On to the Land of "Better Than"
From Lonnie Lane
Every Believer has within them that which draws us toward the peace and beauty that’s to be found only in the presence of the Lord. We all aspire to dwell in the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But milk and honey don’t just happen on their own. They require proper environmental conditions: Good land well watered by rainfall, with ever increasing flocks and herds grazing in lush and peaceful pastures in order to produce an abundance of milk; and flowering trees and plants providing a profusion of blossoms to keep the bees happily gathering nectar for honey-making.
Based on what God reveals in His Word about how we are to live with one another, we will best find that Place of Promise when we seek it together. But we’re not “one new man” yet. We are not yet united in faith as the New Covenant mandates. If the New Covenant is to be “better than” that which Israel enjoyed with God when He brought them into the Land of milk and honey, after 200 centuries of New Covenant living, how do we finally get to the Land of “better than”?
As the children of Abraham, perhaps we need to return to the faith of our Father Abraham and believe God as Abraham did when God called him His friend, indicating intimacy and trust. If God laid the basis of all that transpired in Israel, including the coming of the Messiah and then the church, upon the foundational faith of Abraham, perhaps we need to revisit the life of Abraham as more than Bibles stories we tell our children to see what God would have us learn. While we are looking into restoring our Hebrew roots, maybe we should take a deeper look at the “root” of the Hebrews themselves. Follow this with me and see what you think.
In Gen. 12:1 when God first encounters Abraham God says (margin NASB) “Go for yourself” when telling him to leave his father’s household and go to Canaan. Why would God say “Go for yourself” to Abraham? The answer may lie in the fact that Terah, Abraham’s father, had set off for Canaan years before, taking Abraham and Sarah as well as his grandson Lot with them. But they never arrived in Canaan.
Terah got only as far as a place he named after his son Haran who had died earlier before they left Ur. Is it possible that God wanted Abraham to go, not in his father’s calling and apparently limited commitment, but in his own calling from God fresh and alive within him? Could it be that God wanted Abraham’s relationship with Him to be his own, and not that of following the vision of another, even his own father?
Another scenario is possible. Acts 7:2 tells us that God told Abraham to go to Canaan while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. Perhaps it was Abraham who first heard God and was able to convince Terah to go. So, to his credit, Terah went, not on the basis of his own revelation but on that of Abraham’s. However, Abraham’s vision was not enough to propel Terah to the ultimate destination. Another man’s vision will only take us just so far.
Even Isaac and Jacob had to have their own life-changing encounters with God so that the faith became their own. Terah, being the authority in the family, brought them only as far as his faith would take him. When he finally died, the authority of the family was transferred to Abraham who was then told by God, “Go for yourself and leave your father’s house (and his limited faith) behind.” (Gen. 12:1; my paraphrase.)
Whatever Terah’s initial motivation, he left Ur with every intention of establishing a new life in Canaan. But the faith he had didn’t carry him through to fulfillment and he wound up staying in a place far short of the intended destination, a place he named after his dead son. Apparently his focus was fixed on memories of the past. Memorializing a man no longer alive took precedent over moving forward into the calling of God.
The Word says, “They went as far as Haran, and settled there.” (Gen. 11:31) This indicates the establishment of a community big enough to name it. Haran eventually became a trade center on the route from Ninevah and one of those which traded with Tyre (see Ez. 27:22,23. It is referred to in 2 Kings 19:12 as a nation, and a pagan one at that.)
However large it was in Terah’s day, small towns or large cities are established in two ways: the dwellings that are erected and the culture that becomes established. Culture indicates the emergence of traditions which bind people together in a sense of purpose and identity. This apparently took place for Terah and his family, despite the initial “calling” and there he stayed.
This reminds me of the Church which in many ways has built whole cultures as monuments to the memory of one man of the past or another (Luther, Calvin, Wesley, etc.), all now dead. Entire denominations or movements have been established based on that one man’s experience with God. Rather than being encouraged to learn that on-going experiences with God can be had by all who seek Him, people followed that man’s insight, endeavoring to maintain his revelation, not to mention often fiercely defending it.
In time it became institutionalized and a “culture” was established around that man’s insights or experience. Years later, people are still camped out under the banner of those revelations. Even more recent moves of God have tended to become crystallized into how we “do church.”
Pastor Neil Silverberg puts it this way: “It’s as if we were all on a journey heading for Jerusalem and finally we saw a sign that said, ‘Jerusalem, this way =>.’ And so we danced and sang around the sign… but we never got to Jerusalem.” We rejoice that God has given us the sign. We study about the sign and its significance, reassured that Jerusalem is real and does exist. We protect the sign from others who don’t believe in the sign as we do, developing doctrines and traditions about how to live, and keeping the sign always in mind as our yardstick of what is of God and what isn’t. But we haven’t moved on to actually dwell in Jerusalem, spiritually speaking.
Without fresh revelation we are left with functioning out of tradition. Yeshua said, “Your traditions nullify the Word of God.” With that in mind, let’s seriously ask ourselves some questions: Have some of our traditions served to nullify God’s Word in part to us? Do all, even the most treasured of our traditions actually line up with what the Word says? Are we perhaps camped out at the place of another man’s revelation of many years ago without any real revelation of our own?
Have we heard from God ourselves or are our ears so filled with the voices of the sheep through tapes and videos and worship CDs, even sermons, that we haven’t felt the need to hear the voice of the Shepherd for ourselves? Are we aware that God longs to replicate the faith of Abraham in each of us, each with our own unique and life-changing encounters with God so that we will affect the people around us and even future generations for God? Are we still in Haran or have we moved on to know the Lord so that we know we are the intimate friend of God as Abraham knew he was?
When we come to know the Lord, we fully intend to live in all God has for us. But soon we find ourselves settling into our own congregational “culture” and there we stay, rarely getting beyond the limits of what’s generally acceptable to the people with whom we fellowship, be it leadership or laity. We rarely make the choice to depart from what is not really the Promised Land in order to actually move forward in God. If you doubt this is true, how many of our lives so far would have made it into the Book of Acts? Yes, we hope to grow into that kind of Believer, but you know the adage: to keep doing the same thing over and over and to expect different results that’s crazy.
I believe God’s word for today, in keeping with other Words with which this lines up, is that it is now time to leave the land of our Terahs when it has kept us from the fullness of what God intends for His people today, and go to where the Word says we are to live in Him. As has been said, “We need to believe what we believe.” An old friend of mine said it well: “We need to believe what His Word says, not how we feel about what the Word says.” We each need the obedient faith of Abraham in order to “go for yourself” to the place God intended when He set the church in motion. By “place” I mean our walk in the Lord, living out our lives “in a manner worthy of the Lord.” Even if our Terahs didn’t get there, we can still “go for ourselves.”
I know you understand that to “go for yourself” certainly doesn’t mean independence from the Body, “each one doing what seems right in their own eyes,” as in the time of Israel’s Judges. That would be anarchy and rebellion. God provides for us to be one (echad) in Him. Echad means many making up one, one family made up of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents a compound or plural unity. This unity is fundamental to the community of God. Israel was to be accountable to and for one another as Torah provides. It only gets “better than” that in the New Covenant.
Living in the faith of Abraham means that each of us, in our response to God’s Word, in our relationships with God and with one another, leaves our Haran, the place named for people and/or experiences of the past, behind and moves forward to align with what Yeshua bought for us with His life. Consider that Abraham had no one to share or fellowship with and no one to pray for him. He was it! He was the only Believer on the face of the earth at that time. To live in the faith of Abraham means WE BELIEVE GOD and conform to His Word even if no one else around us does.
The concept of faith in Hebrew is one of action. If we “hear” (sh’mah) we will obey. If we don’t obey, then we haven’t heard the voice of God in the words. The Greek concept is to take the idea and discuss it, challenge it, look for nuances in meaning, and even argue about it, but it doesn’t extend to obedience to a Sovereign God. Ever since the Gentiles outnumbered the Jews in the church we tend to think more along Greek lines in our ever-present cloistered-away Bible studies than to think like the Hebrews in this regard.
To Abraham and the Hebrews who followed him, hearing meant to obey; listen and do it. To the first century Messianic Believers it meant actively participating with the Lord in changing the world. Which category do you see yourself in: the Discussers or the Doers? The Inquirers or the Accomplishers? The Challengers or the Changers?
Paul’s concept of “One New Man” didn’t mean Hebrews becoming like Greeks in their thinking; he meant Greeks learning to think like Hebrews whom, incidentally, God taught to think like Himself. That’s what Torah is, learning to have the perspective of God in our relationships with Him, with one another and even with ourselves, as He defined it.
Living in the faith of Abraham means we no longer live in compromise with emotions or culture that are less than God has for us or are other than He intended. It means we don’t (only) look to others for revelation but our delight is in hearing from Him ourselves. How awesome when a group of Believers get together and share what God has been imparting to each of them, finding that their insights mesh together to bring a greater understanding of God and what He’s saying to His people. (That, incidentally, is largely what House Church is about.)
It means being committed to going all the way to the Land of milk and honey. It means no longer tolerating in our own lives the characteristics of the world. Lot chose to co-exist with the pagan nations in the land of Canaan. Abraham lived near them but was not “of” them as Lot was. It may help to know that if you looked up in a Strong’s Concordance the names of the seven existing tribes in Canaan which Abraham and his descendents would eventually overthrow for the Land to be fully theirs, you would find they stand for some of the very things we each battle with:
While Abraham only began to deal with the pagan and often cruel and ungodly cultic influences of these people, for us who would come to fully inhabit the spiritual Land, we must have the faith that no longer compromises (or sympathizes) with these things but trusts in God’s goodness without fear or paralysis or compromise, or need to control, etc. Praying through that list and asking God to show you any weaknesses might prove helpful.
We may need to have the courage of the 1st century believers to go against the tide of traditions until we all catch the freedom of the Law of Grace. Freedom to believe and obey may mean having the faith of Abraham to go the extra mile to protect or rescue a brother or sister just as Abraham went to battle for Lot when he was captured by his enemy after he made a bad decision to hang out with the world.
It may mean caring more for God’s glory than for what the world wants to give you, be it recognition or material gain, just as Abraham refused to take the spoils of his rescue of Lot lest men think they had made Abraham rich and not God. (Meditate on that one for a while and see what insights God will give you.) Yeshua said that in as much as we visit the sick, or those in prison, or the hungry (street people?) to aid them, it’s as if we’ve done it unto Him. Do we really believe that? We could start our new level of obeying with those verses.
Believing God means believing everything God had to say, and no longer majoring primarily on our own favorite Scriptures while ignoring the rest which might add balance to my preferences. Taking Scriptures selectively and out of context has often added fuel to the fire of hatred and anti-Semitism. We could blame times of horrible persecution of the Jews by the church on the ignorance of the people in the Middle Ages who had no Bibles available to them and were consequently steeped in superstition and witchcraft.
But then, Germany was the seat of the Reformation, so ignorance was not to blame for what happened under the Nazis years later. I wonder, what would have happened if the Christians had taken a collective Scripturally-informed and united stand to rescue the Jews. Do you think it would have made a difference?
Having the faith of Abraham may mean God has put a vision in your heart, a desire in your spirit to “go for yourself,” whatever or wherever that might be. It might mean for you something it doesn’t mean for anyone else. But it might mean that your obedience and trust in God may affect a great many more people than you can imagine today. Abraham wanted a son, but God promised him a nation of sons who would bless the entire world for all generations. Let God plant a seed in your spirit for the great things He will do in your life.
What would God accomplish in our day if we all walked together in the faith of our father Abraham? Surely the Lord must have much He would whisper to His Bride as she prepares for His soon return. Surely He wants to teach each of us to hear His voice for ourselves, and to believe every Word He says in explicit trust, so that each of us would be without spot (of sin) or wrinkle (of unbelief), awaiting His return with pure hearts, cleansed consciences and in sincere faith. All He required of Abraham was to believe Him, to have faith in what He said. Abraham’s obedience was BECAUSE he had faith. Will the Son of God find faith when He returns? “Even so, come Adonai Yeshua.”
Scripture marked NASB taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Emphasis added.
Lonnie Lane comes from a family of four generations of Jewish believers, being the first one saved in 1975. Lonnie has been in church leadership for many years, and has planted two “one new man” house fellowships one with her brother Michael Lane in the Philadelphia suburbs and the other in Jacksonville, Florida, where she now lives near 6 of her 8 grandchildren. Lonnie is the author of “Because They Never Asked.” She is the Producer of Messianic Vision's radio and TV shows and the International Prayer Co-Coordinator for Messianic Vision's intercessors. Click here to order Lonnie's book, "Because They Never Asked: A Jewish Family's Search for God".