2020 Men’s Retreat

We did it!!!   At least 18 years in a row: we hiked around Devil’s Lake in Baraboo Wisconsin.  We stayed at Expeditions Unlimited, a Christian retreat center.   We were their first group since the Shelter-In orders.  The staff was glad for their season to start.  I do not want to say too much about the retreat.  I would like some of the other guys  to share their comments first.  Please share comments at the bottom of this page!

I have sent each man an email with a link to share retreat photos.  I will update this page with those photos as soon as possible.

Here are a few other helpful links.

Wild at Heart Audio Book

Purchase Wild at Heart Book

Email to Sanctuary March 20, 2020


March 20, 2020

Dear Sanctuary Messianic Community of Faith,

Shalom in the magnificent name of Messiah Y’shua.

We are clearly living in challenging times. They are also exciting times; we have this opportunity to live as lights in a dark time.  One of the things that has been a reflective point this week; fear begets fear, faith begets faith.  We want to be ones that beget faith and not fear.  We have made the decision to continue our regular Shabbat services.  Our decision and explanation are posted here:   https://sanctuarymessianic.org/about/rebbes-current-corner/

We are a small yet precious band of brothers in Messiah Jesus.  Even if only a handful meet tomorrow; we are confident that even the smallest gathering of believers will be a blessing.

Though we have been a bit slow in posting the audio for our messages, we have been updating the smilingmaven website and are attempting to bring it up to date.  We are also looking into possible ways to ministering through “remote” technology.  On this note: we are receptive to some volunteer help with these types of resources.

We encourage you to read the article on our decision to meet, pray about joining us, but know that you are loved, and appreciated whatever you decide about meeting tomorrow.

Blessings in the incomparable King,

Art and Deb Weiner

Sanctuary Messianic Congregation


Additional Note:  Art’s Message from last Saturday – Recognize false gods of 2020
Available here. https://smilingmavenministries.com/march-2020/

Sanctuary Messianic March 21, 2020

Sanctuary Messianic
Shabbat March 21, 2020

Ministerial leaders throughout our country have been pressed and concerned about the decision whether to continue meetings during this unique time in our nation. We have talked with others, prayed, considered various viewpoints, and sought the Holy Spirit’s help for our precious community of faith. Our decision is to continue our Shabbat services including Hebrew Honey this weekend. Below are some significant points to consider in this decision:

  • We do not view a congregation meeting as simply a social gathering. We are community public servants, Messiah’s public servants to others. Police, fire department, healthcare, etc., these continue in times of crisis. We believe that we are called to minister in times of crisis. Just like other public servants, who put themselves in potential harm’s way, especially during crisis, we recognize that we may be doing the same.
  •  We do not believe or want to convey that this is a better decision than those congregations that are choosing not to meet.
  • If anyone has a need to visit healthcare during this time; (even if it is not related to the coronavirus), that visit can place them in a social setting that can be more susceptible to the transmission of the coronavirus. Some people may make decisions to put off some healthcare for this reason. We understand that some may decide not to attend Shabbat services for this reason. We honor and respect that decision. We encourage all our Sanctuary Messianic community to respect these types of decisions. There is no judgment or criticism for anyone and the choices that they make during this season.
  • We believe that for those that are continuing to meet, it is important to communicate these types of decisions with other people with whom we may also have contact.
  • We ask anyone attending Shabbat services to take extra care with handwashing and general hygiene concerns.
  • Deb and I have prepared a personal ministry statement regarding this difficult time. https://smilingmavenministries.com/response-to-coronavirus/
  • If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.

In His grace,

Art and Deb Weiner
Sanctuary Messianic Congregation

Link to Congregational Email

Young Adults

November 18, 2018

Pondering a change to Saturday evening rather than Friday evening.   Also considering an evangelistic event for January.   Please let me know what you think.









September 18, 2018

Young Adults Unite!!!!
Or at least gather for fellowship.   smile1

Welcome to this brand-new page on the Smiling Maven website.  I encourage you to check out the rest of the site.

It was great to see the turnout for the cookout last month at Illinois Beach State Park.  The mosquitoes at the end of the evening were not much fun, but I guess they needed to eat as well.

We will be meeting at my house (1215 Carmel Blvd. Zion IL) this coming Friday evening (September 21) at 730 PM. This will be our first Young Adults gathering at the house since Deb and I traveled to Israel in May. We look forward to reconnecting in this way.

On our “agenda” for Friday evening: Deb and I may share a bit more about Israel. We would also like to discuss the possibility of a regular study for the Young Adult group. We have considered looking at Ragamuffin Gospel together. We have ordered a few extra copies of the book.  Hopefully they will arrive before Friday.  Of course, we will also have refreshments. We look forward to a grace-filled time of fellowship.

I encourage to share a comment below. As always, feel free to contact me any time.

Blessings in Messiah,


June Update

So, Nu, what’s happening

We had a complete, challenging, and enjoyable trip to Israel in May. We rented a car and travelled the land. We both sensed a connection with the country and the people. Not sure what that may mean for the future, but our hearts are looking to the lowly King for this and other aspects of our future.

Hyde Park and University of Chicago: Notice came during our trip in Israel. The Humanities Graduate program decided that it was not a good fit; they did not accept me for admission. It may be more related to my faith then my academics. The University does have a strong leaning towards both Islam and Judaism, and an apparent bias away from Christianity.

Employment: SMT Health Systems unexpectedly and radically altered the commission structure for sales reps in April. This basically cut our income in half. We knew change was coming, we knew that things might change as I considered going back to school. Yet this change, and other changes at SMT convinced Deb and I that this summer would be my last with SMT. Some further developments while we were in Israel helped us make this decision sooner than later. I submitted my resignation with SMT earlier this month. It is effective June 30th.

So nu, a lot has been happening. It is as though everything is “off the table” and we are open to whatever the Holy Spirit places on the table before us.

Walking into the Impossible

Okay, okay what has been happening in the life of the Smiling Maven, this one that needs to smile more and who is regularly banged over the head with God’s incredible, relentless, insistent, redeeming, grace.  Well, the journey has taken an interesting and exciting turn over the last year.    It has been somewhat unexpected, definitely challenging, and with a sense of an open season and some open territory.    It is probably a bit tough to share in one article or even in one newsletter.     It seems like there will be more to write and share as this journey continues.   So what is this journey?   What is this new season?   What is this new territory?    It has to do with one and a half square miles of the City of Chicago that is called Hyde Park, the unique multi-cultural community where the University of Chicago is located.    This journey has to do with both Hyde Park and the University Chicago; it has to do with, walking into the impossible.

In 1985 this Jewish young man came to Chicago as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.   That school year he became involved in ministry with Jews for Jesus, and met and began dating his soon to be wife Sandy.   During that time there was a tiny little spark that maybe someday he might be involved with the planting or establishing of a messianic work in the Hyde Park area.  However, entrance into ministry, marriage, and the pressures of school finances, nudged him away from continuing graduate school and connection to the Hyde Park community.   More than 30 years have gone by; Art has been widowed, remarried, children have grown to adulthood, and there have been years of various types of ministry as well as secular employment.   Yet, the inclination or desire to finish graduate school has never quite disappeared and that tiny little spark about ministry in Hyde Park had never completely vanished either.   These topics were never really part of Art’s regular conscious thinking or consideration; however, that was going to change in 2017.

Early in 2017, Art and his wife Deb visited with Foursquare Pastors Terry and Annette Cvengros.   Just as a matter of general curiosity Art asked a question about whether the Foursquare had any type of messianic ministry.  At the time Terry and Annette did not know if the Foursquare had any type of messianic ministry, but somehow the conversation shifted, and Annette shared that the Foursquare had a relatively strong burden to see some churches planted in Chicago.    Immediately, almost like a flash, Art remembered the long ago spark about starting a messianic ministry in Hyde Park.   At the time, he said nothing about this memory/flash.    However, sometime within a month, Art took a devotional day away from Zion IL.   He took the train into Chicago, transferred and took the Metra Electric to Hyde Park.    For the first time in over 30 years he walked the ground of Hyde Park and the University of Chicago.   That was the first of seven such trips devotional/prayer-walking trips to Hyde Park during 2017.

Hype Park is a multi-cultural community that is in some ways an oasis from the usual economic and social atmosphere of most Chicago neighborhoods.    It may be an oasis from some of the economic struggles of other areas, it may have less crime than other areas, but the spiritual atmosphere is very dry.    Here in Zion IL where the population is about 20,000 there are at least 20 evangelical congregations (where the Bible is held in regard as the Word of God).   That is one church per 2000 people.     In Hyde Park there are 90,000 people and at best there are 10 congregations that uphold the Bible as the Word of God.    That is one church per 9000 people.    That in many ways is discouraging, and even oppressive.    Yet, something inside this Jewish grace fanatic reminds me that the lowly King is attracted and drawn to the dark places, drawn to bring light and life where it is needed most.

During a trip in November 2017 Art had an appointment with some staff from the Humanities department.    The discussion was the possibility of Art returning to University of Chicago to work on a Master’s Degree in Hebrew and Greek.  So, nu, seven trips in 2017 and four already in 2018, a burgeoning burden for the Hyde Park community and a movement towards going back to school;  this has been an interesting journey.  That might be an understatement

At 56, considering returning to school while living in Zion (travel to Hyde Park takes over two hours), and still working in medical sales; this crazy Jewish guy is seriously looking at and continuing this journey and unique adventure with Hyde Park and University of Chicago.    The plan is to take the GRE (graduate exam) before April; apply to University of Chicago graduate school for entry fall 2018 (application deadline April 30).    Art would go to school part-time, traveling to Hyde Park probably two days a week.  Continue his work with SMT Health System, and continue to pray and see what doors open for additional ministry in Hyde Park.    Looking at this from various angles; time, academic challenge, finances, travel, spiritual climate etc., etc., it looks like: ‘ walking into the impossible”.    Thankfully, a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth said – “with God all things are possible.”

There is a lot more that can be said about this journey, but this seems like a good introduction to the New Mad Adventures of the Smiling Maven.  (The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob was a humorous French movie made in 1973)



Gems from Genesis

Gems from Genesis Lesson 1

Feb 4, 2017 Audio Download

Key Background concepts.

We restarted this study January 21st. There are a few key concepts or understandings (or un-understandings) that help us look at Genesis in a clearer light.

The scriptures do not tell us everything about everything. They do not tell us a complete scientific or historical account of all of creation. That is not their purpose. The Apostle John writes: these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that believing you might have life in His name. The scriptures, including Genesis 1-4, are written that we might believe in Jesus and that believing we might have life in His name. They are not written that we might know everything about everything.

The fall of man, Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 3, had a tremendous impact upon the human race. That is an understatement. The fall was a tragedy of tragedies. Part of that impact was an inverted or upside down understanding of the nature, character and purposes of God. Until one comes to Messiah, our understanding of God is in a sense “upside down”. Coming to faith in Jesus – having life in His name” our understanding is in sense again flipped upside down so it is right side up again. We can begin to see God as He is, not with an upside down understanding. That process though may take our entire earthly journey with Messiah. As we seek to understand God and His Word, we ought to be prepared for areas of our understanding to be inverted so that we see Him more properly. Understanding that our perspective may be flipped or inverted as we look at Genesis is a healthy prerequisite for this study.

The scriptures surely hint at a “before”. A “before” the beginning. Examples:

Titus 1:2
Revelation 15:8

The scriptures also tells us that Lucifer/Satan exalted Himself above God, and was cast down. This too may be part of the “before”, it is surely something that occurs before Adam and Eve respond to the serpent. Though Genesis 1 and 2 do not tells us directly about Satan’s fall we have scriptures such as Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel to give us some understanding of this tragedy.

This leads us to one last and crucial point; relevant to all of our view of scripture. As believers in Y’shua, ones who have life in His name, it is imperative, crucial, (and basically absurd if we do not) to view the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) in the light of the New Covenant (New Testament) scriptures. Jesus’ death on the cross is the supreme revelation of the nature and character of God given to man, and likely given to all of creation. In that light and revelation we have a much improved understanding in all things relating to God. The understanding of Messiah and His character and of the New Covenant gives us powerful commentary on Genesis. Messiah is relevant to Genesis 1:1, to Genesis 1:2, Genesis 1:3 and so on and on and on. So let’s live in that light, and look in that light as we study and look for gems in Genesis. Blessings!

The Last Ten Years and Heading East

The Last Five Ten Years and Heading East

In our September Newsletters there is a short article titled “The Last Five Years”.   The following provides some more background information and the unfolding nature of our lives and ministry.

As some of you might know I was raised on Long Island NY.   I attended and was Bar Mitzvahed at an Orthodox synagogue in 1974.  I came to faith in Y’shua (Jesus) as the Messiah in 1984; this was shortly after graduating from SUNY Albany.     In 1985 I moved to the Midwest and have lived in Illinois or Wisconsin for the majority of the last 30 years.   My faith in Messiah created a tremendous stir and fractured relationships within my family.   My dad and I have not seen each other face to face since 1986.   My last trip to Long Island was in 1989.

I have lived in the Midwest, Illinois and Wisconsin, since 1991.  During the years 1995-2005 I ministered at a small Pentecostal congregation in Oshkosh WI.   Central Wisconsin has little if any Jewish population.  Geographically this was the farthest away from the Jewish community that I had ever lived.    By His wonderful spirit and grace, my heart was at home in Oshkosh.    This Jewish boy from the New York City area was at home, content and happy in Oshkosh.   I would have been happy and content to spend the rest of my life in Wisconsin. The appreciation of God’s love for the whole human race, the spreading the gospel outside of the Jewish people is a wonderful and significant heart understanding, and often a bit challenging in the depth of some Jewish hearts.   The Holy Wind of God (the Holy Spirit) had needed to do a work in my heart in this area (see article).  Yet in 2004, something started to change, a nudge, a tug, in my heart; it was a nudge to move back to Zion IL and spend some time at the Zion Faith Homes.   There was a sense that this move, though only slightly east, was a move east, east as towards the Jewish people, east, as towards Jerusalem.

My children and I moved to Zion in the summer of 2005.  (My first wife, Sandy, died in 1999.)   In 2005 the Smiling Maven was born.   It was a bi-monthly newsletter focusing on the incredible grace of God from a Jewish perspective.    In 2006 and 2008 I made my first two trips to Israel, heading east, east as towards Jerusalem.   In 2010, I began dating Deb, and we were married in 2011.   Deb wonderfully and thoroughly identifies with this sense of heading east.   She likes to call the Jewish people her “peeps” (people).     Our marriage, blending of our families, and blending our ministry strengths led us to an unplanned, but highly blessed sabbatical from writing and speaking.

In 2014 this started to change.    We produced a Messianic Haggadah and were asked to do a number of Passover Seders.    In 2015 speaking opportunities and the number of Passover Seders increased.   I was asked to do both a Jewish funeral and a Messianic Jewish Wedding.   A bible series at Waukegan Full Gospel led to the writing of the booklet Inverting the Upside Down Image. (Available)   The publication of our newsletters has now been scheduled for the end of this summer – September 2015.

As for this summer – heading east has additional meaning.   In August we will be flying out to the west coast – Oregon.   Deb’s oldest son Eric and family are moving from Oregon to Wisconsin.   Eric has asked us to drive one of their two cars across the country to Wisconsin.   We will be taking some extra time visiting Yellowstone and other scenic spots as we head “east” toward the Midwest.   While in Oregon we will be visiting my brother Garry and his family.   His wife, Sheila, has a niece that will be celebrating her Bat Mitzvah.    The family has welcomed us and invited us to attend the celebration.     This is the first Jewish celebration that family has warmly invited me to attend in over 20 years.   We are thankful and looking forward to this time.

After traveling east through the Rocky Mountain and the numerous beautiful sights of the Western United States, we will return to Zion IL for one week.   The first week of September we will leave Zion and head east again – this time towards Philadelphia; I have been asked to officiate at a second messianic wedding celebration.    Instead of flying we have decided to take our camper and spend some time in the Philadelphia area and then spend some time on Long Island.   Though just for a short visit we will be heading east together, east as towards the Jewish people. The New York/Long Island area is the largest concentrated Jewish population outside of Israel.  When believers pray for Israel, I often wonder if they realize how many Jewish people are still in the United States and how many of them are in the New York/Long Island area.   Long Island is rather affluent, secular, and humanistic.   In many ways it is completely unattractive to this Jewish believer in Jesus.   However this September, Deb and I will be making our first trip to Long Island assailboat4 a couple, and my first trip since 1989.

We sense that we are being propelled this summer by the Holy Wind of God*   His Wind is blowing and we are caught in that Wind.    We are surprised by the timing and circumstances and celebrations that have brought these travels together.   We ask for your prayers and support as His Wind blows us across the United States and as we find ourselves among God’s “peeps”, the Jewish people.

רוח הקדש*   Ruach HaChodesh.   This is often translated Holy Spirit, but in Hebrew the word Ruach is most often translated “wind”.

The Spiritual Atomic Bomb

In August 1945 two atomic bombs were dropped on Japanese cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The destructive force was unlike anything ever seen before. The explosions caused death and injury to people and destroyed buildings, created high winds that added to the tremendous damage, intense heat and fire, and later the horrible effects of radiation poisoning. Though ethical questions regarding the use of the atom bombs lingered, these bombings surely brought the war to a quicker end – and saved the lives of thousands of American soldiers that would have been involved in an all-out invasion of the Japanese mainland. The end of the war brought thousands of soldiers back to their homes and families, allowed businesses and factories to return to civilian use, and ushered in a period of population growth, economic health, technology expansion etc. etc. An incredible power, unknown and unseen prior to 1945, had hastened the end of World War II – the worst military conflict the world had even seen.

For those of us who understand something about the terrible spiritual conflict that the world has known since the days of Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis 3, there is hope and expectation of that spiritual conflict ending soon. In an apparent parallel to World War II, there is coming a tremendous spiritual explosive force (never seen before) that will hasten the end of this terrible spiritual conflict.

The coming spiritual explosion is related to national repentance. Though the world has seen the effect of regional waves of repentance/revival etc, the world has never seen, nor experienced, the explosive effect of clear, corporate, national repentance. National repentance is when an entire nation experiences a move of God. That type of national repentance will have an impact beyond anything yet experienced. The coming spiritual atomic bomb of national repentance is soon to explode in the tiny nation land of Israel. Predictions of an atomic bomb before 1945 were either non-existent or summarily dismissed. Yet, it came anyway. National repentance for the nation and people of Israel seems incredibly unlikely, and many might dismiss it – but it is coming anyway. As surely as God promises, as surely as the certainty of His Word – a national repentance in the people and nation of Israel is coming and is coming soon!!

Zechariah 12 tells us, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” Verses 11 to 14 tell us that a tremendous mourning through the land of Israel will occur. Chapter 13 then opens with “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness”. This is a tremendous turning – repentance. It is in the light and understanding of the Holy One of Israel, the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, of Isaiah 53.

In the last 100 years there has been a definite increase in the number of Jewish people coming to believe in Y’shua – but that has been limited to essentially one or two Jewish people at a time. Zechariah prophesied of this turning this repentance coming on a national scale.

Both Ezekiel 36 and Ezekiel 37 talk about this great change in the nation and people of Israel. Ezekiel 36 gives us a unique order of events concerning Israel. The prophet talks about the scattering of the Jewish people all over the IsraelIsrael Flagworld. Then God (for His own name sake) gathers the Jewish people from those nations where He has scattered them and brings them back to the Land of Israel. Then He begins to work on their heart and their spirit. He cleanses them and gives them a new heart. He blesses the land and their produce. Then in the light of that goodness and blessing, Israel as a nation remembers it own ungodly ways, and turns in repentance. Israel then begins to be a powerful witness of God’s goodness to all that are around them.

Jeremiah 33 and Romans 11 give us a foretaste of the incredible nature of this coming national repentance. Jeremiah 33:9 “And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honor before all the nations of the earth, whichshall hear all the good that I do unto them: and they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and for all the prosperity that I procure unto it.” The Apostle Paul in Romans 11:15 states: “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” This national repentance is a goodness that causes trembling, and is as amazing as bringing life from the dead. That tells us something about the impact and nature of this great event coming to Israel.

Unfortunately many people struggle with God’s word and His promises. Sometimes it is a struggle believing that God is really as good as His word tells us. Israel surely does not deserve great blessing in this way, but really none of us do. Yet, God has promised to demonstrate the incredibleness of His mercy and kindness through the national repentance He pours out upon Israel in these coming days. And through that – He will bless many others also. Paul made that clear both through His writings, and through His life.

Paul was one Jewish man with a life-changing encounter with Messiah Y’shua. There was a tremendous and wonderful change in Paul’s own life – that change also brought much blessing to many others. Paul’s preaching, ministry, and His Epistles in the New Covenant scriptures have helped to communicate the wonder of God’s love to countless people. Though burdened for the Jewish people and their reconciliation with Messiah, Paul’s ministry and life blessed many more Gentiles than Jews. Repentance in the light of Messiah enabled this blessing through one Jewish man’s life. One Jewish man changed by Messiah brought great blessing to many people. An entire nation of Jewish people repenting in the light of Messiah will be multitudes of Jewish people changed and becoming great blessings to others. Paul’s one life affected and blessed so many people, especially outside of Israel. What will it be like when there are multitudes of Jewish people, leaders, rabbi’s etc. coming to faith in the Messiah. So many Jewish people will be radically changed by Messiah. There will be many Jewish people becoming great blessings to the world in a manner similar to that of the Apostle Paul. In a sense it will be like multitudes and multitudes of Apostle Pauls. This will be a spiritual atomic bomb of God’s incredible and magnificent grace. This writer likes to say “it is not be business as usual” and “we ain’t seen nothing yet! Glory to God in the Highest!

This Relentless, Magnificent, Grace (Part I)

In this issue we complete a three-part series on “This Relentless Magnificent Grace”.

The articles have been given in reverse chronological order.  This article shares how the author first came to believe in Jesus.

I did not want to believe in Jesus.  It was never my intention to end up believing in Jesus.   To this day, I often ponder the simple reality that somehow, for some reason, my heart has opened to the scriptures, and to the message and salvation of the simple carpenter from Nazareth.

1974 was the year of my bar-mitzvah. I was quite zealous at this time.  Normally, a bar-mitzvah boy chants the Haftarah portion, and maybe shares a short speech.  I did these two barmitzthings, but also led the Musaf service, which is the second half of the Shabbat service.  After my bar-mitzvah, I continued to attend services on a regular basis.  The Shabbat service is full of form and ritual.  There are sections (such as the torah reading) where side conversations are not unacceptable.  Often at these times, I would think and ponder about God.  I realized that our forefathers such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, David, Daniel, etc., walked closely with God.   They had a personal connection with God.  God was important to them.  As I reflected on the ritual and form of the synagogue, I realized that there could be a difference between going through the religious motions; and genuinely believing in, and wanting to follow God.

In High School, I fell out of the pattern of attending Shabbat services regularly. I was a rather typical, secular-minded, student; spiritual thought, synagogue etc. all took a back seat.  In 1980, I started my first year of college.  I had a non-Jewish friend named Bob.  He was not a “born-again” Christian, nor did he express anything like that.  One night he invited me to go bowling with some friends of his.  I did not know them, but he thought that I would like them. They turned out to be “Christians.”  They had a small Bible reading and devotional before we left.  I felt like a fish out of water.  On the way to the bowling alley, one of these “Christians” (to me, he was like a ring leader) asked me; “so Art, what do you think about Jesus?”  I put up my hands like a stop sign and said, “I’m Jewish”. I was hoping that answer would end the conversation.  It did not.  He said, “okay, you are Jewish, but you did not answer my question: what do you believe about Jesus?” I answered something like, “maybe he was a good teacher or a prophet, but I do not believe He is the son of God.”  The conversation did not go much further, but I began to realize that these “Christians” were different.  They had a peace, a confidence, and a love that was different.  I also began to recognize that, for them, the issue of Jesus was not a matter of religious affiliation; it was a matter of historical and spiritual reality.  Either He was the Son of God or not.  Either He was alive, or He was not.  My belief or unbelief did not change that reality.  Yet, there was no desire to affiliate with them, no desire to ask questions, not the slightest thought or imagination that someday I might believe what they believe.

Throughout my college years, my life seemed to be salted and peppered with more of these “Christians.”  Their convictions, and confidence in Jesus, did not make me want to jump on their bandwagon.   Yet, their conviction about a knowable God did impress me.  Going to church, or reading the New Testament did not attract me.  So, I did what it seems a lot of Jewish people do when confronted with the gospel: I began searching for God and truth, in non-western, non-Judeo-Christian sources.  I read about Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Confucius’ writings, and even some of the Koran.  Each time, I read some literature, I tried to go as close to the source as possible.  I did not want to read someone else’s comments about Buddhism or Taoism, etc.  I wanted to read English translations based on original writings.  I read them with an open heart, genuinely wanting to connect with God, or a life force or whatever was really out there.   I did believe that if God was God, and that if He was knowable, and if He wanted to be known, He would be able, and wanting, to show me what was true.   I also knew that if I was genuinely open to various sources, I would also need to be open to reading the Bible, probably Old and New Testament.

Though the Christians kept saying that the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures) prophesied about Jesus, I never asked them to show me these passages.  I was not interested in their “slanted” view of scripture.  Though I doubted that Jesus was part of the message of the Hebrew Scriptures, I would be open to Jesus if the scriptures themselves indicated this without pressure or interpretation from someone else.   I did not want my mind “twisted” by the Christians’ “pre-conceived” notions about Jesus.  I also knew that if I went to a rabbi, he would have the opposite “pre-conceived” notion about Jesus, and might interpret scripture in a way to argue against Jesus.   I knew that I should eventually read the Bible, but I was not excited about dealing with this issue.  Then, an interesting conversation happened.

It was the spring of 1983.  I was at my parent’s home during a break from school. I was sitting around our kitchen table with my maternal grandfather.  He was not academically well educated, but wise in years, wise in common sense, and having a sincere heart toward spiritual things.   I told him about my “spiritual searching,” how I was reading Eastern Philosophy and such.   In my pride; I thought it was quite impressive.  I am not so sure he was impressed.  In all my life, I never remember him giving me direct advice, except this time.  He was a quiet man, and not quick to voice his opinion or give advice.  He looked at me and said very directly and earnestly, “Arthur, you know what you should do: you should read the Bible, the Old Testament, and the New Testament”. His giving direct advice in this manner was alone surprising; the reading the Bible was not that amazing; but his advice about reading the New Testament was a real stunner.  I asked him about it.  It turned out that he had read the New Testament, and he believed it was a good book, maybe even scripture.  He believed that Jesus was a prophet, a good teacher, and his teachings were very good.  His positive view toward the New Testament and toward Jesus seemed quite unusual.

Although I was thinking that I would eventually read the Bible, his advice encouraged me, and gave me a greater openness toward the New Testament and toward Jesus.  It was not long after this conversation that I began reading the Hebrew Scriptures. I had been given a copy of the scriptures (translated to English) at my bar mitzvah.  My desire or goal as I read the scriptures was to allow God to lead me and guide me, to show me what He wanted to show me.  As I read cover to cover from Genesis to 2Chronicles (the traditional order of the Hebrew Scriptures), there were two things that especially impressed my heart.  The first thing was something about the Jewish people. Yes, the nation of Israel was called and chosen by God.  Yes, God wrought wonderful miracles amongst our people.  Yet, as the scriptures indicated, despite God’s calling, and working amongst us, we were spiritually stiff-necked and stubborn.  It was very easy for us to walk contrary to God, rather than with Him.  This was the case from Jacob through the prophets.  It was not unusual for the majority of Israel, to be cold to the genuine message of God Himself.  God’s care, and love, and purpose for Israel remained solid; yet, our receptivity to God was often an issue. It was conceivable that this pattern could have continued beyond the Biblical period, and even to our present age.

The second thing that impressed me was the existence of prophetic passages that sounded something like the Jesus that the Christians believed in.  At the time, I knew nothing about quoting chapter and verse in the scripture, but I did keep track of these passages by underlining them and writing down their page numbers in the over-leaf of the Bible.  Though no Christian had shown them to me, these are some of the passages that I listed by page number in a column titled “pro-Jesus”: Deuteronomy 18:15, Isaiah 9:1-6, Isaiah 11:10, Isaiah 42, Isaiah 53, Proverbs 30:1-4.   These references were all significant messianic passages.

After reading the Hebrew Scriptures, I knew that I would read the New Testament.  At this time, I was in my last year of college. I was an English minor, reading a lot of classic literature conceived and written by excellent human authors.  In my heart, I knew that the Hebrew Scriptures were not the same.  There was a different quality to them.  They were not written and conceived by human authors, even the best of human authors.   As I began reading the gospels, my heart knew that this too was like the Hebrew Scriptures.  Men had not conceived or contrived this account of Jesus.  His words were not man’s words.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, I had been given a taste of the character of God.  He was the Maker of heaven and earth.  He was “I am who I am” that appeared to Moses at the burning bush.  He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.   As I read the words of Jesus, my heart saw and sensed the same Eternal One.   I was still not excited about following this Jesus who seemed so contrary to Jewish thinking, but I also knew that He was who He claimed to be: The Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  My heart yielded, I began to ask Him into my life, to be my direction, and my savior. This was the spring of 1984.

bicyclingThroughout my college years I had become a bicycling enthusiast.  I would take longer and longer trips, often traveling 35-70 miles in a day.  In the spring and the summer of 1984, I took my first over-night bicycle trips, often camping in a small tent. In the late summer of 1984 I embarked on a solo bicycle trip from Bar Harbor, Maine to Miami Florida.  Each morning and evening I would spend time reading a small pocket Bible (including Old and New Testaments).  My understanding and faith continued to grow.  This was away from  church influence, away from Christian influence.   As I traveled and camped,  I just kept praying and reading the Bible.  It was also during this trip, while bicycling, I experienced what is called the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

After completing the trip, I decided to spend a year in Florida.  In Florida, I first met other Jewish people who believed in Jesus or Y’shua. I began to worship and fellowship with them regularly.  I continued to grow in my faith, and began to see that many of the things that I had learned from my own time before the scriptures were things commonly believed by others who genuinely believe in Jesus.   Though my faith in Jesus was to cause tremendous tsouris in my family, and has been a source of rejection from other Jewish people, “I Know in Whom I have believed” (2Tim. 1:12).  It was never my intention to become a follower of Jesus.  Yet, I cannot say that the sky is not blue.  I cannot say that the sun revolves around the earth.  I cannot say that there is no gravity on the earth.  Similarly, I cannot say that Jesus is not the Messiah.  I cannot say that He is not the one He claimed to be.  I cannot say He is not resurrected from the dead.  As Peter and John said before the Jewish leaders: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, you judge.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).  My heart has seen and heard that message: “Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father except through Him” (John 14:6).

(This article first appeared in the first Smiling Maven Newsletter November 2006)