Seeking God’s Righteousness

I’ve been reading a book called Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage by Curty Landry and one of his comments about what we’re supposed to “seek first” caught my eye. This book is about how understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform your faith. It’s amazing to me how much we can miss when we read the Bible in English with a Western cultural mindset. And it’s equally amazing how much it can deepen our understanding of God and His ways to dive-in to the roots of our faith.

One of the things Landry talks about is how our interpretation of words and stories in the Bible can change based on whether we approach them through a Western philosophical lens or a first-century Jewish one. An example is how we see the word “righteousness” in Matthew 6:33.

When we read “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we in the Western world tend to think this means we have to be righteous in the sense of being a “law-abiding citizen” of heaven. But a Jewish person listening to Jesus would have thought of the Hebrew concept of tzedakah, which changes how you interpret this verse. Let’s take a look at that.

Righteousness in Hebrew

Tzedakah is about justice, righteousness, and truthfulness (Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon, entry H6666). It’s associated with God’s fairness and is also tied to acts of charity and giving. At my Messianic congregation, this word is written on the box where we put tithes and offerings because tzedakah is so closely connected with righteous giving.

In his article “God’s Kind of Righteousness,” Lois Tverberg points out that “tzedakah means more than just legal correctness – it refers to covenantal faithfulness, often resulting in rescuing those in distress and showing mercy to sinners.” It’s quite a bit different than what most of us think of when we think “righteousness,” but it’s very much in line with God’s character.

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What Laodicea Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Us

In Revelation, the church in Laodicea received a warning and correction from Jesus that had to do with how they saw themselves.

To the angel of the assembly in Laodicea write: “The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of God’s creation, says these things: ‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;’ and don’t know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.'” (Rev. 3:14-17, all scripture references from WEB translation)

The things that the Laodiceans didn’t know about themselves were a threat to their spiritual position in Christ. He threatens to vomit them out of Him if they are not zealous to repent (Rev. 3:19). That’s pretty serious, and we can learn from His advice to them how to avoid similar mistakes.

Those who see the letters in Revelation as pictures of eras in the church tend to agree that we are currently living in the Laodicean era. And even if that’s not the case, those who “have an ear” are still instructed to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:22). If we, like the Laodiceans, are ignorant of about our true spiritual condition then we need to heed this warning to wake up to the truth and change how we’re living.

Wretched and Miserable

Jesus starts out by telling the people who think they’re okay that they are in fact “wretched and miserable.” It reminds me of what Paul said in one of his letters: “let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Each of the words translated “wretched” and “miserable” are only used one other place in the Greek New Testament.

What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, sin’s law. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don’t walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 7:24-8:1)

Paul’s mindset was completely different than the Laodiceans. He knew he was in a wretched state and the only solution was to turn to Jesus for deliverance. This is reflected in his use of the word for miserable/pitiable as well. Read more

A Closer Look at God’s Promise to Give Us All Things

There are some big promises in the Bible for those who seek God. Jesus even says you’ll receive “all things” you pray for if you believe (Matt. 21:22; Mark 11:24). “All things” seems quite a big promise. And at times, it seems like one God doesn’t live-up to. If He really meant we’d get “all things” we pray for, then why don’t I have the miracle cure, the new yacht, or the publishing deal I asked for?

“All things” must not cover whatever physical blessings we want, else there wouldn’t be so few wealthy Christians. It must not cover perfect health and physical safety, else there wouldn’t be so many Christians fighting illness or being killed for their faith. The problem isn’t just that we lack faith — even people in the faith chapter were sold into slavery, sawed in two, and wandered around homeless (see Hebrews 11).

Maybe “all things” means something different than we assume at first glance. And maybe it’s even better than we realized or expected.

Seeking the One Who Made All Things

God is not a vending machine that spits out blessings when you put in prayers. He wants to give us good things of course, but even more than that He wants to connect with our hearts.

This is the boldness which we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he listens to us. And if we know that he listens to us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15, WEB)

It’s okay to pray big prayers and expect results when we ask within God’s will. The part of these verses that really captures my attention, though, is that we know God listens to us when we pray. Have you ever thought about that? Listening is so important in relationships. You can’t get close to someone unless you’re both listening to each other. When we seek God, we can have confidence that He is a listener who wants to get to know us.

You shall call on me, and you shall go and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You shall seek me, and find me, when you search for me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:12-13, WEB)

When we seek God, our goal shouldn’t be to get things from Him. It should be to find Him. If you want “all things,” then seek a relationship with God the Father and with Jesus, “for whom are all things and through whom are all things” (Heb. 2:10, see also Col. 1:16-20).

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How the Lord Meets with Us: Examining Jesus Christ’s Role as Intercessor

After writing last week’s post about coming to the Father through Jesus, I started studying the words “intercessor” and “mediator.” Interestingly, I found that in Hebrew the word used for “intercession” also means to encounter, come between, and meet with. It’s used in a variety of contexts, but I focused on the ones that related to how God interacts with us here on earth.

There are multiple ways that God can interact with humans. Two of those interactions involve rewarding good and punishing evil. We see the word for “intercession” used in both these contexts. This confused me at first, but as I studied it I found something that is very exciting and encouraging about how the two meanings connect.

Meeting With Punishment

The Hebrew word paga (Strong’s H6293) means “to encounter, meet, reach, entreat, make intercession” (BDB definition). Here’s one place it’s used in Exodus, when Moses and Aaron were talking with Pharaoh.

They said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to Yahweh, our God, lest he fall on us with pestilence, or with the sword.” (Ex. 5:3, WEB)

“Fall on us” is translated from the word paga. We might paraphrase, “Let us worship God, or He’ll meet us with punishment.” It seems strange to have the same word as “intercession” used for meeting someone with pestilence or sword. Intercession tends to be seen as a more positive thing. If we head over to Isaiah’s writings, though, this starts to make more sense.

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Talking with God: What (And Who) Makes Prayer Possible?

Prayer is such an integral part of the Christian life that I rarely stop and think about how it works. Even in studies on how and why to pray, I haven’t focused much on what (and who) makes prayers possible.

Of course, it’s obvious that God Himself makes prayer possible. If He wasn’t listening we’d have no reason to pray. He also gives instructions about how we’re to approach Him, which is why most people I know end their prayers with some variation on the phrase “In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Jesus said, “ask in my name,” and so that is what we do. His instruction to pray in His name would be enough of a reason to do so, but I also think this aspect of prayer can teach us important things about how the God-family operates and how They relate to us. So today, I want to take a closer look at why we pray in Jesus’ name.

Ask in His Name

The passages where Jesus instructed His disciples to pray in His name are found in John’s gospel. Before sharing these instructions, though, Jesus makes an important foundational statement.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know him, and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7, all scriptures from WEB translation)

As the Word, Jesus was always the member of the God-family that human beings had the most direct access to. Before Jesus came as a human being, people knew there were two Lords but they didn’t have access to the Father directly (the scriptures to back this point up would double the size of today’s post, so I’ll direct to my post “Who Was ‘God’ in the Old Testament?”). Read more

Let Us Press On To Know The Lord

Are you settling for salvation?

This interesting phrase is one I’ve heard used by the Rabbi in my local Messianic congregation to describe those who accept Jesus as their savior and then don’t really pursue a deeper relationship with Him. Maybe they go to church most weeks and go through the motions of being a “good Christian,” but they don’t tap-in to the fullness and depth of their faith.

Shallow faith has been a problem throughout God’s history with His people. Evidently it will be a problem to the end, for Jesus questions if He’ll really “find faith on the earth” when He returns (Luke 18:8). But we want to be found faithful. I don’t think any Christian would say they don’t want to know Jesus better or strengthen their faith (and if they would we should pray for them!). So how do we get to deeper faith?

The Problem of Inconsistent Faith

For many of us, our faith waxes and wanes. We’re excited about God when we first meet Him and we turn to Him when things get bad, but the rest of the time it’s easy to become complacent. In a sense, we set Him on a shelf until we want/need Him.

Come! Let’s return to Yahweh; for he has torn us to pieces, and he will heal us; he has injured us, and he will bind up our wounds. … Let’s acknowledge Yahweh. Let’s press on to know Yahweh. As surely as the sun rises, Yahweh will appear. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain that waters the earth.” (Hosea 6:1, 3, WEB)

Hosea records these as Israel’s words when they turned back to God once again after a season of punishment. This was a cycle for them — they’d fall away from God, bad things would happen, they’d turn back to God, and then the whole thing would repeat. God forgave each time they repented, but He got tired of the cycle. Read more