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The Shema: A Proclamation of Christian Life (Part 1 of Battling the Lack of Mental Health Awareness in the Church)

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”(Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV)

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is known to billions as the Shema. The Shema holds critical importance in both Judaism and Christianity, serving as the foundational creed of both religions. The passage containing the Shema was written by Moses just before he died and just before Israel finally pushed their way into the promised land under the leadership of Moses’s successor Joshua. The Shema is Moses’s reminder to the millions of people standing before him that they are to remember who their God is and to serve him in every aspect of their entire lives, beginning inwardly with their hearts, the sitting place of their emotional investments. It was the intention of Moses to have Israel hear these words one final time before speaking to them once again all of the commandments that their God has given them before Moses dies and is not there to lead them any longer.

What I want to teach you here is that the Shema is not only important for our own lives, but is a testament to those who are coming after us in the next generations. I believe it is imperative that we not only familiarize ourselves with the Shema, but to also internalize it and actually begin to live it out for the world to see. I would like to discuss these three things that I believe the Shema teaches us:

  1. We Must Recognize that Our God Is Yahweh.
  2. Loving God Is an Obedient Expression.
  3. We Must Model Our Faith and Teach Our Children.

We Must Recognize that Our God is Yahweh

The Shema opens with the timeless line “Hear, oh Israel: Yahweh (the LORD) our God, Yahweh is one.” In today’s time, orthodox Jews recite verses 4-5 twice daily in their prayers as a reminder to not forsake the God that protects them and has entered into covenant with them. For the new Christian, the verse may, however, be problematic or at least confusing for a reason or two.

The name of God, Yahweh, as it appears in the Hebrew Bible.

First, most Christians do not fully understand that our God has a personal name, and it is not “the LORD.” In ancient Israel, from slavery in Egypt to the destruction of the nation, God’s people were Hebrews; they spoke and wrote ancient Hebrew, though most were illiterate. The entire Tanakh (“Old Testament”) was penned in Hebrew with the exception of a couple of small books and fractions of Daniel which were written in Aramaic – the language of Babylon. When Israel was taken over by Babylon, they were forced to become Babylonians, even to the point of forgetting their Hebrew language. Hebrew, being a language with no written vowels, expects the reader to just know what vowels to say when reading words. Once Israel lost their language, they no longer knew how to pronounce God’s name, so they instead would say Adonai (Lord) when they came to God’s name while reading the Scriptures because they believed pronouncing it incorrectly would desecrate it. This tradition has thus transferred into Christianity without many Christians even realizing it. Every time that God’s name appears in the Old Testament, most Christian Bibles write “the LORD” rather than Yahweh (YHWH) – the correct pronunciation of God’s name as established by scholars for the past 2,000 years. Yahweh’s name appears almost 7,000 times in the 39 books of the Tanakh alone. So when you read or recite the Shema, remember that you are declaring that Yahweh is God, no other god.

Second, understanding the triune nature of God – that God exists in three particular persons or forms –  is essential for Christian faith, but how do we recognize this in light of “Yahweh is one”? The answer comes from a deeper understanding of the word translated “one.” The word behind the English is the Hebrew אֶחָֽד (echad), which delivers a meaning of singularity, but also that of a bonded unit of many. For example, a group of Christians who are in one mind and agreement are אֶחָֽד (echad) in that they are bounded together as a unit on the same mission. We must also recognize here that the Shema does not intend to answer the question, “How many is God?” but rather “Who is the God of Israel?” Israel was expected to respond to such a question with “Our God is Yahweh, Yahweh alone.”

With this recognition comes expectation of covenant sustainability. Prior to this passage, Moses recalls the Ten Commandments as a means of reminding Israel that this God whom they claim to serve has expectations for their lives, even to the point of signing the covenant contract with his own finger (Exodus 31:18). By pledging their allegiance to Yahweh, Israel is confirming that they remember all that God has commanded them and will walk in his ways.

In Christianity today, we must remember these words and recognize that they are not “just for the Jews” but are the foundations of our faith as well. Paul confirms that the church is the reformation of Israel in our current age and that one day all of Israel will be gathered back together to inherit the kingdom of God (Romans 11), so we must recognize that even though these words are written in the “Old Testament”, they are just as true for us as they were our ancestors in the time of Moses. In today’s time, there are many gods and many religions that people follow, but Christians are to remain faithful to the covenant with have with our God by pledging daily through our lives that Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone. But these are just fancy, empty words if we do not live out what they mean every single day of our lives.

Loving God Is an Obedient Expression

Once we affirm that we serve Yahweh and Yahweh alone, we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, the word used for love is אָהַב֙ (a-hab). This word throughout Deuteronomy denotes covenant commitment demonstrated in actions that serve the interests of the other person. In other words, this type of love is an expressive love, not just empty words.

Moses calls upon us to back up our verbal commitment in verse 4 with obedience in every aspect of our lives. For a practical example of what he expects, let us consider marriage. In the early years of our relationships, the fire burns hot. The feelings are everywhere; the passion is never quenched. However, once the “honeymoon phase” of the relationship runs its course, the feelings and the passion seem to deplete or even disappear. What is left is a covenant relationship based on love that is not mere feeling or passion, but of intentional, active love.

As cliché as it may be, love is not a feeling; love is action. Loving your wife means more than saying “I love you” as you leave for work; it means taking care of her when she is sick and putting food on her table by the sweat of your brow. Loving your husband means more than posting a photo of you two on Instagram with a corny caption; it means submitting to his leadership in the relationship and supporting him as he faces the harshness of life. The love we are expected to give to God is this kind of love – love that says, “I have made a commitment to you, and now I will affirm that commitment to you every day by trusting your leadership in my life and living out what you know is best for me and have commanded me.”

This type of love begins in the heart but then extends into every aspect of the believer: “…with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Moses is calling us to love God with our inner being (our heart; our emotions), then with our whole being (our soul; our personal identity), then finally with everything that we possess (our might; our strength; our resources). What this means is that we are to not only say that God that we love him, but we are to pour out loving obedience from our heart until it completely changes our lives to the point that we honor and serve God with every aspect of our lives and every single thing we have. Our heart should be first and foremost God’s, we are to represent him with our personalities, and we are to use everything that we own to bring glory to him. Only then can we truly say, “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.”

We Must Model Our Faith and Teach Our Children

This covenenat commitment with Yahweh is to be a family matter, demonstrated by the active teaching of our children about the God we serve.

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
(Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV)

Not only our children, but the children that are involved with our lives, such as those who attend our church, are our responsibility. We are commanded to teach the commandments and expectations of our covenant with Yahweh to the children so that they can more accurately understand him and enter into covenant with him. The Christian is not to be a passive member of the church, but an active person who daily engages with his God and takes every opportunity that arises to teach those in his house and those he comes into contact with about the marvelous God that Yahweh is (“…when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise”).

This commitment is to be public. Moses commands us to display them on our hands, between our eyes, and on our house.

“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
(Deuteronomy 6:8-9 ESV)

Orthodox Jews take these last two verses literally to the point of binding tiny scrolls of the Torah on their hands and between their eyes, and there is really no way to know whether Moses intended this to be taken literally or metaphorically, but the point remains the same: we are to display publicly our covenant bond with Yahweh to our children and the rest of the world. When you walk into a room, you should be able to identify the Christians that are standing in it. The radical different lives that we pledge to live in covenant with Yahweh should make us stick out like sore thumbs. The way we act, the way we dress, the way we eat, the way we talk, they all should indicate publicly that we are followers of Yahweh, the God of the Bible. What better way to demonstrate and teach our next generation about God than by living out exactly what we claim to believe?

As a high school teacher, I have had the chance to speak with so many youths of today, and so very many of them reject Christianity on the basis that they can’t see a difference between a professing Christian and people outside of Christianity. They fail to see a changed life when they look upon people who claim to be Christians, and I am sure they are not at fault for this most of the time.

It has become a terrible problem inside the church that we are not doing our youth a justice with our public demonstration of our faith. Too often, we show up to church services because “it’s what we have done for so many years” and fail to engage in worship or to engage in anything at all, including a simple conversation! In a church with a strong youth program, the youth are on fire and want to build a strong and unbreakable relationship with God, but once they exit the youth program and join the adult congregation, they often times feel as though there is nothing for them and that the adults are so distant from them. This does not happen every single time at every single church, but it is definitely a problem. We adults have done a very poor job of modeling our faith publicly or at church over the past 100 years. Church has become almost more of a habit rather than an active, intentional act of obedience. We stand when the worship leaders start to sing, but we just sway a little here and there and mouth some words but never engage in the blessed opportunity before us to fall on our faces before the King of the universe. Rather, we critique the music, yawn during the proclamation of God’s word, then hurry out after the invitation to get a seat at the local restaurants before the other church members get there. The youth of America are leaving the church at a rate that bring pastors to their knees, but we have the chance to diminish this or stop it altogether, but it comes only by proclaiming that we serve Yahweh and Yahweh alone, reading his word, obeying his commandments, and seizing every single opportunity that arises to teach the youth about who this God is. If this happens, if we bind the words of our God on our hands, between our eyes, and on our houses, and teach them diligently every chance we have, the next generation will not be saying, “I don’t need religion;” they’ll be saying, “Yahweh is my God, Yahweh alone.”

 

But that is not what is happening right now.

What is happening right now is that our youth are growing up in a world of death, defiance, violence, and evil, and they depend on us, the previous generations to guide them through these hard times – hard times that even we never had to endure. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention of Atlanta, GA), approximately 4,600 youth lose their lives to suicide every year, but there is an additional 157,000 youth who must be treated in emergency departments across the nation for self-inflicted injuries.[1]

Our children are growing up in a world where they can watch a two hour movie, witness hundreds of deaths, and never bat an eye. Our children are watching YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat celebrities film suicide attempts and show them all over the internet and not remember that those are real people. Our children are living in a world where hundreds of children their age are abducted each year and sold to sick and twisted people as sex slaves. Our children walk to school knowing one of their classmates could murder them and others in cold blood before pulling the gun on himself.

Even their jokes are becoming dark. Dark humor is becoming very popular in 2018, and it is essentially a form of humor where the jokes are seen as offensive, harsh, or horrid. Long gone are the days of clean and playful humor; now, children’s peers pretty much expect them to carry such a sense of humor – a sense of humor which says, “I’m going to jump in that trash can where I belong.”

As a high school teacher, I have a special bond with hundreds of the youth in my community, and I see more clearly every day that this is a reality and it is not getting any better right now. I do not have children, but I have about 150 students between 14-18 that I talk to, teach, and hang out with 180 days of the year. I understand that it is my responsibility to understand the severity of my faith and mission in life per the Shema, and I have dedicated my life to being a light in the life of these children every chance I have. But even if you are not an educator like myself, you still have the responsibility to reach and teach not only your children, but every child you meet, every child at your church, every child you know, because they really do need our good influences. I see so often the Christian who just goes through the motions on Sunday morning – not even bothering to attend the other services when he or she is completely capable – look at the youth today and say things like, “They’re stuck on that stupid technology! They know nothing about life and they never will!” What I would much rather see is someone on fire for God to the point that he or she looks at our youth and says, “Those children have so much exposure to so many awful things, and I’ll never be able to prevent them from seeing them, but I sure can be an influence with my strong faith and help them see that there is value to life and living.” I tend to think that the latter of these two people will not have to face God in the end of time and hear these dreadful words:

“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
(Revelation 3:6 ESV)

Get out there, understand your faith, and be the church. The kids depend on it.

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/toolstemplates/entertainmented/tips/SuicideYouth.html

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