Monthly Archives: December 2014

Hidden Strength

I have said these things (John 16 33)

Yeshua warned that we would face persecution and tribulation because of our relationship with Him. As I ponder having to suffer or die for my faith, I feel weak and afraid. Will I be able to endure to the end?

I think about Simon Peter and his struggles (Mark 14:66-72). His love for Yeshua was genuine and strong. Yet, at his first test of loyalty, Peter succumbed to fear and denied Yeshua as strongly as he had earlier declared his willingness to die for his faith.

When all was said and done and Peter was not arrested, he agonized over his disloyalty and his weakness. Perhaps it tormented him day and night. Yet, Peter learned a valuable lesson, one that we must all learn. He could not be brave on his own.

When the resurrected Yeshua visited His apostles, how hard it must have been for Peter to face Him, to look Him in the eye. Yeshua addressed this matter with love. He did not tell Peter that his cowardly act was alright. Instead, Yeshua gave Peter an opportunity to declare his love and commitment the same number of times that he had formerly denied even knowing Yeshua.

Yeshua understands our weakness. That is why He promised to send the Holy Spirit to us (Luke 24:49). What a difference it made to Peter after the Holy Spirit came upon him at Shavuot (Pentecost). Peter was no longer cowering, but now boldly proclaimed his faith to the multitudes. It is the same for us. We must welcome any and all assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to do what is required of us.

We can be sure that when we face trials and persecution, the Holy Spirit is with us (1 Pet 4:14). The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth (John 16:12) and strengthens us (Rom. 5:3-5). All that we need to perform any task YHVH assigns to us will be supplied by the Holy Spirit.

We will never have to face persecution alone. It will not be our strength that will overcomes, just as it is not our righteousness that reconciles us to our Father. YHVH is so good that He supplies all that we need and if we just use what He offers, we have the dignity and gratification of having accomplished great things. It is much like a child who proudly performs a task while the parent gently guides the child’s little hands. If we welcome the help of the Holy Spirit, our Father will guide us even in times of trial.

Spiritual Maturity: Dying for the Kingdom

But the one who endures

What does it mean to follow the King? For Yeshua’s first followers, it meant leaving family, jobs, security and comfort in order to build up the Kingdom of YHVH. Yeshua Himself gave up everything for the sake of the kingdom. What does building up the kingdom require of us?

 Recently I wrestled with the challenge posed to all of us in Mark 10:17-27. The rich young ruler wants to know what is required for eternal life. Yeshua responds that he is to keep the commandments. The young man presses on to see if there is anything else required. Yeshua tells him that he lacks one thing: to sell all that he has, give to the poor, and follow Yeshua.

 All my life, I have been content with trying to keep the commandments, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing miserably. I have ignored the rest of the story of the rich young man. I didn’t even consider that I could be called to relinquish all my material goods, let alone ties to family and friends.

 In the documentary, The Father of Lights, there is a story of a young couple who had much wealth. When the Holy Spirit challenged them, the husband gave up his lucrative career, they relinquished their material wealth and took their young children to China. At first, they lived in squalor and the young mother struggled mightily with her decision. What was she doing to her children? Was she a responsible parent? Today, the couple runs an orphanage for handicapped children in a beautiful facility they call home. They are building up the kingdom, one abandoned child at a time.

 Daily Peter and I dedicate our house and all our belongings to YHVH to be used for His glory. Do we realize what we are saying? If YHVH tells us to give up everything, will we obey His command? During a recent prayer session with YHVH, the Holy Spirit challenged me as I was once again dedicating everything to YHVH. Would I be willing to relinquish my possessions for the sake of the kingdom? The words have long been on my lips, but were they in my heart?

 I struggled for over two hours during that session. For well over a decade, I had lived in poverty. As I learned to trust and obey YHVH more, I moved out of poverty into abundant material blessing. It was a long, tough process. Now that I am nearing retirement age, I relish this comfort and security. I tried to reason that perhaps it wasn’t necessary to be so radical. Wouldn’t it be irresponsible to become potential burdens on society, especially at our age? What sense does it make to give away our security? Deep down I knew that my logic could not stand up to the command, “sell all that you have, give to the poor, and come follow Me” challenged me. Yet, I could not bring my heart to accept the truth. Like the rich young man, I walked away from that session saddened because I too was not able to give it all up.

 A few minutes later I received an email from a friend reporting that ISIS had challenged a group of chidlren in Iraq to relinquish Yeshua and convert to Islam. Every child refused to give up Yeshua and every child was beheaded for his or her faith. I was humbled to the dust. These youngsters gave up their lives for their faith without hesitation while I balked over material goods. May I soon acquire their level of maturity. Yeshua’s words challenge each of us.  What is our response?

The Real Meaning of Chanukkah

History of HanukahProbably the most well-known Jewish feast in the modern-day world is Chanukkah (more commonly spelled Hanukah). Chanukkah (1 Maccabees 2-4) is not one of the original feasts Yehovah instructed us to observe. It is a feast to commemorate a series of miracles God performed for the Jews in the dark days of Antiochus Epiphanes, so my belief is that Yehovah honors our celebration of this feast, as long as we stay focused on Him as the “reason for the season”.

Antiochus Epiphanes, theSyrian King of the Jews within the Greek empire, had forbidden all observance of the true Sabbath, YHVH’s Feasts, and circumcision (in I Macc 2:8-12). He mandated that anyone who studied or kept the Torah would be put to death. He also defiled the Temple and erected a statue of Zeus in the Temple on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, in 168 BC. In fact, all the ancient chief pagan gods had their birthday on Kislev 25 – note that the modern solar-based calendar was not adopted until 46 BC, so the Roman world was still using the lunar-based calendar at this time.

Judas Maccabeus and his four brothers (all Jewish priests) took up their swords and battle hammers to defeat the Syrian rulers and their pagan sun god religious system in 165 BC. Interestingly, Maccabee (iaB<q;j) means “hammer”, so one could rightly say that they “hammered” their enemy. Once they had defeated the Syrians and taken back their temple, the Maccabee brothers and their followers spent seven days cleansing the Temple of all the pagan altars and idols, and then re-dedicated the Temple on the eighth day. Once they had won this victory and purified their Temple, the leaders mandated that a feast called Chanukkah be observed every year starting on Kislev 25 and lasting for 8 days. The Hebrew word Chanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה) actually means “to dedicate”, so this feast is most often referred to as the Feast of Dedication. This feast celebrates the miracle of Yehovah giving them the victory over pagan sun god worship, as well as the cleansing and re-dedication of their temple to the true God, Yehovah.

There are many Jewish traditions and legends surrounding Chanukkah, such as the story of the oil in the Menorah lasting 8 days when it should have only lasted 1 day. However, the real reasons for the 8-day duration of the feast are two-fold: to commemorate Yehovah’s miracle that allowed them to defeat the Syrians and re-dedicate the Temple; and, to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) which they had not been able to do for 3 years (see II Maccabees 10:6).

One strong confirmation that Yehovah honors our celebration of Chanukkah is that Yeshua looked favorably on the feast, as He went up to the Jerusalem Temple mount and taught the people during the feast (John 10:22-23). Based on Jewish tradition, rabbis at the time of Yeshua believed that the Messiah would reveal Himself at the time of Channukah (from the Talmud). In John 10:24, the leaders asked Yeshua: “Why do You keep us in suspense? Are You the Messiah?” In John 9, Yeshua had just done the one miracle that was undeniable proof of His Messiah-ship; He had healed a man born blind, which the leaders said only the Messiah could do!

But because the people were expecting a political/military Messiah who would rescue them from the Romans, they did not recognize Him as the Messiah. Yeshua answered them (John 10:25-26) “I told you, but you did not believe: the works that I do in My Father’s Name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you”. The Jewish leaders denied His miracles in John 10:20-21: “And many of them said, ‘He has a demon, and is mad; why hear ye Him?’  Others said, ‘these are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’”

Yeshua then presented people with an eternal solution to their problems. In John 10:27-28), He said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. He turned the people from the short-term, physical solution they wanted to a spiritual solution. He said that we are the desecrated temple and need to be cleansed and rededicated to Yehovah. Remember that we are now the temples of the Holy Spirit and we must keep our temples clean (I Cor 6:19). He taught us that we need a long-term (eternal) relationship with Yehovah to fix our spiritual emptiness, because a physical solution cannot fix spiritual problems.

The defeat of their enemies and the re-dedication of the Temple brought back fresh hope to the Jewish people. How fitting that this month, called Kislev in Hebrew, means hope. This relates to the people looking hopefully to the longer, brighter days of Spring, since Kislev 25 occurs very close to the Winter solstice (the shortest day of the year). Yeshua, the Light of the world, brings us eternal hope.