When Ya Gotta Go, Ya Gotta Go!

I was travelling with some new friends I met at my place of worship and we were talking about a schism they had recently experienced within the congregation, just a little before I started to attend.

The discussion turned to how so many people were tied to other people in the congregation, tied to the building, the memories of the activities in that building, and other human-based , worldly things. The finances didn’t allow for that building anymore, but people wanted to stay there because it was comfortable and they had been there for years. Some others wanted to keep the building they couldn’t afford because of the memories  of ceremonies for family and friends that had been given there.  Others didn’t want to stay with the group moving because they changed the date of services.

I understand these feelings- I felt them towards the synagogue where I was first “saved” and to which I had given more than just time: I gave money, I gave blood and sweat, and many tears. I made friends and had many happy, spiritually enriching experiences there, too. I was tied to it emotionally and spiritually. But when the time came to leave, I was gone.

Maybe you’re thinking ,”Hey- if I like a place, what’s wrong with that?” Nothing. But if you like a place too much, you are too tied to the world.

Here’s something that may get me in trouble, but I’ll say it, anyway (after all, it’s my blog): I believe that people who are strongly tied to a tradition, or a memory, or a place will be the first ones to kneel down and take the mark!

“Hey- whaddaya mean? I am a Christian soldier and I won’t turn my back on God. I just don’t want to leave this place or have a new Pastor/Rabbi/whatever. I like things the way they are.”

What does God do with a vine that bears much good fruit? He prunes it, so that it can grow more good fruit elsewhere.

What did Yeshua say to the man who wanted to follow Him?  “The fox has it’s hole and the bird its nest, but the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to lay His head.”

Didn’t Yeshua say that someone who holds the plow and looks back isn’t fit for the Kingdom of God?

The world is a waste- nothing of the world has lasting power or eternal value. Only those things of the Spirit can be counted upon to last. That is why I say that people who are tied to worldly things will take the mark- it’s because their Spirit is weak and, like the seed that is sown among weeds, they will apostatize when the rubber hits the road. Their weak spirit and lack of faith (that’s right- being attracted to the world and it’s things shows lack of faith) will cause them to accept the mark. Why? Because the Enemy will attract them and dupe them in by promising that their comfort zone will be coddled, that they are right and justified to stay where they feel comfortable. That anyone who tells them they need to change is wrong.

When something never changes they have a special name for that- it’s called stagnation. It’s the way to keep from growing and maturing. It’s the comfortable, easy way. It’s also death.

Yeshua said we need to pick up our execution stake and follow Him. Think about that for a moment…He didn’t say pick up your stake and stand still. He said pick it up and follow. Well, I can’t follow anyone who isn’t moving, so I guess Yeshua figures He will be moving, He will be in motion, and I’ll bet you that He won’t be looking back as He plows.

We need to be ready, willing, and even (dare I say it!) looking forward to when Yeshua or God will call us out of our comfort zone so that we can do more good for His Glory!

Don’t stagnate, don’t get comfy-cozy, and do be ready to move when the call comes. God is everywhere, so His work is everywhere. If you expect to be doing His work, don’t get too comfortable.

Buffet Believers

You know the type- they say they believe in God, and that they are “saved by the blood”, but when it comes to the totality of the commandments found throughout the Tanakh suddenly there are laws and regulations that are not so important. Some are even just not applicable anymore.

For instance, pork carried diseases so that’s why God said don’t eat it, but we have the USDA now and pork is safe, so I can have it.

Or maybe that culture was very anti-female, and a lot of the laws and ways that women were treated are no longer acceptable or correct. The Bible was written by men, after all, so I don’t have to obey some of their misogynistic laws.

Or maybe they lived in an agrarian culture so tithing was something they could do, but we have state taxes and FICA and tithing only has to be what I can afford to do.

The Bible is God’s word; it is who He is, what He wants from us, and how He wants us to live. It is not a discussion. We can’t “white-wash” these commandments, and God doesn’t really care if we like them or not. In 2 Samuel He tells us Himself that He is no respecter of men (or women). True, He loves us; yes, He is our Father in Heaven and all that stuff but that doesn’t mean that we can just pick and choose what we like and leave the rest for someone else.

If you say you worship God and have the Ruach HaKodesh in you, then you cannot live as you used to. If you haven’t changed your ways, then you are a liar. Maybe you don’t mean to lie, but you are lying to yourself and God isn’t being fooled, not one little bit! It is because I do have the Ruach in me that I know when I am doing what is displeasing to God. I don’t want to and I am trying to do better, and I am doing better. Because I am producing fruit I know that what I am doing is pleasing to God. Not that my fruit can fill a basket, and I am not saying that all my actions are right, but I can say that my heart is right. I can say, truthfully, that I am doing T’Shuvah in my heart, and in my actions (although it’s easier to want to do better than it is to actually do better).

Look, there are so many things in God’s word that I do not understand “why” and there are so many things in His word that I do not really want to do (or not do), but I don’t have a say in this.

Yeshua said that no man can serve two Masters. That means that we have two choices: to serve God or to serve ourselves, which will translate to being a slave to sin. Face it, People! You are a slave! You always have been, you always will be. No options, no escape clause, you are not in control. Never were and never will be.

There are two options: slave to God or slave to sin. If you don’t like that, well…tough! That’s it. Go live in another dimension or universe, and if you can’t do that, then face reality and get with the program.

Yeshua said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Sin is heavy, Man! Sin weighs you down and doesn’t just affect you but causes pain and strife to the innocents in your life. It hurts you and those you love. When you live to worship God as he wants us to, even when we fail (as we all do) we are doing better, sinning less, and helping ourselves and those we love who are part of our life.

Look at it this way: if I was deep in sin, and I pulled those close to me into sin with me, I am murdering them, spiritually. And because I believe in the afterlife, I am not just murdering them, I am condemning them to eternal suffering. On the other hand, if I live a life devoted to God, although I will most likely ostracize myself from people I care about and love, I will be showing them the way to eternal life. I will not be condemning them with my actions, I will be helping them to live.

Being a slave to Messiah Yeshua and to God is what we need to choose, because it is our choice. You can choose life, you can choose death, but you can’t choose which commandments are valid and which aren’t.

Legally Sinful

We get two newspapers every morning (my wife loves to stay on top of the news) and all I usually do are the comics and word puzzles. To me, everything else is the same old drek. However, this morning I couldn’t help but notice the front page story about how the US Supreme Court decided not to decide about gay marriages. They left it up to the states. As a history major and avid history buff, I agree with that decision. Mainly because it is constitutionally correct- those powers not specifically given to the federal government are left to the state governments. Marriage is not a federal issue, it is a civil one. The Supreme Court should not interfere.

What’s that leave us with? According to the Florida Today story, more than 60% of the states of this country will allow gay marriages; in other words, if we define normality as a condition where the majority of the population performs that particular activity, then gay marriages will be “normal” for citizens of the United States.

I have family members who have declared they are gay, and I love them. I know gay people, and I don’t treat them any differently than anyone else. But I am also someone who believes in God and that He says homosexuality is an abomination. It is a sin. Of course, I am also a sinner, and in God’s eyes, sin is sin- whether I am homosexual or whether I lie to people, in God’s eye it’s all the same. It’s a sin, so I don’t believe that we should treat gay people any differently than we treat anyone else, since we are all sinners. You’ve heard it said before: hate the sin and love the sinner.

But I do not agree that it is normal, and I do not agree that it is right, just as I don’t agree that murder, or adultery or idolatry is right.

From a scientific view, gay marriage is planned extinction. After all, the natural (not legally normal; at least, not anymore) way of things is that species survive through propagation. I am sure the gay population recognizes that same sex marriages can’t produce children. I think in science class one of the ways to define if something is alive or not is whether it can reproduce itself. If men marry men and women marry women, then other than adultery or fornication (both sins, if you recall) there is no chance of the human species propagating itself if gay marriages are the standard. Oh, yes- there will be enough of those minority types, you know- the ones who don’t go along with the crowd, the outsiders, the (what shall we call them?) oh…yes…the heterosexuals. Those people who believe that we should do what the body is designed to do. There’ll be enough of those around to produce babies that the gays can adopt. Of course, the more children that grow up in a family of two same-sex parents, the more likely they will find that to be the correct way to live and will, most likely, want to do what their parents have done.

Maybe we should organize a movement to send a bill to Congress asking for a constitutional amendment to change the name of this country to Sodom, or Gomorrah? After all, by the third generation of gay marriages those children will think heterosexual is wrong.

Everything I am saying is not “gay bashing”, and anyone who is thinking that is an ass. What I am saying is psychologically and socially sensible. It just follows that as more and more children are raised by same sex parents, more and more adults will find same sex relationships normal.

The truth is, they aren’t. Maybe they are the majority, maybe they are legally allowed, but that is not the way humans are designed. If you want to self-propagate then become a mollusk. All mollusks are hermaphrodites. In fact, that’s probably the best way- there won’t be any animosity about gay or straight, there won’t be any spousal abuse, and the divorce rate will certainly decrease!

I am also willing to bet that the gay marriages will prove to be more stable than the heterosexual ones- our divorce rate is nearly 50%, right? I think that, after fighting so hard to get the right to marry, gay couples will naturally fight more to keep their marriage intact. For us different-sex marriages, so very many of us (myself included) are on second or third marriages. Gay marriages may offer a lesson for us, the lesson being: that which is worth fighting to get is worth fighting to keep.

That doesn’t say I am for gay marriages- I am not. I am not a proponent of, nor do I find acceptable, homosexuality. I believe it is as normal, forgetting my legal argument above, as any other physiological condition. Sexuality is more a condition of emotions than organs. I don’t think anyone can argue that, especially since most every transsexual states they are a person trapped in the body of the wrong sex. We also know, scientifically, that emotions are strongly influenced by hormones. Give a man enough progesterone and he will be very confused; the same will happen if you give a woman too much testosterone. We each have some of both of these hormones, and in the correct balance, with the proper psychological environment, I believe that everyone would be heterosexual. I believe that homosexuality is a combination of both hormonal and environmental conditions that come together in a way to over-ride the natural gender identity.

In other words, I believe it is a choice. Just as someone with allergies chooses to overcome their condition with proper medication or sneeze their way through life. Just as someone with diabetes can take insulin or suffer the consequences of their disease. It is a choice to stay the way they feel or take medication to overcome the imbalance, and maybe go through counseling to help understand who they are once their hormones are in balance.

Just the same way we choose to accept the Grace of God or reject it. Most of us just prefer to stay the way we are- we don’t want to be holy. Maybe because we hated all the “holy” people we ever knew, maybe because we are honest enough to say,  “The heck with eternity- I just want to have fun now.” Maybe because we are just happy as we are, sort of like sheep being led to slaughter. If the grass along the way to the slaughter house is green, fresh and tasty, “Yum!! I’m in heaven. Lead on, Macduff!”

If you are not right with God, if you are reading this and not a Believer (of course, why would a non-Believer be reading this? Oh, yeah- maybe they want to see if there is a better way) or if you don’t know what to believe, believe this- the Acharit HaYamim (End Days, i.e., The Apocalypse, Baby!!) is right around the corner. The last real haven in the world for religious freedom and uprightness has become a sinful country, with corruption everywhere and sexual sinfulness not just occurring, but (now) legal.

I love this country, and I served in the Marine Corps to protect it. I believe in the ideals we once stood for. But I gotta tell ya, I am second-thinking things. I took an oath to protect this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic, but how do I protect us from ourselves?  We have kicked God out of the courts (remember when the 10 Commandments hanging on the courthouse building were adjudicated as unconstitutional?), we have kicked God out of the schools (Brown vs. the Board) and now we have kicked God out of the very institution He created- marriage.

Oy!

Forgive Yourself as You Would Forgive Others

This evening is Kol Nidre, the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is all about forgiveness, and usually we concentrate on asking God to forgive us. We ask that He move from the Throne of Judgement to the Throne of Forgiveness, and we are to “afflict our souls” as we request His forgiveness. But it shouldn’t be just about God forgiving us, or about us forgiving others. It should also be about us forgiving ourselves.

It’s strange, isn’t it? That we should be able to forgive others but often we can’t forgive ourselves?  The Manual tells us we should do unto others as we do unto ourselves, and that we will be forgiven as we forgive others. Isn’t the converse true? Are we as willing to forgive ourselves as we are others? If God is willing to forgive us, but we don’t forgive ourselves, then isn’t that the same as saying we are above God, in that He is willing to let it go but we won’t? We think what He does isn’t good enough, He’s too easy- we should be punished! If we think that, then we are saying what we think and feel is more important than what God thinks and feels. That’s idolatry- we put ourselves before God and above Him when we refuse to do what He is willing to do.

If you feel there is something you have done which is so bad you can’t believe God will forgive you, then you just don’t understand Grace. In Romans 5 Shaul tells us that as sin is increased, so to is Grace. Basically, there isn’t a sin big enough that God’s Grace can’t cover it. In fact, Kippur (as in Yom Kippur) doesn’t really mean “atonement”, it means “covering.”  God is covering our sin, like a mother hen protects her chicks by covering them with her wings.

What I find wonderful is that God is not just able to forgive, and not just willing to forgive, but that He wants to forgive!  He even has a means to forgive us for sins we committed in error (see Numbers 15.) In Ezekiel He says He gets no pleasure from seeing the sinners die, but that He would rather they do T’Shuvah and live. His forgiveness is more than just something He does- it’s what He wants to do. I can’t imagine that anyone who even thinks God could exist is not able to grasp that we are sinful and He is willing to overlook that if we only ask Him to do so.

But God is no fool. Just because He will forgive sins doesn’t mean that it’s OK to sin. Today Christianity is teaching that Grace covers everything to the degree that sin is not an issue anymore. We are “under the blood of Christ”; He died for our sins so we are forgiven.  All who call on His name are saved and we are forgiven everything. Just so long as you say you are a Believer and you call on His name you are saved, your sins are forgiven and you get to go to heaven. Just confess and ask forgiveness and you are clean. Hallelujah!  That’s not Grace from sin they are teaching, it’s license to sin. People are being taught that their sins are forgiven simply by asking God to do so, and although that is technically correct, it implies that to continue to sin will have no detrimental effect on your salvation.

That is a lie from the pit of hell! If you continue to sin, without concern, without truly being repentant, you better bring along an umbrella and plenty of Coppertone when you meet the Lord before the Throne. You can ask, and it will be given unto you, but not if you don’t really repent. And the way to be repentant is to stop sinning.

Atonement is not a one-time, slam-blam-I-forgive-you-Ma’am thing. It’s a process. First and foremost, you have to own your sin. That means to recognize your own sinfulness and take responsibility for it. Next, you must do T’Shuvah, that is, turn from your sins. You must really, really want to not sin anymore. Once you have done this, you “own” your sin. And when you own something, you have the right and ability to give it away. That’s the third step- give that sin to God. Ask Him to take it from you, and then “go, and sin no more” (see if you can find that Bible quote.)

This is the start of one of the holiest of the High Holy Days. Even though we have been forgiven, even though we, Believers, understand and accept the Grace of God made possible through the ultimate and final atonement that Yeshua made on our behalf, we still should observe Yom Kippur. Why? Well, first off, it’s a commandment. Duh!! Second, Shaul tells us we should suffer with those that are suffering- not eating or drinking for 24 hours is certainly my idea of suffering!

No, seriously, we should observe this festival because God said we should and to show our non-accepting (of Yeshua) Brothers and Sisters that Messianic Jews do what God said we should do, that we follow the Torah and that being Born Again/ Messianic is not a different religion- it is what being Jewish is all about. It is the epitome of Judaism; to not just follow Torah and hope for a Messiah, but to know the Messiah and be part of God’s plan of redemption. Actually, it is beyond Judaism, it is beyond any religion- it is doing as God said we should do. It is following His commandments. It is being faithfully obedient.

Remember- God has no religion. If you say you believe in God and want to follow Him, to do as Yeshua did, then you better know Torah because that’s the User Manual for the program called Salvation.

When we pray this evening and throughout tomorrow, remember that you need to forgive yourself, too. Also understand that the solidarity we have with the unsaved Jewish people is in our prayers. Look at the prayers- they are often not asking for individual forgiveness, but for corporate forgiveness. The Prophets accepted responsibility for the sins of the people, the Cohen Ha Gadol (High Priest) transferred the sins of the people to the goat or bull to be sacrificed. We are not just asking for our individual forgiveness, but we are interceding for all the people, everywhere. This day is not just about you- it’s about all of us.

Lastly, let me ask you to think of Yom Kippur not just as a holy day, but as an every day activity. In Judaism this day is the culmination of the Days of Awe and leads us into the final festival of this time (Sukkot) when we (now clean) can enter into communion with God as our Fathers did, by living in Sukkot (Tabernacles, or tents.) After this week of intimate communion, we begin our cycle again with turning back the Torah (Simchat Torah) and starting our love affair with God, all over again.

Reconcile Yourself to Reconciliation

My son is 22 years old today. The last time he talked to me was about a year ago, and then it was to tell me all about how lousy a father I am, I need to grow up, yadda-yadda-yadda. I got this in an email, so I replied and said the things I had forced myself not to say for the prior 21 years, about the truth regarding the marriage break-up with his mother, what I thought about how she had treated Bryce and Alexandra (his older sister, who stopped talking to me years ago because I didn’t give her money for school books- it’s a long story), and other things that I had intended to bring up at some point when he was mature enough to hear it. As it ended up, I figured that was my last chance to say anything, I told him those things, not to “get back” but in the hope that one day he might remember, understand and forgive so we could reconcile.

This is what God has done for us through His Prophets (not that I place myself in God’s position, just to use as an example). All the things I said to Bryce were meant to “wake him up”, to get his mind focused to see what he was doing to himself, and what had been done to him. Just as too often we are too late to realize that we have been fooled, or used by people, I wanted him to see things that he had blinded himself to. This is what God tried to do, what He did with the Prophets, and what Yeshua did. Yeshua, however, talked in parables, and I don’t know why that was necessary. Maybe because the Prophets were straight forward and that did no good; perhaps by talking in parables, the people (stupid as we are) would remember the story even if they didn’t first get the meaning, then eventually it would become clear to them as they retold the story, over and over.

I sent Bryce a birthday card, as I did his sister on her birthday in June. Inside I asked each of them if they are ready to reconcile. I miss them terribly, and I am still hurt and upset that their mother did so much to turn them against not just me, but their grandparents and aunts, too. Yet, I pray for her. In fact, I have taught myself to do that (see my Drash about forgiveness- it’s in here, somewhere) because I don’t know anyone more in need of the love of God than her. I also pray for Alex and Bryce, that they would be reconciled to God, and (I believe) once they are, the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) will turn their hearts to reconciling with me and Donna, their step-Mom.

Human relationships are, at the same time, wonderful and a pain in the you-know-where. We want to have people act the way we want them to, and they don’t. In fact, they shouldn’t- that’s what makes the relationship so wonderful. It’s the differences, as the saying goes, that makes the relationship fun. Of course, we need to be on the same page on the important things. Yeshua said the most important commandments were to love God and each other; not at the expense of all the other laws and regulations, but because doing that will make everything else fall into place. Same with human relationships- you can have opposites attract, but there needs to be a balance, and a common foundation, ethically, morally and spiritually. By loving God we learn forgiveness, and that will keep our relationships strong and rewarding.

Reconciliation is at the core of relationships, whether with God or each other. The main difference is that humans don’t always want to reconcile. I think in some ways they feel it diminishes them, sort of like “giving in” if they want to forgive and rebuild a relationship. How stupid! It takes strength and compassion, not weakness, to be able to reconcile. It takes deep devotion and God-like love to forgive. Those who don’t forgive or want to reconcile will end up alone, lonely and (probably) mad at the world for being so cruel, when all the world is doing is reflecting back what they are to themselves.

The Torah is supposed to be a mirror that we see ourselves in. When I look at Torah, I see a faint, cloudy image: I wouldn’t even see that if not for the Ruach that has helped me to be more like Torah than myself.  The more I die to self, the more the reflection will clear up. The way to help that image become more and more clear is not just be willing to reconcile with people, but actively trying to.

That is the major difference between reconciling with people and reconciling with God- people aren’t always willing to reconcile, but God is always there for you. I believe even if that old imp, Ha Satan ,wanted to truly reconcile with God that God would be overjoyed at his return. Yeshua said that if a brother (or sister, for that matter) asks for forgiveness, we shouldn’t forgive 7 times, but 70 times  7 times. In other words, always.

Are you ready to reconcile? It doesn’t matter if the other person does or not- that is between them and God. As for you, try to reconcile. At Rosh HaShannah a tradition is to go to those you may have upset or sinned against and ask forgiveness, i.e. reconcile with them. It’s hard- it isn’t easy to open yourself to someone and lay your heart on your sleeve. But it has to be done. If it seems really hard, or you are thinking, “Right. You reconcile- the creeps in my life can go to blazes and I will not reconcile with them because they don’t deserve my forgiveness!” you should read Matthew, Chapter 6. Look at what Yeshua says right after He gives us the template for prayer.  Reconciliation isn’t something that you have a choice about, and when you reconcile with God, it is between you and Him. Even when you reconcile with someone else, it is still about you and God. You have a win-win, even if the person doesn’t want to reconcile, because forgiveness is what God gives us and demands that we share with others. Read the parable about the Master who forgives his servant a large debt, but the servant doesn’t forgive a small debt. Scary stuff.

When you go to reconcile with someone, even if you fail because the other party refuses, you are right with God.

I would love it if I could reconcile with my children. I am willing to ask forgiveness, to open a new relationship, but still there are still rules. I am not saying that anything goes, whatever they say, Dad is wrong and will never try to teach them, or refute things with them, or get angry, or ever try to change them. They are too immature and too blind, after years of wrong conditioning, to really know what is best for them.  I mean, really- I’m the Dad. Being a parent is not being a friend, and parents have an obligation to try to teach their children how to get along in the world and protect themselves from harm: spiritual, emotional and physical.  They don’t have to listen, either. They do need to make their own mistakes. It’s a constant battle- parents try to teach the hard lessons they have learned, and children refuse to listen so they end up learning the lessons the same way their parents did- the hard way. Then they have children and the cycle starts, all over again. All I want to do is have them in my life, and to be in theirs. The Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best and My Three Sons innocence of the 60’s TV family life is not what anyone has or ever had. We all come from dysfunctional families. If you think about it, since we are, ourselves, a dysfunctional creature, it only makes sense when you put a bunch of us together that our relationship will be as we are…dysfunctional. I know that we will fight, will have differences of opinions, and will get on each other’s nerves. That’s how humans are, for Pete’s sake! That’s no reason to disown each other.

If you really want to have a right relationship with God, you need to have right relationships with people. You can’t love God and hate people (although I often feel like the less people in the world, the better…and I have a list of names to start with); if you really love Him, you have to obey Him (that’s what Yeshua said) and that brings us back to the two most important commandments.

Please!- reconcile yourself to reconcile with others; I guarantee your life will be so much better when you do.

Sin is a Sure Bet

My wife and I went on a small get-away vacation the past 4 days. We took a cruise to the Caribbean: just an out and back sort of thing. It was nice- we love cruising.

There is, on every cruise ship, a casino. Usually I don’t play, but now and then I do enjoy spending some money at the Black Jack table. I call it spending money because that’s what it usually comes down to. The trick for me is to choose to spend, let’s say $50, and see how long I can play with that.

There was another game there. It was like a claw game, but with a key-shaped end and you needed to line up this plunger so that it fit, exactly, through an opening. If you lined it up exactly, you could spend $1.00 and win $1,000.00 in cash.

I blew $50 trying. I still think it was a good investment- I spent a lot more than that for before-dinner martini’s.

Here’s the lesson I got from the Ruach about the Dollar for a Grand game- sin is just like that game. It promises a greatly desired return for what seems to be a small cost. It’s the “Get Something for Nothing” mentality of humans that makes sin so easy to creep into our life.

When I was a salesman I often heard people tell me about unscrupulous sales people who took advantage of others. When I listened to these stories, many of which are true, it reminded me of the old Bunko stories (con games used to be called Bunko): the one thing they all had in common was that the “victim” was suckered into the scheme because there was the promise of getting a lot back for a little up front.

Selfishness and greed- that is what gets people “ripped off”. Honest people with ein bissele seychel (Yiddish for” a little common sense”) almost never get “taken”. It’s usually the ones who think they can get a deal.

Sin doesn’t come right up to you and say, “Hi! I’m sin and I want to ruin your life.” Of course, in some neighborhoods it can be almost like that, but generally sin is more secretive. It says, “Hi. I have something that I know you would want, and I am open to discussing giving it to you at a really great rate. All you need to do is …..” and by then you’re hooked. It starts slow and easy, with no real indication of where it’s taking you, but once you fall for the something-for-nothing allure you are on your way.

That’s how I blew $50. It started with $20, then another $10. Later that night I thought I figured out how to make it work, so there went another $20.  At that point, I stopped thinking how easily I could earn (earn? Really?) back the cost of the entire cruise and listened to the Ruach say, “Vas machsta? Bist du meshuggah?” (What’s going on? Are you crazy?”)

I must confess that I still, days later, feel that if I only put another $20 or so into it I could have beaten that machine. You know what that means? That not only am I foolishly greedy, but now pridefulness is stepping in, too. Now I need to “beat” that inanimate object that is specifically designed by mechanical engineers to make me feel like just one more try and I’ll win. But, in truth, it is nearly impossible to do so.

We need to be careful about sin creeping into our lives. It always promises things that we want, it appeals to our sinful nature: it appeals to our greediness, our pride, our vanity. It usually appears harmless, and often will seem like something we should do to benefit others ( I was thinking how happy Donna would be if I won the money.) But when we look at it through spiritual eyes, we can see the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

There is an old saying: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Sin is like that; it looks good, it seems easy enough to do, and it offers great rewards for very little input. Don’t be fooled by ‘easy gets good’, because we all know, in the long run, anything worth having is worth working for, and you always get what you pay for. If you think you will get something for nothing in a world that is cursed, you’re a fool.

Don’t be a fool. The only thing that is good to have and is free of charge is Salvation, the Grace that God offers us. Well, wait a minute- that wasn’t free, really. First of all, Yeshua had to suffer and die to make it available to us, so it certainly wasn’t free to Him.  And even though all we need to do is call on the name of the Lord to be saved, we need to work at our salvation. We need to demonstrate our T’Shuvah by becoming more holy. We need to stop sinning, or at least, continue to sin less. We need to work at it, we need to spend time and money to make ourselves better and more pleasing to God by doing the things that God told us to do. That isn’t easy, and it will cost money (you should tithe and give to charity), it will cost time (you should volunteer to help people and participate in synagogue/church activities), and it will cost you (some) friends and family if you really start to worship God in everything you do.

Sin is easy to get, promises to cost you little and give you a lot, but the truth is eventually it will cost you everything you have, and more. There is no reward to sin.

Salvation is free to get, but expensive to keep. However, the ultimate reward is worth it.

L’Shana Tovah- A Rosh HaShanah Drash

For me, a Holy Day is described by God in Leviticus 23, and a holiday is something religion created. This day is sort of both, since the Holy Day is a memorial (Yom Teruah, or Day of Trumpets) and the holiday is the Jewish New Year. Actually, the new year as God tells us, is Pesach (Passover). In Exodus He tells us that the first day we are free from slavery to Egypt is to be the first day of our calendar.

On this day, the traditional Torah reading is the Akedah, or binding, of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-24.) In keeping with this tradition (not all traditions are bad), I would like to offer this Drash:

The fact that God tests us is seen throughout the Tanakh. He does so not to tease or tempt us to do wrong, but to strengthen us. To help us mature, spiritually.  The way to be prepared for a test, any test, is to study. But to study correctly, in other words, to study that which will help you overcome the challenges you are to face, you need to know the subject matter. You don’t study Algebra for a History test, and you don’t develop spiritual maturity through blessings.

That’s right- blessings are the gold star you get after the test. The test is the hard part, and the test stinks to high heaven. The tests are difficult, and never too much for us, so long as we remember to look to God for the strength to pass.  If we try to pass God’s spiritual testing on our own, we will most likely fail. We can’t do it, we need the Ruach to help us overcome our natural sinful sinfulness.

Isn’t that redundant, Steve? Sinful sinfulness? Maybe; the point I want to make is that we don’t just sin, we are sinful, too. We don’t just sin, we want to sin, we need to sin, it’s our natural state of mind. So, we don’t just sin, we live to sin, we desire to sin, we are sinfully, sinful. Thank God that Yeshua overcame this for us.

That’s why testing is so hard, but it doesn’t have to be. God’s tests are an open book test because the Bible is always close at hand, the Ruach is waiting for us to give it a “Shout Out”, and God is standing all around us, waiting to catch us.

Yet, we fail. We manage to avoid the safety net, the harness and the protective gear (that’s in Ephesians) and find a way to still fall flat on our faces. And sometimes when we fall, we land hard on someone else.

That brings us to another tradition: to ask forgiveness of those we have, or may have, sinned against during the past year. This is a Jewish tradition that Jews (probably) don’t know is also confirmed by Yeshua. Yeshua tells us before we bring our offering to God, if someone has something against us we should leave the offering at the altar, go to that person, and ask forgiveness. Gee- you mean Yeshua did something Jewish? Duh!!!

The next 10 days are called “The Days of Awe”, when we become introspectively aware of the many ways we have fallen short of what God has wanted of us. It is time to take off the blinders, to see ourselves as we are, to ask forgiveness of others and at the end, repentant and contrite of heart and spirit, to ask forgiveness of God when this period culminates on Yom Kippur.

I call it the “Days of Aw”, as in ,”Aw, shucks!” because that’s how I feel when I realize how much I know about what God wants, all the knowledge and insight I have gained from His spirit, and look at me- still stupid, still unwilling, still sinning and still trying. I guess the last part is the difference that His spirit has made in me- before I was saved, I was a sinner that rationalized my sins, now I am a sinner that regrets my sins. And even though I sound down on myself, I am glad that I sin less, that I want to do what is right, and that I am improving. Slow as molasses going uphill against the wind in January, but….making progress.

We all fail now and then, Brothers and Sisters, but do not let your failures make you sad- let them be a “test” to strengthen you to do better. And when we fail we only need to remember that Yeshua did not fail, that He passed every test presented to Him, and that because of His success we can get back on track. We must always strive to do better. Do not allow a letdown to cause you to give up on His calling in your life. That’s a cop-out!

Praise the Lord, because when we ask His forgiveness He forgets our failures, and praise the Lord that He always remembers our successes.

One last thought for the day: the Akedah introduces martyrdom to the Bible (even though Isaac was not killed, he was willing to die.) This will become a sadly regular part of the devoted Believer’s life for the rest of history (until the final victory is accomplished.) It is the ultimate testing of faith.

A modern Jewish poet named J. L. Gordon wrote this poem in memorial of a tragic slaughter that occurred in England at the Castle of York in the year 1190:

“We have sacrificed all. We have given our wealth.
Our homes, our honours, our land, our health
Our lives- like Hannah and her children seven-
For the sake of the Torah that came from Heaven.”

Yeshua is the living Torah and when He died on that tree the Torah that was a works-driven Torah died with Him. When He was resurrected, the Torah also was given new life, as a faith-driven path to Redemption. That means that nothing has changed in the Torah: it is still Torah (2nd Timothy 14) and is still valid for everyone who worships the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What cannot be accomplished through the works-driven Torah, can be accomplished in the  faith-driven Torah that lives in us! Yeshua fulfilled the Torah, in works, in interpretations, in the sight of all the peoples. He is in us, and through Him we can be victorious over sin.

Use these next 10 days to look into yourself. The Torah is supposed to be a mirror that we look into. Look in the mirror- what do you see? Look harder- Torah is there, Brothers and Sisters. How can I be so sure? Because God Himself told us in Jeremiah 31:31 that it will be written on our hearts, and I believe God!

Each of us who have accepted God’s Grace through Yeshua Ha Meshiach, all of us who are children of the Everlasting God- we all are one in Messiah and He is in us!

Look deep within yourself over these next 10 days and seek Him out!

Commitments are Supposed to be Hard to Do

I can’t really sing. Oh, I can hit the notes, usually close enough to blend in with the group, but I can’t sing well. And I don’t like doing things I don’t do well (consequently, I do almost nothing at all!)

What’s this have to do with God? Well, here’s the story: the place where I worship is doing a Sukkot Concert, and because I am a Bass, I was asked to join the chorus by my Pastor. I really didn’t want to do it at first, and still feel very out-of-place in the midst of people who have a nice singing voice and who can hit the notes with proper support and timbre, but I agreed because I can, at least, help fill out the sound.

So, I committed to help. Have I had second thoughts? Oh, gee- the second thoughts were right after I said I would. Then came the third thoughts after I tried to sing the part (isn’t the Bass supposed to have low notes? Almost the entire concert is at the high range of the bass), and now, with about 3 weeks to the concert, I am on the tenth thoughts.

If you’re reading this Pastor Andy, don’t worry- I committed myself to be a part of this and I will meet my commitment. Not because I know I can help, which I can; and not because I love to sing, which I do even though I don’t do it well; but because this is a devotion to God as much, if not more, than doing something you asked of me.

Just because someone asks us to do something doesn’t mean we have to, but when we agree, or when we devote ourselves to doing something for God, that does require us to follow through. Yeshua tells us not to swear by Heaven or Earth, and the Torah is very clear that an oath made to God must be completed. I said I would sing with the chorus, and until someone tells me that my absence is more helpful than my presence, I will follow through.

It isn’t easy. I have my part on CD and practice going to work and driving home, and on the weekend. I do the exercises Andy gave me to help recover the breath control I had as a kid when I played in the band. I hear myself getting a little better, and pray that God will intervene to help me meet this commitment in a good way, being beneficial to the project.

But it’s hard. I have constant thoughts about dropping out, partly from embarrassment and partly from just not wanting to do something outside my everyday rut. Those two things, being uncomfortable and having to do something outside the usual, are the very reasons I need to finish. Because I said I would do this I will, and despite my kvetching and whiny-cry-baby attitude, I am enjoying myself to a degree I didn’t think I would. And I know it will sound beautiful because it is not all about me; I am just part of the group.

We all need to follow through with what we commit to, whether for people or for God (especially for God.) The reason we need to follow through is to strengthen ourselves, mentally and spiritually, as preparation for the Acharit HaYamim, the End Days. We don’t know when they will come, and I really believe we are living in prophetic times. We are seeing the world coming apart, children killing children, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes in fury beyond what we have seen before, all over the world. Wars, and threats of war; all the things that have been happening, not to mention the vast throngs of Jewish people returning to Jerusalem, and the number of  Gentiles that are coming behind Israel and helping people to make Aliyah, all indicate we are close. Because we are close, we need to prepare.

“Chesty”  Puller, one of the most decorated war heroes ever (and a Marine, of course. Uh-Rah!!) used to say, “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” That holds true for spiritual training, as well. We need to make sure we are strong, spiritually and mentally. Imagine, if I can’t stay the course with a simple commitment to sing in a group (where I won’t be heard, anyway), how much less will I be able to remain faithful to God when I am standing before the Enemy asking if I want the mark on my head or my right hand? When you are there, and there’s a really good chance you will be, are you absolutely certain  you can stand firm and say “Not a chance, horn-head!”?

Even if I don’t go through the Tribulation, the lead-up will be pretty bad, and we don’t know, not for sure, when the Tribulation will be. There are as many people who are “Pre-Trib” as there are “Post-Trib.” I don’t know which it is, and (frankly) I don’t care- it won’t make any difference because whatever God wants to do, He will. I don’t have a vote, ya’ know? So, why worry? What I can do is get ready. Get that armor of God Shaul talks about in Ephesians all polished up and ready, wear it around every day so I get used to it. David didn’t wear any armor when he faced Golyat because, as he told King Saul, he wasn’t used to it. I, you, everyone of us, need to get used to wearing the spiritual armor that will help us secure our salvation. Revelations tells us that most- not some, not a few, not every now and then someone- but MOST of the Believers will be turned from the faith in the End Days. Most means more than half- that’s a lot. That means my chances of remaining faithful in the midst of the greatest battle of my life has less than a 50-50 chance of success.

That means you have less than a 50-50 chance of keeping your salvation, also.

Commitments shouldn’t be made hastily, and once made, must be kept. If you realize that you made a gigantic mistake, and you committed to something that ends up being illegal or sinful, well, yes- get the heck out now! We all make mistakes, and if you make one, correct it. But for those everyday commitments, and for those major ones where other people depend on you to do what you said you would do, you must meet them. Even if it hurts. In fact, it should hurt. It should be hard to do, otherwise it isn’t a commitment, it’s something you want to do. No big deal doing something you want to do. It’s like when Yeshua said that even sinners do good things for people they like. Commitment has to be hard to do in order to build up that spiritual strength. You develop muscle by destroying muscle. We build up our spiritual strength by using it, by testing it, by stretching it beyond where we are comfortable. This is how we get spiritually stronger and more mature, and it also increases our self-confidence so during tribulations and trials, we can speak out with confidence about our faith.

Make commitments carefully; and, once made, complete them joyfully (don’t whine and cry like I’m doing) and completely. Work those spiritual muscles, develop sinews of Spirit that are as strong as steel.

You’re gonna need ’em.

Did Jacob Really Steal the Inheritance?

You see it all the time in Crossword puzzles: Bible twin (4 letters) . The answer is, of course, Esau. And one of the best known Bible stories is the story of how Jacob forced Esau to sell his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. Oh, let’s not forget that Jacob also stole the blessing for the firstborn by lying to his father, Isaac, and pretending to be Esau.

Truth be told, Jacob was a sly little devil. He was a “Mama’s Boy”, the stay-at-home type, and he married into a family just as sneaky as he was: Laban fooled Jacob into marrying Leah before Rachael, he tried 10 times to change the conditions of his wages, which Jacob reversed to his own benefit,  and Rachael lied to her brother after she stole the family gods when Jacob returned to Canaan.

Seems they were really not a very honest bunch. That’s what it looks like, until we look a little deeper.

First off, Esau was a very “passionate” man, meaning that he was a real macho-macho. Hairy, big, strong, smelly, and he loved to hunt. Jacob was the brains of the family, studious and, yes, a Mama’s Boy in every respect. Then again, he had the penultimate Jewish mother. Esau was all about the moment, and when he was hungry and over-dramatized his condition, Jacob took advantage of Esau’s lack of respect for his own birthright. C’mon, really- did Esau meet Jacob miles away from any civilized area? Was Jacob in the middle of the desert cooking lentil stew? Of course not- Jacob was home. Esau could easily have found something to eat, but he was desperate in his own mind and traded the birthright with no concern or respect for it. When you read that passage it also says Jacob gave him bread and something to drink, as well. Free refills, too, so Jacob wasn’t really as selfish as we may think he was.

Later, when Rebekah knew that Isaac was going to give his blessing to Esau, she is the one who came up with the idea of having Jacob get the blessing, instead. Maybe it was because she favored Jacob, maybe it was because she didn’t want Isaac’s blessing to be wasted on Esau, maybe (even though you can’t make an argument from nothing, and the Bible says nothing about this) because she knew about the sale of the birthright.

Here’s something to ponder: if Jacob did own the birthright of the firstborn, then didn’t he also own the blessing that goes with it? That’s what I find to be an interesting interpretation of the “stealing the blessing” story. If the blessing for the firstborn is tied to and part of the birthright of the firstborn, then as owner of the birthright Jacob was entitled to that blessing, and Isaac was (unknowingly) going to give it to Esau, who did not deserve it anymore. Rebekah didn’t do anything wrong; even though it was underhanded, she did, in fact, secure for Jacob what was rightfully his. Did she know about the sale of the birthright? I don’t know- it doesn’t say in the Bible. In the end, though, I think Jacob did deserve the blessing because he owned the birthright.

What do  you think?

Throughout the Bible we see the first born not getting the firstborn’s blessing: Jacob was over Esau, Joseph was over Reuben, Ephraim was over Manasseh, Solomon was over Amnon. Jacob may have been the first son who was not firstborn to receive the blessing of the firstborn, but he wasn’t the last one.

We don’t have to worry about who gets which blessing anymore. Thanks to Yeshua, we all have the blessing of the firstborn- we are children of God and all who accept the Grace of God are equal inheritors of the blessings of eternal joy and peace. Yeshua tells us there are many rooms in His Father’s house, and He will prepare one for each and every one of us. All who believe in Yeshua and accept Him as their Messiah receive the blessing of the firstborn. But better than that, it is not a blessing from an Earthly father, but our blessing is from The Father, God.

Next time you read this story, when you come to where Jacob had to fool his father to get the blessing he had purchased with the birthright, remember how Yeshua purchased that blessing for us; not with lentil stew but with His blood.

Hmmmm…..I just had a thought: the stew was red, and so was the blood of Messiah, and with that “red stuff” the blessing of the firstborn was purchased. Maybe the story of Jacob also contains a Messianic prophesy?

Where’s the Love?

I read in Dear Abby this morning how a teenage girl felt she didn’t fit in, and asked Abby for a booklet she wrote about how to be liked by others. I remember that Andrew Carnegie, the great Steel King, wrote a book about how to win friends and influence people. In fact, there are many self-help books, and people on the lecture circuit, telling those who feel they are unappreciated, feeling that no one likes them, or generally feeling unloved how to find  the love they are missing.

People want to be liked. We are a social animal, traveling in packs, seeking others who are like we are. Yet, the divorce rate is almost as high as the marriage rate, children are killing children, and the news is full of nothing but murder, rape, and deceit.

Why? Well, yes- it’s a cursed world (follow my ministry blog and you will hear me say that a lot!) and we are all sinful sinners (also heard from me often), so it all makes sense, doesn’t it? That we should have so much tsouris in the world, right?

Yes. That’s right. But it isn’t just because there are so many people who feel unloved. The real problem is not about our feeling unloved or disliked, it’s that we are looking to the wrong source of love. Like the song says, we are looking for love in all the wrong places and looking for love from all the wrong faces. The Manual tells us what to do: we should be looking to the one, true source of the only love that counts, the only love that lasts, and the only love that is truly trustworthy, and that is God’s love for us. His love is absolute and faithful; His love is what keeps us going; His love is going to shape us and strengthen us to overcome the evils in the world; His love is what saves us from destruction on an Eternal level.

His love is perfect, and the only love we don’t need to look for because He has it for every, single person that has ever been born, is living today, and will be born in this world until the end of time as we know it.

WOW! What a statement! You won’t find any human love that can match that.

Now, with that being said, don’t think that I am saying we don’t need the love of each other, or that it is not necessary or correct to seek out human love. It is absolutely necessary and normal; in fact, God commands us to love each other. If you feel unloved, Abby and Andy and most everyone else has the correct cure for that- to be loved, you need to love. That’s really all there is to it- love isn’t something we are entitled to. It’s not owed to you. Love is not something that you deserve to be given, it is something that must be returned. Think of it as an emotional rebate- you give enough of it and you will get some back.

That’s another thing about love that we all need to understand- it isn’t an “Even Steven” sort of thing. You should give love without expecting anything back.  Unrequited love is the stuff sad stories are made of, the “Love Triangle” where everyone loves someone, but no one is loved by the one they want to be loved by. It is historically the meat of romance writers, a never-ending human tragedy, but not to me. What I get from God’s word is that we should love others as ourselves, not that we should love others to be loved. It is, to me, something I should give without expecting or demanding back. It is like when Yeshua says if someone wants your cloak, give them your shirt, as well. And if someone asks you to carry their pack for a mile, carry it for two. And if someone asks you to lend them something they need, give it to them, instead.

Humans do things altruistically, with the selfish intent of getting it back. It’s all about “Now you owe me one” instead of what God wants us to do, which is to give freely (the Manual tells us that God loves a cheerful giver.) God provides us blessings so that we can share them with others.

“Whoa! Hold up a minute here…if God can bless me, why do I have to share it? Why can’t God bless the ones that need it?” I have an answer for that- it’s to allow you to be able to do God’s work. It’s all about giving us a chance to be more like Him. The more God blesses us with finances or talents, the more we should share those gifts with others, which is exactly what God did for us. We are constantly told throughout the Tanakh that we are to be holy, for He is holy. One way we can do that is to share the blessings we have with those that do not have as many blessings. Yeshua said we will always have the poor- perhaps that’s so that we who have more can be able to share it with those that have less. Perhaps the poor are here for our benefit- to allow us to glorify God by sharing what He has provided to us with others. Think about that.

I tell my wife, who I love with all my heart and who makes my life complete, that she is the most important thing in the world to me, but second to God overall. God is not of the world, and He, alone, is the most important thing there is. I also add that finishing a close second to the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Creator of the Universe and Lord God Almighty, is not too bad a place to be.

When you give a gift at a party or wedding, don’t expect one back. If you ask people to come to your party or house, or any event you host, don’t do so expecting they will invite you to their next affair. And if you have anything that you consider to be valuable, share it. If it’s of importance to you, it should be shared, joyfully and without expectation of recompense,  so that you can allow God’s gifts to you to be a blessing to others. That’s what it is all about- giving without expecting back. That is what God gave to us- He took off the robes of Majesty and wrapped Himself in rags of humanity, He suffered ills and sicknesses (see Isaiah) and allowed Himself to be ridiculed, beaten, nailed to a tree and to die a slow, painful death. Why? To get an award? To be honored at a banquet? Of course not! He did it because He loves us and wanted to give us what He has- Eternal life and joy.  And He did that knowing that  most everyone alive, then and for all time, would reject Him and hate Him. Yeshua said there is no greater love than that one gives his life for a friend. You probably won’t have to go that far during your lifetime, and in comparison, to give food, money, help, clothing, or even just compassion…whatever someone needs to make them feel loved and appreciated… is not so much, is it? Besides, that is what we are commanded to do.

You want to be liked? You want to be loved? Good- there’s nothing wrong with that.  Just make sure you go about it the right way, which is to love others, to treat them as you want to be treated, and to do so without ever wanting or expecting anything back. Give in secret, help without bringing attention to yourself; your Father in heaven will see, and you will be greatly loved.

The answer to the question, “Where’s the love?” is that it’s with God, and he placed it inside you. You got it from God when you were still in the womb, and He wants you to give it to everyone else, happily, without expectation. When you give love, you will get love.