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On Waking

I thank You: These words are to be said immediately upon waking from sleep.  In them we thank God for life itself, renewed each day.  Sleep, said the sages, is ‘one sixtieth of death” (Berakhot 57b).  Waking, therefore, is a miniature rebirth.  Despite its brevity, this sentence articulates a transformative act of faith; the recognition that life is a gift from God.  Expressing gratitude at the fact of being alive, we prepare ourselves to celebrate and sanctify the new day.

Prayer:

I thank You, living and eternal King, for giving me back my soul in mercy (compassion).  Great is Your faithfulness.

Modeh (men) modah (women) melekh chai v’kayam shehecḥezarta bi nishmahti b’cḥemlah, rabah emunatekha.

©Koren Siddur, 1981

Julie’s Testimony

I grew up in a church-going Lutheran home only because my mom was raised Lutheran.  A Lutheran  church happened to be across the road from my grandparent’s home so that’s where they went to church.   Her father (my grandfather) was raised Mennonite; her mother, (my grandmother) who died before I was born, was always referred to by my dad as a ‘saint.’  Having a  name like Beatrice Kauffman with two sisters named Beulah and Miriam, I have always wondered what the deeper roots of their heritage was.

My dad was not a believer.   This did not stop him from being an an usher on Sunday mornings, a member of the church council,  singing in  choirs and teaching Sunday school.  My mother was a believer though she never spoke about her faith.  I only learned after her death that she was born again from her best friend who she led to the Lord.   My mother was an indelible part of the social activities in the church and was in charge of many money-making projects for women’s groups.

I always loved the social aspect of going to church, however sitting through church services were drudgery and I often pondered “if this is heaven, I sure don’t want to go.’   When I was older and joined the choir, I would watch the feet of the organist play the organ foot keyboard.   It was a little better than drawing on communion cards or tracing my finger around the circle and cross symbol on the hymnal cover millions of times.    

When I was in third grade, I was given my first Bible. It had a hard blue cover with gold letters on the front that read, “Holy Bible.” The day was momentous in my life.  Though my name written inside on the special dedication page was misspelled, I spent a lot of time reading that Bible because it was mine. The pages were thin and crisp and it made me feel important just to rub my fingers over the raised ink letters.    I didn’t always know what I was reading, but I knew the words were written just for me.  When I didn’t understand something, I would ask my mom.  Most of the time she had good answers, but the one question she never answered was, “Why are there no Jews in our church when the Bible is full of Jewish people?”

For one year when I was in fifth grade, we attended a Brethren church.  The Brethren church is the less strict version of the Mennonite church.  It was in the Brethren church that I first used the Bible that I had been given two years earlier.  Even though the Lutheran church hands out Bibles, no one uses them.  The hymnal has the outline of the service and though some things are taken from the Bible, there are no references to the Scriptures.   Because the Lutheran church is an off shoot of the Catholic church, all of the recitations are the same every week and eventually they are memorized so no one actually needs a hymnal either.  Of course there was always the Old Testament , Gospel and Epistle short readings, but everything was pre-printed making a Bible unimportant.

One week in the Brethren church, my fifth grade Sunday school teacher handed out strips of paper with verses on them.  Mine was Isaiah 40:8.  My teacher told me to open my Bible in half to find the Psalms and then I could find Isaiah.  When I found the verse, I was asked to read it aloud to the class.  I was nervous especially when I was asked to stand.  “The grass withers and the flower falls, but the Word of our God stands forever.”

Of course the teacher asks, “What does that mean to you?’  I do not remember if I understood what I read at that moment but I do remember her explaining to me about how grass dries up and returns every spring,  but the Bible doesn’t do that. It remains the same.   I had never really noticed as a child that the grass died and came back to life.

Isaiah 40:8 was the best, first verse any child could ever be given, especially a child who loved the Bible.   From that point on in my life, my Holy Bible became the most important book in my life and has been my best friend ever since.   That piece of paper remained in that place as a book mark until my oldest daughter turned 12 and I gave it to her. 

I grew up in a small town in eastern Pennsylvania. The New Age movement may have have started elsewhere,   but I had no idea of such things at that time when I witnessed to my friend’s mother.  She was an adult and I was a child of 10 or 11.  It was a Sunday afternoon and our family had just returned from church.  This particular day I asked her, who for some reason was in our driveway at the time, why she wasn’t in church.  She responded that she didn’t believe Jesus was the only way to God.  She believed that Jesus ‘appeared’ as savior to people in many different cultures.    She said Jesus was actually Buddha or Hari Krishna or Allah or the leader of whatever religion you were following.  She said something like, “His name for the Jews was Jesus, but his name for the Buddists is Buddha.” 

I honestly had no understanding of what she was saying, but I knew in my heart she was wrong.  I told her that Jesus was Jewish and came to the Jewish people so that the Jewish people would bring him to the world.   I told her that I did not believe that Jesus had different names in different cultures, but was the only person who died and rose for each one of us.  It was the first time of many hundreds to come that I would have to defend what I had been reading in my Bible regarding the Jewishness of Jesus and his being salvation for the entire world. 

When I entered junior high, I became part of a singing group called the  “West Berks Lutheran Singers”.   We learned and perfected two folk musicals: “Tell It Like It Is” and “Life”.  With pianos, electric guitars, bases, and drums, and some dancing we traveled all over the northern east coast singing about the love of Christ and how to be ‘born again’ in rock music style.  I do not believe that any of us in the group were really born again or knew what it was.  Perhaps the the leader had a personal relationship with God, but I tend to doubt the salvation of the other adults involved.   They were all good people, but none of them ever talked about God or Jesus or faith.

As part of  WBLS, I performed in churches, prisons, colleges, and nursing homes.  I sang over and over about ‘telling it like it is’, being ‘born again like a seed in the ground’,  ‘it’s a thing that grows and grows and grows’, and ‘pass it on.’  Our performances made such a local impression that we were invited to the 1982 Lutheran Church in America national convention in Dallas, Texas.

At this convention while we were in the audience singing an encore of “Pass It On,” a huge black man with tears in his eyes hugged me and said, “God bless you girl.”  We always did this encore and there were always tears,  but this was different.  Coming from an all-white small town, I looked into the eyes of this linebacker-sized man and knew he heard something that had changed his heart.  I did not know what it was, but he had ‘passed it on’ to me.   I hugged him back and have never forgotten that moment. 

The singing group began to fall apart when the leader decided to write his own musical.   He wanted to include a song about putting new wine in old wineskins.  Parents became outraged questioning the use of wine and alcohol in a song.   The leader tried desperately to explain the parable of Jesus, but no one listened.  It became a moment of decision for each one of us.  Were we going to allow the new wine of Jesus to fill our lives or settle for the old wineskins?  The old wineskins won out.

I missed the practices and performances with the singing group so I decided to try a new route in life.  I became a cheerleader.  My activities slowly left the confines of the church setting and became more focused on social events in school.  I still went to church as that was a requirement of my parents, but I really considered it boring and painful.  I was a typical teenager in a typical high school trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in. and church was not a part of that option.   

The season of Lent arrived as it did every year with Wednesday evening services.  I was so tired of going to church that I decided on one particular Wednesday that I wasn’t going.   I politely told my parents that I was staying home that evening.   My dad told me that I didn’t have a choice and I was to be ready to leave in 15 minutes.  Anger welled up within me and I began to yell at them.  I told them I no longer believed in God or anything the church stood for.  My mom looked shocked.

I ran to my room crying.  I looked for my Bible.  It was on my desk.  I threw it on the floor and began jumping on it and screaming, “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.”  When I was done, I picked up my Bible, put it back on the desk and went rebelliously with my family to church.   For some reason instead of entering the sanctuary and sitting down as usual, we all stood in the back waiting to enter as a group.     A paper with a Psalm written on it was handed out and we were to all read it aloud in unison before being seated. 

I began to read the Psalm with everyone else.   I could barely get through it.   It contained the very words that were in my heart.  I knew that God had heard my cry and was speaking to ME. He knew exactly where I was and what I was feeling.  He wrote Psalm 143  just for me. 

Later that year,  I was given an assignment in my English class for a research paper on any subject I chose.  I decided to research the question I had asked my mom and entitled my paper “A Comparison between Judaism and Christianity.”  I wanted research why there was a division between Jews and us when my Bible didn’t seem to have it.  The teacher was a Roman catholic and my grade and her comments reflected her feelings about my paper and Judaism.

By the time I was in college, I decided church was not for me.  I was tired of the repetition, the games that people played, and I wanted to remove myself from the routine as much as possible.  I did, however, take a Bible with me.    It wasn’t my Holy Bible from third grade, it was my mother’s Living Bible.  My Bible had become so worn out from overuse that I wanted to start fresh.   With multi-colored highlighter pens, I had a great time reading through it and noting those verses that seemed to talk to me about situations in my life. 

During my second year of college, a major event occurred in my life.  My mom was  diagnosed with leukemia.  Over the next two years as my mom’s life withered away,   I realized I could no longer focus on foolish things, but had to begin to take responsibility for my life.  God was always a part of my life and He suddenly became central.  Church members came out of the woodwork to support my dad, my mom and our family.  On July 2, 1979 when I was 20 years old, my mother passed away.

One year later I graduated from college and moved to Westminster, Colorado, a suburb of Denver.  I decided to attend a Lutheran church again which I did for a short time.  At my apartment complex, I met a special woman who became a lifetime friend.   On October 17, 1981, while she and I were driving to a mall, she began talking about Jesus and having a personal relationship with him.  I felt very defensive as I had always gone to church and believed I understood God better than she did.  But she kept trying to explain to me that God wasn’t some entity that was far away, but wanted a close personal relationship with me through Jesus.   I listened, but still had the issue of church pride in my heart. 

She told me how Jesus was going to return and protect those who are his  from a time of great trouble on the earth.  Her words hit me hard.  During the years of the Viet Nam War when I was a young child, my parents would have friends over to play cards.  They would talk about the ‘end of the world’ and how horrible it would be.   I remember overhearing their conversations and becoming so scared that I would have nightmares about the ‘end of the world.’  Now someone was telling me that Jesus could keep me from the ‘end of the world’ and he did not want me to be scared.

I had never known that Jesus cared about the ‘end of the world’ nor did I know that he cared about me and my place at the ‘end of the world.‘   I began to cry.  My friend continued to explain that I needed to be born again.  Though I had sang words about being born again, I had never really known what they meant.  I had never accepted them for myself personally.  I wiped the tears from my eyes, but I could not wipe her words from my mind. 

That evening as I showered, I began to ask God questions about the born again conversation.  I told him that I didn’t want to be led astray, but I also didn’t want to miss something if it was true.  So, I simply said, “If what my friend says is true, then do to me whatever it is you need to do; otherwise, just forget about all of this.”

I finished my shower, went into my bedroom and decided to read my Bible.  For the first time,  words began to jump out on the page.  I didn’t want to put it down.  I skipped from one book to another and I seemed to see things I had never seen before.   I thought it was strange, but then considered that maybe something happened in the shower with water pouring down over me.

Two weeks later was October 31.  I was looking forward to celebrating the holiday with all the people I knew at a club.   I walked in the door and headed toward the dance floor.    The music thumped with familiar songs and the place was crowded as always, but there was something different about the people.  Though many were dressed for Halloween, there were spirits in that place – ugly demon things hanging on people, sitting on their shoulders, or walking by their sides laughing and mocking.   I had never seen anything so freakish in my entire life!  No one else seemed to notice most especially the people on whom the demons sat.   I told my friend what I was seeing and that I needed to get out of that place.  We decided to go to another club we had passed down the street.   When I got out of the car at the second club, I wasn’t as excited as I had been earlier. Halloween had suddenly taken on a new aspect for me.  It held something spiritually dark.  I began walking up the ramp to the door and prepared myself for what I might see.  The darkness and the evil was so penetrating that I just walked through the entrance door and out the exit door.

When I was a child,  I had been infatuated with a television show called “Dark Shadows”.  It was filled with vampires, witches, voodoo, and ghosts.  A neighbor friend and I had used an Ouija board many times.  We would call up spirits or ‘things’.   Though we were mildly successful, I had never experienced demons or spirits like that Halloween night.  It wasn’t until years later when learning about the gifts of the Spirit that I realized I had been given a gift of discerning spirits.  I had been given the confirmation that I was truly born again. There was spiritual war going on whether or not everyone can see it and I had been given spiritual eyes to see it.  

I was now a new believer and had the zeal of a new Christian.   I found reading my Bible to be very enlightening.    I began attending LIFE Fellowship which was very different than my Lutheran upbringing.  I raised my hands during worship (which made me feel like I was in a cult).   I was being taught the Word of God and building my faith on a relationship with Jesus.    

During this time I met my future husband where I worked.  With the recession of the early 1980s, the company went through a time of financial problems and we lost our jobs.  In order to survive, we put our unemployment checks together, moved into the same house and began a ‘life of sin.’   I was still attending LIFE every week leaving my boyfriend sleeping in bed.  Every week it seemed the pastor would preach about living together or being unequally yoked with an unbeliever.  Every week I would go to church; every week I would come home feeling more guilty than when I went.  Finally, one Sunday I decided not to go to church. I didn’t want the conviction and I needed a break.    When my alarm went off, I hit it off and rolled over to go back to sleep, John asked, “You’re not going to church today?”

“Why?” I asked.

He responded, “Well I was going to go with you.”

Soon after John started going to church with me, he proposed.  I suggested we go to the church’s the pre-marriage counseling classes and he agreed.   I hoped that perhaps he would hear something at the class and ‘get saved.’   I also knew that because the church met in a movie theater that the only way for this pastor to marry anywhere us was to go to the class.  I felt the whole two-hour experience went very well until the pastor’s  final words:  “I will not marry any couple who is living together or if one of you is a believer and the other is not.”  I was devastated.  I had the two-punch hit.  I was living with an unbeliever!  I went out into the parking lot and screamed at God.  John watched silently as his crazy fiancé acted out her rage!

The next morning  John went to work.  To remove one punch would be to move out, but that was nearly impossible with our financial situation.  The other punch:  I talk to John about separating sexually for the next three months until we were married.  I considered that idea all day coming to the conclusion that separating was the only way to deal with the problem, but I was afraid John would end the relationship.  There was a time of silence when he came home.  Eventually, we both realized we needed to talk.  He suggested I go first, but when he said he had something to say, I thought he should go first.

He related to me his day at work and how he thought about many things.  He had heard something on the Jesus movie I had watched several weeks earlier.  It had been challenging him to reconsider  his perceptions of Jesus.  He said that until we were married, he wanted to remain apart sexually.  God was moving in our lives.  

We found a little church in the foothills of Boulder where we wanted to be married.  We also found a place to live in the small community.  We were married on May 7, 1984 and began our life together with dedicated believers who taught us about living in a community with love and bearing with one another. 

In August of 1984, my husband and I, in a nearly dry Fourmile Creek, made our public statement of faith with a group of believing friends. I had no idea that when I went under the water that I would come up different.  Something in me changed and I couldn’t stop weeping. 

From 1981 until 1991, my faith walk went from Lutheran, to LIFE Fellowship to Little Church in the Pines to Rocky Mountain Christian Fellowship.  During these 10 years I was taught about how psychology can’t be trusted to transform a heart, that the community of faith is invaluable, and the Word of God needs to be taught as literal.

The hardest part of my walk was sharing my faith.  Though pastors would tell us that people needed to hear the truth, I didn’t know how to approach people with the truth.  I believed the rejection I received was persecution, but in reality it was a lack of truly knowing and understanding the fullness of the Scriptures and the Jesus presented in them.

During those early years,  I had little introductions to Jewish aspect of my faith.  I was given a small book entitled Y’shua by Moshe Rosen.  I learned a little Hebrew dancing.   I attended a Passover in someone’s home.   In 1987 while at home with my first child,  I began listening to Sid Roth on the radio every morning.    I became more aware of the unanswered question I had as a child, researched as a teen and still asked as an adult: “Where are the Jews in the church?”

I did not attend Bible studies when my children were young.  They were my first and foremost responsibility and ministry.   Many churches, however,  have a way of making a person feel guilty for this lack of participation.  So, I attended one women’s Bible study.  If I input some observation or insight different than the printed answers in the book, I would receive dirty looks or snide remarks.  I finally gave up on the whole idea and took the advice of a single woman who suggested that I  ‘snack on the Word’ by keeping my Bible open all day and just reading whatever was there in front of me.    That is best advice I have ever received from anyone.  Snacking began to open my eyes to Scriptures I would never have been exposed to in any Bible study, church service, or planned message.   

One of the most life-changing ‘snacks’ was 1 Corinthians 11 which outlines the woman’s head covering.  I did not understand what it was though I had an understanding of why it was: praying and prophesying and because of the angels.    I began to ask various women and wives of church leaders about the verses only to receive the responses of ‘it’s not for today’ or ‘I grew up catholic and wore a doily on my head’ or I’m not doing that now’ or ‘I tried a hat once, but felt stupid.’  Those responses did not satisfy my desire to know the truth and why it was written in my Bible, in the revered New Testament!    Didn’t women still talk to God?  Didn’t they also talk about God?

I decided to ask my pastor for advice.  He responded with “All we need is Jesus.”  For some reason I knew that response was not the answer.  Jesus is the beginning and the end, but what happens in the middle? What about building on the foundation with precious stones?  Jesus is only one of the beautiful things of God along with His glory, His covenants, His Promises, and His Temple.

Two friends invited my husband and I to go to a concert somewhere in Denver that sounded fun.   They didn’t know where it was. They had never heard of the group.  We decided to take the plunge with them.  After driving through an incredible snowstorm from Boulder to south Denver,  we walked into Roeh Israel,  a Messianic Jewish Congregation.  In a split second, the music of Lamb, the dancing,  the head coverings on the women, and the obvious reality of Jew and gentile worshipping together changed my walk of faith forever.  God had heard my childhood question and answered it in a powerful way. 

When the concert was over,  I turned around to ask the woman behind me who was wearing a lace head covering why she wore it.    She said it was to honor her husband who was sitting next to her.  Through our conversation I learned he was a Jewish believer in Jesus.  I asked him, “What is it like to be a converted Jew?”  His response, “What is it like to be grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel?”

Armed with a new question that needed an answer, I went to find my husband who was in the little Judaica shop.   When I tapped him on the shoulder, he turned around holding two head coverings.  He asked, “Which color do you want?”   I felt like a queen wearing my purple head covering.  I felt the blessing of the Lord and I knew He was with me in a new and different way.  Thus began my walk as part of the Olive Tree of Israel.

Though Roeh Israel was the congregation my heart desired to attend, we didn’t live close enough to go often.   We continued to attend our regular church and went Roeh Israel whenever we could on Sabbath.   The first time I heard the pastor of Roeh Israel say, ‘the children of Israel,’ the words seemed surreal.  I was sitting in a room with THE children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of Jacob whose name had been changed to Israel!   These people were Jesus’ literal brothers and sisters.  I was sitting with them as an adopted family member!   I was also taught from the Old Testament and began to receive the other part of my foundation of faith.  I already had the Apostles, but now I was building on the Prophets that included the words given to Moses in the Torah.  I learned Jesus’ Hebrew name is Yeshua and means ‘salvation.’

Ten years earlier in the shower, I was born again.  On January 19, 1991,  I received what I believe was the circumcision of my heart.  I was no longer a foreigner or stranger to God’s covenants of promise, without hope and without God.  Through the DNA of Messiah Yeshua’s blood and a ‘cutting of the Spirit’,  I had become a member of God’s household.  As His adopted child, like any adopted child, I needed to learn how to live in this new family of Jews and gentiles together as ‘one new man’.  I couldn’t contain my excitement at the new living water flowing into my heart and soul. 

Only a few short weeks after the Lamb concert, we returned to Roeh Israel with our two young children, ages 4 and 16 months, for our first Passover celebrated with Messianic Jews.  Though it was hours and hours and hours long, it was the most remarkable event in my life as I was was together with Yeshua’s Jewish brothers and sisters.   Several months later, we returned to for the Feast of Trumpets.  We listened to Eliezer Urbach, a Holocaust survivor,  blow the shofar hundreds of times.   It was amazing he didn’t pass out!  My husband had played trumpet in junior high so he bought a shofar and  learned how to blow it.  As time went on, we began keeping the Sabbath, Hanukkah, Feast of Tabernacles, Shavuot and Purim.  After meeting two amazing women Sylvia Yellin and Sandy Miller (both now deceased), I was encouraged to leave the warm fuzzies of unBiblical holidays behind and begin to embrace those of the Lord and become grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel. 

As we grew in faith by adding precept upon precept, our children grew as well.   For the most part, we walked alone in our new understanding of the Scriptures.  The gentile churches we attended had no concept of what it meant to be grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel and we swam upstream against preconceived ideas and unBiblical ideologies.   At the time we didn’t understand the contentions we encountered were really ignorance and arrogance, both of which Paul warns gentiles about in the book of Romans, and took many judgements personally which made fellowship in the church setting difficult at best and impossible at worst. 

Many Christians we knew believed that the Feasts of the Lord were Jewish and only for the Jews.  They didn’t realize that these anti-semitic views were birthed in the catholic church,  grew over the centuries through anti-semitic church fathers and had been swallowed by every Christian denomination creating a new wall of partition between Jews and gentiles.   The mystery of the gospel found in Ephesians 3:6 is the gentiles joining Israel and being heirs together with them – not the other way around.  Though many Christians would say they ‘loved Israel’, they equated Biblical things with Judaism or Jewish legalism and refused to ‘look Jewish’.   To hear our Christian friends say they loved Israel, but wanted nothing of being part of the commonwealth of Israel and to worship God of Israel and follow after the King of the Jews was a strange phenomena indeed!

Not only did we learn obedience through suffering and persecution from our church family,  we also learned that only after we obey something written Scripture are we given the Spirit of truth.  If we think we need to know the reason before we obey the command, we will never obey anything.  Just as the Israelites had to step into the Jordan River before it would part, we learned we had to obey first and then spiritual understanding would follow.

It was only after we began to celebrate the Feasts of the Lord annually that we learned how much God hates the mixing of the holy and the profane.  We saw that mixing the birth of Yeshua with the pagan catholic holiday of Christmas was nothing more than building our own golden calf.  Unholy roots produced unholy branches and we wanted to be ‘set apart and holy for the Lord.’

We also learned that when God writes His commandments on our hearts through His Spirit, He directs our paths even when we are clueless.  For one Sabbath dinner I made a pork roast as the main course.  As we sat down to eat, my husband comments, “For some reason, this seems wrong to have pork on Sabbath.”  I didn’t know what he was talking about and he didn’t quite know how to explain it either.    Several weeks later during his Bible time,  he was reading in Leviticus 11 and came across God’s list of  ‘clean and unclean foods’.  He showed it to me and said, “I think this is why I felt the pork roast was weird on Sabbath.  We’re not to be eating foods that are scavengers and pigs are the worst!”  From that day on, we no longer ate anything that was not created as food and most especially the flesh of swine.  It had nothing to do with being ‘under the law’, but God had shown us by His Spirit and His Word how he desired us to eat. 

Soon we had a third child, a son.  As my husband and I had discussed the issue of circumcision years before with the birth of our first son, circumcision was not up for discussion.  However, the issue for our second son was about the timing.  The command in Scripture was to circumcise a son on his eighth day of life.  We didn’t go to any church that did such a thing (nor would have encouraged it) so we just decided to allow our pediatrician to do the procedure when our son turned eight days old.  When the pediatrician asked me about circumcision,  I told him that we wanted it done on the eighth day.  He asked, “Who is going to do it?”   He was Jewish and his name was Dr. Cohen.  In Hebrew, cohen means ‘priest’.  So, on the eighth day of our son’s life, he was circumcised by a priest and we named him Jacob. 

With my first two children, the goal of every new mother in the Christian church was to see how quickly she could give birth and then return church as if she would win a trophy.   I no longer wanted to play the Wonder Woman game.   I wanted to do what God commanded and learn His purpose for the time of purification.  My body had been through a lot of tough situations (four miscarriages and a molar pregnancy) and I wanted true healing from the One who knew my body better than anyone and was the Healer.  For a son, the time of purification was six weeks.  I obeyed by faith and stayed home for six weeks.  As a gift from my husband, I did all my grocery shopping online and he would bring it home.   I didn’t leave my house for the entire six weeks except for my son’s day of circumcision.

That six weeks was the best six weeks of my child-bearing years.  I bonded with my son in a way that I never bonded with any of my other children.  I didn’t have to worry about sickness from people at church, in the grocery store, or wherever I supposedly had to go to prove I was back at the old grindstone.  I didn’t have issues of stress with an infant who was overstimulated or hungry at the wrong moment or in the wrong place.    I had all the time in the world to just love on him and enjoy his first six weeks of life.  He learned his own routine and at six weeks was ready to meet the world and so was I. 

As each of our children turned 12 years old, we would Bar/Bat Mitzvah them.  For us this was their ‘rite of passage’ into their own personal walk of faith while still under our guidance.   Since we didn’t attend a church that would encourage this (again), we created our own traditions.  They each chose godly men or women whose lives blessed them.  I wrote a letter to each person explaining what we were doing with our example as Yeshua at the Temple Yeshua when he was 12 years old.     I asked if they would write a letter of encouragement to our child.  We would then put the letters in a book so that over the next six  years of their lives, they could read and re-read each testimony, prophecy, encouragement, blessing.  Each child responded with a thank you note sharing their personal testimony thus far and ask for prayer from the individual who sent something.  In spite of several condemnatory letters of ‘falling from grace’ or letters leading us to salvation in Jesus, each of our children have beautiful memorial books of their becoming a son/daughter of the commandments.

Over the years our family planted many seeds in spite of contentious spirits.   Many people who were cruel and unkind with their words soon began to understand their Biblical heritage and roots.  They came to us rejoicing in their new found love of the Word and shared how their spiritual lives were changing.   We always rejoiced with them because we knew it was part of the fulfillment of the gentiles that will bring life from the dead and salvation to all Israel.

For one year, I prayed for a church we attended that was searching for a new pastor.  My prayer each week as I kneaded their communion bread was that the new pastor would be a Messianic Jew.   My prayer was answered and Pastor Gene Binder now leads Cornerstone of Boulder, Colorado.  The first year he was pastoring, a young woman I knew from the church called and wanted to come to my house.  She was very excited about something and she waited to tell me until she arrived.  The church was going to celebrate a Passover seder.    The pastor had asked her to light the candles and recite the Hebrew blessing.  He also wanted her to teach a couple of simple dances.    She only had two hours to learn whatever it was that I could teach her.   As she scooted out the door, she asked me for a head covering.

Yeshua instructs his disciples to go and make disciples teaching them to obey everything he has commanded.  I would be remiss if I did not include in my testimony, Dawnita Carlson, who discipled me for years.  Without her Biblical guidance, I don’t know where I would be today,  but she was used magnanimously by the Holy Spirit to challenge me into a deeper walk and understanding of my Biblical faith.  She would explain new concepts that overwhelmed my mind and then the Spirit would take the next weeks or months to show me its Truth.   She was faithful to answer my questions even when they were stupid and redundant.  As part of her discipleship, she encouraged me to become part of her outreach ministry, Inner Court Dancers. 

As I look back over my life, I see how the Father knew me from the foundations of the world.  He put questions in my heart about the Jewish people and the church so I would seek Him for the answers.  He was faithful and showed me the reason.    Jewish people do not have to convert to another religious system called Christianity –  after all the entire New Testament was written by Jews!  Like me they need to be born again into God’s Kingdom through His Son, Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah.   It’s important that the Jews receive their own Messiah on the terms that God revealed to them in their Scriptures.  It is not the Jews who are foreigners, it is the gentiles. Instead of holding onto anti-semitic traditions of the church fathers that excluded the chosen people of God, gentiles or wild olive branches need to be grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel.  

I decided to re-read my high school term paper.  I nearly laughed at all the footnotes for words and expressions that had at one time been completely strange and alien to me.   Today, they are a normal part of the Scriptures and part of my identity in the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua.

Without Yeshua I would not be the person I am today.  I would have nothing and be nothing.  He has set me free from the law of sin and death.  He has set me free from the spirit of fear.  He has given me the Spirit of God that has circumcised my heart and brought me into the rich spiritual heritage of Israel. As the Rabbi of Rabbis, Yeshua has taught me the Scriptures in the way his Father intended them to be understood.  Through Yeshua, I have come to know my heavenly Father in  a more personal, intimate way.   

Yes, all I needed was Jesus, but more importantly I needed the Jewish Jesus whose real name is Yeshua.   

John’s Testimony

When I was a child, my family went to a Presbyterian church where my dad was a deacon.  At six years old, we moved and I went to church a few times with my mom and sister.  When I was eight years old, I received my first Bible from the Community Presbyterian Church in Danville, California.  Several times we attended a Mormon church just because the missionaries would come to our house and convince my mom to go.

I remember hearing Psalm 23 as a child “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want” and thought I was not to want this shepherd.  So, I didn’t.   I believed this interpretation of I shall not want this Shepherd until I was way into adulthood.  Because of this I didn’t have many questions about God or who He was.  I did know, however, He was not an old man with a long white beard sitting on a throne in heaven.

I didn’t have much spiritual training growing up, but I was taught as most people are, right from wrong.  Moral issues, however, were blurred.  In sixth grade every boy in my class got suspended from school for one reason or another except me.  I earned the nickname Preacher. 

My junior high and high school years were deeply influenced by the rebellion against establishment and all traditions of the 1960s.  I grew up in liberal California near San Francisco and  had an older sister who went to college at one of hot spots of hippie-dom, Berkeley.  Another older sister took me to anti-Viet Nam war rallies in San Francisco.

In junior high school, I dated a girl who took me to Young Life, an evangelical Christian outreach for young people.   I can’t say that I really learned anything spiritual because I only went to the meetings because they did fun things – like taking a trip to Catalina Island.  In high school I got into smoking pot and getting high.  I listened to music and played the drums.  I loved to ski and would go to Squaw Valley with my oldest sister.

After graduating from high school, I  hitchhiked from Danville, California to Breckenridge, Colorado with a relative from Denmark.  Soon after our little adventure, he sent me a package of hash in the mail.  Federal agents came to our front door.  They searched my room and found pot, but not the letter my cousin had sent telling me he was sending the hash.  If they had, I would have been arrested for drug traffiking.  Instead, I spent the night in jail for possession of an illegal substance.  My dad left me there to ‘learn a lesson.’ 

I attended Diablo Valley Junior College and in a psychology class, I was introduced to eastern religions.  I read Carlos Castaneda’s books. His best known is The Teachings of Don Juan. These books taught about shamanism and the access to the world of good and evil spirits through divination and healing which led to further study into the native American culture. 

At San Francisco State University, where I lived at Haight Ashbury Streets, I became involved in transcendental meditation because it offered to give positive energy and make my life better.   I attended a meeting where I paid money, brought a flower and a piece of fruit to put on a table with a white cloth.  I received a mantra for meditation that soon after I actually forgot and had to get a new one.  I had no idea at the time that the mantra or word that I was to repeat was the name of a god, the table was an altar and I was offering a sacrifice. 

I continued to do drugs mostly pot and LSD.  I even did an experiment with my roommate to see the different effects the two had on everyday activities.

After graduating from college I moved with my roommate to Anchorage, Alaska.  This was a more conservative place in which to live.  I really enjoyed the outdoor activities Alaska offered and went camping, hiking and backpacking.  I found solace in nature, but was still searching for the missing spiritual piece in my life.  I continued to do drugs, but not as often. 

In 1980 I decided to move to Breckenridge, Colorado and work at a ski area.  My aunt lived there so I had some good connections.  I rented a house that needed a few renovations and put all my belongings into the house for storage.  After several weeks away, I came back to find everything I owned stolen from my skis to my kitchen utensils to a personally autographed coffee table book called Alaska.  I had nothing except a few clothes. 

I decided to move to Boulder.  It was a beautiful place filled with young people doing all the things that I loved to do: ski, hike and backpack.  I felt I would get a better job in Boulder as well.  The spiritual climate of Boulder was pretty cool, too.  It was very New Age and no matter what anyone believed, it was accepted.  Even though there were also many cults in Boulder, I stayed away from them.  I had a high school friend who got caught up in the Moonies (Unification Church) so I recognized a cult immediately and always refused invitations to join.  I still continued to do drugs and added cocaine to the list. 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a job in Boulder.  I was living on unemployment and going nowhere.  Finally, a year later I found a job and my life began to look up.  I met my future wife, Julie, at this small company with only three employees.  She was a Christian and she was so much more together than most of the women I had dated.  Eventually we began living together, and in January of 1984 after I asked her to marry me, God began to work on my heart. 

One night Julie was watching a movie. I was in the kitchen and I overheard the words of Peter when asked by Jesus, “Who do people say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”

I came out of the kitchen and stared at this Jesus on the TV screen.  I had never heard such words before and they wouldn’t leave my mind.  I had searched many religions looking for something substantial, but I had never heard anything like these words before.  Mostly I wanted to see a miracle, experience something supernatural.  I had always wondered, “If an angel came and spoke to me, how would I receive it?”

One afternoon while sitting on a rock outside my house in Salina, Colorado, I began talking to God.  I told him what I wanted, what I was looking for.  He spoke to me, not in an audible voice, but in a way that I knew it was Him.   He told me I didn’t need anything supernatural and that I didn’t need a miracle.  He told me I could believe in Him without any of those things. 

So on that afternoon in February 1984, I simply accepted Jesus with an ‘okay’.  I finally had peace with God.  I knew my search was over.  I was able to discern good from evil and I quit smoking pot.   I began reading my Bible.  One day I came across 1 John 1:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

This verse validated everything that God was doing in my heart.  Jesus was real and John confirmed it. 

I began going to Little Church in the Pines.  It was a tiny church in the foothills of Boulder.  The fellowship was something I had never experienced before.  I made friends not based on weed, but on the fact we all had faith in God and Jesus.   These people showed me that my faith was compatible with a mountain lifestyle and I didn’t have to become something or someone I wasn’t. I loved that we all wore our Sorrels to church!   My memories at this time of my spiritual walk is like the Psalms.  I had a poetic-type relationship with the Lord.  It was a joyful, peaceful time. 

Eventually my wife and I decided to attend Rocky Mountain Christian Fellowship in Boulder.  I was discipled by Richie Furay, Scott Selen and Bob Dusek during worship team practices.  These were wonderful years of learning the new testament and becoming grounded in the Word of God.  I also had the blessing of leading the children’s worship services. 

It was during this time that my wife and I, along with two friends, went to Roeh Israel on a blustery winter night in January 1991.  We had no idea what we were going to, but it was my first exposure to anything truly Messianic.  It wasn’t American Christianity.  It was Jewish.  It was real.  It was the roots of the faith that I had embraced, but didn’t know.   I really loved the dancing, the music and the joy of the Lord.  Without knowing or understanding the concept, I was grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel that night. 

I met and talked with Joel Chernoff and helped him break down his equipment.  We talked about his keyboard and how its digital electronics work.   I told him how much I enjoyed their music and he sent me to the Judaica store to buy my first Messianic CD – Lamb’s Seer.  While in the store, I also bought my wife a head covering.  I had seen  many other women wearing them and I wanted her to have one too. 

I was very different after that night.  There was an excitement and joy in my heart that I had never had before in worship or fellowship, but Roeh Israel was quite a distance from our home making it nearly impossible to attend regularly.  We began to keep the Sabbath and went to our first celebrations of Passover, Feast of Trumpets and Purim at Roeh Israel.  We felt the continued draw to learn more and over the next few years added Hanukkah, Shavuot, and Sukkot. 

As a young believer, I would read my Bible and see that the church wasn’t doing the things written in the it.  I didn’t know what to do or how to change that as going to church was the ‘thing to do’, and celebrating church holidays was just part of the whole religious system.  I had preconceived ideas about Christianity that I didn’t like and I didn’t want to embrace, but found that I had.

The words ‘Jewish feasts’ written in the New Testament always made me feel like a foreigner to the words that were meant to bring me closer to Jesus and to God.  Eating unclean foods at potlucks when God said they weren’t food repulsed me.  Peter’s vision never seemed to say to me what it said to everyone else.   It has always bugged me that Christians act like they have come up with their own religion that is so much better than every other, especially Judaism,  that they become arrogant over everything Jewish.    Knowing Christ is better than drugs and eastern religions, but Christians have become so disassociated from their historical roots that they have lost sight of who God really is and His complete plan of salvation that includes the Jews and Israel.

For a short time our family attended Calvary Chapel in Nederland, Colorado.   I would describe our time there as good and bad.  We were worshipping with mountain people with good praise music. We loved the people as family and felt very much a part of the fellowship there.  However the teachings lacked depth, integrity and morality.  It was difficult to rationalize the two and I didn’t know what to do.  One Sunday morning as we were driving up Boulder Canyon, we heard Paul Wilbur’s CD Shalom Jerusalem on the radio.  We found ourselves worshipping in a way we had not in a long time, a deeper spiritual worship.   That morning  I knew our spiritual ties had been cut from evangelical Christianity.   I didn’t want to go to Nederland or any place else.  Soon after,  we moved to Nebraska and I realized  that worshipping and learning about God in our home would be the best answer for my family.  I wanted to grow in the way God had been directing us for many years.  We were finally going to completely embrace the Messianic Jewish roots of our faith as Messianic gentiles.   

Looking back over my life’s  spiritual journey, I have found is that it’s more work searching for the Truth, than just believing the Truth and walking in it.  I am convinced that being grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel is where God wants all Christians to be.  I am thankful that He is the One who brought me into this walk of faith in the Messiah of Israel.  Yeshua changed my heart in a moment of time and showed me the blessing of doing what he did that I can actually find and read in my Bible.

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