The Holy Spirit & Shavuot/Pentecost

img_3275We are in the midst of celebrating the holiday of Shavuot/Pentecost. It is one of the greatest of all the Jewish holidays for a multitude of reasons. However, I am going to get very personal and share with you what has been revealed to me over the last few weeks regarding the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life and the miracle of Shavuot/Pentecost. I hope you will give me a little leeway and lots of mercy and grace.

Shavuot/Pentecost occurs fifty days after the Spring Feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits). In the Modern/Rabbinic Jewish understanding of the holiday, it is believed that Shavuot/Pentecost coincides with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The holiday today in the Jewish community, especially the Orthodox ones, often includes an all-night Bible study of the book of Ruth and other Biblical passages.

In the Christian tradition, we remember the holiday as Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. And depending upon your comfort level, some either REALLY celebrate the holiday or others sit on their hands in FEAR. So … the question then is where and how is the truth? Is the Modern Jewish tradition correct? Is the Christian tradition correct? And my fully opinionated answer is … BOTH.

I have no idea whether or not it was on Shavuot/Pentecost that God gave Moses the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is a tradition; however, I love the concept of devoting a period of time to all-night Bible study. I also do however know that the Holy Spirit arrived to indwell the hearts/souls of believers in Messiah on the first Shavuot/Pentecost following Jesus’ Ascension to heaven (Acts 2).

Therefore, I would like to make a couple of quick observations as we both Jewish and Gentile arrive at this Shavuot/Pentecost 2017 period.

  • We need to return to the Scripture of the Torah, Prophets, Writings and the New Testament. We have abandoned a serious study of God’s Word for books about the Word of God. Whether it is the Talmud or Mishnah in the Jewish world or whether it is Beth Moore and John Piper books in the Christian world, we need to focus instead on what the Scripture has to say and not on what someone else has to say about it. I would like to challenge non-theologians to challenge themselves to take on the task of learning Biblical Greek and Hebrew so that they are not dependent on commentaries and other resources. Stand on your own two theological feet!
  • Get away from prooftexting God’s Word. This is a sin of the first degree in Biblical study and those who knowingly engage in it … SHAME ON YOU! Those who accidentally do it … STOP IT! The Word of God must be read in the sense of the whole Canon of His Word and not in isolation or by itself in individual verse. And in case you are in doubt, here is a definition:

Prooftexting is the practice of using isolated quotations from a document to establish a proposition. Using discrete quotations is generally seen as decontextualised. Critics note that such quotes may not accurately reflect the original intent of the author, and that a document quoted in such a manner may not in fact support the proposition for which it was cited when read as a whole. (FREEBASE Dictionary)

  • The Holy Spirit arrived on the Day of Pentecost/Shavuot to indwell those who received the gift of salvation secured through the atoning and sacrificial gift of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection via the Spring Feasts. What we see in the story of Acts 2 on Shavuot/Pentecost is the, for the lack of a better expression because words fail me at this moment, is the realization of the Trinity at work — God the Father is the Sovereign King of the universe, God the Son through His redemptive act provided the salvific act for the universe and God the Holy Spirit indwells those of the universe who receive the salvation gift. This is mindblowing! And I am sure/confident that I have mangled explaining it but I am still in awe and grateful for the reality of it all.

Thankfully, the Word of God (see below) explains it much better than I do if we only understood and studied it more. And this is another point of why Shavout/Pentecost is so important … STUDY TO SHOW THYSELF APPROVED! And a better much use of time than trying to figure out what #covefefe means!

ROMANS 8:9-11 — But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

GALATIANS 4:6 — And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

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The Only Normal Human Being…

C. S. Lewis in the foreword to his friend’s Joy Davidman work Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments writes a most unusual statement:

In a sense the converted Jew is the only normal human being in the world. To him, in the first instance, the promises were made, and he has availed himself of them.

What a unique statement for Lewis to make on the surface … unless one realizes that Davidman was herself a Jewish believer in Jesus. 

Joy Davidman who would shortly become Lewis’ wife was raised in New York to secular Jewish parents and followed the path of many early 20th century Jewish rebels – she became a Communist until the reality of the movement showed its ugly face. She sought spiritual meaning and became as Lewis described “normal” when she discovered the surprising joy (pun intended) of a personal relationship with Messiah Jesus. 

However, what I love about Davidman’s story and Lewis’ quote is the utter simplicity and truth of the statement. The Gospel was and is for the Jewish people first (Romans 1:16). And nothing changed about Davidman’s life after coming to faith except her eternal destiny and daily faith story. 

She was still a brilliant writer, poet, mother and wife. She did not change her religious residence from the Church of England to a messianic congregation to ensure that people knew she was Jewish – that fact was obvious truth and she was unashamed of her heritage. And dare I say Lewis was proud of it! 

She was utterly normal. She was utterly unashamed. She was utterly a believer in Jesus. About as normal as you can get. 

Jews, Christians, & Passover

Passover Seder Plate 1Tonight around the world, millions of Jewish people will sit around a Passover table. Some will sit there to fervently remember what was done by God 3,500 years when He delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Some will sit there believing that the story of the Exodus was all “hogwash” to pardon the non-Kosher pun. Some will sit there counting the moments until the four-hour endurance dinner is over. Some will sit there thumbing through the “Harry Potter Haggadah” that someone brought to the table this year to brighten up the traditional dinner. Some will wonder if someone was able to sneak in marijuana into the Matzoh Ball Soup after they found a recipe for it online. Bottom line — for all the fifteen million Jewish souls sitting at the Passover table this year there will be 14,999,999 different reactions to the Passover Meal.

How I wish that those 15 million Jewish people could have been with Tzedakah Ministries at a small Baptist church yesterday (9 April 2016) in Huntsville, TX, when I shared the truth of Jesus & Passover with the people. I walked them through a Passover meal, coincidentally on Palm Sunday, as Jesus would have ate with His disciples the night before He was crucified. Many of the people were mesmerized. Some cried and I had more than one ask me a question that I have had repeated over the seventeen years that I have been doing the work of Jewish evangelism — “Why can’t they [the Jewish people] see Jesus? It is so obvious?

Yes, I agree that it is so obvious but the reason the Jewish people cannot see the truth of Messiah Jesus often lies with us — Christians and churches. For example — Just today a friend wished her Jewish friends a Happy Passover on Facebook and when I pointed out that Passover is a Christian holiday because Jesus celebrated/observed the meal the night before He was crucified. She admitted this to be true but … she was obviously worried about offending some of her Jewish friends in my opinion.

For example — just last week Christianity Today published an article by two non-Messianic rabbis (without a counter-response by someone like myself or others) stating that Christians should not be observing Passover because it is a Jewish holiday only. I hope that Christianity Today remembers that Jesus IS JEWISH and came to not abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-20) including the Passover Meal. However, such arguments do a great deal of harm to Jewish evangelism. And we need to respond — not in anger and recriminations but in truth and love and perhaps a little humor.

The most Jewish Passover a Jewish person can engage in tonight is a Passover in which Jesus is the center of it. It will bring vitality, hope, originality to the dinner. They will not need a Harry Potter Haggadah, marijuana-laced soup, or any of the new-fangled efforts introduced (including wine-flavored lollipops to replace the four cups) to spice up the Passover Seder. They just need Jesus and for that to happen — they need us who know the truth to tell them about Him.

Happy Passover

The Real Message of the Church …

There are no prophets left today. If one claims to be … get the stones ready!

However, and while I disagree with a good chunk of her political positions and some of her theological positions, Rachel Held Evans does offer some prescient insights that we would be wise to listen to as the 21st century church. 

In her book Searching for Sunday, we can find these words:

But if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is, the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace.

And GRACE is the real message that the world needs today. The world doesn’t need another seven-steps to wealth and prosperity which is a lie from hell itself anyway. The world doesn’t need to be told by the church how to vote in political elections. The world doesn’t need smiling preachers offering empty platitudes on television. The world needs churches to offer the REAL message of GRACE that is only possible through Messiah Jesus. 

Why Doctrine Matters…

As the president/director of Tzedakah Ministries, I have many responsibilities. My foremost task is to answer to God for what this ministry says as we seek to share the truth of Messiah Jesus with the Jewish people and all lost people living on this orb we call planet Earth today. Yes, it is the Holy Spirit who convicts but how can they know unless someone tells them (Romans 10:14-15) the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Therefore, the great 20th century British apologist C. S. Lewis was correct when he stated…

“You must not do, you must not even try to do, the will of the Father unless you are prepared to ‘know of the doctrine’.

There are some today who seek to argue that doctrinal matters are tertiary and “getting them to say a prayer” is all that matters. My advice to you if you meet those folks – RUN! RUN AWAY AS FAST YOU CAN!

Doctrine is important. Teaching correct doctrine can be eternally important. Paul believed this reality to be so important that he used some of his final words to relay it to Timothy:

2 Timothy 4:2-4 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

Tzedakah Ministries would love to come to your church and share with you how to be equipped in the task of Jewish evangelism (click here for more information).  However, you need to know we believe doctrine matters and we will not budge … even for a large love offering!

Why? The world, especially the Chosen People of Israel, need to know Messiah Jesus. That matters most of all. 

“Shards of Our Lives”

In the process of reading Sabine Dramm’s  Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Introduction to His Thought, I added a new word to my vocabulary – caesuras. Caesuras means basically “any break, pause, or interruption” and the idea is that often happens unexpectedly. Drank introduces this word in conjunction to Bonhoeffer’s arrest on 5 April 1943 that while was a dreadful fear was certainly a caesuras to the man, his fiancé and his family. 

Interestingly, this idea falls in line for me with my Bible study time of Hebrews 12:1-3. I bolded the phrase “for me” because perhaps these verses only hit me in this way and should not be applied to anyone else. 

For you see, I am a prodigious worrier. If there were a championship game named for a container for a overly large dish-like container (FYI – the NFL has copyrighted/trademarked that particular two-word phrase), I would destroy Tom Brady every year. I would set records in that certain 5-ring event played every four years (Yep – also trademarked) and make Michael Phelps look like dog paddler. I think you get idea – I am really good at worrying!

Therefore, when I consider that the heroes of Hebrews 11 are watching me(!) in 12:1, I am a little intimidated. Especially as I am told to set aside/get rid of those weights and sins that are weighing me down – fear, doubt, and WORRY. I don’t want to do it but then I consider what some of those unnamed champions had to go through (v. 32-40):

  • Torture
  • Mocking
  • Scourging
  • Chained in Prison
  • Stoned
  • Sawed in Two
  • Murdered
  • Left Destitute, Afflicted, Mistreated and Homeless

and I think – “How could I do anything less? They know what real caesuras is all about…!”

But … it is never to easy. Those weight, encumbrances, sins are heavy and to just put a pause/caesura on it is not easy. How do I do it? Those weights have truly created shards of my life, how does it get fixed?

First – LOOK TO JESUS

The idea of looking or focusing on Jesus in Hebrews 12:2 is the idea of fixing our eyes on Him. STARE! Don’t lose eye contact because He alone is the beginning/end, the author/editor, the iniator/perfection of a Christian’s faith. 

Second – REMEMBER WHY JESUS DIED

Yes, Jesus died to save our souls from hell but He also died to save our lives from ourselves. The epistle to Hebrews (i.e., 4:14-16) is replete with examples of why Jesus the High Priest came to give us eternity and life now – including so that we don’t grow tired and lose hope (v. 3). 

Third – FOCUS ON WHO JESUS IS

Jesus did not do this because He was a good man or a great prophet. He was/is God the Son (v. 2)! He is now sitting at the right hand of the throne of God. This is HIS seat not because He got there first or called dibs. It His seat because of WHO He is and what He did. 


And this is how and why I can have hope in the midst of our caesuras and shards of my life. 

Blaise Pascal – “Who knows what God can make of the shards of our lives if we give them entirely over to Him.”

The B-I-B-L-E … The Book for Me

I surely cannot be the only one who remembers the Sunday School song sung by children across the ages … 

However, it seems the Word of God, the Bible, has become anything and everything except upon what we stand upon these days. 

We use it these days to justify …

  • Naming and Claiming for the Purposes of Gaining Wealth/Power
  • Voting for/against a Political Party
  • Pet Theological Persuasion 

However, Scripture tells us plainly in 2 Peter 1:20-21 that …

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

This shows us that we cannot personally allegorize, metaphorize, or interpret by taking verses out of context for our own purposes. 

However, we hear this done quite often by politicians who want build and/or tear down something. We hear this by televangelists who want people to send in money for a trivet or trinket. We perhaps have even done it ourselves – by accident or even on purpose for what we consider “good intentions.”
This must stop! Scripture is too precious as it is called by Paul metaphorically  “the very breath of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). 

This is the metaphorical idea of inspiration/θεόπνευστος in 2 Tim. 3:16 and where we get the idea of “verbal plenary inspiration or inerrancy of Scripture. And I am an inerrantist!

Before anyone accuses me of biblioatry, I worship God alone; but, I do hold on highest esteem the record of “his recorded breath” that He left behind to learn more about Himself, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (aka the Trinity). What about you?

Where Is Your Focus?

President Donald Trump is scheduled in the next few days to announce his Supreme Court nomination to replace the late Antonin Scalia. Rancor and disputes will abound as each side will bring up phrases such as “litmus tests,” “nuclear option,” and “out of the mainstream.”

As a self-professed history nerd with a PhD to prove it, here are a few interesting facts about the Supreme Court:

  • Louis Brandeis (appointed by Woodrow Wilson) was the first Jewish Justice. Today all the justices are either Jewish or Roman Catholic
  • William Howard Taft was the only man to be president and Chief Justice. Therefore, he is the only man to take and administer the oath of office
  • The Supreme Court has not always had nine justices. The number has varied over time. FDR sought to expand the number so that he could “pack the court” with justices who would approve his New Deal policies
  • The Supreme Court is expected to be at the State of the Union but they are not supposed to respond to the speech as that would give indication of bias

The father of one of the most well-known justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., also gave us a line that is worth considering today (FYI – the son gave us the legal terms “clear and present danger” and “shouting fire in a crowded theater”):

Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Think about this phrase for a second – Holmes was a poet and an Abolitionist but not a theologian. Do you agree or not? 


Have we not heard Phil. 1:21 repeated often from the pulpit about the fact that “to die is gain”? But what about verses 22-24

But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. 

I have heard others reference Col. 3:2 where it tells us to keep our focus on the things above and not on this earth; however, the context is more about our Christian walk and not on a rush to get there. So again I ask does Holmes have a point – do Believers in Jesus have such a heaven fixation that we have allowed this planet to literally “become hell on earth” before it’s time? 

C. S. Lewis offers an idealistic perspective on this concept:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in:” aim at earth and you will get neither. (Mere Christianity, p.134)

I would and can agree with Lewis (who is my second favorite Evangelical writer) up to a point. I would like to point out that the great individuals that Lewis noted not only had heaven in mind but also the alternate destination (Hell) as well. They were motivated to spread the Gospel of Heaven as a focus because they knew the other eternal destiny was the one described in Revelation 20:15. We cannot forget that truth … either. 

My dad once stated that if God would allow the Gates of Hell to be open for five seconds so that Christians could be allowed a glimpse inside, our evangelism efforts would be forever changed. Our focus would never be the same. We would never be the same. 

What is your focus today? I cannot wait to see heaven – Jesus, daddy, friends, family, eternity. However, the focus of Tzedakah Ministries must remain on the here, the now, and the reality that while I have never been a 5-second hellish glimpse, I have been given a commandment to go, show and tell because my presence is more needful than my absence (Phil. 1:24). 

Making the Gospel Concrete…

When mom saw the latest offering from Amazon today her response was simply – “I should symbolically marry you off to your theological crush (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).” 

Yes, I might have battled Maria von Wedermeyer (his fiancé) for him if I had been living in 1943; however, my compunction to read this German martyr goes deeper than mere admiration. I believe Bonhoeffer has something to teach us and perhaps even caution us about in 2017. 

He lived in a time that can only be called a crucible and era-defining both in pre-war and World War II Germany. Today, we live on a precipice of the unknown as well. There is only one certainty in life for believers in Jesus and that is the Mandate of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16). 

This is why I find this statement that Bonhoeffer made in 1932 (pre-Third Reich) so exhilarating:

What occupies me so much at present is the problem of making the Good News concrete.

Are we making the Good News (Gospel) concrete? Or are we being distracted by other issues? Do other concerns “concern” us more?

This is why I can promise you that Tzedakah Ministries has one focus and one focus only … sharing the Gospel of Messiah Jesus “to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.”

We will not get distracted by the following …

  • Politics
  • Entertainment 
  • Politics
  • Global Warming
  • Politics 
  • I Think You Get the Idea

For while I care about politics, the Gospel is concrete. For while I enjoy watching a good television show, Jesus is concrete. For while I believe in being a good steward of the environment and caring about a 1,001 other issues, until we take care of the concrete issue of Messiah Jesus, nothing else matters. 

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