The Other Side of the Doom and Gloom

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OK, OK…yes, I have been a little on the “It’s the end of the world” tirade lately. I have been told by my older sister, who one always has to listen to, that I need to “lighten up”, so let’s see what the balance scales have against the doom and gloom of God’s judgement on the nations.

Hey, guess what? It’s pretty good stuff on the other side! Those who have accepted Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah; who worship God as He has commanded (that means obeying the Torah); who live their lives always repentant of their sins; who are trying to follow the leading of the Ruach Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit) which they accepted when they asked God for it as part of their forgiveness prayer…all those people are going to be spending eternity in total joy and peace, basking in the presence of the Almighty.

Now they will have to go through tribulations- not everyone will be lucky enough to escape this. God promises He will judge the nations in the Acharit haYamim (End Dyas) and I DO believe we are in them, now. The astrological signs (4 blood moons in a single year in 2017), the significant climatic changes we are seeing and the world-wide social unrest are all signs that we have been warned about from the Prophets in the Tanakh all the way through the Bible, including the letters from Shaul (Paul) and John’s recording of his vision in the book of Revelation.

It is happening now, it’s going to get worse and it is not going to be fun for anyone.

The good news is that for those of us who are God-fearing and working through our salvation, we will live past this event. We will not suffer the second death or be left in the cold and dark where people gnash their teeth. We will be presented before the Judge of All Things, the Lord, God and have at our side Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ) to represent us. God will not see our unworthiness but rather Messiah’s righteousness in us. We will be absolved, forgiven and welcomed into the presence of the Lord. Forever.

No more tears, no more sickness, no more disparity, no more suffering. Now that’s what I call a good word!

Going forward let’s recall what every Prophet in the Tanakh did when they spoke God’s warning to repent: they started off relating God’s promises of punishment for those who choose to reject His commandments, specifying the horrors that will befall them (that’s the doom and gloom), then they ended with a word of comfort for those who will choose repentance (REAL repentance), confirming for them that God promises they will have joy and eternal peace.

God tells us in Ezekiel 18:32 what He wants:

For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

God’s judgement on those that have rejected Him will be terrible, and His blessings for those that worship Him will be wonderful.

Like the bank commercial that asks, “What’s in your wallet?” I am asking you now: “What’s in your heart?”

Parashah Beresheet (In the Beginning) Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

Chag Simchat Torah!!  This is the holiday where we turn back the Torah, from the end of Deuteronomy to the beginning of everything: Genesis. Simchat Torah means “Joy of Torah”, and we certainly do receive joy from reading the Word of God!

This parashah takes us from creation of the universe and everything in it to just before the story of Noah. God created the universe, Earth, sky, ground, set boundaries for the oceans, created life in the seas, on the land and finally created us. That’s when things started going downhill.

All through the early stages of creation we read how “God saw that it was good”, and it was. I mean, REALLY good! And when Adam and Eve got here, things were still OK, Then the enemy got involved. He lured Eve into sin, and she lured Adam into sin, and ….well, you know the rest of the story.

But was it all the fault of the enemy? Did Satan do anything that forced Eve to eat the apple? Did Eve ram it down Adam’s throat? Did she threaten him with, “Eat this apple or you will be sleeping on the couch (that is, if we had a couch)”?

No, Satan didn’t force Eve, Eve didn’t force Adam, and even to this day no one forces us to sin. We’ve always had a choice, and we still do. The problem isn’t that we don’t have a choice, the problem is that it is just so much easier to sin. It is what the world teaches us to do, it is what we instinctively desire, and it generally yields immediate satisfaction. Whereas righteousness is hard to do- we have to overcome our sinful desires (iniquity), we have to deal with other people harassing us (because they don’t want to see righteousness in their presence- it convicts them), and we have to delay the rewards of righteousness until a future time. Righteousness usually doesn’t have immediate gratification, other than we know, in our hearts, that we are doing the right thing.

Let’s tackle what is probably the biggest issue that comes from Genesis- creationism vs. evolution.

Way back when, sometime around July of 1925, a substitute teacher in Tennessee named John Scopes taught human evolution. This was a violation of the Tennessee Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in a state-funded school. Scopes was found guilty, fined $100, but that was later overturned on a technicality. The funny thing about this is that today, according to Wikipedia:

In the United States, the Supreme Court has ruled the teaching of creationism as science in public schools to be unconstitutional, irrespective of how it may be purveyed in theological or religious instruction. In the United States, intelligent design (ID) has been represented as an alternative explanation to evolution in recent decades, but its “demonstrably religious, cultural, and legal missions” have been ruled unconstitutional by a lower court.

So what was illegal to teach in 1925 is now the only legal thing to teach! Oy!

Even within Judaism, some of the greatest Jewish scholars and Torah teachers knew that the Genesis story was not to be taken literally. Rashi, known to be one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) Jewish commentator of all times, taught that the purpose of Scripture was not to give a strict chronology of Creation. Also, Maimonides (the RamBam) declared, ” The account given in Scripture of the Creation is not, as is generally believed, intended to be in all its parts literal.” The remarkable truth is that Judaism does not contest the evolution of species. Where the disagreement lies is with what drives evolution. The atheistic scientific community states that evolution is caused by random mutations,  where those mutations which proved more adaptable to the environment succeeded and the less adaptable mutations died out. Charles Darwin put forth this idea as the survival of the fittest.  Judaism (along with most Judeo-Christian and Muslim religions) does not accept that the advancement of species from lower order to higher order came from chance, but from Divine control. We call this Intelligent Design. The truth is, the answer to whether we were created or we evolved is, as it always has been: Does God exist?

If God exists, then we have intelligent design, and if there is no God, then it all happened by chance.

I can understand the depression and uselessness that people who reject God feel in their daily lives; after all, if everything you wanted to be or wanted to achieve was totally out of your control (because without God there is no control), then what hope do you have? Only the hope that some random collision of quarks in a sub-atomic environment will result, somehow, in circumstances and events which will benefit you. Not very promising, is it? Especially when compared to having a supreme being, who is loving, compassionate, all-powerful, knowing everything that there is and everything that will ever be, on your side helping you to attain those things you want.

I mean, really- there’s no comparison. But yet, millions (if not billions) of people who have heard about God will still reject Him and choose to live their lives with no hope, no control, and no future (because without God, there is no future beyond this life. Again, a very depressing and hopeless existence.)

I wrote about how there is no control without God in this blog: Without God There Cannot be Free Will.

Genesis tells us how everything in the universe started, and whether you accept God created it or believe it randomly occurred, life has always been what we make of it. We always have a choice to do, say, and act the way we want to. And what we choose to believe will define who and what we are.

For me, I choose to believe in God; I choose to believe that He created the entire universe for me and provided everything I need to survive; I choose to believe that God also provided a spiritual means for me to live eternally despite my own fatal flaw of iniquity ( yes, I am talking about Yeshua/Jesus); and I choose to believe that because God exists and because I accepted Yeshua as my Messiah, I have a future beyond this mortal existence.

Those without God have no future: they only have this life, and will have to spend it in this world without control, without hope, and without the complete joy that comes from God’s Holy Spirit indwelling in us.

And that is just so sad.

God Likes Being a Partner

God is awesome. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and doesn’t need any help from anyone. Whatever God needs to have or wants to do He can make happen with a thought.

Still and all, throughout the bible we see that God wants companionship with His creation. He wants us to be holy, as He is, so that we can be in His presence. He wants us to obey His commandments so that we can live; not so much in this plane of physical and mortal existence, but more importantly in His plane of existence, which is spiritual and eternal.

That is why He formed covenants with us. A covenant needs (at least) two sides to it. A covenant is, by its very definition, a partnership.

There are some things He has just out-and-out given us: He gave the land of Israel to the Jews, He gave Solomon wisdom, He gave the world His only begotten son, and He gave us all the Torah. These things God gave us, unconditionally, and so that we can partner with Him. Other things God gave us are from His covenants, which are conditional aspects of our partnership: there are the commandments in Torah, which when we obey we receive blessings as a result. God also partners with us through prayer, through family relationships that are centered around God, through community work that helps the poor and widowed, and through fellowship with others which helps to honor and glorify God.

The most important partnership is, of course, the one we form with God through Messiah Yeshua, which grants us forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

It’s true that God wants us to worship Him, and that is evident throughout the bible. But God doesn’t want us just to worship Him from afar or for fear of reprisal- He wants us to worship Him so that we can be with Him.  He wants us to walk in His presence, to talk with Him, and to fellowship with Him through friendship and thanksgiving offerings. These offerings aren’t for His benefit or use- as we said earlier, He doesn’t need anything because He can create whatever He wants. The offerings are for our benefit: they help us to exercise and grow our faithful love for God. Think about it in human terms- when you love someone you want to do things that please them, right? When you perform a “Labor of Love” it mutually strengthens the bonds of affection. The same is true regarding our relationship with God, so when we do what He has told us pleases Him (check it out in Micah 6:8) we are strengthening our partnership with the Almighty.

This is a very easy message to understand: God loves us and wants us to love Him back, of our own free will. He offers us the chance to partner with Him so that we can live eternal lives of joy and peace and does so through His Torah and His son, Yeshua ha Mashiach (Jesus Christ). It is up to each and every one of us to choose life, because the only other choice is death.

I am blessed in that I have the three best partners anyone in the universe could ever want: God, Yeshua and my wife, Donna. I love them all, I want to please them all, and I will continually do my very best to carry my weight in this partnership so that we can all be together, forever.

My partnership with God was formed when I accepted Yeshua as my Messiah, and since then I have done my best to do what pleases God, and in return He “has my back.”  Who’s got your back?

Give the Gift of Giving

Messiah did so much for us, didn’t He? He exchanged His royal robe of divinity to put on a stinking mantle of flesh; He left the idyllic heavens to come to a cursed earth; He lived a life of trouble (Isaiah 53) and knew all the strife, emotional pain and physical wants of a human being; and, finally, He submitted to indescribable pain and torture just to be nailed to a tree. All of that in order that we unworthy sinners may have a chance to escape eternal damnation, which we all deserve, anyway.

Yeshua (Jesus) is certainly one man who knew all about giving to others, because He did all that with no expectation of getting anything back. He gave all He had and it brings Him great joy to see us receive it.

We are told in Acts 20:35 that Yeshua said it is better to give than to receive, but when we receive something do we do so in a way that blesses the giver? What I mean is this: using myself as an example, I used to feel very guilty and obligated when anyone would do something nice for me, or give me something. That is a worldly viewpoint- give and then expect to get back. When we invite someone to a party, do we do so because we enjoy their company or because we expect they will invite us to their next party? When we give a gift at a party to the host (birthday, baby shower, etc.) do we do so with the expectation that they will give something back to us at our next event?

If so, then we are not giving, we are investing. We are spending our money and hoping to receive back something worth as much or more. How many times have you heard people complain that they give nice things to someone but get less than what they gave back when it’s their turn to receive? Hopefully you haven’t, which means you hang out with the right crowd, but I know there are people like that out there.

Yeshua tells us that when we are asked for something we should give, freely and without expectation of reward or return (Matthew 5:40-42):

And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

When I give something to someone, such as treat them to dinner, or give them a gift, I do so without wanting anything in return. That said, I do expect a nice “Thank you”, of course, but even if that is not given, it doesn’t change the fact that I wanted to give because I wanted to give. And when I give something, I do not want the recipient to feel obligated to return the favor. I want them to receive as happily as I give.

That is the giving the gift of giving- to let someone give to you freely and wholeheartedly without worrying that you will feel obligated by receiving it.

Yeshua gave all, we give (most of the time) what we can, and sometimes we give a lot (if you have kids you know what I mean), and when we do so without any expectation of return and without wanting anything back, giving only to please the receiver of our gift, then we are giving correctly.

Subsequently, if you feel really good inside when you give to someone, let the person who gives to you feel the same way. When you are given a gift, don’t refuse it, don’t say, “Oh- you shouldn’t have!” or indicate in any way that you feel obligated to return the favor or are concerned by receiving the gift. Accept it with great joy (even if it is one that you can’t bear to own) and thank the person.

You may ask me, “Steve- I understand what you are saying but what if the person giving me the gift expects something in return, like most people do?” Well, my answer is give them something, if you want to because you want to give it. Do not give them something as an obligation or because they expect something back- if they don’t give for ‘giving’s sake’ then that is their problem. Those who give to receive will learn fast enough that you are a giver without expectation of return, and a receiver without obligation to give something back.

I have found most of the time when you give to people without expectation of return, they sense it; it all depends on your attitude. I will tell people I treat or to whom I give a nice gift to please do not feel any obligation to return the favor because my joy comes from seeing them enjoying the gift.

This is what the bible says:

Proverbs 11:24-27- One person is generous and yet grows more wealthy, but another withholds more than he should and comes to poverty. A generous person will be enriched, and the one who provides water for others will himself be satisfied

Proverbs 23:6-8- Do not eat the food of a stingy person, do not crave his delicacies; for he is like someone calculating the cost in his mind. “Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you; you will vomit up the little bit you have eaten, and will have wasted your pleasant words.

2 Corinthians 9:7-10- You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.

Therefore, when you receive something from someone, whether its a gift, money, time, possession, love, whatever it is: do so without concern about returning it or feeling obligated. Appreciate their giving and bless them in allowing them to feel the wonderful joy of giving.

If you receive happily and thankfully, you will have given them the gift of giving.

 

Live through the down times and remember the up times

Have you heard the term “Selective Memory” used when referring to someone who only seems to be able to recall those events that he or she wants to recall? Usually, it is used derisively to indicate the person is using it as an excuse for not doing something.

Usually, that is the case.

However, I know people who choose to remember only those things that continue to generate frustration and anger, and by doing so don’t even allow themselves to relive the pleasant times in their life.

For instance, in my previous life, from 1984 to 1992 I was married to a woman, we had two children (whom she has successfully turned against me) and for the last 6 or 7 years of our marriage all we did was argue. Yet, I recall many enjoyable moments, before and during the bad times; I know what was bad in that marriage, yet I choose to remember the good times and allow the bad times to remain in the background. This form of selective memory, recalling the pleasant times we had together, allows me to experience joy when I recall them. She, on the other hand, not only had chosen to recall all the bad times, but greatly embellished some of them over the years so that all she felt was pain and anger regarding me. So much so that even a normal, civil conversation was not possible for her. Once my son was old enough to take a train from their house in Queens (NY) and meet me in Manhattan (my daughter had already cut me off), I was able to disconnect from my “ex”, totally. That was a number of years ago, yet I still pray for her because I don’t know anyone who needs the love of the Lord as much as that poor, pitiful and unforgiving woman who causes herself continual pain by her selective memory.

The reason I told you about this is not to complain about her, or appear to put myself in a position of “holier-than-her”, but only as a personal example of how much better it is to selectively remember only the best parts of a relationship. And let me confess this now: I have not done this well. It took me many, many years (as my wife will confirm) just to be able to not talk about it all the time, and even today I am still fighting to not dwell on the loss of my children. I have prayer and God to help, and I am relieved to say I am getting better at not dwelling on it.

If you have had someone hurt you, and have forgiven them (as we are commanded to do), you should be able to remember the good aspects of that relationship without having to refuel the fires of hurtfulness that the sin against you caused. And, if you haven’t forgiven them, it’s about time you got with the program!

Forgiving is not forgetting, as much as it is letting go of the pain and anger. Because I have forgiven I can remember many fun times with my “ex”; our honeymoon was absolutely wonderful, we had some road trips that were great, the times we spent in the Pocono’s at a timeshare were relaxing and so much fun. I also remember there was that one vacation straight from hell, and many times during the marriage I wanted to leave. There were even times I wanted to commit suicide instead of going home. Really- it was that bad. But I now choose to leave those memories alone, and try to recall only the happy times because, well… why dwell on bad times and relive the hurt when you can remember happy times and feel good?

BTW: if you choose to relive the hurt someone caused you, it is not their fault that you are in pain. Yes, they may have struck the “first blow”, but if you choose to relive that event, over and over, now the pain you feel when reliving it is your own fault.

Of course, if someone is unforgiving, for them to relive only the happy times is probably not going to be possible. No one who is unforgiving will want to let go of their pain and sorrow, so they rip the scab off the cut every time it starts to heal. If you ask me, that’s a horrible way to live. It is so much better to remember happy times- don’t you agree?

Look- we all have bad times, and we all will remember them, but the idea is to live through the bad times and then put them behind you so you can recall only the happy times and let them fill you with joy. When loved ones pass away, we should celebrate their lives and recall all the joy they brought us; when we have marriage problems we cannot solve, we should part as people recalling that once we were able to share a love and to allow that to be the start of a new relationship. Once divorced, the marriage is dead, so we are free to begin a new relationship based on what first brought us together. And if the relationship is so damaged that it cannot continue, for whatever reason, then individually relive the happy times and remember only that what you had was a blessing while it was good. All things change, but all people do not change together.

Selective memory should not be used as an excuse for irresponsibility, but should be a means of recalling the joy we found in relationships that are no longer able to be that way. If you can recall only the happy times, you will be a happier person.

Parashah Terumah (donation), Exodus 25 – 27:19)

From this point on, except for Chapters 32 through 34 (the sin of the Golden Calf) the remaining chapters of this book deal with the construction of the Tabernacle and the articles in it.

The Tabernacle is where God talks to Moses. His instructions were first to built the Ark, after the Ark (which is the holiest of all the items) the rest of the construction was done from that point outwards: the Ark, then the Holy of Holies, then the articles in the area where only the priests were allowed (only the Cohen haGadol, the High Priest, was allowed in the Holy of Holies, and only once a year on Yom Kippur), then the Court, etc., all the way to the main entrance at the far end of the court.

The materials used were of dyed linens, tanned hides, acacia wood, gold, silver and bronze. The people were asked to contribute from their personal stores, much of which they received from the Egyptians when they left Egypt (Exodus 12:36); so, in a way, Egypt helped make building the Tabernacle possible. The most valuable materials were the ones closest to the Holy of Holies, with the less valuable materials being used as the Tabernacle was being built outwards.

We have all heard or used the expressions, “Closer to God” and “Farther from God”, representing, clearly enough, one’s spiritual maturity and faithful obedience to God’s commands. When I think of how the Tabernacle was built, with the purest items items being closest to the center of the Tabernacle (where God was present), I see this as representing how we need to be in our worship life: in order for us to come closer to God, we must first become purer.

Gold and silver are metals unto themselves, bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, and each one needs to go through a firing process in order to remove the dross so it can be in it’s purest state; gold is purified using temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees Celsius, silver at about 800 degrees Celsius and bronze at a temperature between 230 and 630 degrees Celsius. The purer the metal, the higher the heat used to purify it.

I see people and their relationship to God similar to the way these metals are forged: the closer we want to come to God, the hotter the fire of purification will have to be. Yeshua tells us this when He tells us that anyone who wants to be His Disciple will have to carry His execution stake to follow Him (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23), so we are adequately warned that getting closer to God will not be easy. Consequently, as we are further from faithful obedience and fear of the Lord, we are more like the less pure metals- we will be forged, but at a lower heat. For those who may be no more spiritual than having some recognition of God, such as type who go to services during the High Holy Days only, or at Christmas and Easter, their “spiritual purity” is still full of dross and slag.

The dross is the sin inside of us: that is why, since sin is part of our nature and formed when we are formed, it must be burned out for us to be purified, separated from the world (sin) and brought closer to God.

Oy! That is a very hard word to hear. Basically, what I am saying is that the Tabernacle represents what we need to go through, spiritually and physically, when we decide to worship God as He wants us to do. We are all built with some copper, tin, silver and gold inside of us, and as we approach God, we will have the base metals separated, and the fine metals purified. This is done through Tsouris (suffering) in our lives. It sounds unfair, but that is what is needed. You can’t get rid of the dross without going through the fire, and the reason we do this is to be closer to God.

Even after we have been purified, we will still have Tsouris in our life. But as we become more purified we will be able to abide the suffering and stay focused on the reward we are all striving to receive: eternal joy and peace in the presence of God, Almighty.

I don’t mind going through the fire because I know what is on the other side.

What metal are you? Have you accepted your level of purity? Realistically, everyone wants to be gold but very few are willing to go through the fire, so if you really, really want to be gold, then here is what you need to do:

  1. Prepare yourself for troubles
  2. Read the entire bible (Genesis through Revelations) and accept that it is all one book, one God, one way to worship Him (His way) and that all the commandments, from beginning to end, are valid
  3. Accept that Yeshua is the Messiah God promised and ask for forgiveness of sin on your own, meaning that you ask for forgiveness from your heart and not because your Priest or your parents said you had to.
  4. Prepare for even more troubles and steel yourself (gird your loins) for a lifetime of rejection, problems, harassment and persecution.

Read Matthew 5:10, 1 Peter 4:12-19 and James 1:2– all of these verses warn us that we will be persecuted in Messiah’s name, but that it is a blessing we should all strive to achieve.

Doesn’t this sound crazy? I want to have the joy and peace of spirit that worshiping God can bring, which it does, but to get that I have to suffer. Sounds like the ultimate oxymoron- suffer persecution and hatred to have peace of mind and spirit. Huh?!?

But that’s how it works, and it does work. Ask anyone who you know to be devoted to God and they will tell you of all the problems they have had to undergo, but also of all the joy they have felt and blessings they have received from God. It sounds crazy, but that which the world thinks is right is usually the exact opposite of what is acceptable to God.

It’s all up to you- do you want to be bronze or gold? Your choice, your decision, your eternal future.

Will we ever learn?

I just read Psalm 78, by Asaf, which is titled as a “Maskil.” From what I have seen, the difference between a psalm and a maskil is that a maskil is a psalm that may have a specific message, other than praise for God. This particular maskil is a reminder of the many ways in which God provided for his people, Israel, despite how they constantly demonstrated faithlessness and a rebellious attitude, which resulted in them being punished.

Fortunately for us (and I mean everyone, not just Believers, Jews or even Americans- I mean everyone in the world), God is a forgiving God, so much so that even in His righteous anger and punishment He is merciful. The fact that we are all still here is proof of that! And when He punishes, it isn’t like when a human punishes, which is (most of the time) from anger and frustration born out of pridefulness (“You didn’t do as I wanted”); no, that is not why God punishes us. When God punishes us, and we end up flat on our backs, it is so that we can only look up to see Him there, with His hand extended, waiting for us to take it so He can lift us back up onto our feet.

We have learned at least one thing- that God is forgiving. In fact, it seems (from history, including my own) that we count on His forgiveness because we keep sinning and rebelling. What would happen if, one day, God just decided, “Oy! Enough is enough! Youse guys have gone too far this time, so you’re on your own. Forever.” ? What would happen then?

I’ll tell you what will happen- there will be no hope for anyone, ever. I assume that without hope for eternal peace, there would be no more fear of eternal suffering- we will just live out our lives, with absolutely nothing else to look forward to, and then die. Our lives will be all we ever have, and when we die it will be as if we never existed. A meaningless past, no future, only the present. No blessings and hope, only random chance to count on; no one to depend on and nowhere to go for hope (you can’t count on humans), with nothing to do but get through it on your own.

Thank God that God will never allow that to happen. His promises are absolute, irrevocable and dependable. His faithfulness is eternal and never-ending; unlike ours, which is weak, unstable and transitory.

We need to learn one thing, if nothing else- God is dependable, and what God says will be, already is. God called Himself, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh“, which means “I am that I am”, or “I will be that which I will be”; what He is saying is that He, His name and everything about Him is undefinable in human terms and understanding. What He is, He was, and He will be. There is no timeline in God’s world- what was, what is and what will be already are.

Try to wrap your head around that one! Yikes!!

So, back to the lesson we need to learn, if nothing else- that God is dependable and what He says will be, already is. In other words, we always have time to ask forgiveness, and when we ask for forgiveness and really mean it (which is demonstrated by a change not only in our heart, but in our actions, too- the former without the latter is meaningless), we will be forgiven, even when we ask with our very last breath.

If you already know this lesson, you are ready to move on to the next level. If I put this in the terms most youth of today will understand, which does sort of jive with some ancient beliefs, as you do better and better, you move up a level (just like in video games); and, like in a video game, the higher the level, the more difficult it is to succeed at that level. The holier we become, the less likely we will fit into the regular world system, and the world will treat us more like an outcast than a member of society. That’s OK, believe me, because what the world offers is temporary and what God is preparing for us is eternal.

And infinite beats the heck out of finite, any day!

You don’t learn anything from winning

I like word puzzles. My mornings start with coffee, cryptograms, crosswords and other mind-exercising puzzles that involve wordplay.

This morning I did a cryptogram that was a quote from Nelson Mandela:

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

It reminded me of when I was a Sales Manager and teaching people how to sell. I used to say that is rare when you know what made the sale, but you always know where you lost it. The same held true when I was in High School and on the wrestling team. I always practiced wrestling with the heavy weights and the best wrestlers (of which I was not) on the team. I always lost to them, but it was good practice and taught me where my mistakes were being made.

When it comes to living a righteous life in an unrighteous world, we are going to have failures. Personal and financial failures, failures of faith, failure of judgement, failing to help others, and we will never stop failing in trying to do something, in some way, at some time.

As Mr. Mandela points out, it isn’t the successes that demonstrate the merit and strength of a person, it is the number of times they failed and then got back up and kept trying. Anyone, at any time, can succeed; it isn’t succeeding that is the real acid test of fortitude, it is how consistently you continue to try.

We have a great fail-safe system: it is called the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. We have a great coach- His name is Yeshua (Jesus) and He is always right there at our side, ready to help us up when we fall. And we have a tremendously wonderful prize to win- eternal joy and peace.

The best part is that to win all we have to do is finish. Just make it to the finish line (we call that “death”) still trying to do as God has told us we should do, still maintaining your faith (weak or strong, having faith is what saves us- works are only the evidence of our faith) and still trying to be an example of righteousness to the world.

So don’t be upset or depressed when you fail to live up to the standards God has set for us: no one can. If you start to feel like you can’t do this, you just don’t feel worthy, or that it isn’t really worth the effort, that is the Enemy, the Devil, trying to convince you of a lie. Don’t fall for it. When you feel like you have let the Lord down (and we all do, at one time or another) just remember that God is glad you still want to try; He is there to help you, He has provided the bible so you can review the game plans, and He is very forgiving of errors. Geeze- what a great coach, right?

The only time God will ever be upset or disappointed with you is if you should stop trying. Remember: failure is not when you don’t succeed- that is just a temporary roadblock- failure only happens when you stop trying.

 

 

Faith ain’t easy

Have you ever read the Psalms, and looked past the P’shat (plain language) to see the Drash (underlying meanings) of the writings of David?

I read a little of the “Manual” every day, and I go from Genesis through to the end of Revelations (sometimes I even check out the maps at the end) and then I go back to Genesis, to start all over again. Currently I am in Psalms, and as I read them, I pass the beauty of the writings and see the pathos of the requests.

David is clearly in need of Prozac; he is constantly upset with the conditions of his life. And it’s no wonder: his king and father-in-law, Shaul (Saul), wants to kill him for no reason at all. David constantly talks about his enemies trying to destroy him, Shaul mainly, but there were the Philistines, too, always trying to take land or goods away from the Israeli’s. David spent years wandering in the desert, under constant fear for his life, living as a marauder, plundering the enemies of Israel to survive. He also had nearly 400 men to support. If you have ever been in a position of management or authority, it is a very heavy burden.

Let’s not forget that his own son, Absalom, tried to take over his kingdom. And almost succeeded.

And yet, David was faithful, righteous, kind and forgiving: all of the very best qualities that any God-fearing person should possess. Except for a few biggies, now and then, he was a sinless and upright man and king. So why should he have had to suffer the way he did, through almost all of his life?

The answer is the title to today’s message: faith ain’t easy; add to that righteousness takes a lot of hard work, and when you are righteous and faithful, you are so different from nearly everyone else that you will be alone, often. Not only that, but people will hate you and try to take you down to their level of sinfulness because you represent to them what they can’t, but inwardly want, to have. When someone wants to be like someone else, but they aren’t, they have two choices: they can improve on themselves, or they can make the other person become less than what they are.

Simply put, if I am dirtier than you are, and I am too lazy or sinful to clean up my act, I will throw dirt all over you so that now we are both dirty.

Despite having had so many wives and children, having the loyalty and friendship of his elite guard, having his cousin Yohav as his general ( who may have been loyal to David but was also a source of pain, killing who he believed should be killed, even when David said not to) and, of course, being the king (as Mel Brooks has said in his film “History of the World, Part I”,  “It’s good to be the king!”), overall I believe that David lived a very tough and often lonely life.

So what is the message? The message today is: stay the course! Be prepared to be lonely, to be hated and ridiculed, to be kidded even by your friends, and to suffer for the name of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) as you live a faithful and righteous life.

When you are a light in the darkness, what that means is this: think about what it is like when you have been sleeping, get up in the dark and suddenly turn the lights on. Your eyes squint, it is uncomfortable, and it is not a pleasant experience. Imagine that feeling multiplied exponentially, on an emotional and spiritual level, and you will have an idea of what it means to those who live (and are quite comfortable) in the darkness when the light of your righteousness shines upon them.

When the light enters the darkness, those who live in the darkness don’t cry out, “Welcome! Thank you for allowing us to see better.” Rather, they will be angry and will scream, “TURN OUT THAT LIGHT!!

Don’t. Don’t ever let your light go out, no matter how loud they scream, no matter how vindictively they berate you, and no matter what they do to you. Remember that Yeshua told us we will suffer for the sake of His name, but that we will be rewarded for it.

Faith ain’t easy, but after all the troubles and tribulations you will have to suffer in order to maintain your faith, the eternal reward will make it all worth the effort.

 

 

Here we go, again

It’s 2017, and most of the world is starting a new year. Resolutions to make (then break), hope for a better future (while reviewing the past) and a sense of foreboding as we begin a new journey into an unknown future.

Except for those who believe in God. We trust Him to protect us and look forward to His return. For us, all we should consider with regards to the new year is that we are that much closer to seeing God’s kingdom on Earth become a reality. We should not be afraid of the future, and should not dwell on the past.

Yeshua said that anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks behind them is not fit for the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62), so let’s let the old year be a memory and not a memorial, and look to the future with a trusting faithfulness that God is in charge, so no matter what comes our way we can handle it.

And what we can’t handle, God can.

With the passing of the “holiday season” we also see (hopefully) the passing of the “holiday blues”, the condition that causes many people to feel saddened and depressed during the holidays. With all the celebratory advertising- happy families loving and caring for each other, kids getting more presents than anyone should have, husbands buying cars for their wives (really? What average American does that?) and everyone being happy, in love, and sharing wonderful things with each other- it’s no wonder anyone who is single without a special someone, or someone far away from family, or families that are normal (meaning dysfunctional) become depressed seeing all that they want everywhere else but in their life.

These are the people who need God the most. We are supposed to be a light in the darkness, which is a very hard thing to be because, in truth, we all need to strengthen our faithfulness. We all need to work hard to overcome the sadness all around us. It is like working at the fish market: even if you aren’t handling the fish, just being around them all day makes you stink like fish when you get home.

God gave us the Torah to sanctify us, to make us holy (meaning separated from the world), yet Yeshua (Jesus) tells us we are to go out into the world to make Disciples.  How do we work in the fish market and not come home smelling like fish?

The answer is that we wash ourselves every day with the cleansing of the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. Yeshua’s blood cleansed us of our sins, and the Holy Spirit can cleanse us of the stench of the cursed and fallen world whenever we read His word, whenever we are blessed for obeying a commandment, and whenever we commune with God and others who are like-Believers.

If you haven’t yet come home stinking of fish, let this year be the one where you do. If you haven’t yet done so, it’s time to go to the fish market and become fishers of men, find the darkness and bring the light of Messiah into it, and when you get home, read the Word, pray, join with others in a spiritual mikvah that will cleanse the stench of the world off of you make you smell like baby oil.

Or, better yet, you will smell like anointing oil.

I pray that you all have a better year in 2017 than you did in 2016, and that you look forward to seeing what God has planned for you. Forget about who’s the President, forget about your job issues, forget about the economy, don’t give the global warming issue another thought- just go forth trusting in God and knowing that all His plans for you are for your good. Look for the blessing in the Tsouris, find the peace the Ruach gives in the midst of suffering, and be comforted by the knowledge that this will all be forgotten and totally unimportant when you are basking in the light of God’s presence, for all eternity.

Now that’s what I call a good way to start the year.