Boldness Series #5: What Is This Boldness?

In preparation for the Jewish festival of Shavuot (English: Weeks; aka Pentecost), which begins this year the evening of Saturday, June 11, we have been focusing on the topic of boldness. For Yeshua’s followers, boldness is a key theme arising from the fulfillment of the promise given through the Hebrew prophet Joel:

And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions (Joel 2:28; Hebrew Bible: 3:1).

What Joel prophesied came to pass in Jerusalem many centuries later during Shavuot about a week after the resurrected Yeshua’s ascension to God’s right hand in heaven. Yeshua had mandated his disciples to bear witness to his resurrection. But first, they needed to wait for the promised Ruach HaKodesh (English: the Holy Spirit). Why wait? Didn’t they have all the information they needed to inform others of what they had seen? Did they need further convincing that Yeshua had risen or that he was the Messiah, the Son of God? No, they didn’t, but they were missing something that only the Spirit could give them: boldness.

Earlier this week, my wife, Robin, wrote an excellent piece entitled, The Emperor Has No Clothes, whereby she reminded us of the need to speak the truth in spite of public perceptions and preferences. In this famous fable, it took an innocent child to shame popular opinion by speaking the obvious when everyone else had succumbed to peer pressure. While the boy is a great encouragement to us all, he was naïve in relation to the implications of standing alone. He didn’t seem to be aware of the possible consequences to himself and possibly his family for his actions.

Yeshua’s followers, on the other hand, were going to find themselves in real danger for speaking the truth. Not being children, they were fully aware of the implications for testifying to Yeshua’s resurrection. We could talk about the need for child-like faith (see Matthew 18:1-4), but I don’t think this is what Yeshua is teaching about here. Speaking what’s true in the face of great danger doesn’t demand childlikeness, but a supernaturally inspired certainty, clarity, and courage that comes only from God.

That is the boldness we are talking about. That’s why after the very first time two of Yeshua’s followers were threatened by the authorities, they prayed like this:

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:29-30)

They asked for boldness because they knew that their detractors’ chief tool was intimidation. They knew they had a message to share and must not buckle under pressure. But they didn’t simply acknowledge their need for boldness and psych themselves up. They knew that the boldness they needed was something only God could give. So they asked him for it. Even though they had recently received an outpouring of the Spirit, they asked him. They asked; he answered:

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31; emphasis mine).

This is the boldness we need. Yeshua’s followers today share in the great privilege of continuing the witness of the early believers. Like them, we are called to do so amidst ever increasing hostility and intimidation. If they needed to ask for boldness, how much more we? So let’s ask, and be ready to receive it.

Boldness Series #4: Let the Prophets Speak!

Updated version of a TorahBytes message from December 8, 2001

For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy? (Amos 3:7-8; ESV)

One of the more popular misconceptions about God is that he is mysterious, distant, and unknowable. Many people describe themselves as agnostics, expressing their hesitancy to make up their mind over whether or not God exists. Even those who believe in some sort of God, have little idea as to his nature. Some religions base themselves on the concept of a mysterious, distant God. For them if God can be known at all, he is only known by very few: some sort of isolated priesthood, who carefully guard their divine insights.

But this is not the God of the Bible. The God of Israel has revealed himself. He has no pleasure in keeping himself hidden from his beloved creatures. In fact, the raison d’être of Torah is God’s making himself known.

One of the ways God has revealed himself is through people called prophets. A prophet is a person who is God’s mouthpiece, speaking to others what God reveals to him or her. The prophets of the Bible come from a wide variety of backgrounds and diverse personalities. While most of the time they didn’t have official status, their prophetic calling was often recognized by the both government and people.

True prophets were those that heard from God and then spoke what they heard to the people. They didn’t usually receive God’s word via dictation, but rather they would sense a burden upon their hearts which they would relate to the people in various ways, most of the time verbally.

The prophet Amos proclaims an interesting thing about God and his desire to make himself known, when he says, “For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7). God does not keep his plans to himself. Far from it! He doesn’t do anything without revealing his plans to the prophets.

We live in confusing times. Death and destruction fill the news. Does anyone know what is going on? According to Amos, yes—the prophets do! God is revealing his plans to people whom he has appointed to proclaim his word. God is revealing his plans to his prophets.

Many people who believe the Bible claim there are no true prophets today, but I do not believe there is a biblical case against their existence. If anything the gift of the Ruach Hakodesh (English: the Holy Spirit) poured out upon the believers on Shavuot (the Day of Pentecost – Act 2) demands otherwise.

I suggest we are not aware of the existence of God’s prophets today for one of two reasons. Either they are not speaking, or we are not listening. Or I imagine it could be both.

Boldness Series #3: Loving People Is Not Always Personal

Last week one of my adult sons forwarded to me and several others an excellent blog post by Tim Challies, entitled The Transgender Conversation You Need to Have With Your Family”. Challies reports the recent experience of a female friend who underwent a pat-down at airport security. Having requested someone of the same sex to perform the procedure she was surprised when it was apparent that the security personnel was obviously a biological male. The purpose of Challies’s article was to encourage parents to prepare their children for the realities they may be required to face in our quickly changing culture. Whatever your opinion is on pat-downs and/or transgenderism, the point is nonetheless well taken. But what struck me more than the pat-down story itself was the reference from more than one person on my son’s email exchange to the need to love the transgendered security person, in spite of our convictions on contemporary gender issues.

Yesterday I shared how disagreeing with someone doesn’t mean we automatically hate them. In fact, genuine love may demand disagreement, criticism, and even confrontation. While that discussion is relevant here, I want to bring out something else that is undermining the need to boldly speak God’s truth into today’s culture.

Love isn’t always about individuals. What happened to the friend in the above story is less about the role of the security person and more about the system that placed the friend into that undesirable situation. Yet the friend may feel they cannot express their displeasure because they may be regarded as being unloving. Even as readers of the incident, we think we need to assure ourselves and everyone else that we love the security person.

But why is love of the individual a concern here? We need to learn to separate issues from individuals. I understand why the security person would take my concern about this incident personally, but that’s a smokescreen to prevent us from dealing with the issue. Airport security policy like any other social policy is in place to ensure the public good. What undermines that isn’t our lack of love, but individuals insisting that the society must cater to their personal preferences. Genuine love includes being able to address issues like this without fearing the accusation of being unloving. I can express my concern over bad policy without intending ill to the individuals involved.

Being overly wrapped up in personal concern is not always appropriate. Certainly when dealing with social issues we should take the individuals involved into account, but getting too personal can distract us from providing the best solutions for everyone and prevent us from clearly and confidently saying what needs to be said.

Boldness Series #2: Disagreement Isn’t Hate

There are forces at work today seeking to undermine the kind of boldness that God wants us to have when presenting biblical truth. One of these is the accusation that to disagree with someone is to hate them. This stems from the misguided use of Yeshua’s words, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).

To judge in this context is to take God’s place in other people’s lives by determining who is acceptable to him and who is not. While followers of Yeshua are authorized to proclaim forgiveness and salvation in his name, we have no right to determine who is condemned. We don’t know people’s hearts. While we all are in desperate need of being rescued by God through the Messiah, people’s final outcome is in God’s hands, not ours. Arrogantly standing over people with a condescending attitude puts ourselves in a very precarious situation before God. We shouldn’t be surprised when lack of mercy on our part is reciprocated by God, the only true Judge.

But this warning doesn’t prohibit all forms of criticism or disagreement. A disagreement can lead to judging, but having an opinion about something that differs from another person, even to vocalize that opinion isn’t judging of the kind that Yeshua warned against.

And yet to express one’s disapproval of someone else’s actions today is being taken more and more as not only judging but as hatred. Of course, some people expressing disapproval may indeed hate the object of their criticism, but that’s not automatically the case.

To accuse someone who doesn’t accept certain behaviors or opinions of hatred is to overly associate oneself with ones’ own behaviors and opinions. When disagreement is taken to imply personal rejection in terms of “You hate me!”, it plays upon the sympathies of many Yeshua followers, whose hearts are geared to love and not hate. It is easy for the tender-hearted to become confused, thinking that in order to assure others of our love, we need to accept their behavior or at least keep our disagreement to ourselves.

Could you imagine if health practitioners did this? Someone comes with an ailment of some kind and the cause is obvious to the therapist. Effectively treating the patient necessitates confronting self-abusive behavior, but so as not be taken as a hater, they keep their opinion to themselves. But isn’t that what real hate is?

Loving people is telling them the truth and to tell it to them clearly. I know there are so many ways to deliver truth in unhelpful ways. That’s why the New Covenant Scriptures teach us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Let’s not be intimidated by false accusations of hatred; instead let’s begin to boldly (and lovingly) speak the truth others so desperately need to hear.

Boldness Series #1: Seeker Sensitive or God Sensitive?

Some time ago there emerged a concept designed to attract more people to church services. Normally termed “seeker sensitive,” it attempted to make worship services more attractive to people who were open to biblical spirituality, but might be turned off by their past experiences and/or current impressions of church. The theory was (and is) by making the music more contemporary sounding and engaging; providing family-oriented programs, especially child care; and gearing sermons to the uninitiated, including integrating movie clips and other entertaining elements, would draw far greater numbers of people who would otherwise be turned off.

Those critical of such an approach tend to be concerned about what they perceive to be a disregard for the essential substance of biblical teaching. Does not sensitive-seeker packaging demand a watering down of content? And why cater to seekers anyway? Won’t genuine seekers be attracted to the Gospel regardless of how palatable we try to make it?

Isn’t it more important to be God sensitive rather than seeker sensitive? After all, how seeker sensitive was Peter on that special Shavuot (Day of Pentecost) in Acts, chapter two?

But is it really an issue of one or the other? Does not the effective preaching of the Gospel, while certainly being God-centered, exhibit profound sensitivity to the hearers? The criticism of the seeker sensitive approach may be justified, but I wonder if these critics are willing to accept that in the name of being God sensitive, they may be profoundly people insensitive. Certainly we should never water down the message with which we have been entrusted, but do we really have to be boring and uninteresting in order to demonstrate our faithfulness to God? It’s one thing to attempt to fabricate engaging environments in order to increase attendance, but is not the Creator God worthy of being represented in an interesting and engaging way? And if Yeshua went out of his way to become like us in order to reach out to us, should we not do what we can to make his message of repentance and love as understandable to others as possible?

On the other hand, if we think we need to water down the Gospel to attract people, then we don’t really understand it or the actual needs of the people we claim to be sensitive to. Real seeker sensitivity demands we be God sensitive first. For when we are, then we will begin to possess the kind of God-inspired people sensitivity we (and they) need.