I don’t deserve this

The parashah this coming Shabbat tells of the sin of the Golden Calf at Mt. Sinai. We see in this one of the less spoken about aspects of Moshe (Moses), which is his courage. We haven’t really seen that too much; I mean, when he first met the Lord at the burning bush all he wanted to do was get out of the calling. He did something along the way to Egypt that got God so mad He almost killed Moses (the Chumash suggests that Moses pretended to be sick to delay going), and even though he appeared before Pharaoh, it was Aaron that did most of the talking and doing. It took Moshe a while before he really stood up and took charge.

At the mountain after the people sin, God tells Moses to stand back so God can destroy these rebellious and stiff-necked people, then make a nation out of Moses. So, what does Moses do? He doesn’t stand out of the way, he stands in the breach! He places himself between a rebellious and sinful people deserving of death and the Lord, God Almighty, who is all powerful and, I should add, pretty pissed off at the moment.

Pretty gutsy, says I.

You may be wondering, “What does this have to do with the title? What doesn’t he deserve?”

The same thing that you don’t deserve- salvation.

The people deserved death, and they weren’t worthy to have God’s presence with them, but thanks to Moses they not only got to survive their sin, but also had God’s presence travel with them for the next 40 years.

Moses stood between God and the sin of the people to save them, and what they got they got because of Moses.

Yeshua stood between God and all the people in the world, and every sin that ever happened and ever will. Because of Yeshua we all have the hope of salvation- what we have we have because of Yeshua.

Shaul tells the Gentile Roman Believers in Romans 11 that they aren’t to be proud or haughty when thinking about how they have salvation that the Jewish people don’t because if it weren’t for the Jews (not accepting Yeshua fully), they wouldn’t have anything. They have what they have because of the Jewish people.

In Deuteronomy 9: 5-6 Moses tells the people that they are going to enter a wonderful land of milk and honey, which they don’t deserve to enter. The only reason they are entering is because of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I don’t deserve what I have: salvation from my sinful nature, peace of spirit from the Comforter Yeshua sent to me (The Ruach HaKodesh, or Holy Spirit) and hope for my loved ones that comes only from the promise Yeshua made that whatever we ask for in His name we shall receive. Even though I know it comes down to these people choosing to accept God and Yeshua, and that because God gave us all free will they may never be saved, I have no hope for what I can do and every hope that God can do what I can’t. I trust that He is answering my prayers, and that if anyone can get my children to accept God and reconcile to me, it is God. And if  (and when ) they do, I won’t deserve it- it will be because of what God does.

We don’t deserve what we have, and we don’t have what we deserve. Thank God for that! We all should remember to remember this: we don’t deserve what we have with God. This is not something we should beat ourselves down with, it is something which we can use to continually raise ourselves up! When we understand and appreciate all that others have done for us it should encourage us to do better, ourselves.

We owe it to God, to Yeshua, to Moses, to Abraham, to the Prophets, to everyone and anyone who has stood in the breach between us and God to make our salvation possible. And because they have risked and (more often than not) lost their lives for us, we need to do everything we can to honor their sacrifice, every moment of every day.

I am saved by the Grace of God, by the sacrificial death of Yeshua, by the courage of Moses, with the guidance of friends and strangers who knew the Lord, by my Rabbi, who helped me to see how to maintain and strengthen my faith, by so many people. I owe it to them to continue, faithfully, to be a better me and to help others as they have helped me.

I don’t deserve what I have been given, and neither do you. Let’s show our gratitude by running the good race, keeping our eyes on the prize, and doing for others what others have done for us.

Get out of the way

We are usually all about ourselves. There are many more people in the world, at least in my experience, that would prefer to talk about their life and their ideas than listen to what others have to say.

I include myself in the talkers group.

When God speaks to Moses, and instructs him what to tell the people, it is all about Himself, too, but not the same as with us. We want people to acknowledge us, we want to feel liked, respected and wanted. We like the “ego rush” we get when we are authorized to tell someone what to do. But with God it’s not the same. He doesn’t need our approval, He is no respecter of persons, He doesn’t need to feel important, and He tells us that He is God, over and over, not to please Himself but to remind us of who He is.

We are created a little bit above the angels- we are the sons and daughters of the Almighty, but we are not Him! We are about ourselves for selfish reasons, and God is about Himself for selfless reasons- He reminds us of who He is so we will listen; He reminds us of who He is so we will pay attention; He reminds us of who He is so we can live!

When we talk about what we want, it is to please ourselves; when God tells us what He wants, it is to save our souls!

I don’t have enough room to quote everywhere God tells us that He is the Lord, and you don’t have enough time to read it all. The phrase “I am the Lord” and similar words are used throughout the Tanakh, mostly in the Torah (especially throughout Leviticus) and throughout the writings of the Prophets (Nevi’im).  In Leviticus it seems to follow almost every commandment and regulation, which makes sense- the Lord is telling us what to do and reinforcing just who it is telling us.

It is easier to make friends by listening than by talking. When I was in sales, the hardest thing for me to do was to listen, but a really good salesperson knows that when you listen to the customer they will tell you how to close them. You can’t really talk them into a sale, at least, not one that will “stick”. You need to listen in order to know what to say that will close them. The same thing is true when talking to people about God and trying to minister to them- we need to listen to people and tell all about God, not about ourselves.

Of course, you can talk about how in your life obeying God and accepting His Messiah has helped you, but when talking about how God can help them, you need to get out of the way. You need to be about God, how the peace you feel comes from His Ruach, about how the hope you have is from His promises, which historically have never failed to come about. And you need to ask the person about their needs.

Ask what is important to them, ask if they feel there is more to life, ask if they care about others, ask if they are certain of their beliefs. Ask, ask, ask…that is the only way you will learn about them.

And if you ask, they will tell. When they tell, you will know, and when you know (what is important to them) you will be able to show them how God can make what they really want to happen in their life come about.

If you want to bring people to God, get out of the way. When we talk all about what God has done for us the people we are talking to don’t care a rats’ butt about what God has done for us- but they do care about what God can do for them.  Tell them briefly how God has done something wonderful in your life (and I mean, briefly), then ask them if this is something they would like to have.

Ministry is sales, and what we “sell”  is salvation. God is the manufacturer, Yeshua is the delivery system, and we are the field reps. To get people to buy they have to want what the product can give them.

I was a very successful salesman when I was in that business because I wore a rubber band around my wrist. It was suggested to me by an excellent teacher- he said every time I feel like saying something I think is important I should pull on the rubber band and let it go. Ouch! The pain was to condition me to listen and not talk. Nowadays I don’t sell for a living, and I have upgraded the rubber band to a gold bracelet, but it is still on my wrist- I never take it off because it is a reminder to shut up and listen.

It is all about God and them, not about God and you. When you talk about God, keep focused on what they want and how God can make it happen.



Don’t Crow: Show

Yeshua said this about the Pharisees in Matthew 6:16:

 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

How this bible quote fits into the rather terse topic is simple: it all comes down to what we do and not what we say. I’ve learned (you’ve heard me say this plenty of times, already) that people don’t mean what they say, they mean what they do. And when you add to that old adage the worn-out cliche about not just talking the talk but walking the walk, the lesson about living our lives as we are told to do becomes so repetitive that we just don’t pay attention anymore.

It’s like when you get a small paper cut. It really huts when you get it, but then your brain adjusts to the neural stimuli and becomes ennured to the pain. Then, after a while, you do something like hit the exact spot where the cut is, or maybe get lemon juice in it, or after shave, and WOWSAH!! You remember you have a paper cut, in a big way.

We need to keep pouring lemon juice on where the holes would be if we had been the ones nailed to the tree. We need to constantly remind ourselves, but in different ways so we don’t become callous, that we need to live out our everyday existence in a way that glorifies God, that lets people see His spirit-led change of attitude, and His grace, His love and His compassionate forgiveness.

In Judaism we say that when we look at the Torah we should see a reflection of ourself. So, nu? What do you see when you look at the Torah (Bible)?  Do you see a bunch of fancy words that sound nice or do you see yourself?

What the statement Yeshua said (above) means is that we should not try to win the favor and respect of other people by making a show of our “holiness”, because even if we win their respect and favor, that is all we will get. The purpose of fasting is to get closer to God, to motivate Him to answer our prayers by demonstrating our desire for His help through self-sacrifice. If we really want people to see us and think of how “holy” we are, God will let us have that reward. And what He could have given us will be lost to us; God will step aside and let us have the reward we sought, which is not the reward we could have gotten from Him if we had really been looking to Him for acceptance.

No matter what you give up when you fast, the point is that it is to be between you and God- as Yeshua said (just before this verse) in Matthew 6:3, when giving to the poor (let’s expand that to doing any form of Tzedakah, or charity) that it should be done in secret, so that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. This is the same as when we fast: both charity and fasting should be done in secret.

It all boils down to live you life, every day, getting closer to God, and do it in such a way that you will not need to profess your beliefs because  your actions will demonstrate your beliefs.

The greatest compliment I ever received is when I have had someone say me, ” You’re born again, aren’t you?”  I am embarrassed to confess it has been so long since this happened I can’t remember the last time it did.

If you have to tell someone you are a Believer, you need to work at it harder.


We all need a scorecard

Ever been to a baseball game? You’ll hear vendors crying out, “Hey! beeeeer heeeere!” or “Hot dawgs! Git yer hot dawgs!” They also scream, “Scorecards! Can’t tell the players widout a scorecard!” (you may have noticed my experience at baseball games has been exclusively in New York stadiums.)

It’s the scorecard that tells you who is who on the teams. And with the scorecard you can also keep track of the each play, marking down who scored when, which players (and in what order) played the ball in the field, and later this record can help you to relive the game and re-familiarize yourself with the players you had seen.

In real life we all need a scorecard, but not for baseball players. We need to know who the spiritual players are, the good guys from the bad guys, if you will.

The legions of the enemy don’t have uniforms, and (frankly) neither do the angels of God. The way we tell who is who is by following the advice that Yeshua gave in Matthew 7:16. In the same way you tell an orange tree from a lemon tree by looking at the fruit that grows on it, we can tell the good guys from the bad guys by looking at their fruit. A good tree gives forth good fruit, so look at the fruit of the person.

And remember that most everyone we look at is human, and like humans, not every fruit from even the best tree will always be good. And also remember that a good tree can sometimes be attacked by bad bugs, turning their fruit rotten even as it hangs on the branch (Job would be a good example of this allegory- he was treated with disdain by his friends because of the suffering God allowed to test his faith, so even though his fruit seemed bad because of the tsouris he was going through, Job was still a good tree and once the ‘bugs’ were removed, he again put forth good fruit.)

This is a hard thing to do because no one always has good fruit. The bad tree can produce fruit that seems good, but may be full of worms. As they say, the only thing worse than biting into an apple and finding a worm is finding half a worm. Sometimes we end up knowing that the fruit is bad only after having taken that bite.

The thing to do is throw the fruit away once we realize it is bad, but not let that turn us off to trying new fruits, or trusting in trees that seem to have good fruit.

The enemy will turn out what seems to be good fruit to get us to bite into it, and once we taste his fruits, we are in big trouble. That’s because the fruit of the enemy is extremely habit-forming. It tastes good, it makes us feel good and we want more of it because it appeals to our sinful nature, the natural part of us that is hedonistic and self-absorbed.

How do we tell the fruit of the enemy from godly fruit? Well, you keep score with your scorecard and you learn the players.

The scorecard we all need, if you haven’t figured it out by now, is the Word of God- the Bible. And we also need the announcer, who is the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, to keep us aware of all that is happening, play-by-play, so we know what is happening as we watch the game unfold.

Reading the bible is so important- you have heard me preach this to you hundreds of times, and I will never stop saying it. Reading the bible is so important (oops- there it is, again!) because it is the best way to know the good guys from the bad guys.

The fruits of the spirit are told to us by Shaul (Paul) in Galatians 5:22-23; and the 13 attributes of God are related by Moshe (Moses) in Exodus 34: 6-7. This is the “fruit” that we should look for. And no one will have all of these, but the ones who regularly show most of these fruits are the ones we should trust. The ones who only show a little are the ones we should watch very closely.

You don’t need to watch your friends, and you should never take your eyes off your enemies.

If you haven’t been using your scorecard, now is the time to get it out and track this game (like it or not, you are in the game of salvation and you need to pick a side.) Read Galatians and Exodus (as referenced above) to start, if nothing else. But that’s not enough- you really need to read the entire bible, that’s from Genesis to Revelations. Even if you aren’t Christian (i.e. you’re Jewish and not Messianic) go ahead and read the New Covenant writings. If you can, get a Messianic version so the subtle anti-Semitic references aren’t so distasteful, but read it. Yeshua (Jesus) did not create a new religion- that was Constantine. Yeshua preached and taught Torah because that was the only scripture there was. In fact, Yeshua was, is, and always will be the Living Torah.

Here’s a pre-game warmup for you regarding the time from Yeshua’s birth to about the Third Century: when He was born there were Jews and Pagans. That’s was all. After He started His ministry, there were Jews who did not accept Him as their Messiah, Jews who did, Gentiles (i.e., pagans) who accepted him and were converting to Judaism, and pagans who kept to their religion.  After Constantine “legalized” (what at that time was being called) Christianity, at the Council of Nicea it was Constantine who created the “Christian” religion which totally separated the Jews and the (now called) Christians.

When you read the entire bible, more than once, and memorize the attributes of God and the fruits of the spirit, then you will be able to hear the Ruach tell you who to trust and who to watch out for.

As Sherlock Holmes used to say at the beginning of a case, “The game’s afoot!” This game is afoot, and has been since Adam and Eve got their eviction notice. But we’re in the Ninth inning, and the game is going to end soon.

The bible tells us that the loser will have a tremendous rally in the top of the ninth inning, and it will look as if the home team (God owns the earth so He is the home team) will be too far behind to catch up. But don’t worry- this scorecard is already filled. Yeshua will hit the ultimate Grand Slam that will defeat the challengers, and everyone on God’s team will win the universe, for all eternity.

You know that credit card that ends it’s commercials with the catch phrase, “What’s in your wallet?” Well, here’s my catch phrase: “Who’s team are you on?” And don’t be fooled by anyone who says you don’t have to choose a side because that is a lie. Yeshua tells us, clearly, that whoever is not with Him is against Him. And when you read the Tanakh, that is clearly what God says, as well. Just go to Exodus 20 and read the first two commandments, if you think God is willing to cede any part of His authority or uniqueness.

So, nu? Who’s team are you on?

Who is a Jew?

I have always heard that Judaism is passed down through the mother’s bloodlines, but the bible lineages are always patriarchal.

I have heard that if you are born with Jewish parents you are Jewish, but there are so many people I know who call themselves Jewish just because they found out they have some Jewish ancestors.

The bible says that anyone who sojourns with the children of Israel is to be treated with the same rights and privileges as a native born Jew (this assumes they are living a Jewish lifestyle.)

Hey…wait a minute! Maybe we’re onto something there- maybe it isn’t only who your parents or ancestors were, or what religion they practiced, or (even for that matter) what religion you were brought up practicing. Maybe it’s your chosen lifestyle, or how you worship now, that defines what you are?

I always say that people don’t mean what they say, they mean what they do. So, if I am right (even a little bit), then being Jewish can be defined by how we worship and how we choose to live.

I was born Jewish, both my parents were Jewish, but they never lived like a Jew. And neither did I, for the first 44 or so years of my life. So was I a Jew? By birthright and family lineage, yes; however, by how I lived, no. I was born into Judaism but I was not living as a Jew should live.

If I had been born into a Christian home, to Christian parents and raised in a Christian way, I certainly would not have been considered a Jew. But what if I later adopted a Jewish lifestyle? What if I was being Torah observant, celebrating the holy days defined in Leviticus 23, eating as God said I should eat in Leviticus 11, and worshipping the Shabbat on Fridays and Saturdays?  Would that make me a Jew?

According to the bible, I would say it does. If you choose to be subject to the laws and regulations God gave us (His laws are for everyone, every one of them) then you would be allowed all the rights and privileges of any other child of Israel. In other words, you were a Jew.

Let me tell you this: since I have accepted Messiah Yeshua, I have never been more of a Jew, and am more Jewish now than most Jews I have ever known.

I say the question, “Who is a Jew?” should be answered by, “How do you live?” If you live like a Jewish person should live (Torah observant, worshipping God, celebrating the holy days outlined in the Torah) then you are a Jew.

If it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. Right?

Those who are born Jewish and live a Torah observant lifestyle, and those who were not born into Judaism but have chosen to live a Torah observant lifestyle, are no different in God’s eyes- He is clear about that in the bible. So if it’s good enough for God, it should be good enough for us, too.

It all boils down to this (excuse me, Mr. Shakespeare): “To Torah, or not to Torah: that is the answer.”

God has no religion. He gave us the Torah, the teachings of how to live and worship Him. Remember Torah doesn’t mean ’law’, it means ‘teachings’ and what it teaches us is how God wants us to live our lives and worship Him. There is nothing in the bible anywhere, whether you look in the Old or the New, about how some religions must do these things and other religions must do those things. Everyone who wants to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must do what the Torah says to do, and that is it.

It is only because we have so many different religions, all man-made, that the ones who live in accordance to the Torah are defined as “Jews” and the others are defined as “Gentiles.”

Another answer to the question, “Who is a Jew” could be, “Anyone who doesn’t reject the Torah.” If Torah defines us as a Jew, then anyone who rejects the Torah is not a Jew. Many who may be Jewish by birth, but don’t observe the Torah, are not really a Jew; at least, not as God sees it. They may be Jewish by birth, but they ain’t no Jew.

God knows what is in our hearts, and if the Torah is not important to someone, then they have rejected it. And if any religion teaches that the Torah is no longer valid or necessary, they have, by definition, rejected it. Reject the Torah and you reject the one who wrote it, and I don’t mean Moses!

If anyone asks me what makes a Jew a Jew, I will answer the Torah makes a Jew a Jew. In our prayers we say that we are sanctified by His word; we thank God for choosing us, out of all the nations, to give us His Torah. It is Torah that is the defining element that makes one a Jew, and anyone who worships and lives in accordance with the Torah is, as God defines it to be, a Jew.

Now that I have finally answered one of the most difficult theological questions in the world, don’t get all hung up about being Jewish or not being Jewish. It doesn’t matter what label you place on yourself because God doesn’t respect or really care about our silly labels. He sees the heart, He sees the way you live, how you treat others and how you worship Him.

Yeshua/Jesus is the Living Torah, and if you believe in Him you should be a living Torah, too. We see these cute little bracelets all over, WWJD, and the answer is, “Look in the Torah if you really want to know what J would D because that is who He was, and who He still is. And what He still expects of us.

If you want to be Jewish, then be Torah observant. It’s that simple.

And if you say you are Jewish by your standards because you have Jewish bloodlines, but you don’t live a Torah observant life, you are not Jewish by God’s standards.

And guess whose standards will count when you are before Him?

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

Moshe is continuing his Third Discourse and telling the people there, both native born and those who are also members of the community, that they are not the only ones standing before the Lord that day to renew their covenant. He says that this covenant will be to them and to their descendants. He warns them about becoming self-righteous and turning away from God when they have been satisfied and blessed, and turning to other gods. He tells them that apostasy and rebellion will result in they’re being ejected from the land, but (as follows most promises of punishment) he also says that once they return wholeheartedly to the Lord, God will regather them and then punish the nations that had hated them.

When I read 29:28 I was reminded about God’s magnificence and His awesomeness. That verse says, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

What are the “secret things” that Moshe talks about? The Chumash says they are the secret things of the sin and that what is revealed to us is the judgement for that sin.

I wouldn’t argue with that, but I think it can mean something else.

My Aunt is dying; I found out last night she is (essentially) brain dead from an accidental fall and either tonight or tomorrow we will be flying to New Jersey to attend her funeral. She has attended a Conservative Synagogue that has done some things I would say are more designed to be politically correct than keeping to God’s word, and whether or not she knew her Messiah I am not sure. I had talked with her about it often when we were together (she read my book) and her mind was open to hearing about Yeshua, but as far as I know she never confessed her belief in Yeshua. Her feelings and beliefs about Yeshua and God, for that matter, were secrets that only God knew.

I think that is what Moses is talking to us about. God knows the secrets of our hearts, most likely better than we do (in fact, I am sure of that) and He alone will know whether or not someone is saved. We can’t know that, but we can see what is revealed.

The lesson I have learned is that what is revealed is not always the truth. Look at some of the TV Evangelists in the last decade or so- PTL  founder Jim Bakker was a crook; do you remember Jimmy Swaggart crying on television about his affairs with prostitutes? And the Catholic church problems with sexual molestation. And there was a Rabbi in New Jersey years ago that murdered his wife to continue an affair he had been having. Until these secret sins had been revealed, what we saw was righteousness and people to respect and admire. What had been revealed to us were two different truths, so which was really true?

Both were true, in a sense, because what we saw that was good was good, and later what we saw that was bad was bad. While the “good” was being revealed God kept the secret “bad” to Himself, and did so until He felt it was time to reveal it. That means that what may seem “bad” to us might have some secret “good’ still not revealed. Some secrets He has revealed, others He has not. We will never know what is true and what is not with regards to people, whether that be what they say, what they do, whatever (remember what I always say: people don’t mean what they say, they mean what they do.) We have to accept what we see, and trust in God that what we do not see is known to Him and will be revealed, in His perfect time.

This doesn’t mean don’t believe anything you see or hear (but you probably shouldn’t.) I am saying, or trying to say, that we need to trust God for everything, and to also trust ourselves when we call on the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, to give us insight. The secret things are known to God, and His spirit can reveal these things to us; things that our human senses and human eyes cannot see. Always test for yourself what you are told.

Reading God’s word lets us know what is right and what is wrong, and trusting the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us will help us to see what is not revealed to others.

We can never know the inner secrets of someone’s heart; I think most people don’t even know their own heart. God does. And we should trust Him that whatever the truth is, He will know it, and it will be revealed when, and if, it needs to be.

The final lesson I have today is at the end of this parashah, which (I think) fits in with the above: the last verse of Chapter 30 is Moses telling the people that he is presenting to everyone life and death, the blessings and the curses, and for the people to choose life (obedience) so they may live long in the land God swore to the Patriarchs. The choice is ours to make; we can’t always know why some people choose to obey and why others choose to rebel, and we don’t know what is truly in the hearts of anyone. I have seen people who do not consider themselves Christian/Born Again act in ways that are more godly and Torah-observant than professed Christians. Are these people saved? I don’t know, but God does. God knows the secret things, and we should choose to obey God and not concern ourselves with trying to seek out those secrets He has kept to Himself. If they need to be revealed, He will when He is good and ready to do so.

When we lose loved ones, do not fret over their eternal fate, because you cannot be sure what it is and it is too late to do anything about it. Everyone has the right to choose, and they have had plenty of opportunity during their life to do so. Yes, I get sad thinking about all the loved ones I have already lost that I am pretty sure did not choose life, and I worry for the ones that are still alive who haven’t made their commitment to God and accepted Yeshua as their Messiah, the one God promised, and done so of their own accord. So many people I care about that have been raised a Gentile and told about Jesus, and told so many lies about salvation and Torah, and who don’t know the word of God at all, but believe (from what they have been told their whole life) that they are saved when they never really asked for it, themselves. Are they really saved?

I can’t say- it’s one of those secret things. What I choose to believe is that, based on what I read in the Bible, we have until our very last breath, until that final blip before the flat line on the machine, to accept God, Yeshua, and be saved. Do we get that one, last chance? Does God reveal Himself to the comatose, to the ones who have no responses to this world, and give them that one last opportunity to choose life?

I like to think He does, but that is one of those secret things that only God knows, and it won’t be revealed to us until we are with the Lord. So don’t drive yourself crazy thinking about it, trust in God, and concentrate on your walk with Him.