Sunday, August 12, 2007

TorahBytes: How Does it Work? - Part 2 (Shofetim)

For this is what the LORD says: "You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed." (Isaiah 52:3)

Last week I related the occasion of my being asked to explain how God's transforming power in my life actually worked. At the time of the question I had difficulty giving a satisfactory answer, but since then I have had more time to think about it, and I am ready to make another attempt.

The most obvious aspect of my transformation was psychological. I had been struggling emotionally to the point of having panic attacks, which stopped immediately. My outlook on life radically changed. I had become a very self-seeking person, and while I do not claim to have attained absolute selflessness, my world was no longer just about me. Similarly, issues of morality meant little to me, but once Yeshua came into my life, I began to develop a strong sense of right and wrong. Life in general had no meaning. I was always bored except for brief moments of distraction, but in the Messiah God gave me purpose. Up until knowing Yeshua and my embracing of the Scriptures as the Word of God, my being Jewish was without relevance. My Jewish identity was important to me, but without substance. Coming to know the reality of the God of Israel caused me to see myself as part of his eternal plan that had begun centuries before with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

All this has to do with the results of what God did in my life on a September day in 1976. But it doesn't explain exactly what it was that God did to me that day. The best way for me to explain it is through the biblical concept of redemption. In the Scriptures, redemption refers to the act of buying back a person sold into slavery or the restoration of property that has been lost due to extreme poverty. According to the Torah, when this would occur it was the obligation of a near relative to redeem or, in other words, to buy back the person or property (see Vayikra/Leviticus 25 & 27; Bemidbar/Numbers 35).

Redemption as an act of God on behalf of his people is a regular theme throughout the Bible. Jacob refers to God's redemption in his life (Bereshit/Genesis 48:16). The deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt is referred to as an act of redemption (Shemot/Exodus 6:6; 15:13). Hoping in God as the Redeemer of Israel is found several times in the prophets (see Isaiah 41:14; 43:1; 43:14; 52:3; Jeremiah 50:34; Micah 4:10; etc.). The Book of Ruth is a beautiful illustration of redemption. In Tehilim (Psalms) we have references to God as redeemer of both Israel as a nation (74:2; 77:15; 78:35. etc.) and for individuals (19:14; 69:18; 103:4, etc.).

Redemption is the act of rescuing a person or persons from a most dire situation and restoring them to a place of freedom. It brings about a complete transformation of the life situation of the redeemed.

This is what happened to me that day over thirty years ago. God redeemed me.

I was in an oppressive situation, which included several components. The most basic component was the spiritual one in that I had no relationship to God. But it also included a relational component in that my home life was extremely dysfunctional and my friendships were based on selfishness. It had an economic component in that the only parent in my life was no longer able to provide for our needs. It had an intellectual component in that I had no direction for my education. I also had no work ethic, since I thought life was simply about comfort and pleasure.

When I encountered God that day, he redeemed me. Due to what Yeshua did on my behalf by giving his life as the ransom for my sins, God rescued me from my oppression, set me in right relationship with himself and began to direct me in the kind of life he intends for us all.

It was his redemption that significantly alleviated my extreme anxiety. My perspective on life was not simply due to a psychological adjustment. Rather I experienced a psychological adjustment due to the transformation of my life by God.

I remember crossing a particular street not long after asking Yeshua into my life and remarking to myself that everything looked different. While my physical surroundings hadn't really changed, it was as if the realm in which I found myself had.

The fact is I was living in a different realm. This is expressed so well in the New Covenant writings:

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13,14)

What our people experienced through God's redemption in Egypt anticipated an even greater redemption through the Messiah. Moreover, what is available to us today through him is a taste of what he still desires for us as a nation. It is something that is available to all people through trusting in Yeshua. It is not just a frame of mind or a commitment to a religious lifestyle, but a real transforming encounter with the God of Israel.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

TorahBytes: How Does it Work? (Re'eh)

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55:12)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share some of the details of my spiritual journey with someone. Through the past thirty years of my knowing God through Yeshua the Messiah, I. have explained to many people how I have come to believe. When I have shared my story, people often respond with all sorts of questions, some of which I have heard many times: "How did your family react?; How did this change your life?; What does this mean to you as a Jewish person?"; and so on. But there was one question I was asked on this particular occasion that I don't think I have been asked before. The question was in response to my explaining the difference my faith in Yeshua has meant to me. Before I get to that question, let me provide some background. As a child and teenager, I suffered from a great deal of anxiety and depression. I had an emotional breakdown at age 11 and panic attacks along with a great fear of death at age 18. As far as I know, the chief contributing factor was my unstable upbringing. There was a lot of discord in our home. My parents argued (loudly) quite a bit. They separated when I was 6 years old, reconciled a year later only to split up permanently when I was 14. I lived with my mother until I went away to school at age 20, my three older brothers having moved away. I saw my father rarely through the years.

Just before my nineteenth birthday, I met a young Jewish man - a friend of a friend - who demonstrated from the Jewish Bible that Yeshua was the Messiah. He also explained to me the biblical concepts of sin and forgiveness. He said that if I asked God to forgive me and believe that Yeshua died for my sins and rose from the dead, I would be happy for the rest of my life and live forever in heaven. While there was so much of what this young man said that was true, even though he himself was fairly new to these things, I would eventually learn that his promise of constant happiness was inaccurate. It was inaccurate, but not entirely untrue. It depends how one defines happiness. If it means a life devoid of grief, struggles and disappointments, then he was completely wrong. But if it means a basic sense of well being in the midst of the ups and downs of real life, then he was absolutely correct.

As my story goes, the panic attacks stopped immediately and for the most part of the next several months I was on an emotional high of a nature that I had never experienced up until that point in my life. That high didn't continue, which at first was somewhat of a crisis, but it would not be long before I would come to understand the depth of what God had done in my heart and life. While my assumptions regarding being happy forever (or at least in this life) would not be realized, the change that God brought about in my life has been no less profound. Coming to believe in Yeshua has completely changed me. From my emotional state to my outlook in life to my sense of worth to my values and goals, I have been transformed. While I may still struggle to some extent with the remnants of my first nineteen years of life, I have experienced a most wonderful transformation through my encounter with the reality of the God of Israel.

It was in response to my explaining my transformation that I was asked the following basic, but unusual question: How did it work? The person wanted to know what it was exactly that affected the change in me. To be honest, at the time of the question, I groped for an answer. That I had truly experienced the transforming power of God was clear to me, but as to exactly what it was that God did to me to cause that change, I couldn't sufficiently express at the time. I know that it was God in Yeshua that brought about the change, but that explains who changed me, not what he did to change me. As I tried to answer the question, the other person determined it had to do with my coming to an understanding of the meaning of life. If I understood them correctly, they surmised that it was my acceptance of Truth that gave me a sense of peace. Getting a handle on what life was really all about gave me stability of mind and heart that up until then was beyond my grasp.

I think there is much truth to what they said, but it, too, doesn't really answer the question, "How does it work?" I accept that my changed viewpoint has had a great, positive effect on me. But is that what it was that changed me? And even if it did, how did my viewpoint change? Was I simply convinced of it? Was it my adopting of a new philosophy that caused my transformation? I don't think so. Is there even an adequate answer to this question? It wouldn't bother me if there wasn't. That God's reality is at work in my life is good enough for me. Yet I do think there is more that we can say about how the transforming power of God works, but that will have to wait until next week.