Parashah Beshallach 2019 (It came to pass) Exodus 13:17 – 17

The Israelites are now out of Egypt, and roaming in the desert. God places them against the Red Sea and Pharaoh decides he wants them back, so sends his entire army against them. God splits the sea and the Israelites walk safely across, with the army of Egypt following. God brings the waters down on the Egyptians and they are destroyed.

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After this miraculous salvation, Moses composes a song of praise to the Lord. The people continue on, and start to complain about no food or water. God sends manna and quails for them to eat, and when they come to a large pool of poisoned water God shows Moses how to make it potable. The parashah ends with the attack upon the Jews by Amalek, and through God’s help, Amalek is defeated.

Before I talk about today’s message, I would like to share a bit of interesting information regarding Amalek and the Torah. Some of you may be familiar with the stringent requirements for writing a Torah, which is done by a specially trained scribe called a Sofer. To test the ink and the quill pen used, the Sofer will write the name “Amalek” on a piece of parchment and then he crosses it out with a number of strokes in order to fulfill the commandment of blotting out the name of Amalek, in accordance with what is written in Deuteronomy 25:19.

 

What I want to point out from this Torah reading are the events just before the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-16), which is when the Israelites saw the army coming after them and cried out to Moses, asking why he brought them into the desert to die. Moses, faithfully believing God will do something, tells them not to cry to him but to wait for the salvation that God will provide. Then what does God do? He asks Moses, essentially, “What are you waiting for?  Raise your rod and part the sea, then walk across it.”

We are continually told throughout the Bible to be faithful and trust in God, which Moses unquestionable did when in the face of certain destruction he told the people to wait for God to take care of them. But God wasn’t happy with that- he chided Moses for not taking action. That is a problem I see with too many people who profess to trust in the Lord, but who really think he is a God of enablement. He is not! He is a God of action.

In Isaiah 40:31 we are told to wait upon the Lord for renewed strength, but that doesn’t mean to literally sit around on your tuchas and wait for God to do something. Yes, sometimes we are to be patient and wait, such as when waiting for an answer to prayer, but for the most part, we are to walk in faith (2 Corinthians 5:7.)

We have all heard the expression “Take a leap of faith”, but what does that really mean? Does it mean to trust someone without any reason to do so? Yes, it can. Does it mean to take a chance and hope for the best? Yes, it can mean that, too. Does it mean to blindly rush into a situation and pray to God that he will make it come out alright? Well, that might be a little further than I would take it, but I suppose you could do that as well. I wouldn’t recommend it, though.

A real leap of faith is when we trust God, as he tells us we should, but not to the point where we are foolishly taking chances and expecting him to make it turn out well- that isn’t faithfully walking, that is testing the Lord. And we all know that is not something we should do (Deuteronomy 6:16, and again in Matthew 4:7.) What we should do is to trust in God by asking for his help in what we have discerned is the right thing to do, then instead of throwing the fleece before the Lord, we should just go ahead and start doing what we ask God to bless. If we are doing what is right, he will support and help us. If what we are doing is not in his will or is wrong in his eyes, we will fail. But, either way, we should be walking in faith by taking that first step to getting the ball rolling, and trusting in God to provide as we go.

Do not be like those people who always seem to be complaining that they are cursed or the Enemy is ruining their chances to do anything: sometimes they may be right, but in my experience I believe that most of the time people are just making up their own excuses and faithlessly waiting for some sign from God that he approves. They want to do something but are, in truth, afraid and faithless, so they blame God for their inaction by saying they are waiting for his sign of approval.

They will probably be waiting a long time- God wants us to walk and he will clear the path, but not until we start walking. It is our act of faith that generates God’s provision.

Therefore, if you have something you want to do that you believe is a calling from God, don’t be like the man in Matthew 8:22 who told Yeshua he wanted to follow him but first had to bury his father; if you feel a calling from God to do something, get out there and do it! Don’t wait for confirmation from people or from God- just get started. If God is with you, you will know it. And if God is not with you, then you will know that, too. I believe that when you ask for guidance and discernment from the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), both before you start and all during your work, God will answer you.

We are to walk in faith, not sit around waiting in faith, so as the old song lyric says, “Boots- start walking!”

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Tonight begins Shabbat, so Shabbat Shalom and Baruch haShem!

Who’s Truth is the Real Truth?

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What is the truth?  Often, what was “truth” at one time was later shown to be a lie: the earth is flat; cigarettes are good for you; the moon is made of cheese; I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.

Even those things that have been taken as absolute Gospel, for instance, well…uh..the Gospels- even within these there have been truths that have been proven false. For instance, Jesus was the name of the Messiah- that’s wrong, it was and still is Yeshua (or, to be fair, some form of this name.) We celebrated (and still do) his birth as being on December 25th- that is wrong; most every biblical scholar today agrees he was born in the fall, sometime around Sukkot.

The Bible is known to be the true word of God, yet there are over 2 dozen different English translations of the Bible, each one with significant differences in many of the verses. And these English versions are translations of the Hebrew and Greek versions that came before them. Then we have to include the translations from English into many different languages, making dozens upon dozens of different translations. And as we all know, Hebrew to Greek to English to whatever other languages won’t translate exactly the same. When we look at any one line within the Bible, we can find many different ways to say it, each with its own cultural, linguistic, and historical influence which can significantly change the understanding of that line.

So even with the Bible, how can we know the REAL truth about God, Messiah, and God’s plan of salvation?

I know the real truth of it all, but that is only my truth. Your truth may be slightly different. Your truth may be slightly different from mine, but someone else’s truth may be way out there!

As an example, what about the law being “fulfilled?” Matthew 5:17 is one of the most misused verses there is in the entire set of Gospels: some people say “fulfilled” (as in the law being fulfilled) means that it is done away with. Others say that the term means that the law was properly interpreted. Still, others say that the “moral” laws remain in force but the ceremonial laws (as if anyone is able to know one from the other) are done away with.

So who do we believe? Who really knows the absolute, undeniable truth of God’s Word? There is only one who does know the absolute truth about everything in the Bible, and that is- God.

And he isn’t talking about it. Why? Because he has already said all he needs to say.

God doesn’t have the ego problems we humans have; he can say what he wants to say and stop there. Humans, mainly the ones who insist they know the truth, can’t shut up about it. You discuss it with them, but they ignore what you say and keep going on with their version. If you disagree and cite biblical verses to prove your point, even if you do this properly by explaining within the written, linguistic, spiritual, and cultural context, they still insist that you are wrong. And when you say that it is time to agree to disagree, they keep at it, still saying you are wrong, pagan, stupid, need to study…whatever insulting and condescending verbiage they can muster in order to make you admit that they are telling the truth.

And maybe they are, but it’s not for them to say. In fact, I don’t think anyone should say what is the absolute truth or what is an absolute lie. We each should believe what we choose to believe, and allow others to believe what they chose to believe. Yes, we should (if we are certain we are correct) try to show them why we believe what we do, but they have a right to disagree. That is from God, who gave each of us Free Will to choose what to believe. We have to respect that right, even if we are absolutely, undeniably, and positively correct (in our own mind) about the truth.

What is the real truth? Who cares! Really! What matters is not so much truth, as faith.

In the Gospel of John, Chapter 8 Yeshua talks about saying only what the Father has told him to say. He says in John 8:31-32 (CJB):

So Yeshua said to the Judeans who had trusted him, “If you obey what I say, then you are really my Talmudim, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

The “truth” Yeshua is talking about here is the truth that he is the Messiah God promised to send and to obey what he said meant to honor the Torah, of which he is the living representative. In other words, when Yeshua said to obey him he was saying that we should obey the Torah, and that obedience has nothing to do with earning salvation but is the result of believing, faithfully, that Yeshua is the Messiah.

But, then again, that is my truth. That is what I believe, and you can accept that as your truth or reject it altogether as a lie. That is your choice.

Let me conclude by saying, straight-out, what today’s message is: speak your truth, listen to the truth of others, and choose to believe what you will. No matter what anyone else says, God is the only one who knows absolutely what he meant, what he means, and what he wants you to know from his Word. And that may be different for you than it is for me.

Each one of us will choose truth and justify it for ourselves. What we choose may be wrong, and if so we will have to face God when the time comes and explain why we chose that particular “truth.” And, although I can’t speak for God, as I have said many times, if what we chose to believe is only what someone else told us, we will still be held accountable for it.

So whatever you choose to believe, make sure that belief system is founded in the belief in God, the belief in the Messiah that he sent, and the trusting belief that God’s promises are forever and trustworthy. That’s your starting point- from there, you better be able to verify and justify anything else with proper biblical exegesis and understanding, which you can get from the author when you ask for it.

And that’s the truth!

Parashah Nitzavim 2018 (You are standing) Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30

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The previous parashah ended with the blessings and the curses, and this one continues from there. Moses advises the people that everyone listening to him is subject to this covenant and he then prophecies that when the people turn to their own desires and sin, all the curses will fall upon them and they will be a byword to the other nations, asking “Why has this happened?”, to which the answer will be because they rejected God and his commandments.  

But as with all prophecies of destruction for disobedience, Moses assures the people that once their hearts turn back to Adonai, no matter how far he has scattered them, he will bring them back to their own land and bless them. 

Moses ends with the decree that these laws are not too hard to do, and he offers them the options of live or die, blessings or curses, and the suggestion that they take the blessings.

My message today is regarding what Moses says about those that bless themselves in their heart (Deut. 29:18-20), meaning those that hear the word and purposefully disobey, thinking that because God promises to regather the people they will be selected with the others. Moses assures that person that this will not happen; indeed, the one who persists in indulging himself (or herself) in evil will certainly not be blessed or forgiven. That person will be cut off from the people and all the curses of the covenant will fall on his head. 

When I read this I thought of all those that have been taught that once they are saved, they are always saved. Shaul (Paul) refutes this in his letter to the Romans. In that letter he says (Romans 6:15-16):

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that when you offer yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey, whether you are slaves to sin leading to death, or to obedience leading to righteousness?

The sins we commit can be forgiven through the Messiah’s sacrifice, but that is only those sins we have committed to that point, i.e. to the exact moment we confess, repent and ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name.  Whatever sins we commit after that are on our head until we repent of that sin and, again, ask for forgiveness. 

If we sin and continue to sin, without asking forgiveness, then we are- by definition- unrepentant. There is no doubt in my mind after reading the Bible over and over for 20 years and more that God will not forgive an unrepentant sinner, whether they know they are unrepentant or not.  We may feel sorrow in our heart for doing something wrong, but if we do not confess that wrongdoing and ask forgiveness, it is NOT automatically given. We need to have a contrite and humbled heart when we repent and ask forgiveness, but we need to do it all: heartache, repentance (T’shuvah), request for forgiveness (in Yeshua’s name.)  

I also thought of all those who have been taught that Yeshua did away with the law; all those poor souls who blindly follow the blind. Even if they think they are obeying God, they are not. And this is a form of blessing themselves in their heart and they WILL be held accountable. The covenant Moses made was not just with who was there, but those who were not there, as well (Deut. 29:13-14). In other words, this covenant is for all who claim to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Not just the Jews, but all people: those there at that time and those who are not there. 

What this means for you is that you need to make sure you read the entire Bible- Genesis through Revelation- and accept that if you worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob then you are also under this covenant. You may not like hearing that, you may want to argue (as if it will do you any good with God) that God didn’t mean Gentiles who accept Yeshua as their Messiah ( remember that Yeshua taught the Torah) or that Believers aren’t under the law but under Grace (remember what Shaul said to the Romans) or even that Yeshua did away with the law. 
Which is a total lie: Yeshua is the living Torah, the Word that became flesh so how could he have done away with himself? Duh! 

The Torah is still valid: God said these commandments were to be throughout all your generations. That means forever. And those that join themselves to God’s chosen people are not only able to enjoy all the rights of natural born Jews, but they are also subject to all the laws natural born Jews are subject to, and that means the Torah. 

What it boils down to is this: God gave the Jews the Torah to learn and teach the rest of the world, and those that obey are blessed while those that disobey are in BIG trouble. 

The Pharisees were teaching performance-based salvation, and Yeshua gave us faith-based salvation. We obey God’s commandments as a love-response to God’s goodness and because we are obedient children.

Grace is not a license to sin, it is the means by which we can avoid the eternal consequences of our sin; however, faith doesn’t overrule obedience. 

Parashah Pinchas 2018 (Pinchas) Numbers 25:10 – 30:1

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We left the last parashah with Phinehas (Pinchas) killing the Israelite man and Midianite woman to stop the plague. Now God makes a covenant that the lineage of Pinchas will be the High priests forever because of his jealousy for God. God commands Moses to go to war with Midian but first, a new census is taken because the prior generation has died in the desert.  No further mention of the war is given at this point but we return to it in Chapter 31.

The daughters of the Zelophead (who had no sons) request an inheritance and God makes a new statute which identifies the Order of Inheritance regarding family inheritance of land in Israel.

God tells Moses his time has come so Moses asks God to place someone in charge of the people, and God chooses Joshua.

This parashah ends with God having Moses remind the people of the requirements for the offerings that were to be made daily, as well as the festivals that he first told us to honor in Leviticus.

Moses is told he is going to die and his first thought is of the people he has led for the past 40 years. He isn’t concerned about how will he die, will it hurt, will he be taken up into God’s bosom- no thoughts for himself and total concern for those that he will leave behind. This action on Moses’ part shows us the type of person he was: thoughtful, concerned for others, humble even unto death (sound familiar?) and obedient.

Today what I would like to talk about is why God is having Moses repeat the offering instructions to the people before he dies. When I read this I had to ask myself, “Why? Why is God having Moses remind the people about something that they already have been told and have written down for them?”  The answer seems to be because God knew that these offerings were a central part of the daily life of the Children of Israel and, as such, must be followed. They are so important they bear repeating.

Again, why? Because without those daily activities of worship and annual celebrations of the Lord the people would easily fall into corruption. And we see that happening throughout the remainder of the Tanakh: when the leadership fails to enforce the daily offerings and festivals, the people fall into sin and worship the gods of their neighbors.

It is like the old adage: good habits are hard to develop and easy to lose, whereas bad habits are easy to develop and hard to lose.

We need to remember to pray daily, to worship the festivals God gave and when we celebrate holidays (not to be confused with Holy Days: the former are man-made and the latter are God commanded) we should celebrate only those that still honor God and do not replace the festivals he gave us in Leviticus, which are repeated here in this parashah. Only by repetitive worship can we maintain our faith and the strength of that faith, especially in light of our leader’s sinfulness and distracting activities.

When I say “repetitive” I do not mean to repeat prayers and perform actions robotically: what I mean is that we need to develop a regular prayer life and to remember the festivals God told us to celebrate. The ones he reminds us of in this parashah are the daily offerings, Shabbat and new moon, New Year, Day of Atonement and the pilgrimage festivals. Daily, monthly and annually we perform these rites and celebrate these festivals so that worship becomes a regular part of our lives. Every time throughout history that this cycle of worship was broken, the people fell into corruption.

What is your personal worship cycle? Do you pray every day? Do you honor the Lord by celebrating his festivals as he said you should? Too many people (both Christians and Jews) do not honor the Lord by celebrating the festivals as instructed. God isn’t very pleased with a half-way attitude when it comes to our worship of him. Another thing I have noticed: when you pray, who are you praying to? Is it to God or is it to Jesus? Jesus isn’t the answerer of our prayers- he is the intercessor. There is a big difference between intercession of prayer and interception of prayer.

The take-away for today is that we all need to develop a regular cycle of worship: daily and continual prayer, festival celebration as God said to (excepting for the sacrifices, of course) and constant reading of the Bible to remind us of who we are worshiping. Look at your life with spiritual eyes and see all that God has done, and is doing for you, and above all be appreciative for whatever you have. It may be great or it may be small, but if you have anything then thank God for it. He will hear and, knowing what you need, provide what is best for you.

Sometimes it is very hard for us to believe God is working for good in our lives, and that is what faith is all about- steadfastly believing God loves you and wants only the best for you when your life at that moment makes it impossible to believe. These are the times when the cycle of worship we have been talking about today helps us maintain our faith.

 

Who’s Faith Saved Daniel From the Lions?

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In the Ketuvim of the Tanakh (writings in the Old Covenant) we read of Daniel. In that book Chapter 6 is the story of Daniel and the lion’s den.

Most everyone knows that story, how the other chiefs assigned to rule the kingdom of King Daryavesh tried to find some wrong with Daniel, who the king had appointed above all of them, but no matter how hard they looked couldn’t find a single thing wrong with him. So they fooled the king into issuing a decree that they knew Daniel would not follow, which was to not ask anything of any God other than the king or the king’s gods. Knowing that Daniel prayed to his God every day, after the order was signed they found Daniel praying to God while facing Jerusalem and brought him before the king. The king was forced to throw him into the lion pit. We are told how Daniel’s faith in God protected him from the lions, and the next morning when the king went to check on him Daniel was unharmed. The the king threw the other chiefs who conspired against Daniel into the pit, and they didn’t fare so well.

The bible states it was his faith in God that saved Daniel. No doubt about that. But…was it just Daniel’s faith? We are taught that, but let’s look closer at what it says in that chapter.

Starting with verse 16 in the NIV version, this is what is written:

So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”  A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed.  Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.  At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den.  When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”  Daniel answered, “May the king live forever!  My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

There is no argument that Daniel’s faith was a contributing factor, but I think we need to also consider the faith of King Daryavesh. Look at what he did after being forced to send Daniel to his death:

  1.  When he sent Daniel to the pit he acknowledged God as someone able to save;
  2.  He fasts and afflicts himself all night, which culturally was a means of sacrificing to obtain the favor of one’s god; in this case the God of Daniel;
  3.  When he goes to check on Daniel the next morning he asks if the Living God- another acknowledgement of God as unique- has been able to save Daniel;
  4.  The letter King Daryavesh sends throughout his kingdom after this further acknowledges and recognizes the God of Daniel as a powerful and living God whose kingdom will never be destroyed.

I do not think that what Daryavesh did indicates he converted, but it does show that he had faith in Daniel’s God and recognized God as an all-powerful and “true” God. I believe the humility, faith and respect Daryavesh showed for God also contributed to Daniel’s rescue.

In the Book of Daniel we see similar actions by King N’vukhadnetzer (Nebuchadnezzar), such as when he lost his sanity for 7 years and when Daniel’s friends were saved from being thrown into the fire.

This is one of the many wonderful things about our God: not only is he willing and able to save but he is also willing to accept the prayers of anyone, even those that do not worship him exclusively, so long as they come before him humbly and repentant.

God will use even those who do not worship him for good as long as they come before him respectful and humble. Daryavesh had many gods but he showed great faith in the God of Israel, which I believe contributed to the saving of Daniel from the lions.

The Finite Can Never Understand the Infinite

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Can you imagine what 1,000,000 candles would look like if they were all lined up in a row?

Can you picture in your mind what 1,000,000 dollar bills would look like if they were stacked one on the other?

I can’t.  My mind, although it is often in a state of flux, is still pretty sharp and yet I cannot picture what one million anything looks like. I cannot “see” it or imagine what it is.

This is the problem we have when we try to imagine or understand the awesomeness of God. He is so far out of our range of understanding, so distant from the furthest edge of the Bell Curve of our knowledge that we can never even come close to knowing what he knows. Or understanding why he does what he does. Or even understanding the things he tells us about.

In Judaism we have three types of laws:

  1. Mishpatim– these are the laws we can understand that are mostly “civil” laws, such as do not kill or do not commit adultery;
  2. Edot– these are ceremonial laws regarding the rites and practices such as rules for Shabbat and the sacrificial system; and
  3. Chukim– these are laws God gave to us that seemingly have no rationale at all. For instance, changing the sacramental bread every week or not wearing clothes of different cloths.

Human nature almost demands that we know the “why” of something. When someone asks us to do something, how many times is our first response, “Why?” This is no different with God because I hear and read, over and over…and over…so many people “explaining” why the Kosher laws are better for us or why we need to wear Tzitzit.

The answer I give is this,” Because God said so.”

That is all the answer we need, and the easiest answer to understand. I will go even further than this and say that if this answer isn’t enough for you, then you need to start asking yourself what your faith is based on?  If we say we have faith, but can’t accept God’s commandments without understanding the reason why we should, then we aren’t faithful at all. How can I say that? Easy!- if you cannot accept what God says without knowing the reason why, it is because you do not trust that God knows what he is talking about. That is an a priori truth, as far as I am concerned.

When we trust someone we do what he or she suggests, especially when we are unsure of what we are doing. We seek out confirmation that we are doing the “right” thing in the “right” way. I saw this when I was a Salesman: so many people needed to see articles from Consumer Reports or Better Business Bureau ratings or letters from customers justifying using my company because we did such a great job. Did they really think I would show them complaint letters? And I realized that these people had no faith in their own decision-making ability but total faith in other people’s ability to decide. In a similar way, so many congregations are constantly preached to about God’s love and compassion and forgiveness, all of which are good things, but when these are the only things that are talked about, the congregation is not given the chance to trust God as they should. Talking only about love and forgiveness is like third party confirmation- the people hear all about what they want to hear but they don’t learn what they need to know. And what they need to know is that God is there even when troubles are all around them. The leaders of God’s people must be trusted, and that trust must be turned to God.

We can (and should) question our human leadership, and we can ask God why (he can handle that), but we must not ask God to prove why what he says is something we should do. That is disrespectful and demonstrates lack of faith. Yes- ask God why things happen; Yes- ask God why whatever you are going through is happening to you; Yes- ask God why he is allowing something to happen. You can always ask God why he wants you to do something but you should never ask God to prove to you why you should do it.

Can you see the subtle but very important difference here? It is OK to ask God to explain something to you but it is not OK to demand he prove what he says to be something you agree you should do.  When God says do not eat pork, there are those who can explain why pork is unsafe using health studies about pork and Trichinosis, and others will use that to explain why we don’t need to obey that law anymore because of the USDA. In both cases, what we are doing, really, is trying to understand the “why” of Gods’ law so that we can justify obeying it.

My point is that the moment we try to understand something in order to justify it we are showing distrust in God. There is absolutely no reason why we need to understand any of God’s laws- NO reason! He is God, and that is all the justification “why” anyone needs; anything more than that and you are being faithless, obstinate, stiff-necked and rebellious.

So do yourself a favor- just forget trying to understand why when it comes to God and his commandments. It’s a useless and impossible thing to do because the finite (us) can never understand the infinite (God.)

Apathy or Patience?

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In many of my messages I mention that I do not read the newspapers or listen to the news on TV. Nor do I pay much attention to who is in Washington or what they are doing.

Consequently, I have sometimes been accused of being apathetic. Frankly, if someone thinks I don’t care…they are right: I don’t care what they think.

I do care about what is happening in the world, and there are times I could just SCREAM!! at the many people who follow the crowd running from one extreme to another, like a pendulum that is swinging from one apogee to another.

And when I see this happening, as with the recent gun control issues and the constant badgering of the Presidents (both present and past), I think of the many verses in the bible that tell us how we must wait on the Lord. You may ask, “Wait for what?” and my answer would be….justice. I don’t believe we will receive an answer to the problems we face, but eventually, in God’s good time, there will be justice served on the ones who are the cause of the problems.

When David’s own son rebelled against him, David accepted the situation and waiting for God to make the decision about what would happen. Let’s look at some of the things David said during this terrible time in his life:

2 Samuel 15:25, when they were taking the Ark with the king as he fled Yerushalayim:  “Then the king said to Tzadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again.  But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”

2 Samuel 16:11-12, when David was being cursed at by a member of Shaul’s family: “Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.  It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”

 

I could list many, many examples here of the bible telling us to wait upon the Lord, which is the same as saying have hope that God will make everything right (in the end.) So I ask you: am I really apathetic because I do not care that much who is in charge or what the maddened crowds are screaming about, or am I patiently waiting for God to act as he sees fit?

My answer to you is that I am trusting in God to make things right in the end. I don’t care that much for the news, which is always sad, designed to evoke emotions of fright and concern, and is untrustworthy. I don’t care who the President is, why or how he or she got there, and what they want to do. The United States government is not a race horse, and the worst thing that any President has done is to leave behind the programs he wanted to get done for the next President to sort out.

No…I am not apathetic, I am faithful. Faithfully waiting on the Lord to make things right; faithfully hoping in God that I will be rescued from the tsouris we are all experiencing in the world, and faithfully looking forward to the day when I will be in his presence.

I respect those who are advocates and trying to make a change for the better, and do not deny their tremendous value in our society.

I just ain’t one of ’em.

Straining Out the Gnats

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In Matthew, Chapter 23 Yeshua is addressing the crowds and talking about the hypocrisy He sees in the Pharisees. He discusses how, in essence, they are more concerned about looking superior in people’s eyes then they are concerned with doing what is righteous in God’s eyes. They go through the motions of being righteous but they do not have righteousness as their goal. Instead, they seek the praise of men instead of acceptance by God.

Today I want to talk about one of the better known verses, Matthew 23:23-24:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 

I see this all too often in the discussion groups I am a member of. There are many well-learned and knowledgeable people in these groups and I respect their understanding and years of study. However, when I see a discussion on a specific topic devolve into insulting accusations and judging of each other, I have to ask myself: is the topic a camel or a gnat?

Now don’t get me wrong: I enjoy discussing anything that has to do with God, Yeshua and the bible as much as anyone else, but what happens too many times is that the discussion turns ugly. People stop trying to edify each other or work to better understand God’s meaning because pridefulness rears its ugly head.

We are told not to judge others because how we judge others will be used to judge us. OK- everyone knows that, but how many people really understand what it means?  I am sure all of us have seen someone who thinks they are God’s own spokesperson, judging others and telling them that they are wrong, or that they will go to hell, that they are apostate, are demonically controlled….whatever. They accuse and abase people who may only need to be gently led into the truth of the Torah. But by being superior and judgmental, they are no better than the Pharisees Yeshua accused of hypocrisy. They turn people away from God by declaring themselves as an example of a godly person then acting in a way that is completely opposite of what they say they represent.

And why do they do this? Is it justified to call someone a sinner because they may say it is OK to wear a polyester blend? Or because someone else says it is fine to use the name “Jesus” in prayer? Is there anyone out there, really, who is authorized by God to determine who is going to hell and who isn’t? Are any of you in the place of God?

Oh, yes, I know what the prideful will say: “We are told that we will judge the earth and I am only judging you righteously.” Yes, there are those who will judge the earth…but not yet!

Who are we, any of us, to tell someone else today what God will decide about them later? Are we in the place of God? Are we above the messengers of God?

Let’s look at Y’hudah (Jude) 1:8-10:

But even the archangel Michael, when he disputed with the devil over the body of Moses, did not presume to bring a slanderous judgment against him, but said, The Lord rebuke you!” These men, however, slander what they do not understand, and like irrational animals, they will be destroyed by the things they do instinctively.…

King David tells us in Psalm 8 that God made us just a little lower than the angels. Well, if an archangel, the highest of all the angels, is willing to submit himself to God’s authority by not judging one who anyone and everyone knows is certainly deserving of judgement (Satan), then who are we to do so to each other?

I am not against discussing details and minutia that is in the bible. I mean, c’mon- I’m Jewish! If any of God’s creatures loves a good argument, it’s a Jew, right? So what am I kvetching about? It’s the pridefulness of people which a discussion will bring out when one is not paying attention to the more important things- compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and respect.

The gnat of a topic is strained while the sin of pridefulness is swallowed.

When someone says that they are ‘judging righteously,’ I hear nothing more than, “I know better than you and you need to acknowledge that by agreeing with me!” Maybe that person does know better, but does that give them the right to judge me? As a person? As a believer? As a child of God? Do they have the insight to see my heart? Do they have some special gift that can reach out across the Internet and know my inner desires?

No, it doesn’t. No one has that ability, unless God gives it to them, and I am pretty sure from what I have read about God that He wouldn’t give them that ability so that they can abase and insult people.

Again…don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying we should allow others to sin without telling them about it. Far be it that we ever do that- their blood is then on our heads. NO! We must advise people when we see them sinning, or when they have a dangerously wrong interpretation of the Word of God. What I AM saying is that we must do this compassionately, with forgiveness for their ignorance (“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”) and also for their inappropriate response (if you get one) when we tell them.

We need to have the spiritual maturity to know when someone’s mind won’t be changed, and the emotional maturity to accept that they have a right to their own opinion. I have ended discussions nicely when I see that we are at loggerheads. In doing this I have been accused of being afraid of the truth, or stubborn, or lukewarm. I regret to say that I have been called worse things than that, all because I asked people to stop talking about something that we disagree on.

To bring it all together, let me finish by reiterating that discussion is valuable when it edifies people and can serve to help everyone involved better understand God’s word. My concern is that we all need to be aware of our innate pridefulness and remain humble with each other, discussing with love and respect for each other, as well as for God’s word, and to also remember that we are not to judge the world- not yet.

Therefore, we need to be careful when we enter into discussions about God, bible, or how to best obey the commandments. We need to be compassionate, understanding, forgiving and spiritually mature in our handling of both learned and neophyte Believers.

Any topic is only a “gnat” because the way we treat each other is a “camel.”

Speak truth to each other with humility and compassionate understanding, and until God Himself assigns us a throne in heaven we should follow the example of the archangel Michael and submit to God’s authority to judge others.

 

 

Is the Bible Perfect?

It isn’t. Sorry to say, because I know most of us (myself included) are desperate to be able to trust absolutely everything in the bible as God’s own words given and recorded exactly as He gave it to those who wrote it down. We especially want to trust that the bible never, ever contradicts itself; but the fact is, in a few places, it does.

For instance, in Hebrews 11:24-27 we are told that Moses left Egypt because of his faith:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.  By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.

Yet in Exodus 2:14-15 we read the exact opposite:

He replied, “Who made you a boss or judge over us? Are you planning to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid when he realized: They obviously know what I did. When Pharaoh heard about it, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses ran away from Pharaoh and settled down in the land of Midian.

Another example is in the first letter Shaul (Paul) wrote to the Corinthians, telling them that the rock that provided water to the Children of Israel throughout their desert wanderings was Messiah (1 Corinthians 10:4):

 They all ate the same spiritual food; They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Messiah.

Yet in Judaism it is a legend that the Well which accompanied the Children of Israel throughout the desert was credited to Miriam, Moses’ sister. Granted, this is not exactly a biblical contradiction, but Shaul would certainly have been aware of the Jewish legend, yet He directly contradicted it.

Romans 4:2 tells us Abraham was justified as righteous solely by means of his faith, but in James 2:21-24 we are told that it was because of Abraham’s works (by offering up Isaac) that he was considered righteous.

There are other examples of writings in the bible (meaning from Exodus through Revelations) that seem to contradict each other. Not only that, but there are many different versions of the bible, and within each version you can find any particular passage that will use different words or phrasing, even different verse numbering. Did you know that the Catholic bible is the only one that includes the Apocrypha? Did you know that the Jewish Tanakh (everything up to the New Covenant) will end with the books of Chronicles, but every “Christian” bible will end the “Jewish” part with the book of Malachi?

Just as an FYI… when Scribes write a Torah, every single letter is counted to be absolutely positive that there isn’t any alteration or change from one Torah to the next. Every Torah throughout the world that has ever been written or ever will be written will be exactly the same, literally down to the letter.

Obviously, those who wish to debunk the bible and are proponents of a humanistic viewpoint will say you cannot trust the bible, or even believe in God, because the bible is full of contradictions. And even when we point out many supposed contradictions are just the result of people pulling statements and verses out of context, we still have some contradictions we really can’t explain. So what can we say about this?

We can start by asking the real question: If there are occasional contradictions in the bible, does that mean that everything in the bible is untrustworthy?

The answer is: No, it doesn’t. Just because there are some statements in the bible that, when directly compared to each other, seem to be contradictory, it doesn’t mean the entire bible is untrustworthy. You may ask, “How can you say that, Steve? If we can’t trust that what we read in Exodus is not the same thing we read in James, then what else may be wrong in the book? ” My answer is this: just because what we read in Exodus is different than what we read in James, why believe that everything else is wrong? Or that anything else is wrong? And if there are things that seem to be different, does that make the whole thing wrong?

Let’s take Abraham for a start. In Genesis we are told his faith is his righteousness. Genesis is a narrative which was written to teach us the history of the people and the formation of their relationship with God as they became a nation. The Book of James is written to the Jews in the Diaspora, and is written not as a narrative but as a reminder to reinforce the meaning of Yeshua’s appearance and the plan of salvation. When James says that Abraham’s righteousness was credited by his works, it is used not to show that works are the only means of justification, or that faith wasn’t involved, but to show that Abraham’s faith in God resulted in faith generated works, either of which was credited to him as righteousness. James was writing to show that faith must result in faithful works- that is the point of the letter. So whereas the point of Exodus was to narrate the story of the formation of Israel and it’s relationship with God, the point of James’s letter was to refresh the teachings and reinforce the need to demonstrate one’s T’shuvah (repentance) through good works.

We may see a contradiction regarding what was credited to Abraham as righteousness, but God’s message for us, which is that good works result from faith, is in both stories. They are written in a way that contradict themselves, but the message that we are to receive is the same.

Have you ever said something at one point in your life and then changed your mind? Does that mean you lied before, or that you’re lying now? Of course not, it just means that what you thought you knew or what you felt then is different within you now. Is it a contradiction? Yes. Does it mean we can’t trust anything you say or have ever said? Of course not.

The same holds true with the bible. Often I have heard, and said myself, that what seems to be a contradiction in the bible is just our lack of understanding. That may be true, but lately (as I read the bible more and more) I feel that there may be contradictions, caused by misunderstanding or just as a result of the fact that what was written at one time was trying to make a certain point, and later it was referenced to, but for making a different point. As we would say today, that same event was simply given a new “spin.”

For me, when people say there are contradictions in the bible, I say, “So what?” Does one thing that doesn’t make sense destroy all the rest? If there is one piece of brown lettuce in the sandwich does that mean you should throw the entire sandwich away? If someone tells you something that they thought was true but it ends up being wrong, do you never trust them again? If you go to your favorite restaurant, which has always served you good food and had good service, but one day the french fries aren’t really hot, do you refuse to ever go there again?  Do you assume that everything they serve is cold? Do you think that all the other times you went there and found it satisfying was a lie you have told yourself?

See my point? The bible is God’s word that He gave to us through people. God did not physically write the bible, and He certainly isn’t editing every single version some new interpreter puts out. With human intervention, there will be human error. In the IT world, which is where I come from, the weakest point of any program or process is where there is human intervention. The best you can do is incorporate error-catching programming using double and triple checks within the process to prevent an error. But take it from me: no matter how “smart” the program, humans will find a way to blow it up.

God has His own error-catching program: it is called the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit.  When we read the bible we are to ask the Ruach for guidance in proper interpretation, and for deeper understanding so that we can avoid the trap the Adversary wants us to fall into. Satan is the one behind the proposition that if there is something that seems to contradict itself in the bible, then the entire bible (and God, too) is untrustworthy.

Don’t fall for it! Just because there may be a contradiction in the bible, that doesn’t mean we cannot trust the bible. It just means someone interpreted something differently than someone else, or that the writer was trying to make a different point. Different letters to different congregations were written to provide different lessons and for different purposes, so the writer may have taken some “poetic license” when referring to other parts of the bible. It doesn’t dilute the truth of the bible and it shouldn’t cause us to doubt anything in the bible.

Faith is something that we have because we choose to have it: it isn’t given, it isn’t bought, it can’t be traded for or earned. Our faith in God is something we have chosen to have, and once we have asked for and received the Ruach HaKodesh we have a physical experience that justifies our faith in God. I know God exists because I have felt His spirit enter my body, because it constantly keeps me in line, and because of all the wonderful blessings I recognize in my life that could only be from God. If there is something in the bible that is a contradiction from one letter to another, or in a letter that contradicts what I read in the Tanakh, so what? I have so much more than what is written in a book to justify and confirm God’s existence and presence in my life.

The bible is, after all, just a book. It was given to us by God in order that we may learn about Him and His Messiah. It is the road map to eternity. Once we know the Lord, and have felt His Spirit, and seen His wonderful works, the book becomes a reference manual for us, a way to remind ourselves of how we got here and to better know God. He allows us to see more and more of Him, and His lessons for us, as we continue to read it.

The bible is the story of what God has done in other people’s lives, and helps us find our way to God; after we find Him, what matters then is what God does in our own life.

If your faith can be turned or weakened by a contradiction in the bible, then you do not have faith in God, you only have faith in a book.

 

Faith vs. Legalism

As a Messianic Jew I am not liked by anyone. My Jewish brothers and sisters tell me that because I believe “in Jesus” (almost none of them really understand what that means) I am no longer Jewish; on the other side, because I follow Torah (as best as I can) and maintain a “Jewish” worship and lifestyle, my brothers and sisters in Messiah tell me I am legalistic and not really saved because I am “under the law” and not “under the blood.”

Both are just so very, very wrong.

Shaul (AKA Paul, that nice Jewish tent maker from Tarsus) tells us in Romans, Chapter 4 all about legalism and faith. He begins at the beginning, with Abraham, and identifies how the Tanakh confirms that Abraham was considered righteous because he believed what God told him would happen. That faithfulness, demonstrated by Abraham believing in what hadn’t yet happened, was why God credited him with righteousness. There was no task he accomplished, or behavior he performed, other than believing.

But that wasn’t all: Abraham did more than just believe. He did all the things that God told him to do, without hesitation or complaint. He left his father’s house, he left his neighbors, his home…everything he knew and was comfortable with, and took everyone and everything he owned to…he had no idea where.

When God told him to cut up animals and lay them out, he did that and remained out in the heat of the day, shooing away the birds.

When God said to circumcise himself and everyone else, he did it that day.

When God said to take Isaac and sacrifice him, he left early the very next morning.

Whatever God said to do, he did.

So, even though Abraham’s righteousness came from trusting faithfulness in what God said, he also spent his life doing what God told him to do.  We call that obedience.

Going back to Romans 4, Shaul points out that circumcision had nothing to do with Abraham’s righteousness because the righteousness was credited before he was circumcised; because of that, Gentiles who are not circumcised can be saved without undergoing the procedure, but if one chooses to do so, as an act of obedience, it doesn’t mean that person is being legalistic.

The difference between legalism and faith is simply the reason for performing the act: if I do what is in the Torah because I want to obey God, that is not legalism. If I do what is in the Torah to make me righteous, I am being legalistic. Of course, if I can obey Torah perfectly, I will be made righteous by doing so; the problem with that scenario is that no one can obey Torah perfectly. Therefore, there has to be a better way. We call that way “Grace”, God’s forgiveness for our sins, which is possible through believing in Yeshua, whose sacrifice replaced the need to bring a sacrifice to the temple in Jerusalem to have our sins forgiven.

This is why Yeshua had to die: because the temple wasn’t going to exist, which means the sacrificial system God created for us in the Torah would no longer be available, Yeshua’s sacrifice replaced needing the temple to receive forgiveness of sin.

If I live my life trying to obey the Torah because it is what God said I should do, and I do it to please God and out of respect for Him, then I am not being legalistic: I am being obedient. Just as Abraham was obedient. Do any of you doubt, even for a nano-second, that if God had given the Torah to Abraham back then, that Abraham would not have tried to be 100% in compliance with everything in the Torah? Of course he would have. And not to be considered righteous, but simply because God told him it is what he should do.

The Torah is NOT just for Jews- it was given to the Jews, who God said are His nation of priests to the world, to live it as best they can in order to be an example to the rest of the world how they should live. If you don’t want to worship the God that is in the Old Covenant writings, then ignore the Torah. But if you choose to ignore God’s commands, for whatever reason, I don’t think we will be playing Cribbage in the Acharit Hayamin (End Days) together.

It all comes down to what is in your heart: believing Yeshua is the Messiah and being faithfully obedient to Torah as a “labor of love” will result in receiving His Grace; obeying Torah just to earn your way into heaven is a direct route to somewhere, but not where you will want to be.