“It’s the Thought That Counts” is Very Biblical

There are so many different ideas about what we should do and what we don’t have to do within the multitude of Judeo-Christian religions that exist in the world today. Many of these traditional teachings are about “The Law”, which most understand to be the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.

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To begin with, the word “Torah” means “teaching”, not law- the Hebrew word for law is “mitzvah”, which (not coincidentally) can also mean performing a good deed, such as, “Did you see that boy help the old man carry his groceries? Oy, such a mitzvah!”

God has given us commandments, regulations, laws, and ordinances, all of which I prefer to call instructions, which tell us what God expects from us.

However, knowing (as we do) that because God is always the same his instructions are always the same, he also tells us that he is more interested in the attitude of our heart than he is in the performance of these instructions.

God does want us to obey the specific instructions he gave us, which tells us how to worship him and how to treat each other, and when we follow these instructions we will be able to live a long, happy, and productive life.  And because he loves us so much, he gets quite upset when we reject his good instructions. He stops protecting us and allows the evil in the world to come against us, in the hope that one day we will realize that our way isn’t better than God’s way. When that happens, which is much less frequently than one would think it should happen, we look to God and obey his instructions.

I can understand, having been one of the most sinful types for nearly 2/3 of my life, how people can ignore and outright reject God, but that only makes my T’shuvah (turning from sin) all the more potent. When we turn from sin to God, it is like people who smoked and then stopped. Ask any ex-smoker and they will tell you that now cigarette smoke is an anathema to them- they can’t stand the smell and hate to be near anyone who is smoking. That is how I feel about sin now that I have come to accept Yeshua as my Messiah and turned back to God.

So what does this all have to do with the thought being what counts?  Here are just a few examples of what God tells us how he feels when we go through the motions without really having the desire to please him as our true motivation:

Hosea 6:6

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Proverbs 21:3

To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

Isaiah 1:11

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.

Psalm 50:8-9

Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me

Amos 5:21-24

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

 

These are taken somewhat out of context, but in all of them, the idea is that even when we do what God wants us to do, if we are doing it just to say “Look, I did what you wanted.” that will not please God. He doesn’t need animals, he doesn’t get any special reward from sacrifice…in fact, all the things God wants us to do are not for his sake at all. They are totally for our sake!

We don’t have to understand why these things are important, only that when God told us this is how we must live and worship him, he meant it. He makes the rules, and we are to follow them, BUT (and this is a really big “but”) if we do these things without joy or desire to make God happy, he will know.

We sin joyfully, we do wrong with pleasure, and then we think if we go to a Priest and confess it all, we are golden. Really? What about when we fast over Yom Kippur? While at shul all day, we think we are going to be good before the Lord, but if our hearts and minds are focused on waiting for this fast to end so I can go back to what I want to do, do you really think that will be acceptable?

Here’s an old joke that I think gets the point across:

A man is attending shul and the Rabbi is going over the Ten Commandments. When he comes to “Thou Shalt Not Steal”, he notices the man looking around at his feet and his face seems worried. Later, when the Rabbi comes to “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”, the man suddenly relaxes and looks relieved.

Afterward, the Rabbi asked him why he acted that way, and the man said, “When you said we shouldn’t steal, I noticed my briefcase wasn’t anywhere around me and I thought maybe someone took it.”

The Rabbi said, “Oh, well, I can understand your reaction. But why did you seem relaxed soon after?”

The man replied, “When you said we should not commit adultery, I remembered when I had left it.”

Obedience to the instructions God gave us is not a suggestion or optional, but it must be done with the intention and desire to please the Lord. God wants our obedience to be motivated by faithful appreciation and desire to please him, not as a fear-induced or coerced action. King David knew, and told us in Psalm 51, that a broken spirit and contrite heart is always acceptable to the Lord; in other words, truly feeling bad about our sins and desiring to now do what is right before the Lord is the most important thing to God.

Traditional teaching tells us that Abel sacrificed the best he had willingly and with joy, whereas Cain only gave what he didn’t want, which is why his sacrifice, although done properly, was unacceptable.

Let’s finish today’s message with a statement I am going to make that I am sure (at least) some of you will think “I can’t believe he just said that!”, but here we go, anyway:

If you aren’t obeying God’s instructions because you want to, then don’t waste your time or his. 

God wants us to obey him, no question about that, and he wants us to live and have happy lives (Ezekiel 18:23), but if you are doing just for the sake of doing, then as far as God is concerned (from what I understand him saying in the Bible), you haven’t done anything of value. Before you change your actions, change your attitude.

People, believe me when I tell you, it really IS the thought that counts.

Thank you for being here and please subscribe, share these messages, and I always welcome your comments.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Parashah Ekev 2020 (Because) Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

In this parashah, Moses again repeats the same warnings he has already given and will continue to repeat throughout this book.

 

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He confirms that so long as they obey God he will bless them mightily and go before them to conquer the peoples in the Land; but, if after conquering them, they adopt the worship and gods of the people they conquered, then God will come against them as he did with Dathan and Abiram.

Moses says that God will send the hornet before them to drive out the people, and reminds them of all the good God has done for them since leaving Egypt. He retells the mighty works God performed in Egypt and throughout their travels in the desert, and to have confidence that God will continue to do the same for them now, so not to fear the Canaanites or the Anakim living in Canaan.

Moses also tells them not to become proud and think their victory is from their own power, but to remember that it was God who did it for them. He tells them they should not continue to be rebellious, as they were at Horeb when they made the Golden Calf, relating how he had to plead with God to not destroy them and how God separated the Tribe of Levi to serve him.

Moses ends this parashah with the statement that so long as the people obey God, God will go before them and put the fear of them on all the nations they will face, and they will possess everywhere the soul of their foot touches.

It is a little challenging to find something new to discuss in Deuteronomy because, well, Moses says pretty much the same thing, over and over.

But today there are two things that struck me, and the first is when he tells the people that God will send the hornet ahead of them.

The hornets in Israel are pretty mean, and like to nest in caves, which is also where people under attack would hide. If there are aggressive hornets in a cave and you run in there to hide, you will be forced out back into the battle. But what is interesting, and noted in my Chumash, is that the hornet was the symbol of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thothmes III, who could have been the hornet God was referring to. If Pharaoh Thothmes III attacked and raided Canaan, as Pharaohs were wont to do, then that would weaken the armies of the Canaanites, helping Israel to more easily conquer them.

The second thing I found interesting, and when I read this passage I recognized it immediately, is Deuteronomy 10:12-13 (CJB), which says:

So now, Isra’el, all that ADONAI your God asks from you is to fear ADONAI your God, follow all his ways, love him and serve ADONAI your God with all your heart and all your being;  to obey, for your own good, the mitzvot and regulations of ADONAI which I am giving you today.
Do you see why I immediately recognized this? Yes? No?
Let’s look at Micah 6:8 (CJB):
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
We are constantly told that God is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow, and here is proof of that- what he requires from us has never changed. And it isn’t blind obedience or sacrifices given exactly as we are told to do; it is an attitude of the heart, which causes us to do these three things:
1. Act justly (the result of obeying God’s instructions);
2. Be merciful (the result of treating others as God tells us we should); and
3. Walk humbly with God (which is the result of loving God with all our heart and soul).
God has never wanted automatons; he doesn’t want us to obey him only from fear of reprisal; and, he won’t ever force us to love him. He gave us free will so we could decide to do as he instructs us to do or to reject his ways. He tells us, over and over (especially in this book) that when we do as he says, we will be blessed, and if we don’t, well, then we’ll be on our own in a cursed and fallen world where everyone is against us, which is, essentially, being cursed.
Today’s message is simple: decide if you will be with God or against God. You don’t have to do every single commandment in the Torah perfectly, and you can even screw up now and then, even on purpose! God knows we are weak and easily led into sin. The one thing that you must do, though, in order to continue being blessed is repent of every single sin, ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name, and try to do better each day.
As I have often said and will continue to say: we can never be sinless, but we can always sin, less.
Thank you for being here and please subscribe, share these messages with others, and comments are always welcomed.
Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

We’re Either Trusting or We’re Fearful

I am not going to quote verses from the Bible about how important it is for us to trust God. That would take up more time to go through than anyone reading this or watching the video would want to spend.

But what I will do is remind everyone of the last line of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), which says that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

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Now, when we use the term “fear of the Lord” it doesn’t mean to be afraid of him, but to honor and worship him. And with proper worship of God comes trust and faith in him: trust that he is in charge and faith that he will care for you so long as you honor and worship him. For the past five millennia, he has proven we can depend on him.

So why is there so much fear in the world? For example, for the past 5 months, people have been frightened to death over a virus that is deadly to a very minuscule percent of the entire population. People are polarized over politics, much more so than usual, and people are afraid to say anything that represents a godly or worshipful attitude for fear of insulting someone else. It isn’t just your opinion is wrong, it has degraded to the point where now if your opinion is different from mine, you don’t have a right to it!

I believe this general feeling of fearfulness is because we have, as a nation, stopped fearing the Lord. With the loss of that fear, we have also lost wisdom, which is why people wear facemasks while alone in their car, why corporations are jumping on the fear bandwagon because they don’t want to appear to be unconcerned. It is like the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, except instead of the Emperor being naked, the little boy points out that the Emperor’s mask is not doing anything.

God has been kicked out of our schools and our courts, and even in our government, which was formed specifically in order to allow us the freedom to worship as we want to.

Fear of the Lord is gone, and we all know the adage “Nature hates a vacuum”, so when fear of the Lord, meaning to trust and have faith in him, is gone, that space is filled with fear, meaning to be afraid, of everything.

People are too fearful, and that fear grows within us. When we add the lack of control and sense of helplessness that is generated by the media reports, designed to infuriate and upset people, we become violent. The racism-based riots we have been suffering with recently, none of which are new or different from the ones in the 1960s, aren’t so much a result of the unfortunate killing of a man, but more so from being the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, i.e. there is so much repressed anger and fear from the pandemic, or I should say media coverage and leadership squabbling over the pandemic, that the white police action causing the death of a black man just caused it all to come out.

That is my opinion, of course, and you don’t have to agree with it, but there is so much repressed anger and a general fearfulness in this country that the people are a powder keg just waiting for a spark to set them off.

We need to remember that God is in charge, and even when bad things are happening, it doesn’t mean he isn’t in charge. It usually means that he is watching and waiting for the right moment to intervene. History shows that often, in truth almost always, it takes a terrible catastrophe to occur before people begin to see they are truly powerless and the only power they can rely on is God’s power to save.

That is the difference between being fearful and being fearless- we are always powerless and when you don’t have God watching your back, that powerlessness is frightening. But, when you know God is on your side, you don’t have to trust in your own power because in our weakness, his strength is made manifest (I can’t take credit for that statement- it was said by that nice, Jewish tentmaker from Tarsus.)

So when you see someone afraid of the pandemic, or the riots, or anything, ask them why they don’t trust in God to watch over them. I’ll bet the most fearful people are the least faithful ones, and the least fearful people are the most faithful.

The way to overcome fear is not trusting in your own strength and trusting in God. He WILL take care of you- you only need to ask him.

Even in the valley of the shadow of death, he is there to protect and care for you.

Thank you for being here and please subscribe and share this ministry with others.  I welcome your comments and want to remind you, again, that you will find comfort through believing God is always watching out for you.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Does “Once and For All Sacrifice” Have a Dual Meaning?

I’m sure we have all heard how Yeshua’s sacrifice was a once and for all sacrifice, right?  It’s right there, in Hebrews 10:10 where we are told:

It is in connection with this will that we have been separated for God and made holy, once and for all, through the offering of Yeshua the Messiah’s body.

So, there we have it. Yeshua made a once and for all sacrifice, and when we read chapters 9 and 10 together the meaning is that the old sacrificial system has been done away with.

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There has, however, arisen a problem with this statement, which is that too many people have taught, and been taught, that this “once and for all” sacrifice means that all our sins are forgiven, automatically.  This teaching is called “OSAS“, which stands for “Once Saved, Always Saved.” And that is NOT, definitely not, what the writer of Hebrews meant.

When Yeshua sacrificed himself, it wasn’t meant to replace the entire sacrificial system. It only replaced one part of that system.

Here are the different phases of the sacrificial system, as I understand it, though which we can have our sins forgiven:

  1. You have to sin (after all, to be forgiven you need something to be forgiven of);
  2. You have to recognize you have sinned and accept responsibility for it;
  3. You have to regret your sin, and through that regret do T’shuvah (turn from sin) and desire to be forgiven;
  4. You have to bring your sacrifice to the temple in Jerusalem and offer it to God;
  5. After the sacrifice has been offered, by means of the shedding of innocent blood you can ask God to forgive and remove the stain of sin from you.

The Torah then requires that you make a friendship or thanksgiving offering, as well, after the sin offering, which brings you back into communion with God.

Yeshua’s sacrifice did not do away with this system, but as we are told in Hebrews, replaced it with a new system. That new system is the same as the old system, except for Step 4- that is the part Yeshua’s sacrifice replaced. And it’s a good thing for us that he did; the Torah tells us in Deuteronomy 12:11 that any sacrifice must be made where God places his name, which was the temple in Jerusalem. After 73 AD, when Rome destroyed the temple, we had nowhere to bring a sacrifice and, thereby, couldn’t be forgiven. But Yeshua’s sacrifice replaced the need to bring an animal to the temple, so now we could receive forgiveness, through him, anywhere and anytime.

That was the only change to the sacrificial system. BUT, even with Yeshua’s sacrifice, forgiveness is not automatic. We still need to regret our sins, do T’shuvah, and ask for forgiveness; in other words, all the other steps in the process.

You see, when we believe “once saved, always saved” eventually we won’t even care if we sin because we know they will be forgiven. When that happens, we won’t regret sinning, we won’t care about what we do and we will apostatize without even realizing it because we think we have a permanent and automatic “Get Out of Jail Free” card in Yeshua.

Of course, that is not how it works- without T’shuvah, without regretting the sins you commit, and without asking each and every time for forgiveness, you will not receive forgiveness. Not at all. God will not forgive an impenitent heart.

Up to now we have covered the meaning of this statement with regards to not having to bring an animal to the temple, but I believe there is another meaning, and let’s explore that now.

Regarding Yeshua’s sacrifice, once and for all means it was a once done for all sins, sacrifice but it can also mean once done for all people. Yeshua’s sacrifice covers all the different sins we have and might (more likely, will) commit, and it also can cover the sins of all people, meaning everyone, no matter what religion they have been raised with. Once someone accepts Yeshua as their Messiah, which means they will convert to the way of life that God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob said we should live, the way Yeshua lived, then they will be included with those who now have the means to be forgiven.

What that means is that Constantinian dogma and doctrine, which is what modern Christianity is based on, is not how Yeshua lived his life, and is not, for the most part, how God said we should live. Forgiveness is still available, but those who follow Constantine aren’t living their lives as Yeshua did.

Yeshua’s sacrifice does more than cover all sins once and for all time: it is available to all people for all time. I think sometimes we get so focused on the aspect of forgiveness, we forget that when Yeshua walked the earth, he was here specifically and solely for the Jews. He said so, himself, in Matthew 15:24. It wasn’t until after his resurrection and ascendance to heaven that the Gentiles were given the opportunity to also be saved.

That is why I believe the saying “Once and For All” has a dual meaning: we are saved by his once and for all time sacrifice, which was done once for one specific group of people but is now available for all people.

To me, Hebrews 10:10 can now be read as not just saying once and for all, but instead as once and for all time, for all people.

Thank you for being here and please share and subscribe to this ministry. I always welcome your comments.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Parashah V’etchanan 2020 (I besought) Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

Moses reminds the people of the fact that he, Moses, is not allowed to enter the land and all those who rebelled against God have died off, leaving this generation to take possession. He assigns three cities as a City of Refuge for the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh in the land east of the Jordan.

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Moses goes on to remind the people of how God chose them to be an example of a people who live according to fair and wise laws so that all the other people can learn from their example. He tells them God never appeared in any form to them, so they shouldn’t make any form of anything and worship it. If they live according to the laws God gave them, which Moses has taught them, then they and their children will live long in the land; however, if they worship any other god they will be ejected from the land and scattered throughout the earth.

Moses reviews the Ten Commandments, which he received in the presence of the people, and reminds them (there’s a lot of reminding in this book) of how they were afraid to hear God’s voice and told Moses to be their Intercessor, which God said was a good thing for them to do.

Moses gives us the Shema and V’ahafta prayers.

Moses tells the people when they are in the land to utterly destroy the pagan idol worshipers, as well as the symbols and altars of their gods, and not to intermix with the indigenous people in any way.

Well, what have we here?  We have the Shema, the watchword of the Jewish faith, which is first and foremost the definitive declaration of the one true God and of Monotheism.

We also have the V’ahavta (“and you shall love”) prayer, which is recited after the Shema at every Jewish service that is held, everywhere in the world.

Deuteronomy is a book of retelling, of reminding, and of warning. These two prayers, however, are unique to this book, alone. Just about everything else in Deuteronomy is referencing what happened previously in the Torah, but not these two prayers. Perhaps there is a reason for that?

If you ask me, and even if you don’t, I will tell you my thinking on this (after all, it is my ministry): these two prayers are the pathway to salvation. They tell us that the LORD, Y-H-V-H is our God and the only God. We must love him with everything we are- heart, mind, and soul- obeying and teaching our children to obey his commandments. And, to ensure these commandments never are forgotten, we must bind them on our hands and before our eyes so that we are reminded of them when we go to sleep and when we wake up, and also place them on the gateposts of our house and on our doors so we see them going out and coming in. By doing these things we will never forget them, and (hopefully) by being constantly reminded of them we will do them. And if we do them, we will be righteous in the eyes of the Lord.

Now, I am sure many of you are thinking, “We aren’t saved by works but by faith, so how can Steve say these prayers are the pathway to salvation?” That is a good question, and my answer is that, at that time, the only pathway to salvation was through obedience to God’s instructions, which Moses is reminding them of now. If they learn nothing else from all that Moses is saying, by remembering the Shema and the V’ahavta they will know all they need to know to stay on the proper path.

The way we have placed God’s instructions before our eyes, on our hands, and on the doorposts of our house and gates is through the use of the Tefillin and a Mezuzah.  For those who may not be familiar with these things, let me finish today’s message with a little Jewish 101 lesson about the Tefillin and the Mezuzah.

The Tefillin (also called Phylacteries) are little black boxes with prayers inside that are tied to the left arm (which is the arm closest to the heart) and on the forehead, with the box on the bicep and between the eyes on the forehead. The strap is wrapped on the arm 7 times, and around the hand in the shape of the Hebrew letter Shin (“S”), to represent Shaddai, a name for God. The Tefillin contain four chambers, each chamber containing a prayer. The prayers inside are the following:

1–2. Kadesh(Exodus 13:1–10) and Vehayah ki yeviacha (Exodus 13:11–16): These describe the duty of the Jewish people to always remember the redemption from Egyptian bondage, and the obligation of every Jew to educate his children about this and about G‑d’s commandments.
3. Shema(Deut. 6:4–9): Pronounces the unity of the one God, and commands us to love and fear Him.
4. Vehayah (Deut. 11:13–21): Focuses on God’s assurance to us of reward that will follow our observance of the Torah’s mitzvahs.

                  

The Mezuzah is nailed to the door jamb on the right side as you enter, and the top is angled towards the house. Inside the Mezuzah is a scroll with the Shema written on it.

These two articles are essential things for every Torah observant Jew to own, although you usually only find the Orthodox and Chasidic Jews using the tefillin. However, the mezuzah is often found on every Jewish home, even those who are not very observant. It seems to be a tie to our heritage that isn’t easily broken (thank God for that!)

These symbols of obedience can remind us of one of two things: they will remind us that we are obedient, or they will remind us of how we haven’t been obedient. Either way, the one good thing is that they remind us of what we should be doing, and so long as God is not out of sight, he won’t ever be that far out of mind. So even those who have the mezuzah on their doors, which to them is nothing more than a decoration, they are still, despite themselves, being reminded of God and his commandments which should be followed, And who knows? Maybe one day they will suddenly come to realize how far short they have come to what they should be doing, do T’shuvah (turning from sin), and repent of their apostasy.

From my lips to God’s ears! Amen and Amen!

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!