Dear fellow journeymen,
More Jewels From My Journey
On the fortieth anniversary of my “born again” experience, I wrote a series of “jewels” from my journey. They were published in our October 2013 newsletter (available on JewishJewels.org). On June 10, 2016, I will be celebrating my eightieth birthday, so I decided to share a few more of the “jewels” I have collected as I have walked with Yeshua as Lord of my life.
Lord, Change Me
I have discovered that the most powerful prayer that I can ever pray is simply these three words: Lord, change me. So often I have prayed that the Lord would change my circumstances, or people around me, only to be reminded of His love for me and His desire that I be conformed to the image of Yeshua, His Son and my Lord (Romans 8:29).
I have discovered that the most difficult part of that prayer is not the expected word “change,” but rather the word “Lord.” It is only when Yeshua is REALLY Lord, that any real and significant change is possible. On the evening when I received His forgiveness and made Him Lord, I asked Him to help me stop smoking. I knew that I was a slave to nicotine. I had tried to stop several times and, although successful for a short period of time on each occasion, I found myself not only returning to cigarettes, but smoking more than before. I was smoking over two packs of cigarettes a day by the time Yeshua became Lord of my life on September 2, 1973, and I asked Him to help me stop. I would like to tell you that He took the craving away instantly and I never desired a cigarette again, but that wouldn’t be true.
I have not smoked since that day, but it took almost two years to finally walk in His victory. Every step of the way, I felt that if I smoked, it would be like giving Yeshua a “black eye.” First it was plastic cigarettes with a menthol flavor. Then it was STRONG blue mints. Then those red and white mints, and finally TicTac mints. One day I realized that not only was the craving gone, but even the smell of a burning cigarette was unpleasant to me. Praise God… He is my Lord.
Why Can’t I Be Like Jim?
Sometime during the second year of my walk with Yeshua, I remember praying that God would prosper me like he had prospered another member of our congregation named Jim. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me, “Hebrews 13:5.” It was a verse that I had memorized, and so I responded, “I know that you will never leave me nor forsake me, but why can’t I be prosperous like Jim?” Again I felt the Holy Spirit whisper, “Hebrews 13:5.” So I took out my Bible and read Hebrews 13:5 and found that I had only memorized the second half of the scripture about His not leaving me, but that the first half dealt with the instruction He had for me: don’t covet Jim’s prosperity. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.”
At age eighty, I can tell you that the Lord has really prospered us. Not like He prospered Jim. We aren’t wealthy, but we have been blessed with health, with family, and with friends. We have also been blessed with enough finances to be comfortable, and the energy, with God’s help and anointing, to accomplish the things He has called us to do for His Kingdom.
As I mentioned, my walk with God began on September 2, 1973. That was the day I ceased being merely a “creation” of God and was adopted as a son of God (Romans 8:15). I became a “believer,” a member of His kingdom. That was my first step on God’s staircase.
Jamie and I immediately began to devour the Bible, God’s Word. Our pastor challenged the congregation to collectively read 1,000,000 pages of God’s Word in a year. We joined the challenge and began to read the Bible over and over again, at least four times through during that first year. We also met with the pastor almost weekly, and although we didn’t realize it at the time, we had taken a step up and had become disciples, which in Hebrew is tal-mid-DEEM תלמידים .
We are both teachers by gifting from God. It wasn’t long before the pastor asked us to learn the Evangelism Explosion program so that we could teach it to the rest of the congregation. We agreed, and without realizing it, we had taken another step up…We had become servants.
In the world, becoming a servant would be considered a step down, but Yeshua’s kingdom doesn’t work like a worldly kingdom. Even after walking with Yeshua for three and a half years, his talmidim didn’t understand it, so on the night before He was crucified, He took on the role of the lowest servant and washed the filth of the world off their feet as an example to them and said to them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
That must have been a really discouraging lesson for Yeshua’s talmidim. Just before this, they had been arguing about who would sit in the exalted positions on His right and left, and now He was asking them to become “the least of all.” But Yeshua wasn’t done. He showed them there was one more step up on God’s staircase. He said, “No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). The highest level we can ever attain is: Friend of God. When that happens, we join a select group which includes Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and many others throughout the Bible with whom God had the special relationship of friend. We also become a part of the select group of people who are part of the Bride. Many are called, but few choose to accept the invitation. (See Matthew 22:1-14.) I count it a great honor to be called a “friend of God.”
God Has a Plan for Your Life…
Although I didn’t know it, God’s plan for my life began in the Garden of Eden. God had created Adam to have daily fellowship with Him. He gave him only one rule to obey: “…of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16).
The Adversary (Hebrew sah-TAHN שטן (tempted Adam, and he succumbed to sin. [“Sin is satisfying self at the expense of God and others.” (Edwin Cole, Maximized Manhood)] But a merciful God allowed an innocent animal to die in Adam’s place, thereby setting into motion a plan to allow ME to be restored to the intimate friendship Adam had known before he chose sin.
God’s plan took many twists and turns along the way and culminated in Yeshua: “…the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The sin taken away was the one in the Garden. That meant that I could be RESTORED to friendship with God. That was God’s plan for my life. When I accepted Yeshua’s death as the full payment that my sins deserve, I found myself living in God’s favor and blessing. (God has that plan for your life too!)
The Devil Has a Plan for Your Life, Too…
As you would expect, the devil’s plan differs from God’s plan. His plan is to separate you from God, just as he did with Adam and Eve. He will tempt you too, just as he tempted them, “…when the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (Genesis 3:6). His three temptations have never changed. First, the lust of the flesh. In this case, “It was good to eat.” Then, the lust of the eye: “It was pleasing to the eye.” Finally, pride: “You will be like God.”
These are the same three temptations that John described when he wrote: “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16). They are also the exact same three temptations the devil used on Yeshua in the wilderness; stones to bread… lust of flesh, kingdoms of the world… lust of the eye, throw yourself down and prove you are the Son of God… pride. As we follow Yeshua, you can be sure that ha-sah-TAHN will tempt us in the same three ways.
I have concluded that the worst of these three sins is pride. It is pride that keeps us from dealing with the other two, or even admitting that we have given in to the other two. Pride will also enable us to excuse our participating in the other two because of our work for God’s kingdom. Beware of pride. It is an insidious enemy. Think of how often Yeshua was tempted to prove who He was or what He could do, and yet His final decision was made evident by His words: “…yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
The devil isn’t content with tempting you and getting you to sin even though he knows that “your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). The devil knows that God is a God of second chances, and therefore, his plan is to get you to destroy yourself. I have observed four distinct steps in his plan to perpetuate the separation between God and His creation. The first is Disappointment. How often our circumstances or unanswered prayers leave us disappointed. Why? Doesn’t God hear me? Doesn’t He care what happens to me? Continued focus on these can lead to Discouragement. God doesn’t hear me or care what happens to me, which can lead to Despair. Things will never get better. I will always feel like this. I am a loser. The devil’s final step is Destruction. The world would be better off without me. I can’t take this any longer. Thoughts of suicide become more and more frequent, and unless there is spiritual intervention, the devil has his way, and a suicide occurs.
Now that you are aware of his plan, let me encourage you, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to watch for these steps in the lives of those around you. Become an encourager, and help fulfill God’s plan in their life.
Obedience is Better than Sacrifice…
The Prophet Samuel spoke these words to King Saul when he was returning from defeating the Amalekites as God had directed him. Saul was told to destroy them and all their cattle and livestock because of the way they had attacked the stragglers when God brought the Israelites out of Egypt. Saul followed God’s directions exactly… up to a point. “But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good” (1 Sam. 15:9). When confronted by Samuel, Saul gave as his defense: “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest” (1 Sam. 15:15). Sounds pretty good, but there are two problems. First, Saul wouldn’t own the disobedience and blamed the soldiers. Then he tried to sugar coat it by claiming they were going to sacrifice the animals to God. He also didn’t mention that on the way back from the battle, he had set up a monument to honor the hero of the victory, King Saul. Pride had already led him to honor himself and take credit for the victory instead of honoring God through his obedience. It cost Saul his throne. With God, it is always about the heart. Saul was the people’s choice. He was tall and handsome (1 Sam. 9:2). He also began humbly (1 Sam. 9:21). He had the charisma, but he lacked the character to be a great leader.
Eventually Samuel was sent to anoint a new king. He went to the home of Jesse and was shown each son in order of birth. David was almost forgotten by his father. Samuel had to ask him, “Are these all your sons?” (1 Sam. 16:11). David was watching the sheep. He was the youngest, but God saw his heart and said, “The Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). When David did sin and was confronted by the Prophet Nathan, he didn’t blame Bathsheba for bathing naked where the King could see her, but instead took responsibility and proclaimed: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13). The words of a man after God’s heart!
My first real test of obedience came in February 1973. Jamie and I had just celebrated our second wedding anniversary. We had been reading the Bible for a few months after being challenged to do so by some friends. I began in Genesis (my part of the Bible), and Jamie began in Matthew (her part). Those same friends sponsored us on a marriage encounter weekend as an anniversary gift. Little did I know that I had a divine appointment to keep with the Creator of the universe. As the weekend drew to a close, I experienced the presence of God and began to weep for the first time in my adult life. Suddenly I felt God speak into my spirit and say, “I am calling you into the wilderness for a time of preparation because I have a work for you to do.” Although I became a bar mitzvah at the age of 13, I had no relationship with God at the time. I could never have imagined that my obedience to that call would lead to writing about my personal relationship and experiences with God today in celebration of my eightieth birthday.
How Does It Feel to be Eighty?
I know I am privileged, since many people never get to entertain that question. At sixty five, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and at sixty nine, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. God has healed me of both. I can tell you, once you have heard the diagnosis of cancer, life is never the same. For some, it is crippling. For others, it is the realization of a fear that has lurked in the back of their minds for years. For me, it was simply unexpected, but it was life-changing. After hearing those words, you always know you are a survivor. There is a great realization of mortality which makes every day sweeter and more precious. Following the episodes with cancer, my favorite Bible chorus became: “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
I am really enjoying being eighty. In the community we live in, there are many in their nineties. Often they express their amazement that I am still skiing and playing golf. I always remind them that the Lord Yeshua has given me the strength that the psalmist wrote about when he said, “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years…” (Psalm 90:10). I know that it has been the “joy of the Lord” that has given me the strength to reach eighty.
As I approached this milestone, I asked the Lord to help me make this season of my life really count for His kingdom, to lead me to people whom I could share myself with, who really want to fully partake of all that His Kingdom has to offer. As always, He has been faithful to hear and answer those prayers that are focused on His will for my life.
Old Men Dream Dreams… (Joel 2:28)
One morning, in early May, I woke up from a dream, and I was angry. I dreamed that three rabbis in black coats and hats had entered the synagogue that I founded in 1976, and with loud voices began to yell that I was not a real rabbi. They accused me of violating all kinds of rabbinic traditions about food and minutia about Sabbath observance. I reminded them that the Torah admonishes us to first of all love God with all our heart, which I do. I heatedly pointed out that all their arguments were about how my mind chose to follow their traditions. I angrily told them to leave and not come back until their heart was right with God. With God, it is always about the heart!