Kol Nidre Message 2018

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

This night, September 18, 2018, is Kol Nidre, the eve of Yom Kippur. As such I would like to share the traditional message I used to give when I was “acting” Rabbi (for about 1-1/2 years) at the Northeast Philadelphia Messianic Synagogue I had attended for 17 years.

Before we go into the message, I have a beautiful rendering of the Kol Nidre prayer which you can watch by clicking on this link: Kol Nidre.

For centuries, the Kol Nidre prayer has been used as a polemic against the Jewish people, accusing us of being untrustworthy and stating that our word is useless.  At one point there was even a movement within Judaism to remove this prayer. That movement came to a stop once it was discovered that the prayer dates back to 17th Century Spain, where persecution of the Jews was taking place under the Inquisition. Many thousands of Jews were forced to forgo their beliefs and swear allegiance to Christianity or suffer torture and death.  That is why even though the Torah requires us to strictly adhere to any oaths we take, this prayer seems to be an anomaly; however, we are not asking to be released from valid oaths and contracts we make but only from those oaths we were coerced into making.

On this day, when we ask God to forgive us our sins, we must realize that we have an obligation to forgive those that have sinned against us.  And not just to forgive others, but to forgive ourselves, as well.

It is strange that we are willing sometimes to forgive others their sins against us but we will not forgive ourselves for sins we have committed against others. After all, if we love others enough to forgive them their sins, shouldn’t we love ourselves enough to forgive our sins? Doesn’t it say in Leviticus 19:18, “Love thy neighbor as thyself?” If we love our neighbor enough to forgive them, then shouldn’t we do the same for ourselves?

If I ask God for forgiveness but refuse to forgive myself, then I am placing myself above God!  So many times I have heard someone say, “How can God possibly forgive me for this?” That person doesn’t understand Grace and doesn’t understand that God is able to do so much more than we can.  In Romans 5:20 we are told that where sin is increased, so too is Grace.  There is no sin too great or too horrible for God to forgive. 

And God is not just willing to forgive: he desires to forgive! He is so compassionate that he assumes our sins are accidental.  Numbers 15:25-26 states that we will be forgiven from our sins we did “in error”; in other words, God assumes that we did not intend to sin but that we did it by accident!  What a wonderful demonstration of the compassionate understanding and forgiving nature of God! 

But let us not forget that disobedience of the Torah is still rebellion and a sin. And the wages of sin is still death (Romans 6:23.) However, because of God’s forgiving nature, he is willing to see our sins as his children making a foolish mistake.  However, that is no reason for you to get comfortable with your sin- sin MUST be removed from our lives if we want to be with God eternally. He may look upon us with compassion and love but he is still God, and there can be no sin in his presence.

Too many people have been taught that “Once saved, always saved” is how things work under the blood of Yeshua. That is a lie. We are not to take advantage of God’s willingness to forgive us and just assume he will, which can only lead to an attitude of unrepentance. If we think it is OK to sin now and then, that is like trampling the blood of Messiah into the dirt. Even though God understands it is our nature to do so, it is NEVER acceptable to sin.

Because we cannot overcome our nature, Yeshua came to earth and sacrificed himself for us so that through his goodness we have the opportunity to overcome our sinfulness.

Today we pray for forgiveness and ask God for the atonement of our sins. This is a process:

  1. First, we must recognize our sin and take responsibility for it so we recite the Al Chet prayer, also called the Ashamnoo (we are guilty);
  2. We must choose to do Teshuvah (repent) and remove sin from our lives;
  3. Once we have done these two things, only then can we ask God to forgive us. Because we cannot sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, we ask forgiveness through the blood of the Messiah, who gave his life as a ransom for us over 2,000 years ago and through his innocent shedding of blood we can receive forgiveness (Messianic Jews/Hebrews 9:22.) 

Some of you may be asking why bother to go through fasting and prayer to ask forgiveness when we already have it through Yeshua ha Mashiach?  The answer is simple: because it is a commandment! Besides that, don’t we still sin? Don’t we still need to ask forgiveness? “Once saved, always saved” is hogwash and a lie from the pit of Sheol which is designed to keep us out of God’s Grace. We need to ask forgiveness of our sin(s) every single day! Maybe even more than once per day. So, nu? If we are to ask forgiveness any time we sin, why should we not ask on this day, the one day that God specifically said we should?  

Another reason is to show solidarity with our unsaved Jewish brothers and sisters. Look at the prayers we recite on this day (the Al Chet and the Amidah) – they ask forgiveness for the sins WE have committed. Not the sins I have, but the sins we have committed. These prayers are community prayers because in Judaism God sees the entire nation of Israel as a single entity. We are not just responsible for our own sins, but for the sins of all Jews; those who came before us and those who are with us. 

One last word: what we do on this day is not to be left in the Synagogue or Church- we are to take this attitude of Teshuvah and forgiveness for others out into the world. Going to Shul on the High Holy Days isn’t enough. We meet together to reinforce each other and to strengthen each other so that we are able to go back out there- back into the darkness to be a light. What we do today is what we should be doing every day.

So whether you are attending Shul all day or staying home and worshiping with God alone, take what you do out into the world with you tomorrow and every day thereafter.

HOW GOD ANSWERS PRAYER

This is a spiritually mature topic, and without years of study in the Word, and even then only with the guidance of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), many still may not be able to understand the answer, so please don’t be upset if what you read below is confusing.

The answer to the question, “How does God answer prayer?” is this:

It’ll be either “Yes” or “No.”

Actually, that isn’t all that hard to understand, after all… is it? What is hard to accept is that when all is said and done, God always does what is best for us, even though we may not agree with Him at the time.

If you get a “No”, that’s the easier of the two to handle, because it’s final. With God, “No” is “No”- even Yeshua (Jesus) knew that, and told His disciples that is what they should do, in Mattitayu (Matthew) 5:37 when He said:

 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

So if you get a “No” from God, accept it, and move on.

It’s when God tells you “Yes” that you will have hard work ahead of you.  Why? Because when God answers you with a “Yes”, that means He has a plan for you with regard to what you asked.

If you are one of the rare exceptions where God answers you with what you asked for, and when you asked for it, WOW!  That is really a rarity, and you should get on your face and thank Him.

Most likely it will not happen that way, and His answer will come to you in three phases.

Phase One: When God says yes to a prayer request, it is almost always because what you asked for is in His will for you, and He will have something that you must do. After you have received His answer, if you fail to recognize or act on it, you will have rejected God’s command- that is never a good thing to do. Just ask Jonah. So, if you get a “Yes”, you’d better get ready for the other shoe to drop.

Phase Two: The prayer you presented to God is going to be answered, but what you asked for may not be exactly what you get. We don’t always know what is best for us; in fact, we rarely know what is best for us, and almost always know what is the worst thing we can do to ourselves, which is almost always exactly what we do. It’s remarkable that we live long enough to realize how foolish we are! God’s plan is not always your plan (there is an old adage” If you want to make God laugh, tell Him what your plans are.”), and what He wants to be done is what will, eventually, be done. Since the answer to your prayer may not be what you were expecting, you need to remember that an answer is coming and constantly be watching for it.

Which brings us to Phase Three.

Phase Three: You never know when the answer is going to come. You may want such-and-such, and want it now, but you will more likely get so-and-so, and whenever God knows is the right time to receive it.  God’s plans and His timing are perfect, and our plans and timing stink; God will give you His answer exactly when you need it, which is rarely when you expect it to come.

So there you have it: if you ask for something from God in prayer, always (of course) invoking the name of Yeshua Ha Maschiach, He will answer you, which will be either “Yes” or “No“.   If you get a “No”, you get off easy.

If you get a “Yes”, better be prepared to follow up: be alert for the answer and steel yourself to accept His answer and act on it.

Otherwise, you’re better off not asking for anything, at all.

prayer spam

When the Talmudim (Disciples/students) of Yeshua asked Him how they should pray, well….we all know His answer. But do we think about the line that goes, “Give us this day our daily bread…”? Do we think about what He might have meant by that?

Not the P’shat, which means the written word as it is written, but the Drash– the underlying, spiritual meaning.

I believe what Yeshua was saying was that when we pray, we need to ask only for what we need, then and there. Not for success in life, not for riches or fame, not for next week’s presentation to the Board, but for now. Right now, and only right now, and only what I need right now. I also think that God wants our prayers to go to Him, to the Father, to be delivered in the name of the Son. Not to the Son, not to a “Saint” who is supposed to, what? Intercede with Yeshua (Jesus) to intercede with God? Didn’t Yeshua say the ONLY way to the Father is through the Son (John 14:6)?

What does that mean? It means that our prayers are to be sent to the Father in the name of the Son, and not to the Son for Him to bring to the Father. When we pray to anyone, or anything (even worse!) other than God, Himself- God the Father, God the Creator, God the one and only and God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob- then we are committing idolatry.

And when we pray to God, do we pray for what we need now, and only what we need now? I have heard people pray, and I believe their prayers are earnest, but they pray for the same thing over and over, they use “Father God” over, and over, and over- the way a “Valley Girl” uses the work “like”- until I have to think that God is saying to Himself, “All right, already- I know who I am! Just ask for what you want and leave all the ‘Father God this’ and ‘Father God that’ out of it! Oy!”

Don’t pray spam to God. He wants to hear from your heart. I have seen people pause during prayer and I can see them start to sweat trying to think of something else to say. If you have nothing more to say, than what you should say is: nothing more. Just stop. Just end the endless stream of useless words and catch-phrases that are supposed to make you sound like Solomon blessing the Temple. That was a long prayer, and it was a really good one. But long doesn’t mean better. How about Moses’ prayer (Numbers 12:13) when Miriam was struck by God with leprosy? Did he go on and on, or did he just say, “Oh Lord- please heal her!”

Moses found those 5 words to be as effective and meaningful as an entire thesis presented by a graduate student in Theology. God doesn’t just see the heart, He hears the heart.

We see someone who is homeless and downtrodden and (usually) think the worst, yet God sees Job during his trials of faith. We see someone who is mentally or physically challenged and thank God it isn’t us, and God sees a caring, faithful and compassionate person who is thankful that no one else they know has the same problems.

The words we use when we pray are not as important as the condition of our heart. When King David prayed for forgiveness in Psalm 51, he said that God will not despise a broken heart and a contrite spirit. It is the condition of our heart that generates prayer pleasing to the Lord; the fancy King James style words we use, the number of times we say “Oh Lord” or “Father God”, or the length of prayer is all totally meaningless. That is only pleasing to humans who know only what they see and hear. People only see the P’shat of the world, and not the Drash of humanity. I think people just pray “spam” when they use fancy words and long, poetic phrases meant to impress the people around them, and I just have to believe that God is thinking, “Your prayer is to Me, but I know the way you are praying is to impress those around you, so let them answer your prayer.”

Remember: when you pray, God already knows what you need. He knows what you want, He knows is best for you, and He will deliver it when He knows the time is right for you. What you say will not influence His decision but what you feel in your heart will.

When you pray remember the advice Yeshua gave His Talmudim in the Gospels- do not worry about what to say because the Ruach (Spirit) will give you what you need. Trust in the Spirit to guide your prayer and don’t pray from your mouth: pray from your heart.

 

 

Does prayer work?

Unquestionably prayer works. No doubt. Absolutely!

Well….most of the time. Maybe sometimes it doesn’t.

I guess it depends on what you’re praying for.

The answer really is: yes, prayer works, but not all the time.

I believe that God hears prayers but decides which ones to pay attention to, which to answer, when to answer and always how to answer.

Many times I have found my prayers answered, but the answer wasn’t what I thought it would be, and it certainly wasn’t when I wanted it.

And many times, the answer is: “No.” Sometimes its, “Not now, maybe later”; sometimes its, “No, not never gonna happen.” And sometimes I just don’t know whether or not I will ever get an answer.

But that is no excuse for not continuing to pray.

Maybe the best thing about prayer is praying without receiving an answer. Why?- because it strengthens our trust and our faith. Sometimes we need to make our faith happen instead of having God verify it. What I mean is simply this: faith is described as believing in something that can’t be proven.  In Hebrews 11:1 faith is described this way:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

That means, to me, that whether or not my prayers are answered, it is the act of praying that demonstrates my faith, and whether or not my prayer is answered, my continuing to pray strengthens my faith.

As silly as that sounds, it is what faith is all about: believing when there is no logical reason to believe.

The world tells us that if you can’t touch, see or smell it, it isn’t really there. The world will believe in prayer if the prayer comes true every time, and you get exactly what you prayed for.

That’s why the world will never believe, because that isn’t how prayer works.

God wants us to be faithful, but what we really are is fickle; if we get three prayers answered in a row, and the fourth isn’t, we stop believing. There’s just no “brand loyalty” left in the world.

In Luke 18:1-8 Yeshua (Jesus) tells the parable about the widow and the unrighteous judge. She pestered and bothered and nudged the judge so much that he finally gave her justice just to be rid of her. Now, God doesn’t answer prayer just to get rid of you, which is a good thing, but He does expect that we continue to ask in the face of rejection.

Why? If He is a loving God and Father who wants only the best for His children, why make us go through that?

The answer: I don’t know! I would guess, from what I read and my personal experience, that God is testing us to make sure we are truly faithful and not just trying to get a free lunch. For all I know, every single prayer I have ever made may be answered in the resurrection. Of course, some of the prayers I have made on earth will not make any sense, or have any value, after I am resurrected, but who knows what that is like?

When I was just beginning to know the Lord, when I wasn’t sure about who Jesus is (at that time I had no idea His real name is Yeshua) and I wasn’t even sure about God, I remembered hearing that if you smile, especially when you are sad, you will feel better. I thought, “Maybe if I pray to God as if I really did believe, it would help me to believe?”

Looking back now, knowing what I know and having experienced what I have experienced, I am amazed that I was so wise. Doing what a faithful person does DOES help make you faithful! When I prayed I felt better, even just thinking that there was a loving, omnipotent, omnipresent Spirit that wanted only the best for me and was listening to me. And the fact that this Spirit was able to do whatever I asked, well- that was just icing on the cake.

Eventually, praying as if He was there became knowing He is there. And praying to Him did result in receiving answers, even though many times I didn’t recognize those answers as being answers. Sometimes the answer to prayer is so well camouflaged we can’t see it until we suddenly take a different view of the past. Then we realize, “Hey- ya know what? That was the rabbit!” (you need to love Bugs Bunny to get that reference.)

So, keep praying, no matter what. Whether or not your prayer is answered, whether or not that answer is “Yes”, “No”, or “Fuggedaboutit!”, just keep praying. Prayer strengthens faith, and faith is how we are saved, so it really doesn’t matter that much if your prayers are answered or not.

The real reward of praying comes from continuing to pray.

Freedom through forgiveness

We all struggle to be free of things that bother us, don’t we? We want to be free of our debts, free from the drudgery of a meaningless job with no future, free of our bad habits, and more than anything, I think, free of our pain. Especially emotional pain.

We can be free of debt through careful financial management, we can be free of a go-nowhere job by educating ourselves and making ourselves more valuable in the job market, and we can free ourselves of bad habits through group rehab.

Many people seek therapy, but to be rid of emotional pain therapy isn’t always the best answer. I believe the best way to gain freedom from your emotional pain is to forgive the causer of that pain.

In my experience people just don’t understand how forgiveness works. They think that forgiving someone makes that person right with God, and by forgiving them it justifies what they did.

Not so.

Forgiveness actually has nothing to do, whatsoever, with what they did or their relationship with God, and has everything to do with your relationship with God.

Yeshua (Jesus) tells us we are commanded to forgive; in fact, in Matthew 6:15 He tells us if we do not forgive on earth then we won’t be forgiven in heaven. That’s a pretty powerful statement; it comes right after He teaches us the way we should pray, which tells us to ask that we be forgiven as we forgive others. That is a statement of cause and effect: forgive me for my sins against Thee using the same level of forgiveness that I extend to those who have sinned against me.

In other words, when it comes to forgiveness, I am asking God to do unto me as I do unto others.

The sinner who has hurt you will have to face God in the Acharit HaYamim (End Days), and your forgiveness of that person will have no bearing on that case. It will, however, be considered when you are standing “on the carpet.”

One of the the fruits of your salvation can be shown through your willingness and ability to forgive others. The end result, the reward (if you will) for doing as God says is the release from the pain. When you forgive, you are released from the pain of that event. Not right away, and not always completely, but it will happen (eventually) and you will feel better.

One “trick” I have learned is to pray for the one who has hurt you. Pray for their salvation because, as in my personal life, someone who has hurt me terribly is also someone that I know is in great pain herself, and needs the love of the Lord more than anyone I have ever met. I feel pity for this person, who will have to face God; and when she does, He will strip the Teflon off her body and all that she has done will come back upon her and stick to her skin like shingles. When you think of that pain and suffering, the emotional futility of having lived a lifetime of being unaccountable, then suddenly and completely, without any means of escaping the truth, have all the things you have ignored and shuffled off as everyone else’s fault come down on your head like a ton of bricks…I can’t imagine the horror and pain that will cause. And to top it off, you get a one-way ticket to Hell.

When you think of it, if you know the love and compassion and forgiveness that God has had for you, how can you feel anything but remorse and pity for this poor soul? The imagery just makes you want to forgive them, doesn’t it? If not, you’ve better do some serious talking with God.

It’s simple- forgiveness is God’s aspirin for the emotional pain of being sinned against.

Take two, and call me in the afterlife.

Are we praying respectfully?

Shaul (Paul) says that we should pray constantly. I talk to God a lot. I have gotten into the habit of praying to God in the morning, while I am driving to work. I used to have a long drive, so there was plenty of prayer time. Now I have the shortest commute to work since I was in the service and lived across the street, literally, from the base. But I still can pray while driving, and during the day, and at night, and every time I have a close call, or whenever I feel upset, or…well, you get the idea.

But is that respectful? I mean, is it respectful enough for the Lord of lords and King of kings?

I confess my prayers are not. I feel bad admitting to this, but I often will start in with a prayer and find myself wandering off in thought, leaving God “on hold” while I tangentially go off onto some other subject.

For instance, I will always pray that my children reconcile to me and to God, and that we can be mishpocha (family) again, centered on God.  Then I think of how I can do something to make that happen, then I go off on explaining to them why I had to leave that marriage, then before I know it I am at work and the prayer time has devolved into “me” time.

I left God on hold while answering another call. That’s not very respectful.

I hate it when I do that, and I do that a lot. I mean, a whole lotsa times!

I believe that God is so compassionate and understanding that He is not insulted, but He is still God. He deserves better than that and I have to get better at being more respectful in my prayers.

Yeshua was asked by His Talmudim (students, or Disciples) how they should pray, and He told them how- read Matthew 6:9-16. That isn’t just a prayer, it is the template for all prayer.

We start by recognizing who and what God is; only after giving God the glory and honor He deserves can we then ask for ourselves. And when we ask for ourselves, we ask for only what we need to get by that day. This represents our faith and trust in God to always provide what we need. We shouldn’t ask for a week’s worth of manna because the amount He gives us is enough. It’s enough for today, and we should know and believe He will do the same, tomorrow.

Next we ask for forgiveness of our sins, which we should do before we intercede for anyone else. Just as the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) made atonement for himself before he asked for forgiveness of the people, we should come to God for forgiveness, through Yeshua, so that when we ask God to help others we are coming before Him cleansed and pure.

Then we stick our necks out and literally put our salvation where our mouth is: we tell God that He should forgive us as we forgive others. This is also what Yeshua warns us about in verses 6:14-15. As we forgive, we will be forgiven. As we judge, we shall be judged. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, limb for limb. If we are not willing to forgive on Earth, God will not forgive us in heaven, and this is something that we should remind ourselves of every time we ask for forgiveness. That’s why not only does Yeshua tell us to incorporate it in every prayer, but He emphasized that point after He finished telling them how to pray. Believe it- if you cannot forgive, if you refuse to forgive, then you are not truly saved. You haven’t done T’Shuvah (turn from sin) , you haven’t allowed the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) into your heart, you haven’t held up your end of the bargain!

Salvation is free for the asking, but it is not guaranteed. That’s right- all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved: but getting salvation is not keeping salvation.

If you don’t show that you have truly turned from your sins, then you can speak the words all you like- it won’t help. God isn’t stupid, and if you don’t show in your actions, especially in your forgiveness of others, that you have turned from sin and are being obedient to God, then you haven’t really changed. Just speaking the words is not enough- you can’t talk your way into heaven- you have to bring an offering before the Lord.

God tells us a couple of times that we should not come before Him empty handed (look it up- you can find it easily in Exodus and Deuteronomy regarding the Festival of Unleavened Bread.) I am taking this past the literal meaning (the P’shat) and making a small Drash on it: when we come to God here on earth we should bring to Him something, such as unleavened bread, a sacrifice, first fruits- something that He has provided for us that we bring back the very best we have, as a thank offering to Him. The best, the very best thing we can offer to God is obedience. Therefore, since we can’t bring bread or lambs or fruit of the vine to Him when we come before Him at Judgement Day, we bring the fruit of our obedience. We bring before the Lord our good works, we bring our personal and financial sacrifices that we made in His service, we bring to God the forgiveness we have shown to others while we were alive. We bring to God what He wants- we bring the proof of our T’Shuvah.

If you don’t have something to bring before God when that time comes, don’t expect to get past the gates. At least, not the pearly ones.

We also ask God to protect us from temptation.

Finally, our prayers end where they started- recognizing the awesomeness of God.

I have been praying to God for nearly (or should I say, only)  two decades- I was a late starter. And in that time I have digressed more often during my prayer than I care to admit to, but I confess it. I have to own my sin before I can give it away to God.

I constantly try to pray more respectfully, and I constantly end up asking God to forgive me when I digress. Sometimes, when I know my brain is off on a holiday, I will just thank God for everything and leave it at that, before I go off on a tangent.

Prayer is necessary, prayer should be constant, and constantly presented to God in a respectful manner.

Prayer is Not Powerful

You heard me right. Prayer is NOT powerful.  The One we pray to, is!

That’s why prayer seems to be so powerful, but it is really not the power that gets things done, it is the catalyst that gets the One who is powerful and can do all things to start doing those things you ask for.

Yeshua says that when we pray in His name His Father in heaven will hear us, and what we ask for (and faithfully expect) we shall receive.

NOTE: Yeshua said to pray in His name- not to pray to Him directly. Anything that comes between us and the one true God, the Y-H-V-H, the Holy One of Israel, the Father, El Elyon, the….well, you know who I mean….anything that comes between us and Him is an idol. Yeshua never made Himself out to be an idol, and He always gave all glory to the Father, so there is no way He would ever even suggest we pray to Him instead of to His Father. If you pray to Yeshua, stop it! Pray to God and do so invoking the name of Yeshua. He is our prayer intercessor, not our prayer interceptor!

I always like to say to people when I can demonstrate the goodness and blessings that God has granted to me that prayer is a powerful thing, but that is not accurate. I say it that way because for people who don’t know the Lord, or how He works in our lives, it is easier for them to understand. As Shaul (Paul) once said, he would be whatever he needed to be and say whatever he needed to say to anyone in order to get the Good News about the Kingdom of God out there to people. You can see in his writings that he wrote to the (previously pagan) people using their understanding, instead of telling them the truth about God, Yeshua and eternity in strictly Jewish terms.

If you try to minister to a Jewish person and you talk about the New Covenant alone, and you try to fill them up with “Christianese”, you will never be successful. If you talk to them in terms they understand, and are familiar with, and are comfortable with, then you have a really good chance of making some headway. But…this is getting off topic.

Prayer is the means to an end, and it must be presented to the One who can make those ends happen. Saints are people that have received their “sainthood” not from God, but from people. They are not the ones to pray to, and Yeshua, Himself, told us that what we ask of the Father in the name of the Son will be granted. So, DUH?!? Why pray to anyone other than God? And why even think anyone else can intercede better than Yeshua?

As I like to ask, “Why pray retail when you can pray wholesale?”

Prayer is powerful because of the One who hears the prayers, so make your prayers to the One who can give you what you request. Pray to God and ask in Yeshua’s name. You can even remind God that Yeshua told us His Father would give us what we ask for when we ask in Yeshua’s name. That’s right- God is big enough you can give Him a respectful reminder about Yeshua’s promise without worrying about fire and brimstone raining down on your head.

Make your prayers worthy of being presented to God, make them often, make them sincere, make them for the good of others and when asking for yourself ask only what you need for today. Yeshua gave us the template for prayer in the Gospels (Matthew 6:9-13) so follow that whenever you pray and for whatever you ask.

God is the creator of, and power behind, all things. Yeshua is our intercessor, our representative to the Holy One, and when we send our prayers to God it is Yeshua who carries them to His throne and lays them at His feet. And the most important part is that because we pray in Yeshua’s name, when Yeshua presents our prayers to God it is with His endorsement.

That’s how prayer works. Praying to a saint is not right. How can I say that with such assurance? Because Yeshua tells us that’s how it works! The Son of God said to pray to “Our Father, who are in heaven”, and that whatever we ask for in His (Yeshua’s) name we will receive. It’s that simple, so why does “religion” have to screw it up so much?

Well, that’s mankind for you- give us a chance to screw something up and we won’t disappoint you; we will screw it up! Every time.

Make your prayers effective by praying the most effective way- to the absolute power in the universe, to the power behind all creation, to the One and only God. The Holy One of Israel, El Elyon, Adonai, our Abba B’Shamayim (Father in Heaven) and make those prayers directly to God using Yeshua’s name so that He can carry your prayers to God with His request to answer them.

Prayer is not powerful, and misdirected prayer is a waste of breath. But when you pray directly to God and ask Yeshua to present your prayers for you (by invoking His name), then they become the most powerful thing in the universe.

Thankfulness

Remember one of the first things we learned as children was to say “Please” and “Thank you?” Once learned, we do it so often it just comes out. Unfortunately, when it becomes automatic, it also becomes somewhat meaningless, doesn’t it?

God has given us more than anyone on earth ever could or ever will. Despite the wonderful things I have received from friends and family, they can’t compare with life, love, health, continued work and (most important) salvation through Messiah Yeshua- all of that is from God.

So I thank God every day; in fact, multiple times during the day. And, yes…sometimes it is rote, it is automatic. I thank him for medicines that work when I take my Zocor in the morning, I thank him for the food He provides whenever I eat a meal or just have a nosh (snack), and I thank Him at the beginning and end of every prayer. I don’t say this to show off or brag about how “holy” or thankful I am, I share this with you to ask if you are as thankful as you should be? The truth is, God has done so much for me that if I was to thank Him for everything He has done, one thing at a time, and once every minute, I would have to live to be older than Methuselah!

When I am praying at worship services, and I cover myself with my Tallit to be in my own little Sukkah, I thank God and cry. Oh, yes, I have Tsouris in my life, I have aches and pains, my hair is thinning at the top and I live in a cursed and fallen world, which is getting worse by the minute. There are many terrible things that happen, and I am more often than not falling short of what I am sure God wants from me. If I concentrated and thought about all the evil I have done to others, and how much I have hurt people, I could go through a ton of anti-depressants and still feel bad.

But thank God (there I go again- thanking God!) that He has taught me that to concentrate on the bad things is to work with the enemy- to berate and belittle myself for being human is to help the enemy steal my soul. This is one of the greatest gifts I have received from the Lord through His Ruach (Spirit): I have realized that when you look to the bad all you see is bad, and when you look to the good then you get to see the good. It’s selective reasoning, selective sight, and selective attitude.

My blood type is B Positive, which may explain why even though I am a cynical so-and-so, I try to see the best outcome, the bright side, the positive. Just like air rushes to fill a vacuum and moths are drawn to the light, I must try to see the best outcome, to explain the reason something is happening is from the the Holy One’s influence. And very often, I have to accept that what I see in the world is not the work of the Holy One, but the work of HaSatan.

When God is absent in a person, there is a vacuum- a spiritual vacuum that cries out to be filled. If the person doesn’t fill it with God’s spirit, then the enemy fills it with himself. Yeshua told the parable of the man who’s house was swept clean, but after the evil spirit left, the man didn’t fill it with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) so the demon that was evicted came back, with 7 more demons worse than himself and took over, again (Matthew 12:45 and Luke 11:26.)

So, nu? In this world of tsouris and hate, evil and self-importance where the legal powers have rejected God and the godless are held in esteem, how do we stay focused on keeping a positive and God-fearing attitude? The answer is: be thankful. Count your blessings and you will be surprised how many of them there are.

You have to count them correctly, though- you need to be thankful for the way God has protected you. If you have aches and pains, see the positive side of that- you aren’t dead! You don’t have missing limbs, and even if you do, do you have any other limbs that are still working? If you have illness, do you know people who are sicker than you?

In a nutshell, just remember the old adage, “I used to be sad because I had no shoes, then I saw a person who had no feet.” Being thankful, being happy (especially in this world) and being positive is not easy- it is stinking hard! Yeshua didn’t say let’s have a party together, He said pick up your execution stake and follow me. We need to work at seeing the bright side; and when you do, and when you become good at it, you will not only be happier but you will help make others happy, too.

They say to every cloud there is a silver lining. The silver lining is seen when the sun hidden by the cloud comes out from behind it. Every cloud in our life has the Son behind it, waiting to come out and show you the silver lining. We all know that on the cloudiest day, the sun is just behind the cloud waiting to break forth in light. In the same way we need to look for and wait on the Son of God, and God, Himself, to break forth through the clouds of despair and frustration that living in a cursed world will have on all of us. We all become depressed, we all feel out of sorts and desperate now and then. It’s a human thing.  Don’t let it get you down.

When we are thirsty we look for water, and when we drink we feel revived. When your soul is thirsty for joy and relief, look for the Living Water and drink your fill.

The way to have joy and spiritual relief is to thank God for all you do have. Don’t get hung-up on the bad stuff but look right through it for the light behind it- seek ye first the things of heaven. There is always something to be thankful for, so go and find it!

If you are sad and depressed, it is no one’s fault but your own. Fight against it! God gives us a spirit of victory, not of fear. The enemy wants you to belittle yourself, to be afraid, to feel alone and unloved. Don’t you dare buy it! God has everything you need, everything that is important and more of it than you can ever use in your entire lifetime. It’s all there for you, already wrapped and waiting for you to open it.

Seek and ye shall find, so get your butt out there and seek! Be thankful, praise God and look for Him in everything. When you do that you find the joy He has for you.

Yom Kippur Midrash

The Day of Atonement. The day when Jews all over the world congregate and corporately ask God for forgiveness. One of the holiest days of the Jewish year, if not the holiest.

And how many of the millions of Jews that are celebrating, solemnly, this holy day are doing so waiting for the Messiah who has already come for them, but whom they do not not know?

I celebrate this day with fasting and solemn introspection, reflection and requests for forgiveness for myself and all my people. That is what this day is really about- not forgiveness just for my sins, but forgiveness for our sins.

The prophets all asked forgiveness for the people, Moses stood before God and asked forgiveness for the people, Yeshua asked forgiveness for the ones that crucified Him. Those who are godly and worship God ask forgiveness not just for themselves, but for their people and for others. And more than that- they forgive them, too.

We are not commanded to ask for forgiveness, we are commanded to be forgiving. When we ask God to forgive our people of the sins that we read in the Ashamnu and Al Chet prayers, are we also forgiving them?

When you pray to God for forgiveness of your sins, are you also praying that you forgive the sins of those that have done evil to you? That’s right, I didn’t get it backwards: do you pray for God to help you forgive them?

I think that’s what we should do- pray for God to forgive us, and for Him to help us to forgive them, too. That’s the hard part, isn’t it? After all, even Jonah knew that God is not just willing to forgive, but that God desires to forgive: it is paramount in His heart to forgive the sinner. Maybe that’s why we read the book of Jonah on this day; it’s about forgiveness, and not just from God.  Jonah ran away from God’s calling and we know exactly why (Jonah 4:2.) He told God he knew God was compassionate and gracious, and that if Nineveh did repent God would forgive them. Jonah, on the other hand, was clearly not in a forgiving mood. Jonah did not want to pray for Nineveh, he wanted them destroyed. But, after some slight additional motivation, he followed God’s command to warn them.  And then, when God forgave them, Jonah was angry.

We need to be less like Jonah and more like God. We need, also, to pray to God for the strength, compassion and humility that will help us to be more forgiving of others. Humility, forgiveness, meekness and compassion all require great strength. A fool is easily angered, talks without thinking, and is more interested in his or her own opinion than listening to others (there’s a lot more about what a fool is like in Proverbs.)  Being loud, self-absorbed, discompassionate and unforgiving is easy for us. It is all part of our sin nature, our inherent iniquity.

The Ruach ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit) is the only thing that can help us to overcome the natural tendencies we have to be sinful and ungodly.

That brings us back to the earlier statement I made about so many Jews asking for forgiveness, waiting for the Messiah and not knowing or acknowledging that He already has come. It’s really sad: Jewish culture is founded on the belief of a Messiah to come and bring us back to God, to overcome our sins and reconcile us to the Holy One of Israel, and yet the historical teachings have been totally against the idea that Yeshua/Jesus is that Messiah. The Tanakh is full of references and descriptions, and Yeshua fulfilled them, yet He is still ignored and rejected by “mainstream” Judaism. Only the Messianic Jews, and many Christians who are seeking their Hebraic roots, really understand and know the true Messiah of Israel (and the world) and worship God as God said to do in the Torah. Which is exactly how Yeshua/Jesus said to worship God, as well.

Today is a day to ask forgiveness, so I ask God to forgive those of His people who have been taught, wrongfully, that Yeshua is not His Messiah. I also pray, O Lord, you forgive those that have taught and continue to teach others to reject Yeshua, for (as Yeshua said) they know not what they are doing. And, finally, O Lord, I ask that you help me and everyone reading this to forgive them, as well, for leading so many from righteousness directly to Sheol. Please forgive them, and show Your forgiveness by opening their eyes, their ears, and their hearts to the truth about Yeshua Ha Meshiach.

Thank you, Father God, for the forgiveness that You give to us, the forgiveness you provided to us through Yeshua, and for helping us to be able to forgive others.

May You Have an Easy Fast

Tomorrow night is Erev Yom Kippur- the evening that begins the Holy Day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is one of the holiest days of the Jewish year.  It is a commanded day of gathering together (although this is not one of the “Big Three” where you need to go to the Temple)  and “afflicting one’s soul”, which has been interpreted as fasting. No food, no water, nothing from sundown tomorrow until sundown Wednesday.

You may be thinking, “But Steve- you’re already saved. Your sins are forgiven. Why bother?” and the question is not unwarranted: I am saved. My sins are forgiven and will continue to be forgiven because I belong to Yeshua. So long as I am trying harder and harder to be what God wants, to obey His laws and do T’Shuvah (turn from sin), I will be forgiven whenever I call on God and ask forgiveness in the name of Yeshua Ha Mashiach.

And that is the very reason I fast and worship as all the “unsaved” Jews do- because I do belong to Yeshua, and Yeshua did not do away with Torah, and the Torah says I should fast.

How many of you out there can say you are without sin at any given time? Do you really think that once forgiven never held responsible again? If so, you’ve got a really nasty surprise coming. Sin separates us from God, and every time that we sin, we are that much more separated from God. Forgiveness is available but it isn’t shoved down our throat. God will not automatically forgive you just because in 1993 at 10 AM on a Tuesday you “found Jesus.” That’s great that you did, and once forgiven, all those prior sins are not going to be held against you. They were paid for. And the sins you commit afterwards, well, you have to ask forgiveness of them, too. You still need to confess and ask forgiveness. This isn’t revolving credit where you make a payment, run a debt, then make a payment. We sin every day and every day we need to ask forgiveness.

Yom Kippur is a day when we don’t ask just for individual forgiveness, but for corporate forgiveness. Read the prayers in the Machzor (the special prayer book for High Holy Days); read the books of the Prophets, who always asked forgiveness for the people; this is not just a day of asking for personal forgiveness. That’s why we are commanded to have a communal day of prayer, to gather together and confess to God our failure to meet our end of the Covenant He made with our Fathers. It is a communal request to forgive all of us, therefore, everyone who is saved should be even more willing to obey this commandment because we need to show the unsaved our desire for them to be forgiven and reconciled to God (through Messiah.)

Oh, by the way, did you catch that part about “we are commanded”? The best reason to do what God says is because He said to do it! How many times do you hear people say ( or maybe you’ve said it yourself), “Oh Lord, oh Yeshua, oh Jesus- I love you!”  Do you love Yeshua? Do you love Jesus? Are you one of His flock?

Then read John 14:15 (“If you love me, keep my commands.“)  And what commands did Yeshua give? The same ones that His Daddy gave to Moshe. John knew this and the Gospel he wrote began making sure that the very first truth of the Good News that he told us was this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

There is nothing “new” in the New Covenant writings- it is all the same stuff as in the Torah and the Prophets. That is what Yeshua taught from, that is what Yeshua taught about, and that is what Yeshua told us to obey. When Yeshua told us to prove our love for Him by obeying His commands, He was talking about the Torah. Yeshua/Jesus IS the living Torah!

That is why I fast and worship on Yom Kippur. For the same reason I do so on every Holy Day God has commanded us to celebrate- because He has commanded it. That is all the reason any one needs. Because I love and worship God, and because I belong to Yeshua, I do as my Master tells me to do. And I do so willingly, happily and faithfully, to the very best of my abilities, which are incompetence and failure. In truth, as much as I try, the best I can hope for and the best I can do, is better than what I have already done.

And that is good enough. Don’t try to be perfect- it ain’t gonna happen. I just want to be better than I was, I want to wake up and sin at least one less sin each day. I will walk three steps forward, but backslide two steps because it is my very nature to do so, yet as long as I net out one step closer, I am performing T’Shuvah. I am getting better, I am sinning less, I am becoming more spiritually mature and growing closer to God.

Tomorrow night I will fast. By Wednesday around, oh, let’s say 1130 or 1200, I will have a killer caffeine headache. My stomach will be grumbling and I may become a little testy. But I will be worshiping. Although the place where I worship cannot hold services because of a special needs school it runs during the day (services would be disruptive and disturbing to the children) I will worship in my home. I will read the Machzor, I will sit on my porch and enjoy the Sabbath rest that this day has for me, and I will commune with the Lord. I will recite the Ashamnu and the Al Chet, prayers listing the many sins we have committed against God and prayers asking forgiveness.

And I will demonstrate my love for Yeshua and for God by being faithfully obedient, and I will demonstrate my solidarity with my people by joining them in corporate prayer, even if I am not with them physically, as our prayers reach up to heaven and are presented to God on a golden patter held by Yeshua, Himself.

And I will do as every Jew should do on this day; actually, as everyone who says they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob should do on this day.

Because God said we should.