If you have not yet read my book The Real Story of Chanukah: Dedicated to the Death, you may not realize how closely the civil conditions of those days parallel the societal climate in which we presently live. For example, on page 24, I write,
In the political and cultural climate fostered under the “sinful offshoot” Antiochus Ephiphanes [the Greco-Syrian king who occupied Israel], the Jewish people began to test the waters of personal liberty as they explored alternative lifestyles outside of godly boundaries. A vocal, activist, minority within Israel—those who were overtly and shamelessly defiling the Torah—paraded their transgressions before the general population, inciting them also to go astray.
As the story unfolds, we come to find out that such exploration of “personal liberty” and “alternative lifestyles” eventually leads to dire consequences for Israel.
Throughout the Scriptures, we are frequently exhorted to persevere—to keep pressing forward in the face of adversity. We need this encouragement because our natural tendency is to avoid conflict, trials, troubles, or hardship of any kind—to not persevere. No one likes to suffer and endure pain or discomfort, but if we always travel the path of least resistance, we cannot learn and grow from life’s challenges. As disciples of Messiah, we will all encounter a set of difficulties uniquely designed to cause growth in our lives. How we deal with these trials speaks directly to our level of maturity in Him. Perseverance, then, is the stepping-stone from tribulation to maturity.
The Master teaches us, “[A sower went out to sow his seed, which is…] the word of God. [The seed that fell] beside the way were those who heard [the word], then the Accuser came and took up the word from their heart, lest having believed, they might have been saved. [The seed that fell] upon the rock [are] those who, when they heard the word, received it with joy. Yet these who have no root believed for a while, but in time of trial, fell away. [The seed] that fell to the thorns [are] those who have heard, but, going forth, were choked through anxieties [about] wealth and pleasures of life, and bore no [fruit] to maturity. But that [seed which fell] on the good soil are these: they, who with an upright and good heart, having heard the word, retain it, and bear fruit with perseverance.” Luke 8:11-15
One of the primary reasons we do not grow and mature in Messiah is simple: we want the “fruit,” but we don’t have the “root.” As the Master’s parable illustrates, there are various kinds of obstacles that keep us from putting down roots and bearing the fruit of maturity. Our uncultivated, rocky soil doesn’t allow the roots to take hold, and the seed is stolen from us so that we cannot withstand the trials of life. If, by chance, a seed does begin to take root, its growth is choked back by the thorns of anxiety until the plant withers and dies. We may receive the seed and even have it planted within us, but without “good soil,” it will not bear fruit and mature.
The disciple of Messiah is to be like “good soil” for the implantation of the Word of God—having heard the Word, we are to “retain it, and bear fruit with perseverance.” The word translated as perseverance is the Greek hupomone, describing a person who is steadfast, consistent, and enduring. In the Master’s parable, this word describes a characteristic of the “good soil”—it steadfastly holds on to the seed, allowing its roots to grow deep and wide.
But instead of offering ourselves up as “good soil,” we often come with our rocks and thorns and our own “ways” of doing things. We put the seed in this soil and think something miraculous will happen. However, it is only in “good soil” that the work of perseverance can be accomplished so that, in turn, the Word of God can do its work and grow us to maturity. We need to put forth the effort to endure trials and tribulations and hold onto—“retain”—the word, so that we may “bear fruit with perseverance.”
The challenge to live the Messianic life is not unique to our day and age—in fact, the obstacles of life that cloud our understanding of the ways of God have proven to be a formidable foe since the beginning.
To the believers of Galatia, who were trapped by their own doctrines and misconceptions about the Messianic life, Paul wrote,
“With Messiah I have been crucified, and no more do I live, but Messiah lives in me; and that which I now live in the body, I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me…” Galatians 2:20
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I always have mixed emotions about Thanksgiving, because on the one hand, at its heart are two of my most favorite things: family and food! But on the other hand, it not only signals the beginning of the commercial winter holiday season (in which we are bombarded by merchandising and inducements to unnecessarily part with our finances), but, to a degree, it’s not really my holiday. I am only a second-generation American-born Jew, so before WWII, my ancestors knew nothing of the American Thanksgiving holiday (though it is indirectly related to our own Autumn Feast, Sukot). So, while I enjoy Thanksgiving on a familial, individual, and American level (because I am very thankful indeed for this country), it also reminds me that I—as my ancestors have been for centuries—am a stranger in a strange land… a man caught between worlds.
Please believe I am not bragging when I say that for many years now, people from all over the world have found the Messianic devotionals I have written to be helpful and inspiring for their daily walk in Yeshua. I give all glory and praise to Adonai for this, because whatever encouragement or insight I have to offer, it is only because I have gained it (usually the hard way!) by His loving and compassionate hand.
Yet, I mention this not to call attention to myself or the character of the devotionals, but to point out the fact that we as believers in Yeshua primarily seek information and inspiration for one purpose: self-edification. While I am personally pleased that my writings have been edifying for so many, the purpose of the devotionals (as well as everything produced through Perfect Word) has never been for self-edification, but always for discipleship—the means by which we first become edified, then multiply that edification by passing it on to others. This, however, is not the way most of us approach a “devotional” or any other kind of spiritual experience—rather, it is generally with the intent to focus ourselves on the Master and increase our devotion to Him.
Such goals are in no way wrong. On the contrary, in a world that is constantly trying to steal our focus away from God, we need to use every means possible to keep our hearts and minds dedicated and devoted to Him. Where we do go wrong, however, is that we tend to stop there, feeding only ourselves, and forgetting the most important reason to increase our own devotion: everyone else. Indeed, the walk we walk in Messiah is ultimately not for our own benefit; rather, “Let no one seek [good for] himself, but each [one for] another’s.” (1Co. 10:24)