They Thought For Themselves, Chapter 11

Hearing the Voice of God
by Lonnie Lane



LonnieBevel2.jpgThe speakers on the plane crackled followed by an announcement I had waited to hear most of my life, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to Israel!” As we pressed toward the lush green land from the sky, my eyes could not take in enough of what I was seeing. The lump in my throat kept me from singing Havenu Shalom Alechem with the rest of my synagogue friends. We had come together on a trip led by our rabbi and his Israeli wife. But this was not just a trip for me. This was coming home.

As a young girl growing up in Philadelphia I spent every Erev Shabbat (Friday evening, when the Sabbath begins) at my grandparents’ home along with my mom’s four sisters and their families. When sundown came I loved to stand by my grandmother as she lit her Shabbat candles while whispering in Yiddish, awed that she knew God well enough to talk with Him, never doubting that He was listening.  The high point of each week was enjoying those Shabbat dinners with my family. Being at my grandmother’s was my favorite place in the world. Many times, I slept over so I spent the Sabbath (Saturday) doing what did not include things such as writing or lighting matches or turning on lights. I was, however, allowed to play cards with one of the kids on the block, but since I wasn’t allowed to write, he always kept score. Somehow he always won.

My grandmother was a committed member of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, even before Israel was a State, saving her coins in a little blue metal bank with Hebrew lettering on it, to help plant trees in Israel. My mother subsequently was involved in the formation of a Hadassah chapter in Philadelphia and I had been part of a Young Judea group which Hadassah sponsored for 12-18 year olds to teach them about Israel. I learned to love Israel then, fascinated by the restoration of my people after 1,800 years to the land of our forefathers. I delighted in learning the same Hebrew songs and dances that children in Israel were singing and dancing on Kibbutzim in Israel. It was all so wonderfully adventurous and exciting to me.

Then, there is my father’s side of the family. While Dad was not particularly religious, being a Jew on the other hand was paramount. His grandfather was an orthodox rabbi and as far back as he knew there had been orthodox rabbis in the family in every generation in Russia, the birthland of all four of my grandparents.  Dad’s family had carried the knowledge throughout their generations that they were of the tribe of Levi so, being Levites, it was not unusual that there were so many rabbis. Levites served as the worship leaders, teachers  and artisans for Moses’ tabernacle and then later, the Temple, so it is not surprising that within our family there were accomplished musicians and artists, both painters and sculptors. My own grandfather was a sign letterer, a much relied upon skill in the immigrant Jewish community in Philadelphia in the days when hand-lettered signs were the only signs available. I recall his beautiful script, edged in gold leaf, masterpieces each one. He may have been a sign letterer but he was in fact a scribe, just like many of his Levite forefathers.

Dad himself was a fine arts painter as well as a pianist and a cellist. In my own generation, while none were rabbis, almost every one of us to the third cousin level is a teacher, writer, artist and/or musician. The Bible says that God’s callings remain, even through the generations. Evidently that’s true as well with regard to being Levites. Dad’s mother’s elder sister Vera was one of the first nurses to go to Israel to serve in what became the Hadassah Medical Center and I still cherish a photograph of her taken in the late thirties in an operating room somewhere in Jerusalem. Zionism was in my family and in my heart.

In time, I married and had three extraordinary children — at least I was sure they were. We lived in a lovely two-hundred-year-old farmhouse on eleven acres, all of which seemed to me to be a perfect setting for a wonderful life. I would never have denied being Jewish, but I was busy riding horses, playing tennis and taking classes at the local college in between being a wife and mother. There was little room for being involved in my Judaism — until the day the security of my idyllic life came crashing to a halt. In his first week in kindergarten, my precious innocent son came home crying that some kid had called him a “Christ Killer.” Sobbing in my arms, he said, “I never killed anyone, and I don’t even know anyone named Christ.” With those words, my life took an oblique change in direction back toward the synagogue. Within two weeks we had found a synagogue in which we felt comfortable and it was not long before we were involved and we and the kids had a whole new set of friends. It was with those same friends that we took the trip to Israel.

I sensed the presence of someone I couldn’t see

As we traveled the land, everywhere we went there was evidence of Israel’s history coming to life. Although I marveled at my people being back in the land, to me it seemed a matter of sociology, not theology. I was sure it had to do with how amazing we Jews are and nothing to do with God. I was proud that the world took “our” Scriptures so seriously, but to me the writings were basically folk tales. It was all about culture, not about God. Then something happened that caused me reconsider that notion. Our tour group decided we wanted to see the view from a mountain that had until recently been Jordanian, but now was Israeli territory. When we arrived at the top in our bus, we were greeted by the Israeli army, who told us to immediately turn the bus around and not allow one wheel an inch off the road as there were still Jordanian mines everywhere. I was never so frightened in all my life.

On the way down the forty-five degree mountain road, I could see out the front window of the bus to the Jordan River below, winding like a ribbon through the land. On the side of the river that had recently been Jordanian, there was basically nothing growing among the rocks and sand. On the Israeli side of the river, however, grew lush green trees laden with so many oranges they could barely lift their branches to the sun, and beyond them, rows and rows of thriving agriculture. What a profound difference I mused. Just then, words from Psalm 23, words I had learned as a kid in the days when we read Scriptures in school, went through my mind: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Why did I think of those words at that moment, I wondered? I had never remembered them ever before. I was surely looking at what was easily a feast right there in the presence of Israel’s enemies. And with that, I began to wonder if God was actually involved in the restoration of Israel.

But even that didn’t prepare me for what was about to happen. We visited the traditional tourist sites, including a few Christian ones, just for interest. But somewhere along the way I began to sense the presence of someone I couldn’t see but I knew was there. It was somewhat like sensing that you’re being followed, but when you turn around, there’s no one in sight. There was nothing scary or frightening about it, but the even stranger thing was that I knew who it was. Contrary to everything I ever believed, my sense was that it was Jesus who was following me around. I know that sounds crazy. It was crazy to me too. I kept it to myself and didn’t tell my husband or my friends, and I certainly wasn’t going to tell my rabbi. In the meantime, as we continued our tour, I was learning how the Bible was validated through archaeological finds. It was being made real to me further by the fact that I was now walking through Jericho where Joshua had walked, or where David had hidden from Saul in Ein Gedi or had garrisoned his troops in Jerusalem. By the time I came home I had some new thoughts about Israel, about being Jewish and about God.   

It was hard to leave my beloved Israel. Nevertheless, I was glad to get home to my kids and to resume my life. Things, however, did not return to normal as I had anticipated. Questions I had never considered before kept going through my mind, questions like: What if God really is involved with Israel, what does that mean? And how could I know? If He’s involved with Israel, what about the Jewish people who aren’t in Israel? Does He care about them? About me? God spoke to Abraham, to Moses, to David, and to the prophets. Has He spoken to anyone since? If not, why not? And if so, to whom? If He were to speak today, what in the world would He say to us? Or to me??

Holding hands with John the Baptist

As if the questions themselves weren’t enough to deal with, to make matters worse, this Jesus came home with me. I couldn’t get Him or the questions to go away. No matter how much I tried to dispel the questions, they persisted. And no matter how often I decided not to think about Jesus anymore, He remained. I had questions about Him too, wondering what He was really like. If He was Jewish, how did faith in Him become so unJewish? Does someone who healed people and seemingly cared for them want His own Jewish people tortured and rejected? Would He approve of the persecution of Jews in His name? Who was I to ask? It’s not like you can ask your rabbi what to do when Jesus seems to be camped out in your life.

I decided that perhaps I could find some answers by taking a graduate course in comparative religions at Temple University. They had an excellent religion department, staffed mostly by Jews. Perhaps they had some answers I could trust. In my studies I found that Christianity had more of a foundation in Judaism than I knew. The required reading began to fill in some of the space around my questions, but still, I was learning yet never coming to a knowledge of the truth. I was beginning to despair that I ever would find the answers I was searching for. Now I wasn’t even sure my questions were legitimate, one of them being, why do we all seek for unconditional love when, to my knowledge, unconditional love did not exist. Even my grandmother, who loved me more than anyone, had her limits.

I myself was a sculptor and often found solace in the Rodin Museum located in Philadelphia. One day, I took my troubled soul to the museum and while wandering through the galleries I was familiar with, I came upon the life size statue of Rodin’s John the Baptist. John is striding with purpose, one hand is in the air, fingers loosely curled toward his palm, his index finger pointing toward heaven. I had certainly seen this piece of sculpture before, but this time, John had meaning to me more than as an example of excellent sculpture. I knew enough about John to know that he was Jewish and of a priestly lineage and a cousin of Jesus, who proclaimed Him to be the coming Messiah. I stood there before John wishing I could ask him some of my questions. Since no one else was in the gallery this day and longing to connect with the real John, I slipped my hand into his bronze upturned hand. My hand fit perfectly into his. I was now holding hands with John the Baptist, probably the only Jewish girl in 2,000 years to do so. Knowing, of course, that he couldn’t hear me but hoping somehow that God could, I whispered, “Please take me to the One you know.” After a moment I withdrew my hand and, pensively, left the museum. 

It was not long after that I felt impressed that I needed a part-time job. I surely didn’t need something else to do, but it seemed right. I had been trained as a medical technician and worked in a hospital before I was married so my first thought was to go to Suburban General Hospital and see if they needed anyone in the lab. It turned out they had an ad in the paper that day so I got the job. A short while later another woman came to work there. She was checking in at the time clock when I saw her and somehow knew she would be working in the lab. We became immediate friends. Nancy had become a Christian a few months before and began to share her experiences with me very briefly. Since I was a religion major now I felt the freedom to listen to some of what she told me.

One day one of the patients died. My Judaism had little to say about the afterlife, so I leaned toward reincarnation which at least had some promise of a continued existence. Admittedly, my Judaism was a bit eclectic. I wondered aloud who the patient would be in her next life. Nancy responded, “Oh no, the Bible says we die only once and then stand judgment before God.” I asked her where she thought she was going when she died. In what was uncustomary assurance for Nancy as she is a shy person, she replied, “Oh, I’m going to heaven to be with Jesus.” I thought, Really. Isn’t that cute? I didn’t believe that anyone still thought things like that. But Nancy was sure and her simple faith perplexed me.

God doesn’t talk to my rabbi, but He talks to Nancy?

Shortly thereafter Nancy brought me a book called, The God Who Is There, by Francis Schaeffer. I took the book home and wasn’t too far into it when I was stunned by how much the book addressed many of the questions I had wondered about. As an artist, for instance, I had wondered what caused art to make the journey from realism to abstract to minimalism. What at one time would not have been considered art was now valued as art which supposedly expressed meaning that realistic art did not. What philosophical change had caused that shift? The reason, Schaeffer maintained, is that we have gotten further and further away from traditional biblical values and our lives are no longer anchored in God as they once were.  As a result, increasing lawlessness and a certain amount of chaos and confusion resulted which is reflected in our art and literature. I could certainly relate to the philosophical confusion. Maybe he was right. Without God in our lives, Schaeffer asserted, objectivity is lost to subjectivity. It sounded like the period of the Judges in Israel’s history when “everyone did what seemed right in their own eyes.” Is that what was happening now when a byword was, “If it feels good, do it” and songs boasted that “I did it my way.”

The next day, I asked Nancy how she chose that book as we had never discussed those kinds of issues. “The Lord told me which book to get you.” What? God doesn’t talk to my rabbi, but He talks to Nancy? “He talks to you? God talks to you?” I asked incredulously.  She affirmed that He did and that’s when I asked if we could have lunch together. I needed to hear more of this. Later, amid the clatter of dishes and the hum of voices in the cafeteria she told me, “It’s because of the sin in our lives which we all have, that you cannot hear God. God is holy, and our sins separate us from Him. But God sent His Son Jesus who lived a perfect life and willingly died in our place. He took the punishment that our sins demand. Because He was sinless, death couldn’t keep Him in the grave. God raised Him from the dead and He is still alive even today. His resurrection also showed that His atoning death was acceptable to God. When we accept that He paid the price for our sins, and we open our hearts to invite Him into our lives, and commit to living a new life with God by turning away from our sins, then the division between us and God is removed. We can now hear Him, because we are no longer separated from Him by our sin.” 

I heard what she said, but how could a man who died 2,000 years ago affect my life? It just didn’t make sense to me. As I still had more questions than Nancy was prepared to answer, she arranged for a woman who was a Bible teacher to come to my home so I could ask my ever present questions. The day that Maxine came she handed me a tract entitled, “How a Rabbi Found Peace.” She began to tell me how, in fulfillment of biblical prophecy, thousands of Jewish people the world over have come to the Lord Jesus since Israel became a nation again and especially since 1967 when Jerusalem was returned to Jewish hands. She said I could have assurance of eternal life with Jesus, but that didn’t jive with my belief in reincarnation so it was meaningless to me. None of what she told me resolved my questions. When she left she said, “Call me if you want to know more,” and drove off. I tossed the tract in the trash, having decided I had finally had enough of all this. But two days later, after reading the tract after all, I called her and asked if she knew someone Jewish I could discuss this with. I needed someone who would understand my dilemma. 

God spoke to me

A few days later, in Maxine’s VW van, we drove together to the home of Marion Rosenthal. Marion was a warm and pleasant woman who had been a believer in Jesus for many years. Sitting at her kitchen table talking over tea, she opened her well worn Bible and showed me Old Testament prophecies and the fulfillment of them in the New Testament. But once again, this was like putting square pegs in round holes. “Listen,” I said “I’m Jewish! I’m a Zionist through and through.” I was giving her what I thought was a reason why this wasn’t going to work. But Marion calmly explained to me that all the disciples were Jewish, including Paul, a fact which somehow had escaped me until then. Even so, I was just about to give up altogether and say, “Let’s go home” but that’s when I heard it. That’s when I heard God speak to me.

He said only one word. He said, “Listen,” but that one word conveyed more of God to me than all the books in the world could have. As I heard the word, a peace unlike anything I had ever known before came over me, as if every cell in my being was entirely without any stress whatsoever and had never had any. I can only describe it as a complete sense of well being, but it was far more than that.  I had no cognitive awareness of all this at the time, I just felt entirely at peace. The sound of His voice didn’t bring to me just the word; it was the Persona of God that was conveyed to me. His voice carried what I would later define as “unchallengeable authority.” And in that authority, the deepest tenderness was imparted to me — a caring beyond what humans are capable of. It was as if in that one word He was saying to me, “Everything is going to be all right, every concern will be cared for and I have the power to make it so.” All that happened in a split second. I had to process it later to make sense of it. There was no worry, concern, thinking to process it all or trying to understand — there was just “being” in this all-encompassing peace.  I think it is related to what God calls Himself in the Scriptures: “I AM.” I was completely without the urge to become anything more. Nothing more was needed. And because He said “Listen,” I just listened. I didn’t choose to listen, I just became listening. In retrospect, I can understand why when God said at creation, “Light be!” (which is how “Let there be light” reads in the Hebrew), light became!  He commands and existence becomes. I realized that I heard the same voice of God that Abraham heard, and Moses heard! Now I knew why they went when God said, “Go.” Your whole being just wants to do what God wants of you.

There was another profound reality though in hearing the voice of God. What I heard was undeniably that of a thirty-something very male voice!  I didn’t put this all together intellectually at the time, as I said. It’s more like it all went into my spirit and my spirit knew it was the truth. I had “experienced” the presence and the voice of God and it was also inescapably the voice of Jesus. There was only one conclusion: Jesus is alive and Jesus IS God!

While I heard His voice audibly as if He had leaned down and spoken in my right ear, had it been the voice of anyone else in the room, the others would have heard it too, but neither woman did. Nor did I think to even tell them about it. At that moment, as if she had been given the cue, Maxine asked if I wanted to pray and accept Jesus into my life. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know how to pray. Read from prayer books, yes, but pray out loud to God, no. But I had the sense inside myself that this was the answer to all my questions and if I walked away from this, I might never have this opportunity again. I knew the answer had to be yes. So I bowed my head and held hands with Marion and Maxine at the kitchen table as they led me in a prayer something like this:  “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I’m really not sure who Jesus is. But if He’s who I’m being told He is, and He is Your Son and My Messiah, then make it real to me. If that is who He is, then I want Him to be Lord of my life. Teach me how to live my life so that I am pleasing to You. Thank You for forgiving my sins. Amen.” 

As I was praying those few words, I felt something inside myself like chains breaking. I had not been able to cry for a long time, but tears were streaming down my face and I knew without any doubt that Jesus was the Messiah my people had been waiting for all these centuries. I knew He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that He is the Holy One of Israel. Within a few days most of my questions were answered as I came quickly to understand that God the Father sent a part of Himself to earth as a Man who took responsibility for mankind breaking the rules that He Himself had made. He endured the punishment of His death on the cross for our violation of His rules, in order that we could live in righteous relationship with Him. All my many questions were resolved in Jesus. He turned out to be the answer to them all.

My life changed radically that day. I had heard from God. God does speak to His people today. I have heard Him almost daily since for the past thirty-five years, though not audibly as I did that first time. I hear Him in my thoughts, in my heart, in my spirit and through His word which is the Bible. I now understand and live in His unconditional love. It does exist in Him. My family saw the change in me, the peace I now lived in and the joy in my heart that replaced all that “philosophical confusion.” As a result, with one exception every member of my immediate family has come to know Jesus as Lord. We are now four generations of believers as both my parents and my mother-in-law came to the Lord and now I am seeing my children raise their children as strong believers. This past year we celebrated one of my grandsons’ bar mitzvah. It was a joy to hear him say how proud he is to take his place as a young Jewish man in whatever Jesus has for him to do with his life. Jesus no longer follows me around, just out of reach. He is now my constant companion as I follow Him wherever He leads.

Sid's Commentary

Sometimes God puts questions about Himself in our minds and sends us out looking for Him. All the while He’s leading us to Himself. Lonnie’s desire to know if God speaks today was answered when He spoke audibly to her. The word He spoke to her, “Listen” in Hebrew is the word Sh’ma. It means to hear or listen so as to have understanding. Sh’ma is the name of the most Jewish prayer in the world which says, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).What Moses meant when he said it is that, unlike pagan nations who have a multitude of gods, the God of Israel is the one and only true God.

Many Jewish people think Christians believe in two Gods — God the Father and Jesus. Jesus is a manifestation of the God of Israel. He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), meaning they are of the same divine essence. When Jesus was about to die for the sins of the world, He knew He would be resurrected and would return to Father God. He prayed, “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). No man could possibly say that except someone who is God, for only God was there before the world was.   

Lonnie’s concern was the same as many Jewish people when considering faith in Jesus — she was Jewish and He was the God of the Gentiles. The fact is, Jesus is as Jewish as Israel is Jewish. There were an estimated half a million Jewish believers soon after Jesus’ resurrection. But as faith in Him spread to the Gentiles, soon the Jewish believers were outnumbered. There was no one to tell the Gentile believers how Jesus fulfilled all the commandments in the Torah. In A.D. 325, the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion and outlawed all the Jewishness, including the Jewish holidays and much of the Torah. Now the Jewish Messiah was no longer seen as Jewish. This was a shonda, a shame, and it led to great misunderstandings not only of Jesus and of His Jewishness, but of the Jews themselves. Much suffering has come to the Jews because of this grave error. The fact that Lonnie’s son suffered the “Christ killer” accusation shows the level of misunderstanding that still exists. In truth, His crucifixion had as much to do with the Romans as with the Jewish leaders. But ultimately, Jesus came as a Man in order to die for all of our sins, so it’s not as if He was victimized by anyone, Jews or Romans. His death was on behalf of all mankind and no one could take His life. He gave it willingly. Here’s what He had to say about it: “I lay down my life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:17, 18). Jesus didn’t have to die. He chose to die, for you and for me.

That the church has misunderstood Jesus’ love for His people and the ways God gave to Israel  doesn’t change who Jesus was — our Torah-observant Messiah who came first to Israel.  Though terrible things were done to Jewish people in the name of Jesus, He would have sanctioned none of them. Just as the Jews have often been misunderstood throughout history, so also has our Messiah been misunderstood throughout history. But today, in fulfillment of many prophecies in our Bible, Jews once again are coming to faith in Jesus.

Our Jewish Scriptures tell us that He will return again to reign as King at which time the whole earth will be bathed in the continual and eternal peace such as Lonnie felt when He spoke to her. Before He comes, the Bible tells us, Israel will return to her land which has happened. It also says that the Jewish people will once again come to faith in their Messiah. You have the opportunity to become a part of the fulfillment of Scripture yourself, and of Israel’s present history by fully turning to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through Messiah Jesus.

After you have prayed to make the Messiah your Lord or if you have any questions send me an e-mail at info@sidroth.org





 

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