of the Bible like Leviticus often at all. But the Jewish people spend their entire lives studying the Torah. Their wisdom and insights are so needed in the church.
2. The resilience of the Jewish people helps me understand the heart of God for his people. The very fact that the Jewish people have kept their identity for over 4000 years while facing so much opposition from every surrounding nation is nothing less than a miracle. The story of the Jewish people helps me understand how God is a God that never stops fighting for children.
3. The dedication of the Jewish people to their faith is inspiring. This week, as we celebrated the festivals, I realized that they are not easy! Passover has so many little details to prepare and keep track of. Keeping Sabbath requires sacrifice. Living in a booth over Sukkot for an entire week takes commitment. However, their identity as a people and their worship is so closely intertwined that this making those choices is second nature. I would love to have my identity so wrapped up in my faith that I would not mind making every sacrifice to honor HaShem.
4. Jesus was Jewish. I am at least a little bit curious to understand how my savior lived and interacted during his time on earth. How did he worship? How did he celebrate? What was life like? Jesus is mentioned many times as "Rabbi" so he knew and understood Jewish laws and traditions quite well. If that was important to our Messiah, it should be important to us as well.
Why study the Old Testament?
This week has been pretty hectic. Shortly after returning from China, I started teaching Vacation Bible School in the morning and working at a daycare in the afternoon. Word of wisdom: Don't do VBS and daycare in the same week.
Anyways, this year's theme is Old Testament festivals. It has been so much fun to dress up like a Jewish person and invite the children into a completely different world. Today we were studying passover. In the preparations, I started to regret deciding to organize and run a passover ceder for 120 small children. In addition, a poorly timed food processor situation made life a bit more complicated.
Yesterday night, while I was extremely frazzled, I was reading more about the passover Hallel (songs of praise sung at the end of the seder). I was blown away when I began to recognize a few verses:
Psalm 118: 21-27: I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the alter.
I had been reading Psalm 118 for years and knew that the cornerstone verse was Messianic. Who knew that HaShem(Hebrew name for God, literally translated, "the name") would be so intentional as to set up pieces of scripture thousands of years before the Messiah came to so beautifully describe the coming of Yeshua.
'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." This sounds suspiciously like the triumphal entry. When Christ rode through the gates of Jerusalem, he entered through the Mercy Gate. This gate was the same gate that the Passover lambs would enter as unknowingly walked their final last steps to the temple mount.
"The horns of the altar." Four horn-like shapes protruded from the horns of the altar. Animal horns could be used for many things. They could be made into shofars to announce the arrival of a king or rally troops in warfare. They could be filled with oil to anoint the next ruler. Yeshua, God's anointed one and king of the world was still required to have contact with the altar. Those four horns show how the king of kings would one day be offered up by sinners for the transgressions of the world.
I love how in the midst of chaos (and let me tell you, a passover meal with 120 small people is chaotic at best), HaShem finds a way to draw me closer to himself. All of scripture is yet another revelation of his heart for the world. So study the Old Testament.
Commitment to worship: lessons from Chinese believers
Late Saturday night, I returned home from an incredible trip to China. We got to see God work in many ways. However, usually when you go somewhere to bless someone, you usually get blessed more yourself. :) This was definitely my experience with my interactions with Chinese believers. One weekend on the trip, our team visited a Chinese church. I learned three important lessons.
This church was pretty heavily monitored by the government, but no earthly government can keep God from accomplishing His work. Isaiah 55:10-11 states, "For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return without watering the earth, making it bud and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
This service was completely in Chinese. My Chinese is limited to "hello" and "thank you" in a pretty terrible accent. Needless to say, I was quite confused except when a familiar hymn was sung that I knew the English words to. But the power of the Holy Spirit is far bigger than language barriers. The prayers prayed in that church were some of the most powerful I have ever heard. God truly has a heart for all nations. In Isaiah alone, some version of "all nations" is mentioned 16 times. God is not a western God. He is not bound by western culture. He is not a white God, no matter what the stock Sunday School pictures of Jesus indicate. He is a God with wild, radical love for people everywhere to call out to Him.
Lastly, the Chinese Christians are completely committed to their faith. At this church, people were waiting outside the door of the church almost an hour before the service started in a drizzling rain! Often as a college student, I can barely roll out of bed at 9 to get ready for church, but these brothers and sisters were so eager to lift high the name of Jesus that they stood in line to ensure that they would be able to have that privilege.
Pray for the Chinese church. God is doing wonderful things in and through our brothers and sisters across the world.
Leviticus 6:28A: The clay pot the meat is cooked in must be broken......
At Shiloh, where the yearly sacrifices were offered before Jerusalem, the people of Israel were required to set aside something special simply for the purpose of sacrifice. This clay pot had one purpose: to carry the sacrifice and to allow the fragrance of atonement to fill the air. This pot was consecrated for something special. Yes, it was broken at the end, but this pot was a key part in the reconciliation of an Israelite family with YAWEH. This pot did not have a comfortable, normal life. But this pot had a purpose - the story was not about the pot; it was about the work of the sacrifice it carried.
The Lord has been showing me that I am like this pot. I carry the power of Jesus - the sacrificial lamb inside of me. And life is painful - I will be broken. But the story is not about me. My purpose is to live a life of sacrifice so that the fragrance of Christ's perfect atonement might fill the air. I am consecrated for something special - I do not want to live a comfortable normal life. I do not want my life to be about me. May I always remember that I am merely a vessel for the power of the perfect sacrifice to reside in.
2 Corinthians 4:7: But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
*Pottery shards from Shiloh - at least one of them is from the Judges era and may very well have been part of an Israelite family's sacrifice!
A God who sees: interactions with Muslims
A good friend and I went for an adventure to the Somali mall in Minneapolis. I was one of the only women there without a hijab, and my friend wore shorts. We stuck out like sore thumbs. We walked around and had a few conversations. As we were looking at scarves, one woman decided to give me one as a gift. I was blown away by this generosity. I was obviously not a Muslim, not Somali, and had no connection whatsoever. However, this woman decided to bless me. Every time I look at this scarf, I am trying to remember to thank God for these people and to lift them up in prayer. Also, I need to remember to show kindness to strangers. As a follower of Christ, I needed this reminder to share what I have with people who are different from me.
After stopping at a small restaurant for sambusa, we explored more. One woman greeted us so we had a long conversation. It started by sharing with each other where we had traveled and our dreams of travel in the future.
I asked about how Ramadan was for them. This opened a long conversation about religion. She told me about the five pillars if Islam and asked if we fasted at all. I was able to say that the roots of Christianity was believing in Jesus. Asking questions opens up doors for sharing the gospel.
We were talking about prayer, and how much I respect Muslims for their dedication to honoring their God so consistently. I quoted the verse, "pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayer and requests." She said that that was beautiful - scripture does have power!! She asked me who I thought Jesus was. I said that we believe that Jesus is the son of God. The name of Jesus also has power! We ended by saying we would pray for each other . She mentioned that she serves God to the best of her ability and prays to find truth - pray that she finds truth!!!
Hagar was the first woman besides Eve to interact with God on a personal level. According to society, she was a nobody. She was used for a specific purpose and then cast out. But God sought her out specifically. He spoke to her before speaking to Sarai. God saw her and recognized her value - he was her El Roi (the God who sees). He also promised to make her child into a great nation. While the messiah descended from Isaac, Jesus came for ALL people. The Lord has been challenging me to truly see Muslim people, for they are priceless in His sight.
Visiting an Orthodox Synagogue
Recently, I had the privilege of celebrating Sabbath at an Orthodox Synagogue. The Jewish people are beautiful, dedicated, and tenacious in their faith. I was extremely blessed to be able to observe a Shabbat (sabbath) service.
I entered the room during prayers and was handed a prayer book with English translations - praise God! My lack of education was clearly shown when I forgot that the Hebrew language and therefore the prayer books, read right to left!
One thing that struck me about the Hebrew prayers was how focused they were on God and God alone. So often I will only pray to ask for things. Their prayers focused on the glory, majesty, power, and love of Hashem (Hebrew name for God, literally translated as "the name").
After the prayers, the Torah was brought out. The cantor and the congregation sang and chanted with joy as the Torah was lifted out of the arc in the front of the room and brought to the center of the congregation. The blessing of having the word of God IS something that we should rejoice over. The Torah in the center reminded me how God is a God for all people. He comes down, right into the middle of our lives. The word of God speaks right into the middle of our messy situations. The Torah reading for this day the "snake being lifted" in Numbers. They also read from the prophets on a yearly rotation - this week the men read from 1st Samuel.
The rabbi then spoke about a former rabbi who died at the hands of communist Russia because he refused to be transported on the sabbath. While he could have easily justified breaking sabbath to save his life, he decided not to because of the people that looked up to him. While I do not have the same sabbath convictions as the Jewish people, I also have people looking up to me. I need to take my actions seriously, because as a teacher, I will have people looking at my life as they make decisions.
After the service, which was over two hours (they are dedicated people), I was invited to the Kiddush lunch afterwards. The stew was cooked the night before and left on the stove because no cooking is done on the sabbath.
One lady told me about how she read a book about how a Christian converted to Judaism because she felt like Yom Kippur offered more room for grace than Christianity. This saddened me because we clearly are not showing/sharing the love and grace of God that well then!
I had a long conversation with another woman about Israel, Judaism, and many other things (Israel actually opened many doors for conversations so praise God!). She shared how it was difficult to get a job without working on Saturdays. I again was struck by how these people's first priority was their faith. I can learn from this. I was then asked why many Christians don't like Israel (This question was a bit stressful - 19 year old having to answer for all Christians :P). I responded by saying that many Christians misunderstand both the heart of God and the Jewish people. At the end of our conversation, we thanked each other for sharing our perspectives - it was a really sweet moment.
I learned so much from this visit and hope I represented Christ and Christians well. I would encourage you to experience new things and hear people's stories. The world needs people who care. Be that person, because Jesus was that person. He heard people's stories. He saw the beauty in diversity. And he was Jewish too :)
Questions + struggle = faith?
YAWEH loves those with questions
With requests beyond the typical.
HE rewards those who ask for blessing,
And those who present a struggle.
Abraham stood before the Lord,
Confident in his requests.
Begging God to spare His mighty sword,
And deliver the righteous.
Jacob wrestled with the King of Kings,
Refusing to release his grasp.
For he knew of the divine blessing,
And refused to lose his chance!
Hannah approached the tabernacle
Bitter, broken, and alone.
She asked for a simple miracle,
And received a son of her own.
Lord, you heard the cry of Jabez,
Begging to be relieved of pain.
You reached down and made him blessed,
And slowly removed his shame.
Israel means to struggle with God.
Yet Israel was YAWEH's chosen race.
Why in church is it often taught,
That struggle is a lack of faith?
Lord if I am your precious child,
Purchased and grafted in.
Can I struggle with you once in a while?
And, please show me your blessings!
Destruction of idols: Thoughts from 2nd Kings.
In my personal devotions, I have been reading through the Samuels and the Kings. In the midst of the confusing names and stories that don't make much sense to me, there are some incredible lessons to be learned.
1. Not putting God first has consequences. 2nd kings 13:2-3: "He did evil in the eyes of the LORD by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit, and he did not turn away from them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel, and for a long time he kept them under the power of Hazael king of Aram and Ben-Hadad his son.
2. Not vigorously removing idols from our lives also has consequences. The story of Amaziah, King of Judah illustrates this. 2nd Kings 14: 3-4: "He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there." By not destroying those things, Israel continued in it's idolatry which eventually lead to exile. My life can easily resonate with this story. It is so easy to live a moral life, and "do what is right" while still having hidden idols, high places that I elevate above YAWEH.
3. Even good things can be idols. 2nd Kings 18:4: "He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it." Hezekiah was so passionate about honoring the name of YAWEH that he was willing to destroy this remnant of Israel's history. This snake (through the power of God) was used to save the nation of Israel. Good, beautiful things used by God to bring His salvation can become stumbling blocks if they are lifted higher than the cross of Jesus Christ.
2nd Kings has shown me the importance of seeking God alone. Anything that hinders the pursuit of YAWEH must not only be avoided, but destroyed. I have realized that good things that the Lord has given to further his kingdom such as talents, my calling, etc, can become idols if I put them in a "high place" above God himself.
Daring to pray big prayers: lessons from Shiloh
So often, I can get caught up in the comfortable western Christian mentality of putting God in a comfortable box. When our team went to Israel, we visited a sight called Shiloh. To be completely honest, I barely recognized the name of the place. However, it was here that my eyes were opened to the power of the Living God.
Shiloh was the first capital of Israel and was where the tabernacle was stationed for almost 400 years. During the entire Judges era, this was where people worshiped, sacrificed, and sought the Lord. One such worshiper was a woman named Hannah.
"In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head. So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.” - 1st Samuel 1: 10, 11, 19.
Hannah defied what was comfortable and ran straight into the presence of YAWEH. Even though she came to the Lord with complete brokenness, and maybe a little bitterness, the Lord still honored her boldness. She fully recognized even with the child's name that this blessing was only "Because I asked the Lord for him." I was recently having a conversation with a mentor of mine who said that the reason we often do not see God's hand moving is because we do not pray dangerous prayers.
The Lord has been calling me on a journey of praying big prayers. In the past few months, I have been able to pray with a Jewish law professor, the mother of a Native American Shaman, an old man at a nursing home, and many others. Don't be afraid of asking God for big things - He can handle our requests. Even if this is not in His will, God desires for his people to persistently seek His face. Join me on this adventure of praying boldly.