This Relentless, Magnificent,Grace (Part II – Inclusive)

To the Jew first, and to the…….ah…….umm…..???

In 1991, my wife Sandy and I, along with our newborn daughter, Ruthe, moved to the Zion Faith Homes.  We may not have known exactly why we made this move, but Y’shua2 our teacher and Lord, is not aimless.  As ministerial interns we served in various capacities.  We were strongly encouraged in our personal seeking of the Lord. We were challenged to live in his kindness while living with other dear brothers and sisters in Messiah.   Early in 1994, while anticipating the birth of our second child, my mind and heart began to rumble in regards to my Jewish heritage, and the possibility of the birth of a son.  Unbeknown to me, though Sandy (and others) knew, there were some unresolved issues in my heart over something that had to do with Jews and Gentiles.

During a Faith Home worship meeting, I shared some words of “testimony”, regarding Joseph in Egypt, and my being a Jew in a non-Jewish setting. I shared something about not feeling or being at home while living in a non-Jewish setting.   I shared these things with a seemingly deeper level of emotion than I usually expressed while speaking.  Internally, I was thinking something like: “this must be pretty good stuff – I am deeply moved on the inside.”

The next day I was asked to come to a small meeting. That meeting included three Faith Home ministers.  It was expressed to me that there was something amiss in the words that I had shared the previous night.  It had something to do with my being a Jew among Gentiles, something about my belonging to the body of Messiah, regardless of the cultural mix.  My mind was defensive. I had felt deeply emotional about my statements and wanted to defend myself even attempting to use certain scriptures; yet, the unique combination of ministers along with a confirming dream, were not to be pushed aside.  I was learning that sometimes spiritual growth comes at the expense of our usual thinking, even heartfelt thinking. I was given one direct instruction – spend definite, consistent, worshipful, time in the Book of Galatians, and continue to spend time open in heart before this book.

After the meeting, sometime within forty-eight hours, I moved towards the instruction given to me and to devotional time with the Book of Galatians.  There was some willingness to yield to God rather than my own ideas.  I opened the Bible to Galatians and an amazing thing happened.  I became stuck on the first words of the book.  I am not talking about chapter one, verse one.  I am talking about the title:  The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians.  I looked at it, and I looked at it, and I looked at it: nine simple words, yet, potentially powerful words.   Did I believe them?   Did I really believe them?  I sat there, or kneeled there, stuck on the title.  Time went by.  I knew that truly believing the title meant believing all of the title.  The Epistle of Paul, a letter written by Paul – Paul who had been Saul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, trained as a Jew, a Pharisee, a rabbi, in every way zealous as a Jew, with a desire to follow God.  He was one who had persecuted the church out of his zeal.  He was the one who had been on the road to Damascus going to persecute Christians, and while on that road, Saul had a real life encounter with the resurrected Jesus.   The Apostle, this Saul/Paul had been transformed by Y’shua and had become a leading Apostle (One that is Sent – by God).  He had a right and a responsibility before God to communicate the gospel to Jews and Gentiles.  As a Pharisee of Pharisees, and Hebrew of Hebrews, transformed by Jesus Himself, Paul had the qualifications and the understanding to properly convey the liberty and freedom of the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.  He had the right to instruct me as a Jew in my walk with Y’shua, and in my relations as a Jew both to other Jews and to non-Jews.    To the Galatians, there had been a struggle over these issues in the church at Galatia and this was written to address this subject.   Did I believe this book was legitimate canon (divinely inspired scripture) as much as any other book of the Bible?  I knew that it was not for me to pick and choose what parts of the Bible to believe.  To believe the word of God meant to believe this book.  To believe this book meant to believe the significance of all of the title, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians.

I sat transfixed before the title and in a sense before the Lord.  Time went by.  I cannot tell how much, but it was not seconds.  It was minutes, maybe tens of minutes.  Slowly, I acknowledged to the master of the universe that I believed the title and all that it comprised. Yes, it was a letter written by Paul. Yes, Paul was Saul who was transformed by Y’shua. Yes, Paul was an Apostle, and had a right to speak into my life, even against my own thinking.  Yes, this book of Galatians was written to address Jewish/Gentile issues.  Yes, this book was inspired scripture as much as any other book of the Bible.  Yes, it was written for me, to instruct me and to teach me.

As I slowly continued through the book, my heart continued to open in new ways.  I began to appreciate the liberty and freedom, and the inclusiveness of the gospel (in a fuller way than ever before).  Gentiles were genuinely set free from sin, brought into the commonwealth of Israel by faith in Messiah.  Jews were set into a right relationship with Y’shua through His blood, just like Gentiles. The gospel was about freedom, about liberty and God’s incredible love through Messiah Jesus.  Two verses from Galatians that were to become favorites were  6:15 and 5:6, one a commentary on the other.  “For in Messiah Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.”   “For in Messiah Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.”  The new creature is not a matter of circumcision;, it is about a new creature which is faith working (in the heart of the believer) by love.  Hallelujah!!

As I continued to worshipfully approach this wonderful book, my heart continued to discover light where there had been darkness.  I had known that anti-Semitism was an awful evil, but I began to realize that anti-Semitism has a reverse image twin.  It is anti-Gentilism.  It had been there in my heart.  Maybe it had been hidden to me, but it had been there.  It had influenced my understanding of scripture.  It had influenced my attitude towards living in non-Jewish settings, and had influenced my own understanding of my Jewish background.  It had surely affected my walk with Y’shua.  Repenting from this spirit had become a key position before the Lord.  It is surely not an accident that the Lord opened the door for me to minister in Oshkosh WI for ten years.  Oshkosh is the most un-Jewish area that I have ever lived.  Now, I miss Oshkosh more than I could have ever realized.  Through this divine encounter with the Book of Galatians the master of the universe has been able to grow some of his incredible inclusive love and grace in this Jewish heart.   It is not an accident that this article has been  written as I prepare for my first trip to Israel.  May the Lord never allow me move away from the wonder and freedom of His word:  The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians.


Thank you Lord, for lovingly, and kindly, banging me over the head with the book of Galatians.   Continue to do so as needed.

This Relentless, Magnificent, Grace (Part III)

Recently I heard the following statement “God insists on grace.”  He insists that we treat others (even ourselves) with grace.  We ought to be living as grace creatures, as vessels of grace, as grace dispensers.  Why we emphasize anything else is quite amazing.  All that we possess (physically and spiritually) is because of His grace.  The opening of our understanding to that reality may be a life-long process.  I will be sharing some of my journey in the experiencing of this relentless, magnificent, grace.

There has been a deep valley in my life.  In nature, valleys usually start gradually, and end gradually. They do not often start or end with a cliff.  This has been true in my life.  There have been many aspects to the deep valley in my life, it did not start all at once, nor has it ended all at once.  As I look back over that valley, I can see at least three facets to the valley: physical, spiritual, emotional.   There has been difficult non-life-threatening, yet painful, and uncomfortable physical struggles, a terrible church/ denominational type split, and the emotional crater of my wife’s death along with single-parenting two young children.  Also included in that mix, has been the emotional friction with my natural family exacerbated by my faith, and my marrying a non-Jew.   It is a mix that I would not want to wish upon anyone. Incredibly, I find myself on the other side of the valley, not wanting to trade this experience for anything.  The simple reason for this: grace.   It was in the very depth and darkest part of the valley that I had the most needed and most valuable lesson in grace.

The second and third year after Sandy’s death were the hardest and darkest years of my life.  I was still spiritually worn by the church issues, emotionally beaten by my wife’s death, struggling to raise two young children, and feeling physically miserable.  My attitude was not pretty.  Much of the time, my attitude, my mumblings, did not look very “Christian” (or Messianic Jewish).  I cannot completely explain that atmosphere and attitude with words.  It was hard; my inside was just yucky.  One night, after a particularly hard day, wrought with physical pain, earthly responsibility, and “unchristian” like disposition, I reached my dead end. I was finished on this road of mine.  I had had enough.  I had had enough of trying to be a Christian, trying to be a pastor.  I was finished with being a Christian, really, honestly, forthrightly.   I expressed this to the Lord, and expressed it in many less-nice words.  I was not thinking; oh, I will feel differently in the morning; I will ask the Lord’s forgiveness in the morning.  I was throwing in the towel of my Christian life. I was hanging it up. I was finished with this Christian thing. It was in this state and disposition that I went to sleep.

I had come to a dead end.  My faith had brought me to a dead end. I mean that very sincerely, and without maliciousness.  It is not the end of the story though.

The next morning, early, before I was fully awake, in that half-way state between awake and asleep, something incredible happened.  No, I did not have a great vision.  No, a lightning bolt did not come down and fry me (like I deserved, and deserve every day of my life).  No, I was not instantly healed.  In that not fully conscious state, without any willful decision on my part, I was singing. I was singing a simple song over and over again.  I was singing: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”.   After singing it a number of times, “Jesus loves me this I know, the Bible tells me so”, I became conscious – awake, and flabbergasted.  I remembered the attitude and condition in which I had gone to sleep.  Since falling asleep, I had had no intention, no willful decision to repent, no remorse over my attitude, no change of heart. Yet, my spirit was singing, “Jesus loves me this I know…..”  As I considered this, I only had one explanation, Jesus was in my life to stay, and it was not dependent on me.  2 Timothy 2:13, “If we believe not, yet he abides faithful: he cannot deny himself”.  Philippians 1:6 says “that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”.  The Almighty was faithful, even if I was not.  My relationship to the Messiah was not dependent on my faith, it was dependent upon Him.  He was completely faithful, regardless of my whimpering, complaining, and even regardless of my giving up.  Wow!

This was a paramount turning point in my life.  That is not only in regards to my suffering and tsouris2.  It was in regards to my entire spiritual-life orientation.  Grace was really grace, a gift, something we do not make happen. It is free.  It is not dependent on us.  True Christianity is a relationship with Jesus.  Relationship means at least two beings.  The solidness of this relationship is built on the solidness of Messiah, not the maybe, sometimes, solidness or mushiness of our faith.  He had started something in my life; He was going to finish it, even if everything (including me) seemed contrary to that.  True faith is not faith in ourselves, or faith in our own faith.  It is faith in, and the faith of, the Faithful One.

This was so liberating. True grace is liberating.  No, everything did not go fantastically that day or that week.  Everything does not go fantastically now.  A change has happened though.  Jesus loves me.  I know Jesus loves me.  And it has nothing to do with anything that I do. I can live in that certainty all the time.  When I am doing well, and when I am doing terribly.  No spiritual activity on my part: positive, negative, or neutral, increases, maintains, or diminishes that love.  That love is always.  Oh that is basic scripture and basic theology, yet how many of us live as though we really believe it for ourselves.  How much of my life had I only stated it, yet not fully believed it.  “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye sees thee” (Job 42:5).  I had heard of grace, but now I had seen the wonder of Y’shua’s3 relentless grace in my own life.  I now turn away from my self-righteous, self-trying efforts to impress, convince, or help God to love me more.  I simply rest my life in the certain reality: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”. This relentless, magnificent, grace!!


(This article first appeared  in Smiling Maven Newsletter January 2006)



  1. I am sharing three major turning points in my experience with grace. They are being shared in reverse chronological order.
  2. Tsouris (Yiddish)—Trouble.
  3. Y’shua – ישוע (Hebrew) Jesus

Why the “Smiling Maven”?

‘Maven: a person who has special knowledge or experience; expert {Yiddish meyvn < Hebrew מבין }’3   ‘An expert or connoisseur; someone with profound knowledge of a subject.’4 A maven is someone that you go to with a question (on a particular subject) in the expectation that he will have an answer.  In practice a maven is often well-versed in a number of subjects.   To consider oneself as a maven may be an indicator of pride.  I have some experience and expertise in a number of areas, a jack of all trades and master (or maven) of none.   Yet there is one thing that I am increasingly convinced to excel in.   It is an area that I believe the Lord wants me to become a maven.  That subject or topic is grace.

The Apostle Paul told Timothy “Be strong in the grace that is in Messiah Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).  There are many good definitions of grace, of God’s grace.  Here is one that I believe is an excellent working definition: the smiling face of God’s favor.  When God chose to send His son, the Messiah Jesus, to die for fallen humanity – He was not frowning upon us, he was smiling upon us.

There is a connection between grace in our lives and our capacity to smile. I don’t claim to smile enough.  I am not sure that I could consider myself an expert on grace.  Yet, I have experienced that the Lord is gracious.  He has smiled upon me.  In my darkest, my most unfaithful, my most run awayish, rebellious, complaining attitude, Jesus has been gracious to me.  By his graciousness to me, I can see God’s desire for this Jewish boy from New York to become a smiling expert on God incredible grace; To be a smiling maven for the true smiling maven (master) of the universe.

Why the Maven

(This article first appeared  in the first Smiling Maven Newsletter November 2005)

  1. American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company 1985)