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Monday, December 21, 2015

Wisdom & Coexist Bumper Stickers

My parents tell me that reading did not come easy for me and that I was about eight years old when I really began to comprehend what I was reading. One of the first Bible’s my dad gave me was a New Living Translation Messianic version. Basically, this translation changed the name Jesus to His hebrew name, Yeshua. My dad created a system called “The Word As A Way Of Life” (WWL). In WWL, you put yourself on a never-ending cycle of reading with twelve sections through the whole Bible. By reading one chapter in twelve sections everyday you can read the whole Bible about every 90 days. Of course, some sections take longer than others but the average is reading the whole Bible over and over again about every 90 days. Just the text. No commentaries. No study guides. Just the text. The goal was not deep mediation but familiarity with the text of the Bible. At the age of eight, my dad set me up with eight bookmarks reading one chapter from these eight sections everyday and I continue in twelve sections to this day.

my WWL sticker in my Bible
As I grew older, I realized in conversation with other Bible readers how much my early reading and system of reading prepared me for understanding the Bible. Most Bible readers will say that they believe in the whole Bible but many have never actually read the whole Bible. Some would celebrate reading through the whole Bible once. Some, maybe four times. I can’t even count how many times I have read the whole Bible. Sure, there were times I didn’t read. There are days I only read six sections and pick up where I left off. For the most part, I have read the Bible every ninety days from the time I was eight. I am thirty six now and I am really bad at math. I just know I have read it a lot. I don’t say that to boast of my own knowledge but to celebrate my parent's decision to get me into the Word of God at a young age. Part of the reason I am a Rabbi today is because I am still enamored with the text of the Bible and the life that can be found within its pages. I use a lot of commentaries and supplemental materials that help with studying the Bible, they are great, but nothing replaces reading and understanding the text of the Bible all by itself. 

It’s funny because I can tell what time of my life I memorized a scripture by the translation I used for my daily devotions. During my High School years is really when I began to take my faith in Yeshua seriously. I bought a little New International version (NIV) because I thought the cover was cool. A lot of the scriptures I have memorized are from my days with with that little NIV and some of the “life verses” which impacted me early in my faith still speak to me today. 

As I remember it, one of the first verses that spoke to me early on was Proverbs 9:10-12:
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. 11 For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. 12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder) and while many my age have been misdiagnosed, I was the poster child for the disorder. I am sure my love of Proverbs 9:10-12 comes from my parents who desperately, in all of my spontaneity and curiosity, wanted me to choose wisdom. My brain moves fast. Often, particularly in adolescence, my brain made decisions that the rest of me wouldn’t understand until it was too late. Reflecting back on my childhood I can say with confidence that I was not a bad kid but my decision making record would reflect otherwise. Many in my life treated me like a bad kid not knowing that my heart was always towards The Lord. In my struggle to understand myself I found these verses. My whole life I have desired wisdom. This proverb calls “the fear of the Lord” the very beginning of wisdom. In the world we live in there is all kinds of wisdom. There is the wisdom of philosophy, the wisdom of mathematics, the wisdom of hollywood, the wisdom of business, the wisdom of science, the wisdom of the arts. There is nothing wrong with any of this wisdom, for all wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Not being afraid of God but understanding that all things begin with Him. In all of our wisdom, intelligence, creativity, and ingenuity, there is a God that created wisdom for us. It is within the nature of human beings to believe we can be wise on our own. There is something in us as Americans, who value individualism, to believe that our ability to create comes from ourselves. Humanism is the philosophy that we as human beings can create our own good and wisdom.

The American Humanist Association defines Humanism as “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”

R.C. Sproul, the great theologian writes, that “Humanism was not invented by man, but by a snake who suggested that the quest for autonomy might be a good idea.” The truth is that we, as human beings, love wisdom for wisdoms sake, instead of loving God who gives us wisdom as a tool to discover Him. 

Proverbs 9:10-12 hits this concept directly in between the eyes. Your wisdom, intelligence, creativity, and ingenuity start with God. When He formed us in our mothers womb He put all of these good things in us and He wants credit for his own creativity. Any wisdom begins with God. Any understanding that we can have in any field begins with knowledge of the Holy One. Otherwise, understanding and wisdom become about us and what we know rather than God who, in his wisdom, gave us the capacity for wisdom and understanding.  You can have wisdom without acknowledging God but that wisdom will fade when the world comes to its conclusion. The only wisdom that will survive is the wisdom that acknowledges the creator of wisdom. 

Verse 11 tells us that if we understand that knowledge and wisdom come from God than “your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.” Even more than that, verse 12, tells us with this kind of wisdom comes great reward and that those that who mock will suffer in loneliness. Why loneliness? Because if you boast in your own wisdom when you come to the end of your wisdom you will only find yourself. There is a limit and an end to all wisdom. But If we recognize that wisdom begins with God and that any wisdom we have comes from Him there is no end to our understanding. There is thankfulness and gratefulness that any wisdom I have comes from the One who created wisdom. 

I’m always intrigued by those who mock faith. Instead of a “Jesus Fish” on their cars people have “Fish n’ Chips” or a “Darwin Fish”. In Seattle, many people seem to have “Coexist” bumper stickers with all different religious symbols in the word Coexist. Interestingly, it seems to me that the only people who have those stickers on their cars and people who are non-religious. All you need is a basic study of comparative religion and you understand that different religions cannot coexist. Sure, we can all live in the same city and treat each other with kindness. But ultimately, if you believe in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., you believe that everyone will end up somewhere after this life is over, and they all boast of different outcomes. In that sense, for anyone who is an adherent of any religion, you don’t want to coexist with people. You want people to come with you to where you will end up after this life is over. It is only those who “mock” religion that want to “coexist” and what they mean by coexist is “no religion.”  I’m not trying to lead people to religion as much as I am trying to lead people to Yeshua. He transcends religion and what we have done with religion. In His wisdom, He created the heavens and the earth, and He gave us the capacity for wisdom and understanding. Ultimately, there is an end to the wisdom of this world. When all things come to end so will all wisdom that is found on the earth. But, if we acknowledge that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding,” and give God credit for transcending and creating wisdom, then, “your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.”

People are searching for wisdom. We were made to be smart, intellectual, creative beings. God put in us the desire to seek out and find wisdom. Any wisdom I have is wisdom that has been given to me. I am not wise on my own. But to acknowledge the One who created wisdom is the highest form of wisdom itself. All the days of my life I want to grow in wisdom. A wisdom whose foundation is the fear of the Lord and an understanding that comes from Knowledge of the Holy One!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

When God Makes You Sick

In April, on the last day of Passover, I went to the emergency room with tremendous pain in my abdomen. In all honesty, I thought it might just be the worst gas I had ever felt before or maybe just too much Matzah (#JewishProblems). At first the doctors were not even sure what was happening! After tests and imaging studies, I was diagnosed with Diverticulitis. WebMD describes Diverticulitis this way: 

Diverticulosis happens when pouches (diverticula) form in the wall of the colon. If these pouches get inflamed or infected, it is called diverticulitis. Diverticulitis can be very painful. Doctors aren't sure what causes diverticula in the colon (diverticulosis). But they think that a low-fiber diet may play a role. Without fiber to add bulk to the stool, the colon has to work harder than normal to push the stool forward. The pressure from this may cause pouches to form in weak spots along the colon. Doctors aren't sure what causes diverticulitis. Bacteria grow in the pouches, and this can lead to inflammation or infection.

It was painful. More painful than anything I have experienced in my life. As I was suffering late at night, before going to the hospital, I began throwing up from the pain. While sitting on the bathroom floor I found myself singing. What an odd experience to throw up and sing at the same time. Specifically two songs were set on repeat in my mind, The Love of God by Marty Goetz and Lord Have Mercy by Lecrae. The line in Lecrae’s song is “Lord have mercy and pity on your son from what I once was and what I have become.” 

While the diagnosis was clear, my doctors had no idea why this was happening to me because this condition seemed odd at my young age. With gas and excess Matzah ruled out, I had no clue either! It wasn't until the end of August that I experienced an unexpected revelation.  God made me sick. 

I know, it sounds weird and I don’t like saying it out loud or writing it down. I feel like to some degree it’s against my theology. Please don’t read this and believe that I am saying God causes people to get sick. That would miss the point of the lesson I learned. Some sickness is just sickness. Some sickness is opportunity for us to learn something. 

For a few weeks prior to this revelation each of the leaders at Restoration came to me and in different conversation and all essentially said the same thing to me: “You don’t listen. When you do listen you are only hearing what you want to hear so you can persuade me to what you want me to do.” If one leader says something you think about it. If two leaders say the same thing you pray about it. If all your leaders say the same thing it is probably God trying to get your attention. So, with the encouragement from my mentor, I took a test from Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and the results said, “You don’t listen. When you do listen you are only hearing what you want to hear so you can persuade me to what you want me to do.” Dang it. So, after all this I am getting in my car after a great workout and clear as day I hear the Lord say, “I made you sick.” I respond with, “why would you do that to me?”  To which, as clear as if I was before the Lord, He said, “It was the only way you would listen to me.”  Then there were tears. a lot of tears.

I don’t know how you feel about God speaking out loud. I don’t know if you have ever heard Him speak to you. Maybe you think I am crazy. I’m okay with that. Maybe you think God making me sick is ridiculous and I would say that, until this happened, I probably would have agreed with you. I am not saying sickness is from God. I am not saying this happens to everyone. I don’t know how often God works this way. There is also a danger that we would be gripped by fear and begin to believe that anything bad that happens to us is from God. It’s not. Fear is not from God. Here is what I know, I wasn’t listening. To think that I would try to persuade God, to what I want Him to do rather than listen for what He wants me to do, makes me sad. I want to listen better. To God, to my leaders. Of course the danger of being this transparent is that people have the tendency to look back and say “you weren’t listening to me either.” Or in conversation people pull out this blog and say “you are doing this to me, right now.” I get all that. I also believe that God wants to our experiences to encourage someone who may be going through the same kind of thing. 

It’s interesting because in the beginning of January of this year I started taking my health seriously. I starting going to the gym four times a week and I am eating better than I had before. Aside from the time I was recovering from being sick I have maintained these lifestyle changes all year.  I have changed a lot of things in my life because of this encounter with God. Reflecting back on this whole experience I realize this was a test from the Lord. When we talk about God testing Abraham in Genesis we recognize that He wasn’t testing Abraham to see what he would do. God knows. The test is for us. Honestly, it was faith building, even in serious pain I gave God glory and didn’t blame him for my pain. I worshipped Him and knew He was with me and was aware enough to hear is voice in my pain and recovery. Not just hear, either, but respond. Please don’t believe I am some kind of spiritual super star. That would miss my whole point in writing about this experience. It’s about how awesome God is not about me. 

You might say, “If God loves you why would He hurt you?” This is an important question. The writer of the book of Hebrews gives a great answer:

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11).

It is because God loves me so much that He would take such drastic measures to speak to me. I am quite confident that, for many years to come, 2015 will be a year for me to reflect back on knowing that God refuses to leave me. My passion in life is helping others know that no matter what you do, no matter how far you run from the God who created you, no matter if you claim to not believe in Him at all—that same God will never leave you. He waits, patiently. He inserts Himself into your story and uses the events of your life, good and bad, to point you back to Him.

So, are you listening even in your pain? Can you hear His voice? What is God saying to you in the midst of pain?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Texas, Ambitions and God's Will

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Joseph, one of Jacobs twelve sons, in Genesis. God gave Joseph some dreams and those dreams included all eleven brothers and his parents bowing down to him. With great confidence, anticipation, and with great immaturity, Joseph told his father and brothers all about the dreams. Like Joseph, I probably told too many people all about my dreams and ambitions from an early age.

Joseph's Dream by Martha Stern
At the same time, I was getting kicked out of conferences, camps, doing a lot of detention in school and my dad was getting a lot of phone calls which started with, Hello, Rabbi Rosenberg, you need to come and pick up your son, Matthew.Never malicious, always loving Godbut ever stumbling over myself and my hyperactive body which moved faster than my brain could warn me of the consequences of my actions. I have always felt that God has called me to speak into the lives of thousands of people and for the first time in my life God is actually making it happen.

Ethiopia w/JVMI
In 2014 I went to Ethiopia with a group of eight young leaders, Jewish Voice Ministries International and Rabbi Jonathan Bernis. It was a forever life-changing experience. While in Ethiopia I had dinner with Pastor Wayne Wilkes. Wayne is probably one of the most encouraging people in the world, and at the time of our dinner in Ethiopia, he was not a pastor. He was just a guy who has been around the block a few times who wanted to encourage a young preacher. As a result of our meeting in Ethiopia, Wayne, who has since become the Pastor of Jewish Ministry at Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas, asked me to speak at Gateways Messianic service about Hanukkah.

The service happens once a month and the two previous speakers were Dr. Michael Brown and Rabbi Jonathan Bernis. My thought progression was, What?! Ok, Lord. Whoa, thats crazy! Thats heavy company. Crazy! Ok, lets do this! Whoa! Crazy!

The Messianic service at Gateway brought over a thousand people and I spoke about Hanukkah and how God wants to use us to Light Up The Darkness (watch the message here, December 2014).

Preaching At Gateway Church

After meeting and talking with many people after the service, I went back into the green room to get my things. I stood there by myself and said to the Lord, That was awesome, thank you for this opportunity.The Lord said back to me, very clearly, You did good, son!

Selfie During My Message at Gateway
For maybe the first time in my life, I did not question whether it was Lord. I didn't have the internal struggle over whether I was just trying to make myself feel better about myself or if the Lord really spoke to me. I heard Him. He was proud me. And that is the real reason I do what I do: For Yeshua. For His kingdom. To help people who are far from God come closer to Him.

Look, Im a Rabbi. Ive been preaching, teaching and encouraging people for the last ten years (and more before it was my job). Sometimes in the midst of all that we are doing for God, we forget why we do it. What an awesome reminder I received from the Lord that day in Texas at Gateway Church.

I want to make Him famous. I get mixed up sometimes with dreams of my own fame, with the greatness of my own name. But, I am reminded that all I have is from the Lord. His desire is for me to use everything He has given me to make Him famous. Among my Jewish people. Among the nations. Everywhere. Everyone.

In all the things that I am seeing God do with me, the moment I heard Gods say, You did good, son!was worth everything to me. I am in awe of all God has done in 2014. In my family, my marriage, my children, at Restoration (my synagogue) and all that He is doing.
I want to stay in awe of God. It seems to me that is the only place worth staying. I
have nothing without Him. To know that God is proud of me is worth more to me than likes on Facebook and Instagram. It
s worth more that the opinions of my colleagues, contemporaries, family, friends and congregation. In all honesty, its hard to believe
that and most of the time the opinions of other people are what I am striving for. I want everyone to be proud of me and think highly of me. But I want what God thinks of me to be the most important to me.

So, Im asking God to make His approval enough. I dont ever want to get wrapped up in positive or negative opinions of me. I want to be wrapped up in what God thinks of me. God approves of me. Not because of what I do, but because of who I am in Him and His son, Yeshua.

And guess what? If you turn your heart towards Yeshua, He approves of you, too!

I am confident that 2015 is going to be the best year ever! For me, my family, Restoration in Seattle, Messianic Judaism, and the greater body of Messiah. God is willing and able to do more than anything we can hope for and imagine. It doesn't mean 2015 will be without pain, hurt, and obstacles. But, it does mean that through whatever we go through God will never leave us or forsake us. He wants to walk with us through everything this new year brings.

At Restoration we opened 2015 with a preaching series through Pastor Steven Furtick’s book, Crash The Chatterbox. This series is the perfect way to start the year because it will help us hear Gods voice clearly and focus on the individual and corporate assignments that He has called our community to. We have been encouraging Restoration to buy the book for deeper reflection. (listen to the series here).

Even though we are all going through different things or have different dreams and goals, God has a hope for you and wants to make your dreams come true in 2015. Everything you have been through, all of the good and the bad, play a part in who are and who are becoming. Our mission at Restoration is to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Yeshua.We never really arrive, we are constantly becoming more fully devoted to Yeshua. As our devotion increases, we see God reorganize our dreams and ambitions to fit His dreams and ambitions for us.

Neverland - Andy Mineo
Rapper Andy Mineo has a song called Rewind. It is currently one of the theme songs of my life. It goes like this:

People think were different

Were all the same
I got a little drama in my life, you got a little drama in yours What you do with it, its your choice
Cause Im looking at my past through the rear view mirror
Thanking God I made it through

I am in awe of all that God is doing in me and I know that He wants to do the same for you! He wants to make your dreams come true. This is your time. You can make God famous and have the best year of your life. You can hear Gods voice clearly and move forward in all that God has called you to do with your life.

Just pray this simple prayer: God I want to make you famous. I want my life to be about you and not about me. I want you to use me however you see fit to bring you glory in 2015!

He wont ignore you. He will answer. I know because He keeps answering me.