How to Feel Better

Dontcha hate the blues? Not the music genre, the feeling.

All humans get down-in-the-dumps sometimes. It might be the effect of the moon on us, maybe it’s a biorhythm down cycle, maybe it’s too little coffee, maybe it’s too much coffee. Maybe it’s stress from work or kids, or not having a job to go to, or not having kids you wanted. Maybe it’s really bad- a death of a loved one, a sudden tsuris in your life. Maybe you just feel like *&%#.

Whatever the reason, we all feel “blue” now and then. Some people have a real hard time with it, and others get over it quickly.

It is a very individual thing, but all agree it stinks.

There is a way to get over the blues. It isn’t from some hokey television infomercial, or best-selling Self Help book. It’s simple, it’s something anyone can do, and it always works.

It’s giving praise to God and worshipping Him with thankful prayer.

Whoa!! Stop the music!! Steve- you are talking about being sad, feeling blue, hate-the-world-and-everyone-in-it! And now you say, in the midst of that deep, dark funk I am supposed to be thankful? Vas bist du? Meshuggah?

No, I’m not crazy. Well, maybe…but not about this. Praising God and giving thanks to Him requires us to think about what we have to give thanks for. That takes emotional energy and concentration. That makes us think of something different than our meager and petty issues (because compared to Eternal joy in the presence of the Almighty, our current issues are just that- petty and meager) and gets us thinking about what we do have.

Praise has power that is hidden from us until we begin to use it. Praise reminds us of who we are- the children of the Almighty! Praise brings back to our minds all He has done in our lives, and the lives of others. When we praise the Lord we can’t help but become joyful, for His spirit is awakened in us as we call on His name in thanksgiving. The best way to get out of the dumps is to count your blessings, and that is a form of praise.

Praise is powerful. How? When you are as low as you think you could ever feel, do what I suggest- give praise to God. Thank Him for your salvation, think of all that Yeshua did so you can be with God eternally. Think of what the prophets did to try to save the people, think of the things you do have, of how God has interceded in your life. I guarantee if you sincerely think of all that God has done for you, of all He has planned for you, and how little whatever you are going through now will seem when you are with the Lord, you will start to feel better.

I am not saying what you are going through is nothing- please don’t think I am maligning how you feel. What I am trying to point out is that no matter how bad you feel, and I accept that you do feel bad and what you are going through is bad, it is still true that paise will make you feel better, and isn’t that a powerful thing?

To give thanks, to worship praise-fully, takes thought and effort. Especially when you feel bad. It redirects our self-pitying thoughts to worshipful thoughts. It transfixes our concentration to think of all God has done, and brings forward  thoughts of good things and joy, pushing back and out of the way the dark, mournful thoughts of depression. It removes us from ourselves and places us before the Throne of the King: in supplication we find ourselves in the blissful light of the Almighty instead of the dark and dank throes of remorsefulness. Prayer- thankful and praising prayer- lifts us up to the very feet of the Lord of Hosts, and we cannot feel blue when we are in the presence of the King of Kings.

Next time you are sad and forlorn, don’t sulk in self-pity. As the old song says, take the hand of the hand of the man who stilled the waters. Welcome Yeshua into your pity-party, take His hand (which is always opened to you) and let Him lead you out of the darkness and back into the light. Give praise to God, thank God for all you have, and when you are bathed in praise and worship, you won’t be wallowing in self-pity and remorse.

The next time depression knocks you down, let Yeshua lift you up.

Still Crazy After All These Years

Yes, Mr. Simon, I am also guilty of suffering from this condition.

I have been a “Believer” for nearly 18 years. My testimony is available for you to see from when I was “newly reborn” on the About Steven page of this blog. I have read the Bible dozens of times, been involved in Ministry leadership, been on a Council (twice), and acted as Rabbi-Pro-Tem for about a year and a half. I also have a Certificate of Messianic Studies.

And after all that, I am still the same jerk I was before I was saved. I am just a saved jerk.

Why this confession? Last night I had a dream (oh- how I hate dreams sometimes!) and in it I had said something that hurt another person. It wasn’t a break-down-and-cry hurt I caused, it was just the truth spoken truthfully in a way that cut to the bone. I don’t know what I said, but I remember I was justifying and apologizing at the same time, which in real life can’t be done. I have often stated that I am passionate about my beliefs and opinions.

Passionate=discompassionate. At least, in my case.

Recently I have been reading in Shaul’s letters to the Philippians and Ephesians, and realized that passionate discourse doesn’t cut it if it is cutting to someone else. I think I have good ideas, and I am usually ahead of the crowd in meetings when we are discussing how to handle a situation. What I mean is, I will make a suggestion that is straight to the point, without sugar-coating it, and usually it comes across so straight-forward that people don’t understand it because,well, people don’t want to hear truths: they want to hear roses and serenity and everyone loves everyone else, and my answer would have to be, “World Peace!” Then, after about 10 minutes, someone else will say the same thing; it will be “smoothed out” and presented in a tactful and polite manner, and everyone will say, “Ooh- what a good idea.” My wife, Donna, has been with me during some of these meetings. She will look at me and I will look at her and we just smile. Thank God I have gotten to the point where I no longer really need (although I do like) the accolades for having “the idea.”

In any event, it’s nearly two decades later and I am still talking with my New Yorker attitude (Oh yeah? What’s it to ya?) and I should know better. I should know that we are to deal with each other with loving kindness and compassion. That we should think of the other person’s feelings before we think of our own. That we should be forgiving not just in what others have done to us, but in how we treat others who don’t really deserve to be treated nicely. Proverbs says to treat your enemy nicely- to give him food and water and it will be like pouring hot coals on his head. In other words, the enemy will be so surprised that he may stop to think about wanting to be an enemy any more.

They say you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. That may be true, but who wants a bunch of flies hanging around? I would rather get a zapper and listen to them fry.

There, you see? I still think the way I used to, I still talk (less but too much like) the way I used to, and I still have those jokes in my head that got me in so much trouble when I was younger. It’s all still there.

I have prayed and prayed, and asked the Lord to excise the bad parts of my brain that make me think thoughts that aren’t proper, or look at people more like produce than images of God, and I asked Him, over and over, why he won’t just make it all go away. I told the Lord I want to give it up to Him: Please, take it!.

A few years ago he answered me. He said, “It doesn’t work that way.” And I knew what He meant. He was telling me that I need to learn to surrender to the Ruach, to learn to draw on it rather than allow my own thoughts and desires to rule what I say and think and do. And the reason why was because if God was to simply take away the parts I don’t want, how would I ever learn to rely on His Spirit for strength. And when the Day of Judgement comes, and the Tribulations are here, I will need to draw on the strength of the Spirit to survive. My life, and yours, should be Boot Camp for the End Days.

Shaul said that when he is weak, then he is strong. That’s because in our weakness God’s strength is made manifest. It’s another one of those spiritual truths that non-spiritual people think to be foolish: it is my weakness that makes me strong. Not because I am strong, but because God is all-powerful, and when I get out of His way (i.e., die to self) then through me He can do remarkable things.

When I am strong, God cannot do as much.

I am getting weaker, I see it, but like losing weight it is slow to work, and quick to fail. I can gain 3 pounds in a sitting, and it will take three weeks to lose it, only to get it back again. I just can’t seem to get it to pick up speed and keep going down.

I have the same problem with dying to self. I can do it sometimes, but I keep making these stinking lousy recoveries!

How’s your spiritual health? Are you dead to the world and alive and kicking in the Lord? If you are, Hallelujah for you! Really. There is great encouragement in seeing people who have been successful in allowing the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to fill them. It reminds me that there is still a prize to be won.

If you, like me, are not yet in that crowd, don’t despair. I really am not dissatisfied with myself, I am just impatient. I can find solace in knowing that God will not give me more than I can handle, and that His timing is perfect. And, I trust Him more than I do myself to know when the timing is right. In the meantime, I will keep running the good race and doing what I can.

I may be a jerk, but I am a saved jerk. As we read in Psalm 84, one day in the tent of the Lord is better than a thousand days elsewhere.  Even the court jester of old got to live in the castle, so I will be happy in my salvation and grateful to God for whatever improvements I make. Because, when it comes down to it, every step closer to God is worth whatever it takes to get there.

If I take three steps closer to God, then backslide for two of them, I am still one step closer. And if the rest of my life ends up as just one step closer, I will be very happy. So should you.

Parashah Noach (Exodus 6:9 – 11:32)

What to say? What to say? There is so much in this Parashah.

The flood representing God’s awesome power over the Earth, the righteousness of Noach that saved not just him, but his family. The first covenant mentioned in the Bible. The fear of man upon the animals, probably representing that before the flood meat was not on the menu, not for men and not for animals. Isiah tells us the lion will lay with the lamb and we are told that in the End Days they will eat straw together. Does this mean that they originally were all herbivores? That’s part of what’s in here.

Then we have the question of was the flood really all over the entire Earth, or just locally? They have found a large layer of clay deep under the Earth in the mid-East that scientifically proves there was a great deal of water, and for a long time, in that part of the world, but  was it just the mid-East or everywhere? Does it really matter?

What about clean and unclean animals? The laws of Kashrut (Kosher) were not absolutely spelled out until God gave them to Moshe, but Noach knew clean from unclean. There were 7 pair of clean but only 1 pair of unclean. Yet, God tells Noach that all the animals are for him to eat, so did God allow Noach to have future knowledge to make sure there were 7 times more clean than unclean pairs? Is that because God knows everything in advance, and He knew He would make Kosher regulations a requirement of worshipping Him, so he had Noach save enough of the clean animals to make sure there would be enough to go around?

Oh, and the lineages. We see how Ham was cursed for his disrespectful treatment of his father?  We didn’t even have the 5th Commandment, yet here Ham was cursed for simply seeing his father naked. I wonder why nothing was done to Noach? After all, he got fall-down, lose-your-clothes drunk! What? That’s OK? In any event, Ham becomes the father of the nations that are enemies of the descendants of Shem, who is the favorite here. Japheth seems to be sort of the “middle child”- not as bad as Ham, and not as good as Shem, so Ham is slave to them both but Japheth has to live under Shem’s authority (in the tents of Shem). Does this represent the fact that there will only be a remnant of righteousness in the world? Out of the three sons only one was blessed. As the population grew, the number of righteous people remained small.

What about Babel? God, Himself, said that if men were to get together as one there is nothing they could not accomplish! That’s pretty high praise, and from the Highest of the High, too! So why did God stop that? Because He gave us different speech, from which we ended up with different cultures and different ethics, we have never been a united people, and we have always been at war. Why did God, a loving and compassionate Father to all, set us up against each other like that?

I don’t know.

There could be an entire treatise written about how, when God said , “Let us go down and see…” regarding visiting Babel, that it is impossible for Him to do that because He is everywhere all at once. If you are already there, how can you “go down” to it?

Since God promised not to destroy the Earth by flood, is that why in the Acharit HaYamim He will burn the Earth? Is that some sort of “Escape Clause” He figured into the Noahic Covenant? He can keep His covenant about not destroying the Earth with a flood but still destroy it. Actually, all He has to do is sit and watch- mankind is pretty much destroying the Earth without any help from the Lord. Will the ultimate destruction God plans to bring on the Earth be accomplished through mankind’s own self-destructiveness?

If you add up the years Noach lived after the flood, and the years between the birth of his sons leading to Avram (later to be named Abraham by God) we see that Avram was 88 years old when Noach died. There is no reference as to when Terah left Ur, but I think it is safe to say that Avram could have spent a lot of time with his ancestor Noach, and could have been influenced by Noach. Of all the children that sprung from the loins of Noach, only Avram was righteous enough for God to call upon him. Maybe, just maybe, since Noach had been the only righteous man on the Earth, he was able to teach and influence Avram so that when God was ready to begin His plan of redemption, Avram would be ready.

Who knows? You can’t make an argument from nothing. On the other hand, sometimes you do need to read between the lines, and that’s why reading God’s word with the leading of the Ruach is so necessary; it helps you  get past the P’Shat (written word) to the Drash (underlying or hidden meaning.)

Well, well, well…all these questions and not one “answer.” And you know what? That’s how I’m leaving it today. That’s right- the lesson today is for you to ask God to show you what He has for you from this parashah. If  I am to edify you, my readers, and help you come closer to God by better knowledge of His word, then I need to let you find some answers on your own. Of course, I mean on your own with God’s Ruach leading you.

I am leaving it up to you and the Lord to go through this parashah together. Find out what God has for you, and (maybe?) share it with the rest of us.

The Lone Ranger, the Bible and Fruit

Remember the Lone Ranger? He stood for right and justice in a world where it was not always found. He travelled all over, and helped those who sought out what he stood for- righteousness, fair treatment, justice, and also compassion, forgiveness and tolerance (his best friend was a Native American at a time when they were not accepted in society.)

I often think of him when I think of the Gospel verse about the man who approached Yeshua and said he wanted to follow Him. Yeshua told him that the fox has it’s hole and the bird has its nest, but the Son of Man doesn’t even have a rock upon which to lay His head. In other words, there is no rest, no place of comfort, no vacation spot for Yeshua during His time on Earth- He is to wander and expose Himself and the B’rit Chadashah (Good News) to everyone He can.

Like the Lone Ranger, Yeshua travelled around, looking for those in the dark seeking light, spreading love, compassion and tolerance (not as we mean tolerance today. Today it means allowing others to sin while you say it’s OK. Yeshua’s tolerance is the kind that lets you hate the sin but love the sinner.) And all in a world and a society sadly lacking those things. He didn’t stay in any one place for long, and although He did have places He revisited He was always on the move.

There is another thing that I think of when I think of the Lone Ranger. This may seem a little far-fetched (actually, really far-fetched) but I also think of pruning a vine. Yeah, I know- Huh??  The Lone Ranger and a vine?

Yes, the Lone Ranger and a vine. And the Bible, too! When a vine is fruitful and produces a lot of good fruit, what do you do with it? That’s right- you prune it, and replant it so that it becomes a bigger vine, producing more fruit. The Lone Ranger was a fruitful vine, producing justice and compassion, and he was transplanted every time he finished cleaning up the bad guys. Yeshua was a fruitful vine, also. Probably the most fruitful vine there ever was!

I can see it now: a desert town, the bad guys taking over and misleading the residents, teaching them traditions over the word of God, using unfair weights and tithing little but taking everyone else’s tithes for themselves. In rides Yeshua, with His trusty companion, Torah. He tells the truth, He shines light on the darkness and leads some of the people back to God. He does away with the wrong teaching by teaching what God really wants, then He leaves and goes to find more darkness. Hiyo, Righteousness…away!!!

Well, maybe not.

There is a lesson here, somewhere. I believe that lesson is if you want to be a fruitful vine, which (by the way) we should all want to be, you need to be prepared to be pruned. You will never realize the fullness of your gifts from God or the fullness of your influence on others for God if you stay in one place. That may not mean moving around geographically, so much as spiritually. We can grow in spiritual maturity and, thereby, produce more fruit without having to renew our passport. On the other hand, we may need to physically relocate, or travel. Maybe go on a trip to some Third World country to do missionary work, maybe just go down the road to help in a homeless shelter. Maybe just go to your place of worship more often to intermingle and edify those there that need help.

The fruitful vine is pruned so that it will be able to do more. Pruning is not fun- you are cut away from your roots, replanted in a new place and you need to grow new roots. You need to start all over again, and all you have going for you is the strength you took with you. You are dependant on the gardener to provide you with good soil, water and protection from the elements until you have put out strong roots. Once you have, and you produce fruit again, you will be allowed to stay there and grow. At some time, not by your choosing, the gardener will prune you, again, and it starts all over.

This doesn’t sound like fun. And, in many ways, it isn’t. When you are working for God, you can never settle into a comfort zone. At least, not for long. As long as you are producing fruit, you need to understand that you will be pruned. Maybe that’s why Yeshua said  we need to pick up our own execution stake and follow Him. As long as we are with Yeshua we will be against the World, which is a cursed and unrighteous place. The good we do is the water for our soul, the light in the darkness we bring is the fruit we provide, and the word of God is the soil we are planted in, which nourishes us.

Let’s all try to be a Lone Ranger for God, a fruitful vine, a person who brings righteousness and justice to those that seek it. Also, let’s all be prepared to be pruned, and willingly go where God leads us to do His work.

It won’t be easy, but the rewards will be greater than anything you can imagine.

Why Me?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? Why me?

When something bad happens to us, don’t we ask, “Why me?”  And, if something bad happens to someone else, we might ask ourselves, “Why them?” Like in war, when a buddy is killed by a random bullet right next to you and you have to ask yourself, “Why him? Why did I survive?”

Or maybe when something really good happens to us, we wonder if someone “up there” likes us and ask, “Why me? What did I do that was so wonderful I got this?”

Or the selfish side of that, when something wonderful happens to someone else and you ask,”Why them? Why not me?”

I think the answer, and probably the answer that is best most of the time, is simply, “Because.” Because you were where you were, because you weren’t where that other person was, because you did something nice, because you did something not so nice, because it just happened that way.

Faith is the way we explain the unexplainable. Shaul said that faith is believing in things unseen and unproven, although there is plenty of proof that God exists and is working in the lives of people. All people, not just Believers. Now that my eyes are open, I can see God’s hand and help in many, many areas of my life long before I knew Him as I do now.

In fact, even when I was rejecting Him, He was not rejecting me.

This is a simple Drash, an easy to grasp but hard to live by idealism- don’t think about why. Just keep going. Otherwise, you will drive yourself crazy.

Ask Kohelet, the writer of the book by the same name. Or maybe you know it as Ecclesiastes. The reason he is so upset and fed up with everything (as he says, it is all just “chasing the wind” and useless) is because he was trying to understand life from God’s perspective. He was trying to know why, he wanted to understand the “Why me?” from God’s level of understanding, which is (of course) impossible for any human to achieve. So, what was he left with? Not knowing the “why me”, and only seeing that everything done under the sun was useless because money you save gets spent by others when you die, the things you build when you are alive don’t last, the work you do and leave behind gets changed by those who are now doing it. Nothing stays the same, nothing is dependable, nothing lasts…nothing except God. God is the only thing that doesn’t change, and He provides for us. He gives us the fruits of our labor, so we should just enjoy them. He provides for us, so we should just accept what He gives and enjoy it. He is all that matters, and fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That’s the conclusion of the book, and that is what most people find to be “the” lesson. I disagree; I think the real lesson from Kohelet is that we need to stop asking “why” and just accept that God is in charge. We can’t understand, and the truth is, we don’t have the need to know. It’s not our place to question God, although He is big enough to handle it, and loving enough to let us, now and then. He may even answer you, if it is something He feels like doing.

Stop asking, “Why me?” Oh, yes…and stop asking, “Why not me?” , too. That’s right- you can’t ask, “Why them”, either. Just stop asking “why”, altogether.  Do what God put you here to do, which is to worship Him, use the gifts He has given you to bring glory to His name: make Disciples, teach, intercede, pastor, whatever talents and gifts He has given you with which you can proclaim His goodness, love, mercy and glory, use them. When things happen in your life, don’t start whining that God is punishing you, or feel guilty that you are so blessed while others aren’t (remember that Yeshua said you will always have the poor amongst you.) Just do what God says to do, and keep on doing it through all the good and all the bad times.

We live in a cursed world, and if you feel that you are really being attacked, don’t ask ,”Why me?” but ask if you have wandered away from God. God provides His kippur, His covering (blessings, if you will) to protect us from the cursed world we live in. He does this when we are walking alongside Him, when we are living in His will. God has His path to walk, and when we wander off He will not wander off with us, so we find ourselves outside the kippur of His goodness and mercy. That’s when we should be asking ourselves something, but not, “Why me?” We need to ask, “Where did I get off track?” And, “How do I get back on track?” Those are the questions we need to constantly ask; we need to always question our motives, our desires, our actions, and understand that God is always there, He is always the same, and when things happen that we feel are not what we expected, it isn’t about God changing- it’s about us changing.

Starting today, ask “What am I doing?” instead of “Why me?” If things go wrong, ask ,”What did I do that may have caused this?”  If things are going great, ask yourself, “What am I doing that must be good in God’s eyes?”

God is in charge, but we have the freedom to do what we please. That often means we will go in the wrong direction, or we will actually do something really worthy of blessing. I like to say when I have done something really well, it is God doing it through me and He deserves the glory. When I screw-up royally, then I can take full credit. But I don’t ask, “Why me?”

Frankly, I don’t care why me or why not me, or why them…I only care about staying in God’s will and doing what pleases Him. I don’t ask “why”, I ask “what”, as in,”What did I do to get off track?” and then”What must I do to get back on track?” Sometimes I can ask the best question of all, “What am I doing that is so wonderful in God’s eyes, and how do I keep on doing it?”

“What” is the question that helps; “Why me?” is self-defeating and leads to inaction, guilt, and sadness whereas”What should I do?” encourages us to take action, improve and work towards demonstrating God’s glory.

Here Come Da Judge!!!

I have to start my day with the newspaper. Not the news, mind you- that is always the same, always bad, and useless to me. I like the Crossword, the Word Jumble and Cryptograms.  This morning the Scram-Lets (you unscramble words, pull out the specified letters and then unscramble them to complete a corny statement) had the statement,”Our days are happier when we give people a bit of our heart rather than a piece of our mind.”

It reminded me of a silly joke:

A man got a flat tire and was in front of an asylum for the insane, changing the tire. One of the inmates was standing at the fence watching as the man took off the bad tire and put the lug nuts in the hubcap. After putting on the spare tire, he reached for the hubcap and accidentally knocked it, sending all the lug nuts down a drain. He sat, dejected, not knowing what to do. That’s when the inmate said, “Hey, Pal- why not take one lug nut off each of the other three tires and use them for the spare, since you can safely drive with three lug nuts. As soon as you come to an auto store you can buy 4 lug nuts to replace the missing ones.”

The man was amazed, and said, “That’s a great idea! What are you doing in there?”  The inmate answered,”Hey, I may be crazy but I’m not stupid!”

So, nu? What do these two things have in common, and why the reference to Sammy Davis, Jr.’s well-known schtick from Laugh-In?

It’s all about judging people. The Manual tells us not to judge, lest we ourselves will be judged, but it also tells us that we will judge the nations. Seems sort of contradictory, doesn’t it? Don’t judge others but judge the nations?

In fact, it is not contradictory, but edifying. Saying we are not to judge others lest we be judged is telling us that the way we judge people is how we, ourselves, will be judged by God. That means think about what you are thinking about! By careful to observe, make sure you have facts and witnesses that are trustworthy, and alway, always, always use mercy when coming to a decision. Just the same way that God judges us.

The Scram-Lets statement shows mercy and restraint, allowing love and compassion to intercede where prideful judgement may be starting to rear it’s ugly head. And the story about the man with the flat tire shows that we can’t tell about a person simply by their environment, or what their situation may be at that time. People in jail for committing a crime may have done T’Shuvah and are now ready to be useful and good citizens. People who have had drug problems, or friends who have hurt us, may have cleaned themselves up, asked for forgiveness and turned from hurtful ways.

I am not saying forgive everyone and trust them again, Forgiveness is something we are commanded to do, but trust needs to be earned. If someone stole from me, and asked forgiveness, I may allow them back into my life, but I won’t leave them alone in my house. There is a difference between being a compassionate and forgiving person, and being an idiot. As Scotty said in Star Trek all those years ago, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!”

To judge the nations we need to start small, so let’s start with ourselves. Judge how you judge. Look at yourself, try as best you can to be honest and impartial, and determine if you judge based on what you see and hear, or how you react to the situation. Make sure you remove that log from your eye, first. If someone does something that you find personally disgusting, are they already guilty? Maybe they are; however, that determination should not be from your personal feelings but from the facts. I have been at the wrong end of what I called a “Kangaroo Court”, where I was actually told I might be written up at work for sexual harassment. I asked about the facts, and was told that the HR Department had done a thorough investigation. I asked how could they say that, since no one asked me about it? I thought a thorough investigation meant asking all parties involved, especially the one accused. Seems that all they needed was someone to complain and a complete statement, and that’s all it took for the accused to be found guilty.

(For the record, the witness never even made a formal complaint or wrote a statement. In fact, what happened was someone in the cafeteria, who didn’t even work for the company, was listening to another conversation and thought they heard my name mentioned by the other people who were talking. They thought they heard them relate a joke I had supposedly told and the eavesdropper/complainer thought that someone could have thought that joke might be unacceptable. That was my terrible crime. And the entire process didn’t even meet the company’s standards and practices outlined in their own Personnel Manual. It all boiled down to nothing, other than the HR Director having so little useful work that she had to fly off the handle and over-react, hoping she had a nice, juicy sexual harassment case to process.)

The Bible tells us that we need at least two witnesses. This is in relation to capital crimes, but I think it is a good rule for any time one person is claiming a wrong against another person. Of course, there aren’t always going to be witnesses, which is why it is so important for us to learn how to judge rightly, or maybe I should say, righteously.

Practice judging now. Don’t worry about opportunities- they are everywhere. When you see a homeless person, what’s your first thought? Well, stifle it. Think about why that person may be homeless. When you see someone sick or ailing, do you think how horrible it must be to have to go through that, or are you only hoping they don’t come anywhere near you? When you hear about someone in the news or on TV doing something wrong, do you judge against the entire class of people they belong to (i.e., all athletes, all actors, all politicians, etc?)

We have plenty of opportunities to learn how to judge, to learn to restrain our initial emotional reactions and allow our thoughts and reason to take charge. We do need to go with our “gut” on occasions, but overall it is our compassion, our forgiveness, and the rules and examples set for us by God and Yeshua that we should turn to when judging others.

When Messiah returns to take charge of the world, He will set up His court and assign those who will judge the nations. Do you want to be one of those? Then practice now so that you will be ready and worthy of that title.

Here come da judges!! Here come da judges!!

 

 

Self-Absorbed Salvation

When we become saved, are we better off? Let’s see: saved=Eternal joy; not saved=Eternal suffering.  I would say being saved is better off, wouldn’t you?

When we become saved, do we treat people better than we used to? Being saved should produce good fruit, we should be treating others as we would have them treat us, fruits of the Spirit should be growing within us …yeah, I think it’s safe to say we will be better to people when we are saved, don’t you?

But, when we are saved , does that make us better people?

There are some who treat the Jewish people as reprobate, and say they are rejected by God because they rejected His son. These are called Replacement Theologists. They think that they are the “Israel of God”, as Shaul put it at the end of Galatians (what was he thinking when he wrote that? I don’t know!) They say they are the “real” Jewish people, the true Israel.

They think they are better than real Jews because they are saved.

I don’t know what Bible they read, but it isn’t the one that God gave Moses, that has the writings of the Prophets, or the one that the Talmudim of Yeshua wrote, or the one with the  letters that Shaul sent to the Messianic Congregations he started throughout Asia. I just don’t know how they can think, for a moment, that God lied to the Jewish people when He said they are the apple of His eye, that He will never (note: N-E-V-E-R) forget or forsake them. That unless the heavens above and seas below are measured they will not stop being His people.

But, despite all that God said, these Replacement Theologists think that the Jews are rejected and that they, the Born Again Christians, are better than the Jews. And not just better on Earth, but better in God’s eyes, too.

In Romans, Shaul wrote to the Gentiles warning them against bragging about their salvation and becoming proud and arrogant. He reminded them that if God was willing to lop off a natural branch to graft them in, how much more will He be willing to lop off a branch that never belonged! And how much easier will the natural branch be able to be grafted back in, which is the plan. And when God makes a plan, He sticks to it, and it gets done.

We need to remember that we are all sinners, and no matter what particular sin you do the most, from telling lies, to murder, to adultery, to homosexuality, to stealing, to refusing to celebrate the festivals, to being unforgiving, to …well, the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? The point is that no matter whether or not you are “saved”, you are no better a person than anyone else.

Yeshua warned His Talmudim (Disciples) not to “lord it over each other, as the Gentiles do” but that whomever wants to be the greatest must be the least. If you want to know how a truly saved person should be, he or she should be humble.

Before I was saved, I was a sinner who rationalized my sins; now, I am a sinner who regrets my sins. And because I have asked God’s forgiveness, and accepted the sacrificial death of Yeshua, who I acknowledge as my/the Messiah, I am “saved” from the spiritual consequences of my sinfulness. By the way, note that I am saved from the spiritual consequences- sin still causes injury and will always have serious consequences in the natural world.

Replacement Theology is a lie from the pit of Sheol. All I can say about it is this: in the vision (revelation) given to Yochanan when he was on Patmos Yeshua warned against the Synagogue of Satan. In the Greek, synagogue doesn’t mean a Jewish place of worship. That is a modern meaning. The word refers to a gathering, or collection. You could have a synagogue of chairs, of rocks, or a synagogue of people with a common purpose. The pagan temples were synagogues. So, a “Synagogue of Satan”, in First Century terminology, meant a group of people who were of Satan. Yeshua also went on to define who these people are: they are people who say they are Jews but are not.

Gee, that sounds like the exact definition of Replacement Theologists- people claiming to be Jews who aren’t Jews.

Whether you are a Replacement Theologist or a Gentile who has been grafted in and appreciates God’s wonderful gift of Grace that He made available to you, unless your blood is Jewish blood passed down from your parents and grandparents, you are an adopted son or daughter of Abraham. You are a member of the Family of God, if you will, but an adopted one. The Jews are God’s chosen people- not chosen because they are better, but because they are no better. In fact, in some ways, they are worse. Throughout our history we have been stiff-necked, we have rejected God over and over, and the ultimate rejection is, truthfully, that congregationally (pardon the pun) we have rejected our own Messiah. And, to make it even more embarrassing, the Gentiles have welcomed Him. Doesn’t sound like anything to brag about to me.  But we are still God’s chosen- He is absolutely clear, with no chance of mistake, and repeated throughout His Word,  He reminds us that despite how stupid we have been and still are, despite how stubborn, despite how foolish, and despite how adulterous we have been over the Millennia, He will always accept us back when we do T’Shuvah and just as God always has been, is, and always will be, we (Jewish people) have been, are, and always will be God’s chosen people.

Chosen not because we are better, but chosen because of one man’s faithfulness, and the faithfulness of many others after him, and the continued faithfulness of the Messianic community within Judaism. And the faithfulness of the “mainstream” Jewish people- don’t think that not accepting Messiah Yeshua means that all Jews are faithless. Most are just ignorant of the truth because they have been taught that Yeshua is not the Messiah. They are just what Yeshua called them- lost sheep. But they have not lost their faith in God or His promise of a Messiah- they faithfully wait. They just don’t realize, yet, His true identity.

Being saved should make us better to other people, but it doesn’t make us better than other people. And it certainly doesn’t make you a “Jew” if you are saved.

Be appreciative for God’s plan of salvation, partake in it wholly and joyfully, and help others to find their way back to God through Messiah Yeshua. But never, never, never think you are better than anyone because you are saved. You, I, all of us- we are still sinners, and being saved makes us no better than anyone else in the world.

It just makes us saved.

 

Holy Day or Holiday?

I would like to start this Drash with an excerpt from the chapter in my book (see link at bottom right of page) dealing with this topic:

“Two men talking…,”…so I came to the conclusion that I’m agnostic, but when I realized they don’t have any holidays I thought it best to just stick with my reform synagogue.”

    Why is it important to know the difference between a holiday and a Holy Day? After all, don’t they both mean the same thing? Probably so, to most people. But I think there is a difference between the two, and I also think it is important to know what that difference is. And, since it’s my book, I get to write about what I want to.

   Seriously, it is important to know the difference, and in that light I will ask you to accept (for the purposes of this book) the following definitions: a Holy Day is a celebration, or festival, which God has commanded to be observed. A holiday is a celebration, or festival, which has been created by humans and is a traditional, not biblical, observance. 

   Please understand that I have absolutely nothing against man-made celebrations. I also have nothing against traditions, EXCEPT when a tradition is given more importance than the actual word of God. Traditions are fine, but He comes first.”

We are just about at the end of the High Holy Days in Judaism. Tomorrow is Simchat Torah (that means the Joy of Torah) when we read the last part of Deuteronomy and then, while we sing and dance, roll back the scrolls to the very beginning and read the first few lines in Genesis. Often this holiday (note: holiday, not holy day) is also celebrated by parading the Torah through the streets (And the Word shall go out from Yerushalayim…) with Shofar blowing and joyous singing. It is truly a wonderful thing to start reading the Torah all over again. Ya gotta love the Bible!

But it is not a festival that God told us to celebrate. It is a holiday– a man-made event that is a traditional celebration, just like the netilat yadayim (hand washing) ceremony that we read about in Mark. Just like promising a Korban (again, see Mark) or any of the many, many other Rabbinic traditions and ceremonies that are Talmudic but not Biblical. And if you really want pomp and ceremony, check out some of the Gentile holidays and traditions. You’d think they would have learned from the Jews, but it was not to be.

Why care about the difference? Maybe it doesn’t matter. I guess you could make an argument that every religious holiday (I am not talking about anything in Leviticus 23) is meant to honor God, and how can that be wrong? I think that would be a good argument, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that, except that today most of these holidays do not honor God: they only create more retail sales. They honor the economy more than they honor God.

I mean, it’s not even Halloween (clearly, no one can think that Halloween honors the Lord!) and already I see Christmas commercials on TV, stores are putting up Christmas decorations, and I haven’t even partaken of my November tryptophan yet!  Oy! If we keep going at this rate, we will “lap” Christmas and by April of 2016 they will be running Christmas 2017 sales!

The traditions of our people (Jews and Gentiles, alike) are not bad, in and of themselves. Traditions help create solidarity, a common foundation, and can often help one to get closer to God, so long as they do not interfere or overrule what God has commanded of us. This was the point that Yeshua was making during His ministry. He didn’t have an issue with the traditions, He had an issue with the Pharisees forcing the people to perform traditions at the expense of what God said they should do. There are plenty of examples of this throughout the Good News books.

We need to be careful about this, i.e., knowing the difference between what God has told us to do and what our religious leaders tell us we should do. And we need to know the difference, especially now, as we see prophecy coming to fruition all around us.

I believe the Enemy will make Himself known slowly, and we will not know what he is doing to us until it is already done, unless we keep our spiritual eyes open and trust no one. Not the Rabbi, not the Priest, not the Minister or Chaplin…not no one, not no how, not no way.

What we need to do is trust in the Word of God. You need to read it and thereby learn the difference between what is man-made and what is God-commanded. Like I said, I believe the Enemy will take charge slowly, and the best way to do that is through what we are all comfortable with. He isn’t going to jump out of a cake and say, “Hiya!! I’m the Son of Perdition and I am here to destroy you. Line up and take the mark- be the first on your block to suffer in hell for  all Eternity. Order your very own mark now…operators are standing by.”

Uh-uh…not going to happen that way. He will appear, at first, to be somewhat powerless. A nobody that came up with a popular notion or fad. Then the fad will become a tradition, just like the other traditions we all find comfortable and easily follow (like sheep) and practice. Eventually, once we are suckered into the traditional practices, the tradition will become a regular part of our life, and he will introduce activities that are God-less and satanic, but it will be so subtle, it will fit so easily into what we are doing already, that before we know it we will be lining up for the mark and not even realize what we are doing.

OK, maybe I am getting a little too apocalyptic, thinking that celebrating Simchat Torah will lead me to satanic worship. Honestly, I don’t think that’s a concern. But human stupidity, ignorance and pride is a concern, and it is as much a part of us as breathing and eating. If we aren’t watching with spiritual eyes, and discerning using the Ruach, we are doomed. The Enemy is much more devious than we are, and he knows how to get in our brains, in our daily lives, and how easily we can be led (or misled, for that matter.) And he has no fear of God. He knows he’s lost, he just doesn’t want to admit it to himself, so he is going to take as many down with him as he can. Remember this: in Revelations it says that “most” will be apostatised. Not a few, not a lot, but most- that means a lot more than just half . That means more like 70-80% of all Believers will reject God and throw away their salvation.

Worship God as He said to worship Him- celebrate the Holy Days that God has commanded we should celebrate. And I mean everyone- these are not “Jewish” holy days, these are the festivals that God (your God and mine) said that those who worship Him are to celebrate. Everyone! Start there, and slowly, carefully review and scrutinize every non-Biblical holiday you have ever enjoyed. If it seems “correct” according to the Manual, celebrate it as it should be celebrated- in a way that honors God. Leave K-Mart, Target, Amazon, et.al. out of it.

As the old saying goes, “Keep the Christ in Christmas.” And be careful to celebrate only those celebrations, and only in those ways, that give glory to God.

Can You See the Wind?

Have you ever felt that there is just so much going on right now, and none of it is going right, that you wonder if God took a vacation? The world is a cursed place, and I think, because often God will bless us with good times, we forget that. When the day is sunny, just the right temperature, and we are with loved ones enjoying ourselves, we forget about all the strife in the world,  war, diseases, bigotry, etc. All we are thinking about is how much fun we are having and how wonderful life is.

Then reality hits, and we think, “How can God allow this to happen to me?”

Sometimes it seems that the Almighty is mighty…far away!

Do you know that poetic story, the one about the man and God walking side-by-side on the beach? I think it is called, “Footprints in the Sand.” It tells of a man walking with God, seeing both sets of footprints in the sand, when suddenly as troubles come upon the man he sees only one set of footprints in the sand. Later, after the troubles are gone, he sees two sets of footprints, again. He asks God, ‘Where were you when I needed you? I only saw my footprints in the sand”, and God answered, lovingly, “My child, those were My footprints- during those times of trouble I was carrying you.”

We can’t see the wind, but we can feel it’s presence and see it’s effect. Sometimes the wind is so light you can barely feel it, and other times it seems to not be there at all; we don’t feel the slightest hint of a breeze. But the wind is still there. And other times the wind is so strong that we can’t stand in its presence. At the worst, the wind can be deadly.

Yet, it is always the same thing- it is air. It is all around us, always. Without the air, we die. And when the air is in motion, it is the wind, and we can then most acutely feel its presence.

That is how it is with God. He is always there, He is always surrounding us, and when He moves we can sense His presence.

God doesn’t need us to do anything for Him to move, and often He will show His presence in astounding ways without us doing anything. He will bless us when we don’t expect it, or He may allow us to fall under the cursed world in order to test us. He does what He wants to do, when He wants to do it, and if He doesn’t want to do something, who can make Him do it? No one. This is one of the truths about God that many people refuse to accept, which is a wedge between them and their salvation: God does what He wants to do and we can’t do anything about that.  We can’t make God do anything, but we can influence Him.

We can influence Him into action through faithful prayer. When we come under tsouris (problems) and feel that God must have abandoned us, we need to remember that the wind is never gone, even when we can’t feel it. It just isn’t moving. There are many factors that can affect the wind and cause it to stir, but there is only one thing that we need in order to cause God to move- faithful prayer. When people ask for a sign, or atheists and agnostics say they need to see proof of God’s existence, they just don’t understand about wind. When you move air, it causes wind, and the winds’ effects can be seen, proving that it is there. With God, faithful prayer is the fan that moves Him into action, and His actions are the proof that He exists. The reason these people don’t see proof of God is because they have no faith. They can have all the proof they will ever need, but they won’t do what is necessary. It is as the prophets have said: they have ears but cannot hear, and eyes but cannot see.

I loved the Three Stooges. I especially remember when Moe would poke Curly in the eyes and Curly would cry out,”Moe! Larry! I can’t see! I can’t see!” and when Moe and Larry asked what’s wrong, Curly smiled and said, “‘Cause my eyes are closed.” That’s when Moe would slap him across the head. Exactly what I think many people in the world need today- a good slap to the head while screaming in their ears, “WAKE UP!!!  You’re almost out of time and you’d better stop this foolishness.”

Did you know that when the Bible refers to foolishness it doesn’t mean making funny faces and performing silly antics? It refers to people who refuse to accept God’s existence and power. The Biblical definition of a  foolish person is one who rejects God.

We all suffer dry spells, we all go through our own “desert”, and sometimes we find ourselves back in the same desert over and over. Yet, even the most desolate desert has wind.

God is always here. I read once the ancient Rabbi’s said that it is impossible for God to go down to Earth because He is already there. He is everywhere, all the time, and the reason we don’t see Him is because we are too stubborn or too hardhearted to be able to see Him. Just like air, God is all around us, even when we don’t feel His presence.

If you want to know His presence, faithfully pray to Him. Fan the Lord with your faith, prod Him with your prayers, and watch Him move mountains for you.

Talking in (Digital) Tongues

Facebook…Twitter…Hash tag this, Tweet me that. Whatever happened to talking to each other using the language we were (supposed) to have been taught in school?

OK- one thing I can say about Twitter is that having a defined number of characters can help someone learn to say what they want to say as effectively as possible. People who give sermons could take a lesson from that (myself included) but overall what we have done is to shorten words so much, and use just the initials (acronyms instead of words), that it has been a digital glossolalia.

What’s worse is that the youth of today cannot communicate outside this world of text-language. That spells disaster for anyone over 45 because when the high school kids of today enter the workforce, the age of sending memo’s will be gone. It will be MMITCF (meet me in the conference room) or YF! (this can be figured out easily, as you pack up your desk.)

The Bible is from God, and it tells us who He is and what He wants from us, and those things never change. There are many, many different interpretations, and I am afraid that in the next decade or so the newer versions may be more in line with digital talk than plain English.

Imagine: “…and the Lord emailed Moses and said,”Hash tag Pharaoh and tell him to LMPG!”  How about: “David and Jonathan were BFF’s?” Or maybe: “…First there was the email, then the email became a Tweet, and the tweet dwelt within my mailbox.”

It seems to lose something, doesn’t it? Some of you may be saying there are languages today that are picture languages, such as many of the Asian languages and even ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. And the ancient Egyptians were the most developed and advanced people of their time, so why am I so worried about today’s Text-talk? And you could be right- maybe I am just being old fashioned and stubborn.

I’ve had people say I am stubborn, but I will NEVER AGREE!!!  (this is what we writers call, ‘Comic relief.” Are you laughing? No? Maybe a smile?)

Language itself is a dynamic thing, it always changes and that is a normal part of civilization. As we grow we change, our needs change, our society changes, and so to does the language. To most people the word “Blast” today only means some sort of explosion, or a party, but in the late 19th Century it was a curse word. I am certain that some of today’s curse words will be a regular part of the language by the year 2020. The comedian (the late) George Carlin had a skit about “The 7 Words You Can’t Say on Television”- I think there’s only 2 left. Even when they bleep out the word, it is still obvious what it is.

Anyway, language will change, and I suppose that there will be people who will eventually re-write the Bible to reflect the current verbiage and usage. I pray that nothing is lost in translation.

God is the same today as he was yesterday, and will be the same tomorrow and forever. The Bible is not just His laws and teachings, it is who He is. It is how He lets us get to know Him, intimately. Changing that into modern text-talk has to deplete it. I can’t stand that idea!

I have been a little back-and-forth today, and I’m sorry about that. I can’t seem to get my thoughts together coherently and express them in a clear way. Maybe that’s part of the message- I am pretty good at writing (I hope you agree) and can express myself well. If I can’t write a blog telling you, my readers, exactly what I am feeling, if I had text-talked this how much more would you be missing? We cannot afford to miss even one jot or tiddle from the Manual because we will need every sentence, every word, every syllable that God gave us to defend ourselves against the Enemy.

Ephesians tells us the Word of God is a sword. Just like any sharp instrument, if you don’t handle it carefully and with respect, you can seriously damage yourself. We need to keep the Word of God intact, and as He had us write it. If we become so irresponsible with our language as to change the way we communicate, we lose something very valuable. Poetry, the beautiful lyrics of music, love letters between people, the Psalms…you can’t express these feelings and emotions with acronyms.  And that means that the Bible, also, will lose it’s potency if it is “texted.”

Yeshua tells us to stay alert with regards to His return. May I suggest we stretch the meaning of this a little to be alert not just for His return, but to the way the Enemy will try to deceive us into apostasy.  I may sound a little over-reactive, but I do believe that as we lose the ability to communicate effectively with each other we lose the ability to organize. If we can’t organize, we can’t become an army for God. Maybe in a century or so people will be able to communicate using nothing but symbols and acronyms, but I don’t think so. We need a language with the ability to express itself in complete thoughts and to be flexible enough to change without becoming so different it isn’t even the same thing anymore.

Teach your children to write with words, teach your employees how to write a memo, to spell without “Spellcheck”, and to verbally communicate with each other. Ditch the cell phones at parties and in the car, or at the dinner table, and talk to each other.

We need to stay together, to communicate effectively so that we can be ready and prepared against the Enemies of God. We can’t do that well if we can’t even form a sentence.