“And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” Revelation 12:11 NASB
Perhaps the most impactful moment in my walk with the Messiah was the summer between 11th and 12th grades. It was the first time that I clearly remember hearing the voice of Elohim. I was at a youth conference with my church and remember being invited to the floor. It was the typical scene. Teenagers with heads bowed in prayer. Soft music playing, and instructions given not to look around, because it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. So of course, as a typical teenager, I looked, and when I saw my neighbor getting up so did I. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go down, I just didn’t want to be the only one from my group. Admitting I had issues was a horrendous thought. Especially at that time in my life.
I had accepted the Messiah when I was 4. My parents were missionaries, so I grew up in a very Christian home. I learned the Bible from since before I can remember. One afternoon I went to my parents bedroom and asked how I become a Christian, and they led me in prayer. I was young, but I don’t think that nullified the legitimacy of the experience. I was saved, marked by Messiah as one of His.
For the next several years, the Bible and Christianity were just part of my life. It’s what my family and I did. I enjoyed Sunday School, and learning the stories. I loved AWANA with it’s games and lessons. When my father was called to lead a church on the Navajo reservation in Arizona I knew that I wanted to be a pastor like him. I wanted to be up in front of others and teaching. (Little did I know that was such a small part of the job!) But around 5th grade I began to see that the adults in my Christian world (which was everywhere) noticed my knowledge, love for and aptitude of the Scripture. By the time I reached 6th grade I had discovered the power that comes when living in a Christian world from being the Biblical authority. I sought out (and found) opportunities to teach. I showed off my knowledge. I gained more. I made sure that my peers knew that I was the “pastor” and the one who knew the Bible. Never mind that I was alienating them, they were just not as mature as me. The adults knew.
If I met myself in middle school and high school, I wouldn’t have like me. I’m honestly grateful for my friends who stuck with me despite my self. I was a hypocrite. The stereotypical pharisee, who knew who he was in the Lord, and didn’t care about the opinions of those around me. (I learned later that I did, in fact, care, but this was my cover up for inadequacy.) I excelled at driving people away, not only from me, but from Jesus. If I was what a Christian should be, no one who met me would want to follow this Messiah.
As I went down the steps at the youth conference that summer, little did I know what was about to happen. I knelt down and hid my face, like I was supposed to, expecting to pray for a bit, shed some tears and get back up feeling better about myself, but basically the same. I was, after all, mature in my faith. But then Elohim stepped in. One sentence of fact was all that He said. “Religion is your idol.” I broke. That simple statement tore through all the facade, the protection, the lies that I had built up in the last 6 years. I realized at that point exactly who I was in the eyes of my God. A sinner, broken and stained. But also redeemed. Despite my self, I was saved. I could be forgiven of the harm I had done.
During my senior year I quickly began to realize my mistakes, and how I had isolated myself. I recall a friend cracking wise about something I did, and immediately apologizing because he knew what my past reactions were. It helped me understand that my greatest sin was how I had treated others. I looked at them as inferiors, instead as fellow saints. I missed in Genesis 1, where Elohim said that all of mankind were made in His image, despite my evaluation of the level of their “Spiritual maturity.” Oh how I knew I had grieved the Father, and belittled the work of His Son, Yeshua, by my actions. It was time to change.
The next few years were filled with slow, but steady growth. I’m not sure if I was helped or hindered by the social changes that come with a transition to college. On one hand, it was an opportunity for a fresh start. On the other, it was change upon change that was hard to keep up with. A year into college I entered a relationship that I shouldn’t have. One that Elohim warned me I shouldn’t. But, I knew better. By the time that I had owned up to my mistake and broke it off, I hurt her very much. I regret my impetuousness and the cost on both her and me. However, it was then that the Father was ready to bring me to the next part of my life. I didn’t realize it, but in the next few months, I would find where the Father wanted me to be.
I was invited to a Passover Seder (meal) put on by a Messianic pastor and his wife. It was a life exchanging experience for me. I began to reevaluate some of the core ideas I had grown up with. Was the Law (Torah) done away with? Were we supposed to celebrate the seventh day Sabbath and the other feasts outlined in Leviticus? I had never asked these questions, and through searching them out I gained a new appreciation for where our faith originated. It was difficult for my family to accept that I was ceasing some of the traditions I had been raised with. No longer celebrating Christmas was difficult, especially for my mother. In my haste and zeal for my new understanding, I again began to look down on those who didn’t hold the same ideas of Scripture. I was young in my understanding, and tried to explain theological ideas that I didn’t yet fully understand, or know where I stood. I did more harm to my beliefs than helped in those years.
I was a part of that community for 15 years. I met my wife there, and we had a son. It was very difficult when we had to leave. I had begun to realize, that while I agreed with the core ideas of the community, there had been a move away from Christianity. There was gossip, control, and expectations of obedience and behavior above what Scripture required. They did not believe in the New Testament as Scripture, and were listening to teachers who believed in a works based salvation. It had struck me that I had never talked to my son about salvation! They would not have characterized the changes in these terms, but I did not like what I had seen. There were some other conflicts, and during the attempt to resolve these I heard the Father instruct me to bring a message to the pastor expressing some of these concerns. Unfortunately they were denied and rejected. It was never my intention to leave. My family and I desired to stay, but we did not see a way when the message was not only not received, but denied. We made the difficult decision to leave.
While painful, we began to see immediately how we had begun to grow again in our faith. We had a renewed excitement, and were led to new teachers who reconnected us not with Torah, but with the Messiah. Over the years of focusing on Torah, He had been forgotten. Never completely, but Law had gained preeminence instead of Yeshua. We had seen many families leave, but we didn’t (at the time) understand why. We began to seek them out, and seek forgiveness for how we had treated them after they left. Through that restoration process it was clear that most were alone and without a believing family.
I don’t particularly like talking about those days. To say that they were difficult is a gross understatement. I share it here, not to drag anyone through the mud, but because it was a formative time in my life. It woke me up to the pride I myself had entered into again in the attempt to seek truth. I think that I understand how Peter felt when confronted by Paul about not eating with Gentiles. Peter, the one who had the dream about the animals, and was taken to Cornelius. The one who brought the message to the community at Jerusalem that the Gospel was for Gentiles as much as Jews. He had fallen back into old ways. So had I.
I regret the lost time from those years. But I am also grateful. I learned much about Torah and Scripture. I was challenged to grow in ways I hadn’t thought about. That Pastor and community are a great part of my spiritual formation, and I am grateful.
When we had left the congregation, Riley (the other founder of Kol Tikvah), had left with his wife at the same time. We both prayed about those the Father was bringing us into contact with, and their desire for a community. We felt strongly led to begin a new congregation, having learned from our past mistakes, that would not be disconnected from the Messiah, or His body. Needless to say, we are still learning. But when we question if we did the right thing, we are reminded immediately, of our own spiritual growth, and the growth of those we have been called to teach and lead.
A person’s education is not a measure of their worth, or ability to serve the Father. Unfortunately, however, in the Messianic community education has often been looked down upon and as a result people have been led into error because they haven’t understood history, or basic Biblical principles. My education isn’t profound, but I list it because I want you to know my background and what I am doing to improve my Biblical understanding.
- Graduated Cedarville University (2008).
- Majored in Comprehensive Communication
- Minored in Bible
- Continuing education at BiblicalTraining.org
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