For Auld Lang Syne

A new year, a new beginning for most everyone in the world. But how do we start it?

Many make resolutions to do something that they know they need to: a diet, give up smoking, be more helpful to the needy….whatever.

As for me, I think the best way to start anew is to get past the past, and the only way to do that is to learn forgiveness.

And that’s not just a good idea- it is a commandment!

 

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.

L’Shanah Tovah! (Happy New Year)

It’s 5777.

I had someone tell me, just yesterday, that this should be a very good year. The number ‘5’ reminds us of the 5 books of Moses (Torah) and of the 5 divisions to the Psalms. The number ‘7’ is probably the MOST powerful number in the bible. It represents completeness, as the world was completed in seven days; the 7th day is the Sabbath, the word for luck, Mazel, is equal to the number 77, and when the bible wants to emphasize something, it says it three times.

So, if you’re into numerology, 5-7-7-7 should be a very good year.

Of course, the entire celebration is not really a new year celebration according to God. In Leviticus 23, the chapter that gives us the Festivals of the Lord, this is Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets (also Yom Ha-Zikaron, Day of Remembrance.) It begins the 10 Days of Awe, a period of somber and humble introspection as we approach Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement. During this time we are to review our past year with emphasis on how well, or how poorly (in most cases) we did with regards to doing that which pleases God.

The new year celebration is actually a holiday, not a Holy Day, as I define them: Holy Days are what God told us we must celebrate to Him, and a holiday is what men have created to be a day of celebration. Therefore, Yom HaZikaron is a Holy Day, a day of remembrance (as defined by God), but Rosh Hashanah is a holiday, a Rabbinic ordinance that tells us to celebrate the beginning of the year. It is a civil new year. The religious, or spiritual, new year is when God told us it is to be, which is the first day of Nisan: the first day of our freedom from slavery in Egypt.

Exodus 12:1-2 “ Now the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.” 

So, since the holiday of Rosh Hashanah is not decreed by God- in fact, it is in conflict with the Holy Day God said we should celebrate- should we ignore it?

Good question. I wish I had a good answer!

My book goes into this in the chapter regarding Holy Days vs. Holidays. All I can talk about is what I do- I worship God as He said we should (well, I do not do a very good job of it, but I keep getting better) and when there is a conflict, if we can call it that, I try to do what would please God. Since God said this is a day of remembrance, I think we should look inside ourselves and try to determine how to be better next year. And when we celebrate the American (worldly) new year in January, don’t we do that as part of it? Don’t we sing, “Auld Lang Syne”? Don’t we look forward to a better year?  Don’t we wish each other better success as we move into the future? Don’t we make resolutions (just to break them) to improve ourselves?

I do not see a real conflict between celebrating the day of remembrance as a new year, so long as we do the things I described above. Instead of a conflict, I see it more as just a different spin on the idea of remembrance.

For me, I want to hear the trumpets call me to remember, call me to look inside, call me to gather myself together to work towards being a better “me”, a more Godly “me”, a “me” that will please the Lord more in the coming year. And a “me” that is thankful, humbly and respectfully, for the forgiveness I already have though Messiah Yeshua. I will not abuse that forgiveness by taking advantage of His promises; I will not trample the blood of Messiah into the dirt by using His sacrifice to allow me to half-way atone.

As I prepare for Yom Kippur, and celebrate these Days of Awe, this time of holy introspection and review, I do ask God to move from the Throne of Judgment to the Throne of Mercy- not for myself, because Yeshua has covered my sins, but for my people, for all people, so that they may look inside and see the spirit of God we all have and recognize their sinfulness.

Only when we are willing to “own” our sin can we truly begin to give it away.

Enjoy this new year; may we see the return of Israel to her land and the coming of Messiah Yeshua on clouds in majesty and power! Hallelujah!!

L’shanah tovah tiketavu!

Days of Awe are Here Again

L’Shonah Tovah! Happy New Year! Although it isn’t really the beginning of the year, biblically, it is still a celebratory day and a mandated Holy Day (see Leviticus 23.) The Rabbi’s have made this a civil new year (the beginning of the year for Jews is Pesach/Passover, see Exodus 12:2) and it is also the beginning of the Days of Awe.

The ten days after Rosh HaShannah, up to Yom Kippur, are a time for self-evaluation and reflection. We are to look inside ourselves and see what is there: is there repentance and a sense of T’Shuvah, or is there only rationalization and lame excuses for failing to even try to obey God?

We are to be in “awe” of God and His wonderful blessings, but I am more like, “Awe, shucks- I didn’t do as well as I wanted to do” when it comes to pleasing God. And that is the same way I feel every year, although I can say I have been doing much better since I started to worship God then before I knew Him or Messiah Yeshua (around February of 1997.)

I think of all the times in the past year I have done wrong to people: I wrote a nasty-gram at work, I chewed out my niece on Facebook (sorry, Heather- I love you and hate Facebook),  I even got mad at Donna once or twice (how could that ever happen?), and I am sure there are others I have hurt along the way that I am not even aware of having done so.

A traditional event at this time of the year is to ask forgiveness of those we have sinned against, and I do now, publicly, ask those named above, and anyone else I may have hurt, to please forgive me. I’m sorry. And I do this knowing that the forgiveness I need most is from God, for every sin I commit is against God, first and foremost. And I also want to remind all of you reading this that the forgiveness we all need from God is already here, through Messiah Yeshua. So many (in fact, almost every one) of my family disagree with my belief in Yeshua, but that is OK because they have a right to their opinion. God gave us all free will, and how well we use it is up to us. But you should at least be willing to ask why I believe as I do. If you are right, you have nothing to lose; if I am right, you have everything to gain. But I will not force you to listen. I will not force anyone to hear the truth about God and His Messiah.

What I (in fact, what all Believers) really should be doing is speaking with my actions, not my words.

During this time of introspection, review your actions over the past year but don’t beat yourself up over it. Getting distressed and upset about things you can’t change is giving power to the enemy, who will use the uselessness of wanting to change the past to destroy you. Remember the past so that you can have a more fruitful future; the best thing to do with past memories is use them to create a better future. I know people who will not let go of the past, who constantly live wanting the past to be different; consequently, their present is not as joyful as it could be and they can’t see any future. They live in limbo: feeling like they have no control, frustrated, angry and hateful. And through it all they haven’t a clue why they are so miserable.

Look back on this past year and decide how you will make next year better. Look to God for help and to His Ruach/Spirit for guidance. Read the Manual (Bible) every day to get good ideas about how to act, and how not to act, and (may I suggest) go through Proverbs slowly. There is more than a single lifetime of wisdom in that book.

All the commandments God gave to us were designed for one thing, and it isn’t just the proper way to worship Him (although that is in there), and it isn’t just what we are to eat (although that’s in there), and it isn’t just how we are to treat each other (you’ll find that there, too): the reason God gave us those laws (and He tells us why more than once) is so that by obeying them we will have long life, we will be happy, and we will live in peace.

Makes you wonder why anyone would not want to obey God’s laws?

L’Shana Tovah- A Rosh HaShanah Drash

For me, a Holy Day is described by God in Leviticus 23, and a holiday is something religion created. This day is sort of both, since the Holy Day is a memorial (Yom Teruah, or Day of Trumpets) and the holiday is the Jewish New Year. Actually, the new year as God tells us, is Pesach (Passover). In Exodus He tells us that the first day we are free from slavery to Egypt is to be the first day of our calendar.

On this day, the traditional Torah reading is the Akedah, or binding, of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-24.) In keeping with this tradition (not all traditions are bad), I would like to offer this Drash:

The fact that God tests us is seen throughout the Tanakh. He does so not to tease or tempt us to do wrong, but to strengthen us. To help us mature, spiritually.  The way to be prepared for a test, any test, is to study. But to study correctly, in other words, to study that which will help you overcome the challenges you are to face, you need to know the subject matter. You don’t study Algebra for a History test, and you don’t develop spiritual maturity through blessings.

That’s right- blessings are the gold star you get after the test. The test is the hard part, and the test stinks to high heaven. The tests are difficult, and never too much for us, so long as we remember to look to God for the strength to pass.  If we try to pass God’s spiritual testing on our own, we will most likely fail. We can’t do it, we need the Ruach to help us overcome our natural sinful sinfulness.

Isn’t that redundant, Steve? Sinful sinfulness? Maybe; the point I want to make is that we don’t just sin, we are sinful, too. We don’t just sin, we want to sin, we need to sin, it’s our natural state of mind. So, we don’t just sin, we live to sin, we desire to sin, we are sinfully, sinful. Thank God that Yeshua overcame this for us.

That’s why testing is so hard, but it doesn’t have to be. God’s tests are an open book test because the Bible is always close at hand, the Ruach is waiting for us to give it a “Shout Out”, and God is standing all around us, waiting to catch us.

Yet, we fail. We manage to avoid the safety net, the harness and the protective gear (that’s in Ephesians) and find a way to still fall flat on our faces. And sometimes when we fall, we land hard on someone else.

That brings us to another tradition: to ask forgiveness of those we have, or may have, sinned against during the past year. This is a Jewish tradition that Jews (probably) don’t know is also confirmed by Yeshua. Yeshua tells us before we bring our offering to God, if someone has something against us we should leave the offering at the altar, go to that person, and ask forgiveness. Gee- you mean Yeshua did something Jewish? Duh!!!

The next 10 days are called “The Days of Awe”, when we become introspectively aware of the many ways we have fallen short of what God has wanted of us. It is time to take off the blinders, to see ourselves as we are, to ask forgiveness of others and at the end, repentant and contrite of heart and spirit, to ask forgiveness of God when this period culminates on Yom Kippur.

I call it the “Days of Aw”, as in ,”Aw, shucks!” because that’s how I feel when I realize how much I know about what God wants, all the knowledge and insight I have gained from His spirit, and look at me- still stupid, still unwilling, still sinning and still trying. I guess the last part is the difference that His spirit has made in me- before I was saved, I was a sinner that rationalized my sins, now I am a sinner that regrets my sins. And even though I sound down on myself, I am glad that I sin less, that I want to do what is right, and that I am improving. Slow as molasses going uphill against the wind in January, but….making progress.

We all fail now and then, Brothers and Sisters, but do not let your failures make you sad- let them be a “test” to strengthen you to do better. And when we fail we only need to remember that Yeshua did not fail, that He passed every test presented to Him, and that because of His success we can get back on track. We must always strive to do better. Do not allow a letdown to cause you to give up on His calling in your life. That’s a cop-out!

Praise the Lord, because when we ask His forgiveness He forgets our failures, and praise the Lord that He always remembers our successes.

One last thought for the day: the Akedah introduces martyrdom to the Bible (even though Isaac was not killed, he was willing to die.) This will become a sadly regular part of the devoted Believer’s life for the rest of history (until the final victory is accomplished.) It is the ultimate testing of faith.

A modern Jewish poet named J. L. Gordon wrote this poem in memorial of a tragic slaughter that occurred in England at the Castle of York in the year 1190:

“We have sacrificed all. We have given our wealth.
Our homes, our honours, our land, our health
Our lives- like Hannah and her children seven-
For the sake of the Torah that came from Heaven.”

Yeshua is the living Torah and when He died on that tree the Torah that was a works-driven Torah died with Him. When He was resurrected, the Torah also was given new life, as a faith-driven path to Redemption. That means that nothing has changed in the Torah: it is still Torah (2nd Timothy 14) and is still valid for everyone who worships the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What cannot be accomplished through the works-driven Torah, can be accomplished in the  faith-driven Torah that lives in us! Yeshua fulfilled the Torah, in works, in interpretations, in the sight of all the peoples. He is in us, and through Him we can be victorious over sin.

Use these next 10 days to look into yourself. The Torah is supposed to be a mirror that we look into. Look in the mirror- what do you see? Look harder- Torah is there, Brothers and Sisters. How can I be so sure? Because God Himself told us in Jeremiah 31:31 that it will be written on our hearts, and I believe God!

Each of us who have accepted God’s Grace through Yeshua Ha Meshiach, all of us who are children of the Everlasting God- we all are one in Messiah and He is in us!

Look deep within yourself over these next 10 days and seek Him out!