Koinonia Institute Update:
KI, Israel, Abraham & Jesusby Dan Stolebarger Koinonia Institute
I want to sound the shofar and let you know that in September, Koinonia Institute will be having its OFFICIAL back-to-school launch! In mid-September we will be launching a variety of online courses and we encourage you to go to www.studycenter.com to see the courses that will be avail-able. In fact, why not get a friend to take one of our courses with you, so you can both ''raise the bar'' spiritually in your lives!
After a year of working out the kinks, we have finalized our KI ''stand alone'' program that lays out our three separate levels of accomplishment: the Bronze, Silver and Gold Medallions, for our three tracks that we call Berean, Issachar and Koinonos. Our Guidebook and Catalog are being completed and will be available soon!
For all those who have the summer free, we will be offering online courses in July and August as well - again, just go to the website for more information! And don't forget about our incredible trip to Israel scheduled for October 24th - November 3rd. (See here more info!)
Now for a reflection: The last month has been a time of reflective Torah study for me. The last time I was in Israel, I picked up a leather-bound Torah and decided to read through it once again and study the thoughts and comments of the Jewish sages, such as Rambam, Zohar and Rashi. Needless to say, I have gotten a different spin. The challenge of the Patriarchs, especially Abraham, has caused me deep thought. As I was taking in the comments of Rashi, I realized once again why the Jews hold Abraham in such high esteem. Here was the man that God used to begin a new era, a person who even today is held is such high regard among the three major religions of our day. What was so special about this guy?
The Jews today believe that they are an extension of Abraham - the true children. So when the Torah describes Abraham and his attributes, those would be the same attributes desired by the devout Jews of this day. Let me try to explain: The Israelite nation is distinguished in three ways. Just like Abraham they are compassionate, shy, and benevolent (charitable). Thus Rambam, one of the ancient Jewish sages, states that ''We, Jews, must therefore practice the commandment of charity more than any other because it is the characteristic of Abraham!'' See the connection? The Jews look to the life of Abraham for their identity because at the root of Judaism is the life of Abraham.
This insight caused me to look at Abraham in a new way, in a different light. I know what Jesus said and in no way am I placing Abraham above Jesus, but my question is, ''What can I learn from this man?''
As a quick aside, here is a refresher about some of the things Jesus said about Abraham (from John 8):
''I know that you are Abraham's descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father. They answered and said to Him, ''Abraham is our father.'' Jesus said to them, ''If you were Abrahams children, you would do the works of Abraham.''
Then the Jews said to Him, ''Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, 'If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.' Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?''
Jesus answered, ''If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, 'I do not know Him,' I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.'' Then the Jews said to Him, ''You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?''
Jesus said to them, ''Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.''
Now, with that having been said, it is clear that Jesus is above Abraham. Nevertheless, let me rewind back to the question concerning what we can learn from Abraham. The sages list the ten trials that Abraham endured which ''set him apart.'' I will list them, as well as give a comment or two about them. First, let's remember the purpose of trials. God allows trials to come in order to mature us and build us into the people He intends for us to be - men and women of faith, warriors living in dangerous times but equipped for victory!
(Rambam's) Ten Trials of Abraham
God calls His people from their comfort zones to go to places that are unfamiliar. And yes, He does separate families - as much as we would like to make Jesus user-friendly in our day, He has some radical things to say about following Him. Seriously, there are times that the Scriptures are pointed and the shards cut us - be sure you dont escape their ''cutting.'' I know context is important, but these are the words of Jesus about the cost of following Him!
Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. - Matthew 10:37-38
Someone told Him, ''Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you. He replied to him, ''Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?'' Pointing to His disciples, He said, ''Here are My mother and My brothers. - Luke 8:20-21
Peter said to Him, ''We have left everything to follow You!'' ''I tell you the truth,'' Jesus replied, ''no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields - and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. - Mark 10:28-30
Here we find faithful Abraham leaving the familiar and, in faith, setting out. Once he arrives, God says, ''Youre here!'' And then He makes unbelievable promises about land and nations and stars and sand etc. And what happens next... FAMINE hits the Promise Land! Has this ever happened to you? You have done the difficult thing and God gives you a glimpse of His glory and then trouble comes to paradise! When this happens to me, my next step is to question my original decision, because deep down we feel that one of the direct correlations of a step of faith should be comfort. I wonder if Abraham had any doubts when his stomach was grumbling and he was heading south for Egypt?
''Just tell them you are my sister!'' Here the faithful one stumbles. I think it is important to know that although we seek perfection, we will not attain it in this lifetime. The closer we walk with Jesus, the more aware we are of our shortcomings. Endure, confess and continue to follow. How easy it is to take the ''less than truthful'' approach when conflict rears its ugly head.
Abraham had every right to sit back and not sweat Lot; after all, Lot made his own bed and now he's got to sleep in it! But that's not how Abraham was wired - it took courage to go and fight. The odds were against him, but God needs men and women who will fight for others despite the odds. When was the last time you fought in a battle against injustice? The saints of today cannot be the silent majority (by the way, we are quickly becoming the Silent Minority!). Who is God calling you to rescue?
Ouch! We will pick this up next month as well as the other five!
Let me conclude this months message by saying that I believe the shofar is sounding and God is raising up everyday men and women to fight for the lost souls of our day - one last revival! We believe that this is why God is calling KI into existence! Join us! We want you as part of our family! Do not be content to sit in the stands or stand on the sidelines. Take a class, get into a healthy small group, become a player or better yet... a warrior!