Are Last Rites Valid for Jews?

There won’t be any video today.

I wrote this earlier this morning, and I planned to record the video after we took our cat, Shadow, for his two-week steroid shot, which he has been getting for 11 months due to him having cancer. He has been having trouble for the past week or so with urinating, and he has been uncomfortable and in pain. When we saw the Vet, she talked to us and we all knew, with her confirmation, that it was time to put him down.

Understandably, I am not in the mood to talk to anyone about anything right now, so since this was already written I will post it. I am sure you all feel for us, and Donna and I thank you for your compassion.

 

I was reading Dear Abby this morning and there was a Reform Jewish man who wrote about his wife, who had converted to Judaism and on her deathbed (she was comatose) her family asked if they could have a Priest administer the Last Rites of the Roman Catholic church. The man agreed as a way to be kind to the family, but now is having second thoughts about it.

Abby, in her usual politically correct answer, said the woman was comatose and whatever was said didn’t matter to her, so it was OK and he shouldn’t feel guilty.

I thought about this, as my initial response was, “No! You didn’t do that, did you, Mister?”, but I didn’t want to be unfair. After all, Abby is right that the woman didn’t have any idea what was going on. But, then again, when administering the Last Rites to an unconscious person are the statements the person is supposed to make made for them? I know when a baby is baptized, the godparents speak on behalf of the baby, so if a person is being given Last Rites, and they cannot speak for themselves, will the Priest intercede on their behalf?

I researched Last Rites and it reads like Tax form instructions. There are actually three different rites or sacraments that are given, and part of the rite is to have the person repeat the Apostolic Creed, which is this:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.

If the person cannot do so because they are unconscious, then (from what I have read) they can either receive a Plenary Indulgence or a partial indulgence, which is essentially saying that they will be given a “bye” on the consequences of their sins since they cannot ask for forgiveness.

Overall, I think when the husband allowed his Jewish wife to have someone say the Last Rites over her, he did the wrong thing. I see this as just another example of the typical Roman Catholic stance that Jews are wrong and they need to be converted. This was, maybe (a BIG maybe) asked by the family because they truly were concerned for the soul of their “lost” family member, but it still is disrespectful to her. She chose to convert to Judaism, and the Catholic family members should have respected that.

But Catholicism has never really respected Judaism, or any other religion (for that matter), and I believe in this case they wanted the nearly dead person to come back to Christ before it was “too late.”

People have a right to choose what they will believe in, and whether or not we like their choice, we must respect it. I think this request by the family to have Last Rites administered is not just disrespectful, but an abomination- a sad attempt to convert someone who has already made her choice but is now unable to fight them. And to request this from a man who is watching his wife dying, and probably not fully able to make decisions due to his grief, is just disgusting.

I can understand that the family may have been doing what they thought was best for the woman, but it is just another example of Roman Catholic disrespect for any beliefs other than what they believe. I think the Priest that administered the Last Rites was also at fault- he, of all people, should have respected the choice of the comatose woman and said that no one can accept Yeshua by proxy.
Oh, wait- that is what the Roman Catholic Church does, isn’t it?  The baptism ceremony has the godparents accepting Jesus for the baby. Later, at the Confirmation ceremony (the child is 7 or 8 years of age), they perform the catechism now (supposedly) the child now speaking for him or herself accepting Jesus as their “Lord.”

I asked my wife, who was raised Roman Catholic and went to a Catholic school if she knew anyone that refused to go to Confirmation, and she said of course not. In Catholic school, you do it, period. Between the Nuns and your parents, you really have no choice. The Church tells you this is what you must do.

This is the attitude of the “Church”, in general, whether Roman Catholic, Protestant or whatever other denomination of Christian there is. They see Jews and other religions as inferior and feel the need to convert them, misinterpreting the statement Yeshua made in Matthew 28:19 when he was ascending to heaven and told the Talmudim (Disciples) to make disciples of everyone.

I think it should be understood since he also told them (Matthew 10:14) to wipe the dust from their sandals if they were rejected, that to make disciples doesn’t mean to force people to be a disciple, but to give them the opportunity to choose to be a disciple.

Unfortunately, from my experience, the only religion of the “Big Three” that does not actively try to convert everyone is Judaism.  We do not try to make Jews out of everyone, and I don’t believe that is what Yeshua meant when he said to make disciples out of everyone. I believe, based on his being Jewish, that he meant to spread the word to Jews (remember- he came only for the House of Israel) about their Messiah. Not to actively convert the Gentiles. However, God did allow the salvation of those Gentiles who CHOSE to accept Yeshua and, thereby CHOSE to convert to Judaism. Christianity, as we know it today, didn’t come about until Constantine in the Third Century. Back in Yeshua’s day, and for the next hundred years or so, accepting Yeshua meant becoming a Jew.

In conclusion, there may be some reading this who feel I am being unfair and coming down on the Roman Catholic’s too hard, and maybe I am. As a Jewish man brought up being called “Christ Killer” and other such insults, I may be a little extra sensitive when I see any Christian forcing their beliefs on someone else.

But that doesn’t mean that what they are doing is acceptable. We each have to choose God and Messiah on our own, without coercion or threat, and I truly believe that any form of conversion which is not our own, free will choice will not be acceptable to God.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

 

A Real Life Example of How Patient Prayer Works

If you have been to the About Steve page on my website you would have read that children have kicked me out of their lives, and how I have been praying fervently every day for reconciliation. I have always stated I know it is, ultimately, a choice my children have to make, and I appreciate and am thankful for whatever God can do to help them make that choice.

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I say it that way because I know God will not force someone to love or forgive- he will give us plenty of opportunities, he will send angels and people in our path to help steer us to that goal, but he will not force anyone to do something.

On each of the birthdays of my children, I send them a letter or email. My daughter doesn’t have an email address I know of, so I send her a letter, and my son has an email.  I sent my son his birthday greeting and (as usual) a request to please reconcile last October (2018). As always, I said a little prayer over that communique before I sent it.

Last week I was checking my email and guess what was there? That’s right- an email from my son saying all the things I had been praying he would say. We have exchanged some emails since then, I am getting caught up on what he has been doing (it has been nearly 6 years since we last spoke) and he seems to be much more open to having a relationship than ever before.

I will be taking this step-by-step because I don’t want to ruin things, again. I am pretty sure what I had done in the past to help alienate him, and although I was trying to do what I thought best for him, even at my own expense, clearly I could have done whatever it was I wanted to do in a better way. I will do my very best not to make that mistake again.

Even though we are not of the same belief regarding God and Messiah, he is willing to read my books which I am sending to him today.

So, prayer works! Not always the way you want it to, not always like you want it to, and almost never when you want it to, but overall….it works.

In fact, it works even on those who don’t necessarily believe in God, so long as the one praying does.

I am so happy that my son has returned to me that I had to share this today with you, as encouragement to all of you out there still waiting for an answer to your prayers. Be patient, keep on asking, and faithfully trust that even if you don’t see any results, God is working on it for you.

 

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

There is a Fine Line Between Scare Tactics and Sugar-Coating Salvation

Like it or not, those of us who are to make disciples and be a light in the darkness have to realize we are Salespeople- selling the most important product that anyone could ever have: salvation and eternal joy.

It’s remarkable when you think of the benefits of this product, yet the vast majority of people either don’t want it or are willing to buy a “knock-off” (i.e., a religion that rejects God’s word) and they are happy with it. As Hosea said:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. (Hosea 4:6)

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The other day on Facebook a friend posted a beautiful message, all about God’s presence in our lives and how he protects us, loves us and wants the best for us. It talked of his ability to provide and his desire to save us. I replied that we need to also remember that he is our Judge and Jury, as well as Executioner and that these promises are not all that we have to look forward to. For those people who accept God and Messiah, there will be trouble and tribulation throughout their life. Following God has many advantages, but the very best of them we will not receive in this lifetime.

In my past, I was a professional salesman (for about 15 years) and I can tell you that to have a good sale, meaning one that will not cancel on you, you must be truthful and not give wrong expectations. You can’t make it sound like accepting God and Messiah will solve all your problems, nor should you use negative selling or scare tactics; these styles will never produce a “good” sale. Preaching “fire and brimstone” scare tactics might convince some people to accept Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah. In the same way, preaching that God loves you just as you are, you can be saved simply by asking for it and once saved you will receive all sorts of blessings will create unrealistic expectations, and that seed will be like the seed the weeds choked them or the birds came and ate (Matthew 13.)

To follow God faithfully we must also love him- you can’t scare people into loving someone; likewise, you will set them up for disappointment if you make salvation sound like heaven on earth. To put rose-colored glasses on unsuspecting and biblically ignorant people, convincing them that once they accept Yeshua they will be saved and blessed, is to send them into battle with a gun that has no bullets.

Following God is hard work- Yeshua didn’t say follow me and have it easy, he said we must carry our execution stake on our shoulders in order to follow him (Mark 8:34.) To obey God and follow Messiah means you might have to give up much: friends, family, sometimes your job, maybe even your life!

For those to whom we are preaching salvation, we must let them know, right at the start, that this is not going to be easy. That they will, over time, have to sacrifice things that they may not want to. We keep them interested in reminding them of the afterlife rewards, as well as the many blessings they can receive while alive. We shouldn’t sugar-coat what they are deciding to do, but we shouldn’t scare them to the point where they lose bowel control, either.

That is the thin line we must walk when we talk to non-believers about God and Messiah. We should be an example of the proper way to act towards God and each other, and we must also tell them that we are still human, frail and weak, and it is expected that we won’t always act in the godliest way; for example, the words I will probably be using when it takes me three strokes to get out of the stinking sand trap! Failing to be godly now and then doesn’t mean we aren’t trying, and this is one of the best things about God: he knows our heart, he forgives our failures and he strengthens us when we ask him to help us be better.

I always try to slide some hint or suggestion in a conversation that will let me see if there is a positive reaction from someone regarding God and the Bible. I might interject a biblical reference or repeat a proverb in a conversation and say I read it in a really good book. If they ask which book, I can then say it is in the Bible, and ask them if they have ever read it? There can be any number of ways to “test the waters” when conversing with someone to see if they are open to hearing about God without tackling them to the ground, sitting on them and asking, “Do you believe in God?”

I can tell you, absolutely, that approach will not work.

My suggestion is that you think of ways you are comfortable with when approaching people about God during a conversation that is subtle and non-threatening to them. Here are some examples of what I do:

  • I work a biblical story or proverb into the conversation and start it off with, “I read this in a book”, and if they ask what book, I tell them. Then I ask if they ever read the Bible?
  • I turn the conversation towards the current social unrest, and ask if they believe there are more problems coming in the future? Carefully I work in that the Bible has stated these sorts of things will happen and ask them if they believe the Bible or if they believe in God?
  • If someone asks advice, I give them a proverb or story from the Bible to justify my advice. I’ll then ask if they knew the Bible covers many inter-personal relationship issues.

These are just some ways I turn the conversation towards God, and I never, ever push myself on people. If they are interested, I go with the flow but slowly, and carefully. It is like walking on thin ice- if I put too much pressure on, I will fall through.

When someone talks only about how good God is and all the wonderful things he does for us, I feel bad for them and the people they are talking to because they are setting themselves up for disappointment; how often have you heard people reject God because he didn’t meet their expectations? That is what preaching only the “happy-happy” side of salvation does- it gets a lot of people to join in, but it also sets them up for disappointment and eventually doesn’t help them. On the other hand, preaching fire and brimstone only scares people, and that will also fail to help them.

There are many blessings awaiting those who love the Lord and accept Yeshua as their Messiah, both now and throughout eternity, but they come at a price. We like to say “salvation is a free gift from God”, but it really isn’t.  Oh yes- you can have it for the asking, but to keep it you will have to give up much.

We must never push people away from God, and it is just as important that we must never leave them with the wrong expectations. The saddest thing about missionary work is that when we fail to make the right impression, it isn’t we who suffer- it is those we are trying to help. If we leave a bad taste in their mouth regarding God or Messiah, we may end up causing them to lose any chance of salvation, or (at least) we might make it that much harder for the next person.

It’s a thin line we walk when trying to help people come to God.

 

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Thank you for your interest and please don’t hesitate to leave comments or suggestions (just be nice.)

Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Is the Truth Any Good if It Isn’t Practical?

What is “practical“? According to Google dictionary, it is:

of or concerned with the actual doing or use of something rather than with theory and ideas.

OK- so that’s what practical means. Next, we need to know what the “truth‘ is, don’t we?

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The truth is, for all practical purposes, whatever someone wants to the truth to be. I know certain truths from the word of God of which I have no doubt about their meaning, but those same verses which convince me of one truth, convince someone else of a totally different and (often) opposite truth.

So, again, what is the truth? Didn’t Pontius Pilate ask that of Yeshua at his trial? And what did Yeshua answer him? It was in John 18:37-38 so let’s see what Yeshua says the truth is:

 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 

Wait a minute! Yeshua never told him what the truth is…or did he? He did say that everyone on the side of truth listens to him, and he preached from the Tanakh, so I suppose what Yeshua was saying is that the truth is in the Tanakh- the word of God.

But that brings us back to the first thing I said, which is that the truth comes from the Word of God.

Here is the real truth as I see it: any given Bible verse can mean different things to different people depending on what they want it to mean!

I recently posted on how Bible verses can’t always be trusted; click here to go to that message. It is because Bible verses mean different things to different people that we find the truth so difficult to find.

Here is my suggestion on how to tell what the truth is: is that “truth” practical? Can it be used in everyday life to make a change for the better?

For example, some say that the Mosaic Law was done away with when Yeshua was hung on a stake. Others say it wasn’t, so who is telling the truth? I mean, really- you can’t have both.

If the law was done away with, the practical application of that “truth” would be lawlessness, resulting in a lawless society of Believers (there’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one!) who live their life without law and, thereby, without repentance but they still get to “go to heaven.”

I don’t think so.

On the other hand, if the law is still valid, then those that follow the law would be showing that obedience to Torah in their daily lives., They wouldn’t cheat people, they would be considerate of others, they would respect God and worship him as he said we should, and they would be an example to the world of how God tells us to behave. Not perfect examples, of course, but certainly much better than someone who has no obligation to follow the rules.

I am not making a case either for or against Mosaic Law here- what I am making a case for is that whatever we want to prove as “true”, specifically regarding God and the Bible, if it isn’t something that can be used in a practical way, it probably isn’t a real “truth.” It is more likely someone else’s “truth”, and as such we should reject it.

I read posts all day long from many different people in a half dozen or so discussion groups on Facebook, all of them Christian or Hebraic Root or Messianic, and do you know what I find? Truths that have no value because they aren’t practical.

I see people post the same exact truth over and over, in different ways saying the same thing, and it is always impractical, meaning that they never tell me how to apply it to my daily life? If I know God loves me, how do I apply that when I am going shopping?  If I know God will always care for those that obey him, how will that help me when I am sick or financially strapped?

James gives us a good example of what I am talking about in James 2:16:

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that?

The same holds true for posting about the wonders and graciousness of God without providing the way to experience or (better yet) demonstrate it to others.

If you believe that you should love your neighbor as yourself, then go out and show others you believe it by giving to charity, volunteering where you can help others, or doing something for someone else without expectation or desire for reward. And remember that Yeshua said when doing a mitzvah or Tzadakah, don’t make a big show of it; don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.

When I used to preach at Shabbat services I led, I always ended up with some practical way for us to be an example of the biblical truth I was talking about. We need to be able to not just teach people about God but to teach them how to live in a godly way. We need to take the truth of the Bible and perform it in a practical way so that those in the dark can see the light.

Just talking and posting about the wonderful things of the Lord is putting a lamp under a cover, if you ask me. Yes, tell us God’s truth but then tell us how to make practical use of that truth in the real world. Our God is not a God of words and ideas, he is a God of action!

Here’s my final word on this: in order for God’s word to be proven as true, we need to take it off the pages of the book and make it practical in the real world.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch haShem!

Is Either Believing or Rejecting the Trinity a Sin?

I recently wrote a message about different ways that verses from the Bible are used, and misused, to prove one’s beliefs. I mentioned the belief in the Trinity as one of those “hot” topics where the same verses can be used to justify either side. When reviewing some of the comments I received, I began to wonder if either belief in or rejection of the Trinity is a sin.

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Before we begin, let me state that I personally, having been raised (and still am) Jewish, do not believe in the Trinity. I believe God is a separate, unique spiritual entity and that the Messiah (Yeshua), although 100% filled with the Holy Spirit, was born as a 100% mortal human and remained that way throughout his lifetime. As for the Holy Spirit …well, I am not really sure how to explain the Ruach HaKodesh, but it is not God and it is not Yeshua.

That being said, I do not deny anyone their right to believe in the traditional Christian teaching of the Trinity, meaning that God, the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit are the same entity, one being in three different forms.

Considering that these beliefs seem to be polar opposites of each other, it would seem that either side would consider the other side as being in sin. The Non-Trins say that the Trins are making Messiah into an idol and thereby violating the 2nd commandment about worshiping other gods. The Trins say that the non-Trins are rejecting the Messiah’s deity and thereby rejecting him. In my opinion, there will never be absolute proof of either of these beliefs until such time as we face God and Yeshua, who will then tell us the truth.

The funny thing about that is when we finally get the definitive answer, it will be too late to make any difference.

Here is what I believe regarding the sinfulness of believing either side: neither side will be in sin so long as we respect and observe the position of each entity with regards to God’s plan of salvation. What that means is this: God is the only one who will forgive our sins; Yeshua is the Messiah, our Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) and our Intercessor, through whom we and our prayers are justified in God’s sight; and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is a comforting spirit which God gives to those who accept Yeshua as their Messiah and who helps us to better understand God’s word and guide us in the path of righteousness.

If I believe Yeshua is God in the flesh, but I do not pray to him or ask him for forgiveness, then what if he really isn’t God? If I still pray only to God and ask God for forgiveness, then I have not worshiped Yeshua as God. If I believe he is God, but I worship and pray to God, the Father, then I have not placed Yeshua in a position where he is idolized, and I have not violated the 2nd Commandment.

On the other side, if I do not believe Yeshua is God but he really is, again- so long as I worship God the Father, then I am following Yeshua’s lead because he prayed to God and he talked about God as something other than himself. Even in the Gospel of John where he often refers to himself and God as one, he is not saying they are the same entity; in John 12:49 he tells us that he only says what the Father tells him to say and only does what the Father tells him to do, so when he said that when we see him we see God he is talking metaphorically. He is saying he is the image of God. He is not God’s puppet, without his own thoughts or feelings, but his teachings are directly from God and his works are directly from God. Jews would understand this relationship because a traditional Jewish thought is that the Torah is a mirror and when we look into the Torah we should see ourselves. That is what Yeshua was saying about himself- he is the mirror image of God.

So the bottom line is this: believing in the Trinity, or not believing in the Trinity, is not sinful in and of itself. I believe there is nothing sinful if we do these two things:

  1. Worship God alone and respect his position as the Father;
  2. Accept Yeshua as our Messiah, looking to him to intercede with God the Father and when we pray for forgiveness or for other things, we pray to God in the name of Yeshua: Yeshua is to be the Intercessor of our prayers, not the Interceptor of them.

If we do anything else, such as praying to Yeshua for forgiveness, praying to a saint to intercede with God, or praying to anyone other then God, himself, then we have committed a sin. Praying to anyone or anything other than God the Father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is idolatry and a sin.

I believe you can trust in this: pray only to God, ask only of God in the name of the Messiah, and whether you believe them to be the same personage or not, you will not be sinning.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!!

Do Bible Verses Really Prove Anything?

Based on the title of today’s message, I promise not to give one verse or quote from the Bible.

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There are many, many people who believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God. Yet, how can that be if there are literally dozens of different versions of the Bible and under the law of copyright, each version has to have a significant difference from the other versions?

Also, we have interpretations of the original Hebrew and Greek into many different languages, and we all know that there is no such thing as an exact translation from one language to another due to cultural and linguistic differences between the many different people of the world.

So, in light of these facts, how can we even think that what we are reading in our Bible (whichever version it may be) is truly infallible?

The truth is…it can’t be! After all, the Bible is just a book. It is not God, himself. It tells us about God, it tells us what God wants us to know, it even tells us how to live our lives in the way that pleases God, but it is not God. It is not infallible, and it is not exactly what he said, even when it is supposed to be a quote.

Now that I have angered a number of you who are absolutely fixated on the Bible as being the absolute, infallible word of God, let’s raise the bar on your frustration.

When someone tries to prove a position, spiritual, ceremonial or social, that is based on what is written in the Bible, their argument may not trustworthy. And I am not talking about just those arguments that I don’t agree with. Why do I say this? Because the way people use Bible verses to support their position is too often an improper use of biblical exegesis.

As an example of what I mean, let’s take two of the most hotly argued issues regarding the Bible: the Trinity and Mosaic Law.

There are many people who argue that the Bible tells us, absolutely, that God, Messiah and the Holy Spirit are three-in-one, all the same entity but appearing in different forms. Then again, there are just as many people who say the Bible tells us, absolutely, that God, Messiah and the Holy Spirit are separate and unique entities, that there is only One God, one Messiah who is not God, and the Holy Spirit. Both sides have biblical evidence that supports their argument, and often the Bible verses they use as support for each side of these polar opposite beliefs are the same verses!

As far as the “Law”, meaning the commandments given to Moses on the mountain which are written in the Torah, still being required for those who have accepted Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) as their Savior, there is the one side quoting from the New Covenant to show the law was done away with when Yeshua was crucified, and there are those who use quotes from the New Covenant to show that those who accept Yeshua are still required to obey God’s Torah.

Now…before you start to comment on which position is correct, please stop right there and remember this message is NOT about the Trinity or the Law- it is about the fact that Bible quotes cannot be trusted as absolute proof of a position. The reason why I say this should now be obvious: because the same verses can be used to support either side they can’t really support any side.

The reason this can be is because there is so much in the Bible, so many different messages and ideas and statements, that if I want to prove whatever I choose to believe in, if I take enough time, look long enough, and pull enough words and statements out of context, I can make the Bible “say” pretty much anything I want it to say.

So, nu?  If this is true, then how can anyone learn anything from the Bible? How can we use the Bible to show what God wants us to know and how he wants us to behave? How can we trust anything anyone tells us about God?

We do so by interpreting the Bible correctly. We use proper biblical exegesis, which is a combination of Circles of Context and Hermeneutics.

Circles of Context is the system where we take the word within the sentence, the sentence within the paragraph, the paragraph within the book, and the book within the entire Bible. We make sure that when we are reading or quoting anything from the Bible that the interpretation considers who is writing it and to whom is it addressed. We have to consider what the topic is; for instance, Shaul (Paul) wrote to the different Messianic congregations he formed that were having problems. Each letter he wrote was specifically meant to deal with that congregation’s problems, and so each letter is unique to that audience. What he wrote to the Jews in Rome has to be interpreted and understood using Jewish culture, linguistic, and religious context. On the other hand, the letter to the Galatians was to a congregation of mostly Gentiles in the process of converting to Judaism. In that case, Shaul wrote using a form of Greek logic and terms from the Septuagint because the Gentiles there would not understand the nuances and cultural mores of a Jewish argument.

Once we have reviewed the biblical passage in its full context, we also need to ensure it is hermeneutically validated. Hermeneutics, simply stated, is the idea that everything we find in the Bible will be consistent with everything else in the Bible. As such, what is said to be a sin in Genesis will still be considered a sin in Revelation; what Shaul says is in the Torah in his letter to the Philippians will be consistent with what Moses tells us is in the Torah in Exodus.

Just as we are told that God is the same then, now and always, hermeneutics uses this same idea to validate what we read in the Bible- the meaning of the passage we read here must be the same everywhere else in the book. The true word of God does not contramand itself.

When we read the Bible, we need to always use these two exegetical practices. We must consider the cultural and linguistic usage of the words and events we read about that were used at the time they were written. We cannot use current or modern definitions of words or, for that matter, current social and moral values for what was done in ancient days. We must accept what we read in the Bible from the viewpoint, morally, culturally and linguistically, of the people that lived back then. If we really want to understand what we read in the Bible, we need to transplant ourselves into the culture and walk a mile in the shoes, or sandals as the case may be, of the people at that time.

Can we trust the Bible? Yes, we can. We can trust what is in the Bible when we use the proper tools I have given you today. And always, ask God to show you what he wants you to see. There is a legitimate argument that God may give a different message or meaning to you than he will to me, even when we read the same passage. So long as what we each believe that passage to mean is contextually accurate and hermeneutically validated, we can both be right. For instance, some prophecies have dual-meanings, and if you see the current meaning and I see the future meaning, we are both saying something different about the same thing, and we are both correct.

I know this is confusing and may make some of you feel uneasy and doubtful. That is good! Never accept what anyone says as correct, not even me- always verify it for yourself in the Bible using the proper tools of interpretation. And always, always, always ask God for guidance and understanding.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch Ha Shem!

Why the Good Die Young (Maybe)

Billy Joel had a hit song with the title, “Only the good die young.” We have heard this phrase used many times over the years, and always wondered if it was based in truth. After consideration, I think it may be a valid conclusion.

If you prefer to watch a video, I am not doing one today. Please keep reading- this will be short.

The premise for my argument has a few “givens”:

  1. God has a plan for everyone;
  2. God has given each of us the talents and gifts to achieve his plan;
  3. God isn’t concerned with how others would feel if you were dead.

Working with these foundational premises, the idea that God wants us to achieve something for his glory means that, once we have achieved it, he will either give us a new job to do or “take us home.” Consequently, those who are godly early in life, and who perform wondrous activities for God’s glory, might just beat their own deadline, and as such get called to God sooner than what any human would consider being “fair.”

How many times have you heard or known of a young person who was so angelic he or she made everyone they met love them? Or maybe you have read about a child being killed in an accident and thinking, “How sad- taken away at such a young age. Why would God allow that?”

My point is that maybe, just maybe, God didn’t allow it but caused it. Maybe that young person, or that wonderful adult, had performed all that God wanted that person to perform, and as such their reward was to be with God?

Shaul (Paul) tells us in Philippians 1:21 that he would rather be dead:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have complete boldness, so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. So what shall I choose? 

Of course, he isn’t really saying he would rather die, but he certainly won’t be upset by it! He is living his life to perform God’s work, and when that work is done, he will be done, as well. God even tells Shaul that he has a job to do in Rome (Acts 23:11). And we know that once that job was done, that was it for Shaul. At least, that was it for this life.

So when you read or hear or know of someone who is a wonderful, godly person dying, don’t feel bad for them or think they were “cheated”- be glad for that person! It might be that they have fulfilled what God wanted them to do and now are receiving the reward they deserve. On the other hand, when you feel called to do something, don’t hesitate because you think that doing God’s will may kill you-you will be fine, and so will the ones left behind. And you may have more than one thing God wants you to do.

Shaul was a pretty smart fellow, and he knew it is better to be with God than on the earth; I believe he is right, don’t you?

Thank you for being here; I welcome any comments or questions (so long as you are nice) and if you like what you read, please share me out. Don’t forget to click on the SUBSCRIBE button in the right-hand margin.

Until our next time together, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

 

(Oy gevalt- now I am going to have the song in my head all day!)

WARNING: I am About to Rant

Thank you for being here, especially after I already warned you about the subject matter. If you feel a need to comment, please do not hesitate but, as you will glean from this rant, I would ask that you be respectful, or at least nice when you comment.

If you prefer to watch a video rant, please click on this link: Watch the rant.

Normally, on Friday I give a message on the Torah parashah, but what happened last night is so important and upsetting that I have to talk about it.  I left a discussion group that I recently joined. In fact, I was given a little Facebook star for having contributed so well to that group. So, nu? Why did I leave? Because one of the administrators of that group was such a jerk that I couldn’t continue to be in his presence.

The question of the divinity of Yeshua was posted in a discussion within this group, and he and I disagreed: he is a Trinitarian and I am not. I never said anything against him or his beliefs, just that I disagreed with him and the interpretations of the verses that he used to prove his point.

Despite my polite pleading to “agree to disagree” and start a different conversation, he was not just adamant, but obsessed with my refusal to agree with him. He told me if I deny Yeshua as a divine entity then I am denying Yeshua (really? There’s a gigantic difference between not believing Yeshua is God and denying him, altogether.) He also accused me and told me I HAD to prove my point. I repeatedly said I just disagreed, and I told him that I don’t want to discuss it. I knew that his demand for me to prove my side of this argument was merely a way to bait me so he could continue to berate me and tell me why he is correct.

Now that we have the background, it’s time for the part where I begin to rant.

People are people, and being a Believer we are expected to show more of the compassion, patience and long-suffering (Fruits of the Spirit- Galatians 5:22) that Yeshua showed, and that God has always shown. But that doesn’t happen, and it doesn’t happen a lot!

If someone was an ass before they accepted Yeshua, they will still be an ass after they accept Yeshua. Hopefully, that will eventually go away as they die to self and mature, both emotionally and spiritually. This happens when we are willing to carry our execution stake and follow Yeshua throughout the rest of our life (Matthew 16:24.)

Some people never want to pick up their execution stake. They refuse to die to self and continue to be prideful and arrogant, and when they discuss a topic with someone and that person disagrees, they don’t listen- they attack. They accuse the person (as I was accused) of being stubborn and not willing to listen, which is really funny when you consider that they have just done the same thing! I asked this man many times to please just let it go, but he continually came back, post after post, with his reasons why he believed what he did and demanding I do the same. In fact, I shared a post to that group that talked about a teaching series I am giving regarding the Jewish and Christian perspective on salvation, and he commented on it. However, the comment had nothing to do with the post’s subject matter, and when I replied thanking him for having an interest in my work, he said I shouldn’t flatter myself, he was only replying to let me know that I am denying the Messiah. He actually commented on a totally different discussion with a totally different topic just to let me know that he wasn’t going to allow me to escape one post thread by starting a different one. I had to leave the group and also blocked him, for my own peace of mind and so that as I continue to post articles and teach he will not interrupt and possibly confuse others.

Look- I am also a human being, and I battle every moment of every day with my own pridefulness (which I really deserve! Nah-just kidding), and because I recognize the pridefulness in myself, I am able to recognize it in others. It’s like the old expression, “It takes one to know one.” When someone cannot let go of a discussion, cannot accept to agree to disagree, and becomes aggressive and demeaning, that person has absolutely no interest in God, Yeshua or edifying you. He (or she) doesn’t care about right or wrong or your spiritual position- all that person wants is to hear someone else say, “You are right. Thank you for correcting me.”

This is a sad thing. Someone like this, a person with such low self-esteem (which is why they are so aggressive) and so emotionally and spiritually immature that they need to have someone else tell them they are right, is a pitiable person. And when they don’t receive the confirmation and gratification of being told they are right, they verbally abuse and attack the other person.

Someone who is confident in their beliefs will not have to prove it to anyone, and someone who is mature will not resort to personal attacks if the other person doesn’t agree with them.

If I believe I know something about what the Bible says, and I see that your understanding is wrong (in my opinion), then I will try to explain my side. I will give you the benefit of my learning, knowledge, and insight. However, if you don’t accept that or simply disagree, then I should allow you the right to have your own opinion. I am not in the place of God to judge you, or in the place of God to condemn you.

The people who are like the person I have described above, who think they are in God’s place, that they are correct, absolutely and undeniably, and that if you do not agree with them you are in sin…well, if they really were correct and that spiritually aware, they would have no problem shaking the dust off their feet and they would easily stop throwing their pearls at the swine. But they can’t. And why can’t they? Because it isn’t about right or wrong, it isn’t about God or Yeshua, and it isn’t about you or me- it is all about them!

As I take a deep breath and move on, I hope this rant has been helpful in identifying a problem we all will run into as we share our beliefs and contribute to discussion groups. I give everyone the right to have their own opinion, and if they disagree with me I will not force myself on them. A truly mature and confident person will not be so disrespectful as to not let someone else out of a discussion, or not argue if they ask to “agree to disagree.” Those who, like this man I am talking about, cannot accept that someone doesn’t agree with their beliefs and allow that person to have their own opinion, is not any different than the Crusaders of 1095 CE who slaughtered thousands who refused to denounce their beliefs.

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Until then, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

 

Legalism in a Nutshell

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Legalism- just what is it? Many Christians have, for centuries, been taught that it means people who follow the Torah and the Jewish lifestyle are not really saved because they don’t have faith in Jesus. To a Jewish person, following the Torah is the ultimate indication of faith.

So, what legalism is, in a nutshell, is a belief that one can achieve eternal glory and be welcomed into the presence of God (i.e., be “saved”) through the performance of activities, specifically those which God gave in the Torah. I call it performance-based salvation.

Faith is not a necessary element of legalism, but it is not absent in those who are legalistic. In other words, one can have faith in God and still be legalistic. The main issue is whether or not salvation is considered to be the result of faith, which inspires obedience, or if obedience is how we attain salvation, which also requires having faith in God.

Legalism is a form of putting the cart before the horse.

We need to have the right type of faith: is our faith in God to “save” us based only on obedience, or is it because we believe God knows what is best for us so we do as he says? Isn’t that the type of faith Abraham had? Trusting in God so much that he obeyed without question.

Here is what I see as the foundation of wrong teaching in all religions- Abraham trusted without needing to know why, but “religion” tells us why we should trust, why we should obey and that we need to do what our religion tells us is the proper thing to do. God has no religion, but men have created “religion” in order to have power over other men by pretending to know best how to do what God said to do.

I believe that organized religion is the ultimate form of legalism.

For me, salvation is the result of faith, which inspires obedience, and together they result in salvation…but that is too simplistic a definition. What I should say is that proper faith will lead us to the desire to obey God, and when we are obedient for that reason it will strengthen our faith even more; ultimately, just as iron sharpens iron, our faith will strengthen our desire to obey which will enhance our faith. It is a win-win situation.

There are more than a few times in the Bible that God has told his people, through the Prophets, that lip-service to him is unacceptable. It is clear from the Bible that just doing what God says, just to do it, is not true worship- it is nothing more than being an automaton. God doesn’t want automatons, he wants worshipful, thinking human beings who love him and show that love through faithful and unquestioning obedience.

I am not saying we cannot ask God for explanations- he is always there and always listening to us. But (I believe) with the proper faith you will ask God without demanding an answer, and be thankful if he decides to give you one. Usually, this is done through prayer, and we all know (or should) that prayers are always answered, but God’s answer may be “No”, or it could be “Maybe later, but not now”, or “Yes, but it isn’t going to be what you expect and it won’t come when you expect it.”  And sometimes we get an immediate answer that is just what we asked for- but if it should happen to you, don’t get used to it!

Legalism is still around today- not the same kind that Shaul (Paul) argued against, but from (mainly) Gentile Believers who are getting back to their Jewish roots. However, their form of legalism is so exacting that they forget faith is more important. They argue over how God’s name is pronounced, and stating that if you use what they consider to be the wrong name or pronunciation you are praying to idols. They are “anal” about when the moon sets and what calendar is the absolutely correct one. They universally reject all Jewish tradition, yet follow many traditional Christian teachings, such as Yeshua said all food is clean so we don’t have to be Kosher (Mark 7 or Acts 10), or Christians really only have to obey the 4 commands given by the Elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15), and other teachings like these. Their desire to be obedient is so strong that the pendulum has swung from one far side to the other, and their attempts to be correctly worshipful has caused them to stray off the path of true worship.

It is really simple: trust that God knows best, and believe that what he says is what we should do. Without question, without rationalization, without needing to know why- we should just do as God says because we trust in him and because…well, he’s God and we’re not!

Anything more than that is walking down a path that may lead us away from salvation.

What Does Do Not Add or Take Away Really Mean?

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There are many times within the Bible, from Genesis through to Revelation, that we are told we are not to add to or take away from the commandments we are given. The most specific commands I could find regarding this can be found in Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; 13:1; and in Revelation 22:18-19.

Too often I have noticed that people use these admonitions as a means of denying the validity of both Jewish and Christian traditions, rites and holidays that are not specifically commanded in the Torah. They believe the words “do not add to or take away from” as universally encompassing any and all words, ceremonies, activities or regulations outside exactly what is written in the Torah.

This is a form of legalistic interpretation, and although their heart is in the right place, their understanding is incorrect.

When Moses warned against adding to or taking away from the instructions God gave us he meant not to change only those things which he just instructed us to do. Rabbi Rashi gave an example by saying that we are told to use 4 species for the Lulav, so we shouldn’t use 5 or 3. The idea is that we are not to make arbitrary changes to the laws; that, however, does not mean we cannot make new additions to the Mosaic laws, as conditions require. Obviously, with the advent of new technology and moving from an agrarian economy to a service economy, the Mosaic Laws, taken in a stoic and unbending literal meaning, in many cases cannot be applied.

Let us consider that we do not change anything in the Torah at all- literally, not one word is to be added or taken away. If that is the case, then the only way we can be sure we obey that command is to read the Torah in the original Hebrew it was written in. For example, if we are not to add to the words in the book, then English cannot be used to translate the Bible because we would have to add many, many words.

Here’s an example: in Hebrew, the possessive is usually the noun with the ending having a “-nu” added. “Adonai” means “Lord” but when we write “Adonainu” it means “our Lord” The Hebrew is a single word but the English translation requires the use of two words, which is a violation of the command not to add anything to the words in the book. Imagine how many uses of the possessive we find in the Bible, and how many words will have to be added just to interpret the Hebrew correctly. Not to mention that the Torah has been translated into scores of different languages, each of them having their own need to add or remove certain words to make the translation fit.

Can you see how ridiculous it becomes if we insist on an absolutely literal interpretation of that command?

The Torah is a book of instruction- it is the ultimate User’s Manual for worshiping God and treating each other. Torah doesn’t mean “law”, it means “instruction” and the instructions we are given are to be performed as God said to. That means we are to do what God said to do the way God said to do it, but it does NOT mean we cannot adjust to a changing world. R. Maimonides has said that the sages (Sanhedrin) are allowed to temporarily suspend some requirements or allow that which is forbidden under extreme circumstances. These are not to be permanent changes, but under extreme conditions and only to allow what needs to be done only while there is a need for it.

And under no circumstance can additional requirements be considered as Divine instructions- that is what it really boils down to when Moses said do not add to or take away from what God gave us:  the instructions in the Torah are not to be changed, deleted, altered or modified in any way. However, what new “fences around the law” are required (aka, Talmudic instruction) are acceptable so long as they are not presented as Divine instruction. 

This is where Judaism has violated the Torah- the Talmud is studied and revered as scripture by some of the more Orthodox sects of Judaism, and that is what Moses said we should not do. There is nothing wrong with traditional forms of worship if they do not nullify or over-rule God’s commands, AND if they are recognized as man-made and not presented as Divinely ordered.

Here is an example: the Divine order in Torah is that we are not to boil a calf in its mother’s milk; the fence around that law (given in the Talmud) is that we are not to even mix meat and dairy. I, myself, will never boil a calf in its mother’s milk but I will go to Steak and Shake and order a cheeseburger, fries and a milkshake (Oy! Now I’m hungry.) I am not violating God’s commandment, and the truth is even if I never mix meat and dairy, I am not violating God’s commandment, and I am not sinning- I am simply doing a little more than the minimum to ensure I do not violate the Divine order. That is really what the Talmudic/Rabbinic traditions are designed to do- they are to help us perform God’s commandments properly and not accidentally violate them (hence the term “fences around the law”, i.e. a way to prevent us from accidentally trespassing the law.)

So, here is how I look at “traditional” rites and holidays: do they change what God has said? Is celebrating Hanukkah (not specified in Lev. 23) a violation of God’s commandments? In my opinion, it isn’t because God couldn’t include it when he gave the Moedim to Moses simply because it hadn’t occurred yet. Is thanking God for a miraculous military victory which saved Judaism wrong? How could it be? How can anything that is a loving and worshipful celebration of the Lord and what he has done for us ever be wrong?

On the other hand, is failing to honor the Sabbath OK? Certainly not! Or if we decided we wanted to celebrate Sukkot for only 5 days, would that be OK? Certainly not! But what if I want to have a party and read the Magillah of Hadassah on Purim, is that OK? It certainly is!

God gave us the Torah so we can know how he wants us to live. It is not all-encompassing, it does not cover everything we will run into as the world changes, and it is not absolutely the exact words God gave to Moses. There is no way we can know that. So, nu? What is it? It is a collection of instructions that are the minimum we should do to obey God. Anything outside of the Torah that is required by our religious leadership is not a sin as long as that requirement is in accordance with God’s instructions; they must not nullify, overrule or change them, and they must not be presented as a Divine instruction.

What we are given in the Talmud and Constantinian Christian dogma is man-made instruction. It is not Divine, it is not absolutely required, and if it goes against what God said (such as changing the day we celebrate the Sabbath) it is a sin.

So, celebrate the Lord, give thanks in every way you can and don’t restrict your thankfulness to only what is in the Torah.