A Biblical Secret to Building Wealth that Lasts

Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:5)

Abram (this was before God renamed him “Abraham”) was a very wealthy man when God first called him to leave his home in Haran. He had a wife, livestock, lots of stuff and even slaves, and as time went on he only got richer.

His herds continued to grow after he left Haran. When he was in Egypt because of the famine in Canaan, Pharaoh gave him many more possessions and slaves, and his herds continued to expand after he returned to Canaan again. Whatever happened, whatever Abram did, he only got richer.

It doesn’t appear that Abram set out to grow his wealth. He was generous with what he had, didn’t demand anything from anybody, and refused to accept gifts from unsavory characters. Yet at the end of his life, he had a large family and immense wealth.

Lot was a wealthy man too. We don’t know that he had anything at all when he left Haran with Abram, but we know that they both had large herds and servants sometime after leaving Egypt. So much so that Abram decided they needed to put some space between their households in order to reduce friction and competition for resources.

After they separated, Lot moved his tents close to the city of Sodom, eventually buying property within the city walls and even becoming a respected city leader. His herds and holdings in the countryside probably continued to grow during that time.

Unfortunately, Lot didn’t end life nearly so well as Abram did. Most of his family had died and what was left was extremely disfuctional. His herds and servants were all dead or scattered. His home and social life were destroyed in Sodom.

These two men came from the same family, had the same traditions, and spent many years traveling, living, and working together. They were both righteous men, so how did they end so differently?

I think there were two major differences between Lot and Abram:

  • Initiative
  • Faith

Initiative

Abram was active, while Lot was passive. An interesting factoid that might be intended to allude to this quality of their respective characters is in the way their children are described. Only male children of Abraham are listed in Scripture, although he almost certainly had daughters as well, while Lot is only said to have daughters.

When their two herds became too great to live comfortably together, Abram saw the problem and offered a solution. He built a godly community from scratch, while Lot joined a community that was already well established. When Abram saw the angelic visitors he ran to meet them, but when Lot saw them, he merely stood to greet them. Finally, when Abram learned of God’s plan to destroy the city, he tried to save the people, but when the men of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house, he only tried to get them to commit a lesser sin.

There were times when Abram allowed himself to be swayed by men (in Egypt and in the matter of Hagar, for example), but usually Abram followed God alone, while Lot usually followed other men. As long as he stayed with Abram, he did well, but his real problems began when the he exchanged Abram’s company for Sodom’s.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Faith

Abram didn’t set out to grow his wealth, but it grew regardless because he trusted in God who blessed him for it. On the other hand, despite Lot’s long relationship with Abram, he hadn’t learned that real wealth comes from a relationship with the Creator, not from how much of the creation he could control. By all the wisdom of men, better pastures and better markets ought to equal greater wealth, but there are different kinds of wealth of more or less permanence.

When Abram gave Lot first pick of grazing land, he chose a land rich in the physical but extremely poor in the spiritual. Abram moved his herds to the relatively barren hills, away from the corrupt cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but closer to God. He grew steadily in both material and spiritual possessions, content to accept what God would give him in exchange for faithfulness and good stewardship. Abram’s material wealth evaporated upon his physical death, divided among his sons, but his spiritual wealth has continued to grow exponentially over the millennia.

Lot’s wealth, on the other hand, didn’t even last his own lifetime. One morning when he woke up hungover in a cave overlooking a once-lush valley, now smoking and ruined, he surely understood the meaning of Paul’s words to Timothy:

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:6-9)

Surround yourself with people of faith and godliness. Their influence will elevate you. However, don’t be content with their mere company. Consciously work to emulate them so that when they are gone, you can stand alone with God and help to elevate someone else.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Enemies Within and Without

Every external trial is sent for an internal purpose.

The enemy within your gates must be defeated before you can effectively engage the enemy without, but sometimes the enemy outside is sent to expose and defeat the enemy hiding within.

In Psalm 86, David began with a parallelism that lays out a cause and effect relationship between the state of his heart and God answering his prayers.

  • V1 – Incline your ear, O YHVH. Hear me.
    • For I am sorrowful and destitute.
  • V2a – Preserve my soul
    • For I am pious.
  • V2b – Save your servant
    • Who trusts in you.
  • V3 – Be merciful to me, O Lord
    • For I cry out to you daily.
  • V4 – Gladden the soul of your servant
    • For unto you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
  • V5 – You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love
    • To all who call upon you.

David went on to ask God to help him become a more righteous man, to thank Him and glorify Him for His steadfast love and deliverance. Only then did he come back to the problem at hand: A group of lawless and violent men were conspiring against David, and he needed divine protection.

This Psalm is remarkable for more than just the parallelism at the beginning. In it, David touched on every major point of The Lord’s Prayer as taught by Yeshua in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. I have listed some of the correlations here but I am sure there are more:

  • v8,12 : Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
  • v9 : Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
  • v1 : Give us this day our daily bread, and
  • v5,6,15,16 : forgive us our trespasses,
  • v11,17 : as we forgive those who trespass against us, and
  • v2,11: lead us not into temptation,
  • v2,13,17 : but deliver us from evil.
  • v10,12 : For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.

Not only does David foreshadow the Lord’s Prayer, but also the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:

  • v1 : Blessed are the poor in spirit
  • v4 : Blessed are they who mourn
  • v2 : Blessed are the meek
  • v11 : Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • v17 : Blessed are the merciful (David did not pray for their destruction, but their repentance.)
  • v2 : Blessed are the pure of heart
  • v17 : Blessed are the peacemakers (See above)
  • v14 : Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness

Is it any wonder that, despite all of his many sins and flaws, David is called a man after God’s own heart?

Like all of us, David continued to battle his sinful nature throughout his life, recognizing that he needed to have victory over the battle in his own heart before he could hope to have any real victory over external forces. This Psalm is an excellent pattern for every believer.

No matter how righteous we think we are, no matter how close to God we believe ourselves to be, our personal righteousness is a relative thing and will always be nothing compared to Yeshua’s. The trials that God sends are designed, in part, to remind us of this. The prayers of a righteous man are powerful, but righteousness that isn’t continually progressing becomes unrighteousness in time. This is a call to ever greater sanctity in our hearts and behavior, for there can be no victory in the world without victory in the heart.

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

The Security of a Lean-To

Sukkot is that one week of the year when every Jewish neighborhood turns into a shanty town. The word “sukkot” is usually translated “booths” or “tabernacles”, but more literally means lean-tos, as in a temporary shelter assembled quickly from whatever materials happen to be close at hand.

You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 23:41-43)

Traditionally, a sukkah (the singular form of sukkot) is a three-sided shelter made of tree branches with an open-lattice roof, but these days, you can see them built out of everything from PVC pipes and plastic to 2x4s and plywood. Some of us less conventional types put up a tent or borrow a portable bicycle sukkah for a few minutes.

Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like: a small sukkah mounted on the back of a bicycle for feast keepers on the go.

There are two holiday seasons on God’s calendar: spring and fall, with one that’s set more-or-less in the middle. The spring feasts, collectively known as Passover are in the Hebrew month of Nisan, roughly corresponding to March/April. The fall feasts, including Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, are in the Hebrew month of Tishri, exactly six months later. Shavuot (aka Pentecost) is about 7 weeks after the start of Passover in the Hebrew month of Sivan.

One of the really interesting things about God’s feast days is that they primarily memorialize a series of divine actions that occurred within just a few months of each other. For example, Passover is about the final plague that God sent against Egypt and how He freed the Hebrews from slavery. Shavuot is the anniversary of God giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Yom Teruah memorializes God’s voice as it was heard from Sinai, among other things.*

Sukkot breaks this pattern in that it’s not about something God did, but about something the people did.

But is it really?

Sukkot celebrates the love and protection of God in every circumstance.Starting from the very first night of the Exodus when the Hebrews built sukkot at a placed named Sukkot (Exodus 12:37), they slept undisturbed in a wilderness that was barren, but not uninhabited. They didn’t have guards except to keep unauthorized people from hurting themselves in the Tabernacle. They didn’t assign watches at night. They walked through the lands of Midianites, Amalekites, and and other semi-nomadic peoples who proved that they were more than willing to do the Hebrews harm despite the dramatic defeat of Egypt, yet they slept safely in the flimsiest of structures with nobody to watch over them except for that towering pillar of fire and smoke.

In the wilderness, Israel was completely under the protection of God Almighty and nobody but Israel could compromise that security.  The didn’t have to build fortifications or post guards because God kept watch of the camp of Israel. This is what Sukkot is really all about: the divine providence of God.

God said to live in sukkot for seven days every year not just because the Hebrews lived in sukkot in the wilderness, but because they lived and ate and slept in ultimate security in fragile structures with no locks or barred doors in a country peopled by hostile nations.

God said to live in sukkot for seven days every year so that we would never forget the central message of the Bible:

“I love you. Trust me.”

 

* All of the feasts look both backward and forward. They memorialize things that happened in the past and prophecy things that will happen in the future, especially where events center on the Messiah. That aspect of the feasts will have to wait for another post!

Everything Hinges on Faith

If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. (Hebrews 11:1)

We’ve all heard that quote many, many times. It’s one of the most instantly recognizable verses in the Bible. We repeat it like a mantra and cling to it like a baby’s blanket, but hardly anybody knows what it means.

I realize that might sound a little presumptuous. Faith is a thing of the heart, and I can’t see anyone else’s heart. Right?

Yes and no. Faith is the evidence of something unseen, but things that are seen are the evidence of faith.

Faith is not believing that you’re going to get what you want. It is not believing in the existence of God or Jesus or anything else. As James wrote, even the demons believe that. (James 2:19) Surely we need to do a little better than them!

Faith is believing in the person of Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus the Christ), believing in his name. That has nothing to do with how the personal label that we commonly refer to as “name” is spelled or pronounced. Faith is not believing that his name is Jesus or Yeshua or Yehoshua or whatever flavor you favor. “Name” in this context refers to his reputation, authority, and trustworthiness, as in “A good name is better than great riches.” (Proverbs 22:1) If you believe in the name of Yeshua, if you believe in the name of YHVH, then you believe that he is who he says he is, that he means what he says, that he isn’t capricious, that he never changes, and that he keeps his promises.

Faith is trusting in God’s word. Faith equals trust.

How does your behavior toward another person change if you have faith in that person? You listen to what he says. You take his advice. How does your behavior toward God change if you have faith in him? You obey him. This is what James meant when he wrote that faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26) If your faith does not lead you to greater obedience over time, then your faith is a vapor. Nothing but hot air.

What else happens when you have faith? Mountains and trees start moving. Probably not literally, but in a manner of speaking.

“Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

According to Scripture, the sick, injured, and disabled are made well by faith. It doesn’t say made well if it fits into God’s plan or if the stars are aligned. James wrote, “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” (James 5:15)

A couple more examples:

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. (Matthew 9:22)

And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:52)

There are a lot more where those came from if you need more.

This is a hard thing to accept. We all suffer. We are all sick. We all know of someone who died of an illness or injury. Nobody wants to believe that the only thing standing between wellness and suffering is a simple matter of trust, but the testimony of Scripture is crystal clear: “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.”

But we also know that many people of apparently great faith have suffered. Timothy had chronic stomach problems. King David grew feeble and died at a relatively young age. There is no question that these men had faith!

How is it possible for Yeshua to say that faith will make you well while we know that many great people of faith were not well?

I think here is where we encounter the problem of not being able to see into other people’s hearts. It isn’t necessarily that they don’t have faith–they might or might not–but that they have not yet attained the level of faith to which God is leading them in their current trial.

Personal trials–including sickness, persecution, and every other evil which the faithful suffer–are never without purpose, and that purpose is never to inflict pain simply for the sake of pain. Our God isn’t cruel or spiteful. Nothing can come against you unless God allows it, and “all things work together for the good of those who have faith in God.” (Romans 8:28)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)

The purpose of all trials is the building of faith. If you have given your life to Yeshua, then you will suffer trials, if not by the hand of men, then by the hand of God. God doesn’t enjoy your pain. He hates it! But very little spiritual growth comes without hardship of some kind.

Almost anyone who has accumulated a great deal of earthly wealth will tell you that it wasn’t easy, and if it came easily, it goes easily too. It follows then that anything of eternal value–I don’t mean salvation itself, but the rewards of the faithful in Heaven–must be that much more difficult to obtain, and “difficult” is a relative concept. Some people learn multiple languages easily, while others struggle with even one language. Some people understand computers instinctively, while others can’t tell a boot menu from a Cavender’s catalog. The things that are hard for me might not be hard for you, so that you would shrug off the trials that severely test my faith.

If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can command mountains to move, but a mustard seed and a mountain might look very different from one person to another. The faith required to overcome any given obstacle depends on the person doing the overcoming. Whatever trial you are facing, it’s the trial that God has decided you need in order to develop your faith to the next level, and it’s not the same trial that I’m facing even if it looks the same from the outside.

You will always have trials because God wants you to continue to grow throughout your life. When all your troubles end, you should wonder if God has given up on you. But your goal should never be to accept pain and sickness as your sorry lot in life. It absolutely isn’t! God wants you to be well. Yeshua has already paid the price for your healing, and if you reject it, you are rejecting what he has done for you.

Your goal should not be to learn to accept your pain but to overcome it, to grow in obedience, in your relationship with the Father, until your trust in him crowds out that metaphorical mountain, and you or your daughter or your neighbor gets up and walks as you command it in Yeshua’s name.

Faith isn’t a name-it-claim-it game. You don’t get to bend reality to your every whim just because you claim to be a “child of the King.” Faith doesn’t say, “I’m healed because I said so.” Faith says, “I’m healed because God promised healing to his obedient, faithful servants, and God doesn’t lie.”

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)

There’s nothing wrong with wanting and praying for nice stuff, but that’s not the point of faith. If you have faith that you will get what you want, you might or might not get it, but you definitely won’t get what you need. No, your faith belongs in God and in his Word. Not just the parts you like. If you really trust God, you’ll trust his word on all of the less pleasant stuff too.

As you mature in your spiritual walk, you will continue to encounter more obstacles as opportunities for greater maturity, your heart will become more aligned with God’s, and your desires will be conformed to his. Your behavior will conform more and more to his unchanging standards. Your prayers will become more effective because you will pray more for those things that God wants you to have in the same spirit of humility as the centurion in Matthew 8 and less for those things that you want you to have in the spirit of pride that Saul evidenced in 1 Samuel 28.

The faith that gives substance to our hopes is substantial in itself. It is founded in the very name of God and results in obedience as surely as light follows the sunrise. The faith that gives evidence to our spiritual eyes that God’s promises are sure is a faith that is proven by a history of reliance on those very promises.

Just as the last time I wrote about faith, I am addressing myself more than anyone else, because my prayers aren’t always granted. Real healing is a very rare thing in my experience. I need greater faith, which means I also need greater faithfulness. If you haven’t read my blog post from last week on faith (or even if you have), I invite you to read it and join me in creating a plan for developing greater personal faith in God. And I want to add one thing to the 4-part prescription in that post: obedience. It is self-evident that if we trust God, we will do what he says. So I’m going to find something God said to do, that I’m not doing, and I’m going to do it.

The Plan

  1. Alter my environment in a way that promotes faith.
  2. Feed my faith with regular, positive input.
  3. Take some risks based on God’s word.
  4. Actively invite more of God’s light into my life and look for ways to reflect it back into the world.
  5. Identify something God said to do, that I’m not doing, and do it.

If you want to grow with me, leave a comment below. You don’t need to say exactly what’s in your plan, though you can if you want. Just tell me that you’re with me.

Faith Is Like a Seed. Make It Grow.

Four essential elements to growing stronger faith in God.

Faith is ubiquitous in Scripture.

  • Faith makes us well. (Matthew 9:22 & 29, Luke 17:19, Acts 3:16, James 5:15, etc.)
  • Faith makes great works possible. (Matthew 17:20, Luke 17:6, Hebrews 11, etc.)
  • Faith inevitably leads to good works. (Acts 20:21, Romans 3:31, Hebrews 11, James 2, etc.)
  • Faith makes our good works effective on the spiritual plane. (Hebrews 11, James 2, etc.)
  • Faith is essential to our eternal salvation. (Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 11, etc.)

Over and over, the scriptures say, “If you had faith, you would be healed.” If you had faith, big things would happen.

Clearly faith is vital. Without faith, we are powerless. Without faith, we are lost.

Yet we all struggle with insufficient faith. We believe, but, for most of us, big things aren’t happening. As the desperate father in Mark 9 said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Is it possible to develop faith, to start with a little and end with a lot? We know that God can simply give us greater faith–he is God, after all–but from long experience we also know that’s not how he usually operates. Yes, our faith can grow over time. Paul told the congregation at Thessalonika that he thanked God for their continually growing faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3), and Yeshua hinted at this fact when he compared faith to a seed. (Matthew 17:20) Seeds aren’t meant to be static. They were designed to sprout and grow into something much larger, which in turn produces many more seeds of its own.

The big question is how. How can we develop our faith from a mere seed to a plant? I know that this is a question that I have struggled with all of my life. Why aren’t people healed when we pray? The answer to that question can be complicated, but Scripture is very clear that, at least in part, people aren’t healed because they or the one praying for their healing have too little faith.

So how can we grow more faith?

Yeshua’s metaphor of the mustard seed implies that faith doesn’t grow only by virtue of its existence. No seed sprouts and grows without fertile soil, water, stress, and light. There are things besides faith itself, which we need to add to our little seed before it will grow to the piont of moving mountains and healing the sick.

Deep, Rich Spiritual Soil

Just as in the parable of the sower and the seed of the Gospel, the seed of faith also needs deep, healthy soil to prosper. It needs to be embedded in an environment which encourages long-term, meaningful maturity. The environment in which our faith sprout–or doesn’t sprout–includes the people, places, things, and habits with which we surround ourselvs.

We have all heard that you become like those with whom you spend the most time, and I believe it’s true.

Pessimists are like the weeds of the parable. Their constant negativity chokes the hope and life out of you until you can’t believe in that anything good could happen for you. They need love as much as anyone–more, evidently–but you can’t keep them as close friends. They will drag you down to keep company with their misery.

The proud and self-sufficient are like the rocks. On the surface, they might be very positive, but their hearts are hard. Why should they trust in God when they believe they already have all that they need. If you spend too much time with them, the seed of faith will have no opportunity to put down roots, and it will whither and die.

Maintaining and building faith requires keeping company with people of faith. Surround yourself with people who trust God. Be active in a community of faith. Be a friend to people who are where you want to be, and be careful not to speak negativity into their lives.

And not only company, but our home, work, and religious environments need to be conducive to developing faith. What kind of art hangs on your walls? What is the usual conversation like in the break room? Do your personal and spiritual habits focus on God’s faithfulness or on God’s wrath?

People like to denegrate religion, but ritual and tradition have always been very powerful instruments for building faith. Liturgy, rituals, annual observances, and the like will never save anyone. If your church teaches that they are necessary for salvation, that will tend to degrade faith. However, if they use these things to emphasize God’s dependability and mercy, they can be wonderful. The forms of traditional religion that unite people and build faith while honoring God’s commands are nearly endless. It’s important that your religion honors God by adhering to his standards, but don’t throw out all religion because some people and organizations have abused it.

If there are elements of your environment that discourage faith, consider how you can replace them with something more positive.

Good Spiritual Nourishment

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)

The Bible is full of God promises and stories of those who trusted him and also those who didn’t trust him. Memorize God’s promises and read those stories often. They are all through the Scriptures, but especially focus on Genesis, the historical books1 the Psalms, and the Gospels2. There are also many stories of faith and miracles outside the Bible. The biographies of missionaries are especially rich nourishment in this respect.

Entertainment and education should also be designed to promote a strong faith and relationship with God. If your favorite author writes disdainfully of the miraculous and if your favorite bands mock the promises of God, how can they do anything but discourage you? It’s counter-productive to read about divine Providence in the morning and listen to someone talk about how it’s all “me, me, me” in the afternoon.

Pay attention to what’s being fed into your life, and try to filter out those inputs that aren’t helpful. Replace them with books, videos, podcasts, conversations, etc., that will encourage you and reinforce your faith.

Spiritual Stress

Yes, stress. Just like children, all plants need some kind of stress to mature and produce good fruit. Some plants need a touch of frost. Some need a hard freeze. Some plants need a strong wind to scatter seeds and some need to be eaten. Almost all plants need pruning in order to reach their greatest heights and productivity.

Your faith will never grow if it is never put to the test. How do you learn to trust someone if you never need to trust them. You start by acting as if you have faith, whether or not you do. You make yourself vulnerable and take a chance.

Take risks. Get banged up a little. If nothing else, you’ll toughen up a bit and gain some life experience.

Shining Spiritual Light

In Yeshua was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

Faith isn’t the belief that God exists. Faith is the belief that God is who he says he is, that he keeps his promises, that he loves you and will never abandon you. Faith is another word for trust.

How do you learn to trust a friend, your husband, your wife? Through experience. You trust a good friend because he has been there for you in the past. He stood by your side when everyone else disappeared. If you want to trust God more, then you need to spend more time with him. Set some time aside every day to read your Bible, to pray, and to listen.

Your prayers don’t have to be limited to any particular format. Kneel and pray aloud if that works for you. Or sit in a comfortable chair and sip your morning coffee. Go for a walk. Dance. Whatever language allows you to speak most freely is fine because God speaks that language too.

Corporate worship is also important. Liturgical and informal prayer, singing of hymns, blowing shofars, dancing, waiving banners, pilgrimages… Like intimacy in a marriage and shared experiences with friends, all of these things create mental and spiritual reactions in us that draw us closer to God, that strengthen our emotional ties to the one being worshipped. (And be careful that your worship is directed upward and not to a performer on stage or to an experience.)

Getting to know God isn’t limited to the proverbial prayer closet and time spent focusing vertically. We can also gain a deeper knowledge of God by focusing laterally, toward the people around us.

The King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40)

Everyone around you–young and old, sick and healthy, good and bad–bears the image of God, and they are all the focus of God’s loving attention. If you want to know God better, go find someone with a need that you can meet and then meet it. Pay attention to the things that God pays attention to. Be kind. Be generous. Love your neighbor, and not just your wealthy and nice smelling neighbors. In showing love to people who desparately need it, you will learn something of God’s heart, of the love and the pain that God feels for each one of us, and God himself will draw nearer to you.

It’s not enough to let God’s love illuminate you, because you weren’t designed just to be a solar collector. You were designed to take the spiritual light of Yeshua and turn it into fruit full of good works meant to feed God’s people. If you want more faith, then you need to be the instrument through which God answers the faith of others.

Faith is a living, growing thing. It requires attention, care, and feeding. It needs a healthy environment in which to take root. It needs a constant stream of reinforcement and encouragement. It needs exercise. Most of all, faith depends on an ever-growing relationship with the King in whom we have faith and with his people for whom we ARE faith.

Gardens don’t spontaneously spring up from the ground. They take planning, deliberate action, and hard work. Even Eden needed a gardener.

When I sit down to write, I usually have an idea of what I intend to communicate, but sometimes God leads me in a direction I wasn’t expecting. This is one of those times, and this is a message I needed to hear. Using this structure of a seed needing good soil, nourishment, stress, and light, I’m going to develop a faith-growing plan for myself and my family.

I encourage you to do the same.

Evaluate your current environment and your life’s inputs and identify those things that would tend to discourage faith. Don’t try to fix everything right away. Remember that God told Israel only to drive the Canaanites out of the land as they were ready to advance and occupy it. Instead, remove a negative influence and replace it with a positive one. Then another. Have a plan with a definite goal in mind, and don’t be afraid to alter the plan as you go and circumstances require. As long as you continue to move forward, your faith will too.

 


1 Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
2 Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts.

Remember These Five Things

Yom Teruah is to be a memorial of trumpets, but what are the trumpets supposed to remind us of?

Everybody knows that Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, but it seems that few people know why (see here) and fewer still know the real meaning behind the day.

The primary source passages for the day are Leviticus 23:23-25 and Numbers 29:1-6.

“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first of the month, you shall observe a solemn rest, a memorial of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any servile work, and you shall present a fire offering to the LORD.” (Leviticus 23:24-25)

Like God’s other Appointed Times (moedim in Hebrew), Yom Teruah is to be a special day of rest, what’s commonly called a High Sabbath, and of sacrifices at the Temple. Most people understand the idea of a sabbath. You take a day off from work for resting and worship. Likewise with the sacrifices. Although the exact procedure and the purpose is a bit of a mystery, most people at least have some idea of what they are.

The thing that makes Yom Teruah different from all other moedim is the “memorial of trumpets”. The Hebrew word for trumpet in this passage is teruah, which more literally means “shouting”, but often means blowing trumpets or generally just making a lot of noise. Based on other passages and tradition, it is always translated as trumpets in relation to Yom Teruah. Specifically, these are to be the kind of trumpets that are called shofars and are made from the horns of clean animals like a ram.

So what is a memorial of trumpets? What are we supposed to remember? All of the moedim memorialize something. Passover recalls the plague of the firstborn in Egypt and how God spared those in houses marked by the blood of the lamb. Unleavened Bread recalls the hasty exit the Hebrews made from Egypt after the plague. Shavuot memorializes the giving of the Covenant at Sinai. And so on.

But… trumpets?

Again, what are we supposed to remember by blowing shofars? The Bible doesn’t specifically say, unless…unless it’s the trumpets themselves that we are to memorialize, more specifically, the sound of the trumpets. Okay, but does that really get us any closer to understanding the point?

It should help to look at how trumpets and horns appear in other places in Scripture.

  • In Genesis 22:13, God provided a ram caught in a thicket by its horns that Abraham could use as a burnt offering instead of his son, Isaac. Rabbinic tradition says that this happened on the date of Yom Teruah.
  • As battle cries, to signal attack, or to celebrate victory. (Numbers 31:6, Joshua 6, etc.)
  • To call the people to gather or to signal the moving of the camp in the wilderness. (Numbers 10:3,5)
  • To announce the arrival of a king or the Ark of the Covenant. (Numbers 23:21, 1 Samuel 4:5-6, Matthew 24:29-51, etc.)
  • To announce the arrival, descent, or descent of God. (Psalm 47:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, etc.)
  • The voice of God. (Exodus 19:16,19, Numbers 23:21, etc.)

This last one is what I find most interesting. God’s voice sounds like a shofar! What is it about God’s voice that we should remember?

God created the world and everything in it with his voice. Jewish tradition says that Yom Teruah is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, who were the first things that God didn’t create by speaking them into existence. Instead, they were formed by his hands and filled with his breath. (Kind of like a shofar. Hmm…) They weren’t present to witness God creating with his voice, so he had to give them a day, Yom Teruah, to look back at what they couldn’t otherwise see.

God gave the Sinai Covenant and the Torah with his voice. Certainly remembering the covenant and keeping its terms is very important. Another tradition says that, if the Israelites had been able to stand the direct communication with God at Sinai, they would have received the Law written on their hearts at that moment. Since they could not, God gave a special day to make sure they continued to look back at that moment. Jeremiah 31:31-34 says that one of the defining features of the New Covenant is the Law written on hearts instead of stone, so that Yom Teruah also calls Israel to remember that day, which has been promised and paid for, but not yet fully delivered.

Yeshua’s return will be announced by a great shofar. The arrival of a king is announced by a shofar. How much more so, the arrival of the King of Kings? This could very well be the voice of God himself, a great battle cry from heaven calling his people to assemble and announcing the beginning of the Day of the Lord.

What then does Yom Teruah memorialize through the blowing of trumpets?

The shofar on Yom Teruah calls us to repentance, to hear and obey the Voice of God.

Remember the Creator who spoke the universe into existence. Remember the substitution of the ram for Isaac and the Lamb for all of us. Remember the Covenant. Remember the commandments. Remember the King, who was, who is, and who is to come.

The Lamb’s Book of Life will not remain open forever. Repent from all transgression of the Law, for the Kingdom of Heaven is now, and the King has promised to return.

The One Thing that Really Matters

Circumcision in itself is nothing, just another bit of body modification. It’s irrelevant to your salvation. Neither ritual conversion to Judaism nor ritual rejection of Judaism has any impact whatsoever on who you are in God’s Kingdom. These are merely works, whether good or bad, and, by themselves, works can never save you.

What you do cannot define who you are. Rather what you do is determined by who you are.

This is the true meaning behind Yeshua’s words when he said, “It isn’t what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out of him.” (Matthew 15:11) What comes out of a man isn’t limited to words and waste products, but also includes all the things that a man does. So that what a man does is determined by what is in his heart. The evil that is within comes out as deeds. So if a man, whose faith is in God, commits some infraction through ignorance, accident, or momentary weakness, this cannot condemn him.

Likewise, a man, whose faith is in himself, can do every action that the Law requires and still not be saved in the end. He can be circumcised, eat vegan so that he never risks eating anything unclean, give a double tithe, and volunteer every spare minute to the poor, yet still be condemned to eternal destruction because his faith is not in the Creator.

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but keeping the commandments of God. (1 Corinthians 7:19) And “keeping the commandments” includes the most important commandment of all: You will love Adonai your Elohim with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” (Deutereonomy 6:4-5)

The Two Trees of Moses

Ecclesiastes 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Psalm 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!

Proverbs 3:18 Wisdom is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.

God placed two distinct trees in the Garden of Eden and told Adam that he could eat of one–the Tree of Life–but not the other–the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. You know the story. Adam ate from the wrong tree and died spiritually, condemning all mankind with him. He was exiled from the Garden.

God’s Law (aka Torah) also is a tree of life. Moses said that those who keep it will live and those who do not will be cursed. In Deuteronomy 29:18-20, he described a man who chose the other tree, who said, “I know better than God what is good for me. I don’t need a book to tell me what is good and evil, and I will be blessed despite my flagrant disregard of Torah.” Moses said, “God will not overlook his transgressions. God’s anger and jealousy will smolder against him, and all the curses of the Torah will settle on him, and God will blot out his name from under heaven.”

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

Choosing to keep Torah is choosing to submit to God and acknowledge his lordship and superior understanding. Rejecting Torah is claiming to be greater than God or, at the very least, to be equal. This was the same temptation Satan used to persuade Eve in the Garden.

If obedience to God’s Law brings life, as God and his prophets clearly stated many times in Scripture, why then was Israel rejected? Why were they scattered and persecuted as if they had not obeyed?

Paul wrote that Israel followed after “a law of righteousness” in their Zeal for God, but they never attained it. (Romans 9:31) They didn’t really submit themselves to God because they didn’t really have faith in him. The had faith in themselves and submitted to a law mostly created by men. They said, in effect, “If obedience is good, greater obedience must be better,” and added a host of rules on top of God’s commands.

Legalism replaced God's Law with man's. Obedience to God's Law is not legalism.

Legalism replaces God’s Law with man’s, while licentiousness ignores God’s Law. Reject both. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

The Jewish teachers rejected the essence of Torah, and chose love of knowledge and tradition over love of God and man. In trying to gain life, they rejected it in favor of self, and they lost both. They failed to see that, although Torah can enhance one’s life in the here and now, its ultimate end is the salvation of the soul. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes.”

The story isn’t over, yet, though. We have all been redeemed from Adam’s sin if we repent. Just so, God promised to restore Israel and punish those who persecute her. As Israel repents and elevates her love and fear of God over her love of tradition, she is even now being regathered from her long exile.

Deuteronomy 30:1-6 And it shall be when all these things have come on you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and when you shall call them to mind among all the nations where YHWH your God has driven you, and shall return to YHWH your God and shall obey His voice according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, with all your heart, and with all your soul, then YHWH your God will turn your captivity. And He will have compassion on you, and will return and gather you from all the nations where YHWH your God has scattered you….And YHWH your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed, to love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.

On Becoming Great

Deuteronomy 26:19 And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken.

Yeshua said that anyone who failed to keep Torah and taught others to do likewise would be called the lowest in the Kingdom of Heaven. I have actually seen people argue that, because he also said that the last will be first and the first will be last, then this means that those who teach that the Law has been abolished will in reality be the greatest in Heaven.

Wow. Self-serving rationalization at its finest.

Yeshua did say that the last will be first and the first will be last, but one can clearly see his intended meaning from the context: He who surrenders earthly status in order to serve God will have great status in Heaven. (See Mark 9:33-37.)

Yeshua sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35

Do you want to be great in God’s eyes? To be called great in Heaven? Then be a servant here on earth. How does one serve on earth? By obeying God’s commandments. As Yeshua said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

These are God’s commandments as expressed in the Torah and the Prophets:

Leviticus 19:17-19 Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. (18) Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD. (19) Ye shall keep my statutes…

Deuteronomy 6:5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Matthew 22:35-40 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, (36) Master, which is the great commandment in the law? (37) Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (40) On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

The Great, Invisible Sin of Our Time

God gave Israel a system for handling difficult criminal cases. They were to take the case before the priests and the national judge and, once a ruling had been made, it was to be obeyed with no questions asked.

The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:12)

God didn’t say, “If the judge’s character is unimpeachable and the priest’s theology is impeccable.” We know from the Biblical histories that the priests and judges weren’t always as pure as the driven snow. Gideon, Samson, Eli… They were a very mixed bag of nuts.

John Chrysostom was the archbishop of Constantinople at the beginning of the 5th century, about one hundred years after the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. He is respected in many Christian circles as a great teacher and theologian. I haven’t read all of his writing, but I’ve read enough to know that he had some really good things to say.

He wrote some really rotten things too.

For example, he wrote extensively about what a “poor and miserable” people the Jews are, and not in the sense that they are broke and unhappy. He meant that they are evil, wicked people who deserve nothing but death and abuse at the hands of every good Christian.

No Jew adores God! Who says so? The Son of God says so. For he said: “If you were to know my Father, you would also know me. But you neither know me nor do you know my Father”. Could I produce a witness more trustworthy than the Son of God? -John Chrysostom, Against the Jews, “Homily 1”

In this work, he falsely stated that the synagogues were full of homosexuality and licentiousness, and were the houses of demons. He misquoted scriptures that contain indictments of a subset of Jewish leadership and even some that were directed at unbelieving and rebellious gentiles and he applied them to all Jews everywhere. He slandered all of the Apostles and the first Christians, since they were all Jews.

Chrysostom wasn’t the only venerated Christian teacher to spew such un-Christlike garbage. Martin Luther wrote this gem of libelous absurdity:

The sun never did shine on a more bloodthirsty and revengeful people as they, who imagine to be the people of God, and who desire to and think they must murder and crush the heathen. -Martin Luther, “The Jews and Their Lies”

I find it very difficult to believe that it is possible to love God and hate the Jews (as a people, not any specific sect or individuals) at the same time, and I will be very surprised to see either Chrysostom or Luther after the resurrection.

Fortunately for them, I don’t get to make those decisions.

I can’t see inside of anyone’s soul. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even think I have a very good view of my own. How could I hope to judge someone else? For all I know, John Chrysostom is one of God’s cherished favorites.

Speaking of a “man after God’s own heart”, what about King David? He was an adulterer, a murderer, and an idolater, yet clearly still a great man of God. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave owners, and despite their frequent efforts to suppress or abolish the abominable institution, they didn’t hold their professions of human equality and God-given rights quite highly enough to do all that was necessary to secure the same rights for all Americans. Nonetheless, I believe them to have been great men.

How can we reconcile the evident greatness of the prominent men and women of history with their equally obvious moral flaws?

It seems to me that the first thing to do is to look in the mirror.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got more than my share of flaws. I’m ashamed of some things I’ve done, and I suspect there are other things in my life that I ought to be ashamed of if only I knew about them.

Nobody is perfect. Everyone sins. Even you.Many of the glaring sins of our forebears weren’t so glaring to them. Every house in David’s day had its household gods, and his was no different. His wife, Michal, used one to trick Saul’s men into thinking David was ill and asleep in bed. Washington and Jefferson thought they were doing everything reasonably within their power to end slavery, although from the twenty-first century it appears that they could have done so much more if they had truly believed their own rhetoric. Martin Luther was only echoing the predominant view of Jews among his countrymen. He had been steeped in lies about the Jews his entire life. These men were all products of their time and cultures, just as we are.

That doesn’t excuse anything they did. Chattel slavery, antisemitism, and idolatry were still sins against God–right is right and wrong is wrong no matter the cultural context–but those things were ubiquitous elements of the time. It’s hard for a fish to see the water in which it swims.

The bad news is that you and I are fish too. In two hundred years, our descendants will be saying the same kinds of things about us. Every day, we need to be looking in the mirror and asking God to reveal our slavery, our idolatry, our antisemitism to us. What is the great, glaring sin to which we have been blinded by air travel, fully stocked grocery stores, and the World Wide Web.

Is it something so obvious as abortion or homosexuality? No, good people with a solid biblical foundation can easily see the evil in those things. The great invisible sin of our age is something that most people don’t even notice and about which only a few people feel a little uneasy.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

I can’t tell you what our great sin is because I don’t know. But I can tell you that destroying the public symbols of our history, the writings, the names, and the images of great men and women who were also guilty of some great, invisible sin of their own, really accomplishes only one thing. It lets us pretend that we are better than they were.

And maybe that’s our sin.