Parashah D’varim 2019 (Words) Deuteronomy 1-3:22

This is the final book of the Torah. Moses recalls all that has happened and also reviews all that is to be done when the people enter the land that God has promised them.

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There are three separate discourses in this book. The first recounts the past 40 years in the desert. The second discourse deals with the code of laws regarding worship, government, the penal code, and domestic life. The third discourse is all about the enforcement of the laws, with special attention paid to both the blessings for obedience and the punishment for disobedience. At the end of this last book of the Torah, we are told about the death of Moses.

In this parashah, Moses begins with retelling how he appointed men over the tribes to help him with judging and managing of the people. Next, he reminds them of how when, coming to the land, the people requested that Moses send out spies before they enter in. He relented to their request, which he said seemed good to him to do, but when the spies came back they gave a bad report which caused the people to rebel and refuse to enter. He reminds them that God sent them into the desert for that generation to die, and talks about their travels through the desert. This parashah ends with Moses telling of the destruction of Og and Sihon, the kings on the East side of the Jordan and his giving of their land to Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh.

Something is in here that was not in the Book of Numbers, where we first are told of the spies going into the land. The very first line of Numbers 13 says that the Lord told Moses to send out 12 men, leaders from each of the 12 tribes, to reconnoiter the land. Now, Moses is saying that it wasn’t God’s idea, but the people who suggested sending spies. Does that mean that the Torah is wrong? No, it doesn’t, but it does mean that an understanding of Hebrew and the cultural idioms of that time will result in a better understanding of the Torah.

The (alleged) order by God to send men uses the Hebrew words shelach lecha, which mean “you send out”, or in a more ancient form, “send for yourself.”  In other words, God was saying, “If you really want to, then go ahead and do it.” He wasn’t prohibiting this, but he certainly wasn’t commanding it. He was going along with what Moses decided was a good idea.

Now, in this parashah (Deut. 1:29-34) some 40 years later, as Moses recalls this, he chides the people for not having trusted in God in the first place. Yet, didn’t Moses allow these spies to go? Didn’t he think it was a good idea? So, even though the people initiated what turned out to be a rebellion and caused them to wander for 40 years in the desert, Moses was just as much at fault. Being the leader, whatever the people do he is, ultimately, responsible for. In this case, he wasn’t just responsible but an active participant. He also showed a lack of faith in God by allowing the spies to go. He should have simply said, “No! We dun need no stinkin’ spies! All we need to do is to trust in God, go in and take the land.”

What at first seemed to be something God commanded turns out to be what the people wanted, and what Moses agreed to allow despite God not confirming it. This is why I said before it is so important to read the entire bible, and it really, REALLY helps to know Hebrew (and Greek, I suppose, for the New Covenant writings) as well as the cultural norms of that time in order to have a proper and complete understanding of God’s word.

I am not saying you need to be a biblical Hebrew scholar or have to learn Greek in order to understand God and the Bible. I am saying that we all need to do more than just read the Bible, we need to study it. We need to have a library of biblical study materials, such as a Chumash, a Tikkun, the Interlinear Bible set and a good Concordance. These will help us to see the many diversified connections within the word of God. Hermeneutically, the entire Bible (Genesis through Revelation) is homogeneous, and no one part contradicts any other part. However, there are many places where it seems to be contradictory, which is why we need to study and examine everything in the Bible using good biblical references and study materials. Only through a detailed and thorough examination of the passages in the Bible can we find the real meaning of God’s word, and overcome the superficial misunderstandings that a cursory reading can sometimes result in.

Of course, the first and most important thing to do is pray for the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to guide you and for God to show you what he wants you to know. Secondarily, use these study guides, Who knows? Maybe what God wants you to know he wil show you through one of these other books.

If you don’t have the study materials I listed, please consider investing in them. You don’t have to get them all at once, but when you use even just one of them, you will find more substance and have a better understanding of God’s word than you will ever get just by listening to someone else tell you what it means. Besides, how do you know that they even know what they are talking about? How many misinterpretations and outright wrong teachings have been promulgated throughout the centuries?

Each one of us will come before the Lord on Judgement Day, and each of us will have to account for what we have done during our lifetime. Those who have Yeshua as their Intercessor will be saved, but those who have not obeyed God’s word will have to stand on their own, and when they say “I was just doing what I was told to do”, I suppose God might reply with something like this:

“I understand you were doing what they told you to do, but it’s what I say that counts! And I told you everything you need to know in the Torah”

So, don’t miss out on what God is saying because you don’t want to invest the time in really getting to know the Bible. What you might be missing just may be the one thing that saves you from destruction.

Thank you for being here and please SUBSCRIBE if you haven’t done so, already, I welcome comments and only ask that you be nice.

I wish you all Shabbat shalom and until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

What Does it Mean to Strain Out a Gnat and Swallow a Camel?

In the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 23), Yeshua is chastising the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and false teachings. One of the things he accuses them of is straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24.)

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The use of this hyperbole was to show the people that although the Pharisees were knowledgeable and well trained in Torah, while they did things in a legally correct manner they taught (by example) to do things that were not in accordance with what the Torah really wanted. Whereas they gave their tithe carefully measured out, they neglected the spirit of the law with regards to how they treated others.

I see this same straining/swallowing problem in the Messianic and Hebraic Roots movements, mostly from Gentiles, and not from ignorance or hypocrisy, but from a misdirected zealousness to know God better and be obedient to the Torah.

I see arguments, passionate and even hateful at times, regarding how to spell and/or pronounce God’s Holy Name, the Tetragrammaton. God never said that our salvation was based on our pronunciation.

I see people arguing over exactly which day Yeshua was raised, and was it at night or in the light of dawn? When Thomas doubted Yeshua’s resurrection, at the time Yeshua met him he didn’t tell him what the time was when he left the tomb to prove he was raised.

I see people arguing over the calendar days, solar or lunar, and even within the lunar calendar, they argue over which day a certain festival really starts on. Don’t they know that in the ancient days no one knew when the days started or ended until they saw a signal fire? There was a 2-3 day “grace period” for every important festival simply because they had to have 3 witnesses in Jerusalem agree that the moon phase was verified. If that was OK with God then, why would it be any more important now?

I see people arguing over topics that have absolutely NOTHING whatsoever to do with their salvation- it is just biblical trivia. And the worst thing of all is the biblically knowledgeable people arguing over these irrelevant and non-salvation issues as if they were as important as faith in God and trusting that Yeshua is the Messiah!

What do you think this does to neophyte Believers? I have read posts by people complaining that they joined a “Believers” discussion group to get answers and help and all they see are arguments, where people are nasty to and insulting each other, and are now more confused than ever.

If you think you are biblically knowledgeable and want to help others know the truth about God and Yeshua, and also about the Torah, then PLEASE stick to the important things. What are the important things?  They are the things that God told us we need to do, which are the same things Yeshua taught about.

God taught us how to worship him and how to treat each other, and Yeshua taught us the deeper, more spiritual meaning of the instructions God gave us, which he discussed in the Sermon on the Mount. Neither God nor Yeshua are into minutia, but they are very much into compassion, trust, faith, love, forgiveness, and just living humbly and with treating each other with respect.

God and Yeshua were never concerned with how to pronounce The Name, or when the moon is really in phase, or even whether you tithe from gross income or net.  All God or Yeshua cares about is how you treat others and your faithfulness, which is demonstrated by obedience and accepting that what God said we need to know is all that we need to know.

We don’t need to know when the End Times will start; we don’t need to know when Yeshua will return; we don’t need to know if ducks are kosher or not (yes- I have seen that question); and we don’t need to know “Why” about anything!

All we need to know is that God wants us to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with him (Micah 6:8.)

And if you aren’t sure what walking humbly with God means, it means to stop asking so many useless questions in order to poof up your own pride and to show off how knowledgeable you are. It means to accept that all you need is to be faithfully obedient, faithfully trusting (without asking why) and faithfully treating each other with respect, love, compassion, patience, and forgiveness.

If you find yourself asking things that are not directly related to salvation, think about whether or not you really need to know the answer.

I know what I am talking about because I have always been the “Duty Expert” in every job I have worked; I have been the one with the technical knowledge of every detail. I still want to know everything about everything, but when it comes to God, Yeshua and my own salvation I have learned what the writer of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) learned the hard way: trying to know everything about everything is like chasing the wind.

I have taught myself to be satisfied knowing that God exists, that Yeshua is the Messiah God promised, that I am to do my best to obey the Torah (which I read every day, along with the rest of the Bible), and that I can learn about the culture and history of the people in the Bible but when it comes down to it what matters is to trust God to do as he said he would, if I do as he said I should.

That is all you need to know to be- and to stay- saved.

Thank you for being here, and if you like what you hear please share this out with others. Subscribe in the right-hand margin and also go to my YouTube channel and subscribe there, as well.

I welcome your comments, even if you disagree: all I ask is that you be nice.

Until next time…L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Do Bible Verses Really Prove Anything?

Based on the title of today’s message, I promise not to give one verse or quote from the Bible.

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There are many, many people who believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God. Yet, how can that be if there are literally dozens of different versions of the Bible and under the law of copyright, each version has to have a significant difference from the other versions?

Also, we have interpretations of the original Hebrew and Greek into many different languages, and we all know that there is no such thing as an exact translation from one language to another due to cultural and linguistic differences between the many different people of the world.

So, in light of these facts, how can we even think that what we are reading in our Bible (whichever version it may be) is truly infallible?

The truth is…it can’t be! After all, the Bible is just a book. It is not God, himself. It tells us about God, it tells us what God wants us to know, it even tells us how to live our lives in the way that pleases God, but it is not God. It is not infallible, and it is not exactly what he said, even when it is supposed to be a quote.

Now that I have angered a number of you who are absolutely fixated on the Bible as being the absolute, infallible word of God, let’s raise the bar on your frustration.

When someone tries to prove a position, spiritual, ceremonial or social, that is based on what is written in the Bible, their argument may not trustworthy. And I am not talking about just those arguments that I don’t agree with. Why do I say this? Because the way people use Bible verses to support their position is too often an improper use of biblical exegesis.

As an example of what I mean, let’s take two of the most hotly argued issues regarding the Bible: the Trinity and Mosaic Law.

There are many people who argue that the Bible tells us, absolutely, that God, Messiah and the Holy Spirit are three-in-one, all the same entity but appearing in different forms. Then again, there are just as many people who say the Bible tells us, absolutely, that God, Messiah and the Holy Spirit are separate and unique entities, that there is only One God, one Messiah who is not God, and the Holy Spirit. Both sides have biblical evidence that supports their argument, and often the Bible verses they use as support for each side of these polar opposite beliefs are the same verses!

As far as the “Law”, meaning the commandments given to Moses on the mountain which are written in the Torah, still being required for those who have accepted Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) as their Savior, there is the one side quoting from the New Covenant to show the law was done away with when Yeshua was crucified, and there are those who use quotes from the New Covenant to show that those who accept Yeshua are still required to obey God’s Torah.

Now…before you start to comment on which position is correct, please stop right there and remember this message is NOT about the Trinity or the Law- it is about the fact that Bible quotes cannot be trusted as absolute proof of a position. The reason why I say this should now be obvious: because the same verses can be used to support either side they can’t really support any side.

The reason this can be is because there is so much in the Bible, so many different messages and ideas and statements, that if I want to prove whatever I choose to believe in, if I take enough time, look long enough, and pull enough words and statements out of context, I can make the Bible “say” pretty much anything I want it to say.

So, nu?  If this is true, then how can anyone learn anything from the Bible? How can we use the Bible to show what God wants us to know and how he wants us to behave? How can we trust anything anyone tells us about God?

We do so by interpreting the Bible correctly. We use proper biblical exegesis, which is a combination of Circles of Context and Hermeneutics.

Circles of Context is the system where we take the word within the sentence, the sentence within the paragraph, the paragraph within the book, and the book within the entire Bible. We make sure that when we are reading or quoting anything from the Bible that the interpretation considers who is writing it and to whom is it addressed. We have to consider what the topic is; for instance, Shaul (Paul) wrote to the different Messianic congregations he formed that were having problems. Each letter he wrote was specifically meant to deal with that congregation’s problems, and so each letter is unique to that audience. What he wrote to the Jews in Rome has to be interpreted and understood using Jewish culture, linguistic, and religious context. On the other hand, the letter to the Galatians was to a congregation of mostly Gentiles in the process of converting to Judaism. In that case, Shaul wrote using a form of Greek logic and terms from the Septuagint because the Gentiles there would not understand the nuances and cultural mores of a Jewish argument.

Once we have reviewed the biblical passage in its full context, we also need to ensure it is hermeneutically validated. Hermeneutics, simply stated, is the idea that everything we find in the Bible will be consistent with everything else in the Bible. As such, what is said to be a sin in Genesis will still be considered a sin in Revelation; what Shaul says is in the Torah in his letter to the Philippians will be consistent with what Moses tells us is in the Torah in Exodus.

Just as we are told that God is the same then, now and always, hermeneutics uses this same idea to validate what we read in the Bible- the meaning of the passage we read here must be the same everywhere else in the book. The true word of God does not contramand itself.

When we read the Bible, we need to always use these two exegetical practices. We must consider the cultural and linguistic usage of the words and events we read about that were used at the time they were written. We cannot use current or modern definitions of words or, for that matter, current social and moral values for what was done in ancient days. We must accept what we read in the Bible from the viewpoint, morally, culturally and linguistically, of the people that lived back then. If we really want to understand what we read in the Bible, we need to transplant ourselves into the culture and walk a mile in the shoes, or sandals as the case may be, of the people at that time.

Can we trust the Bible? Yes, we can. We can trust what is in the Bible when we use the proper tools I have given you today. And always, ask God to show you what he wants you to see. There is a legitimate argument that God may give a different message or meaning to you than he will to me, even when we read the same passage. So long as what we each believe that passage to mean is contextually accurate and hermeneutically validated, we can both be right. For instance, some prophecies have dual-meanings, and if you see the current meaning and I see the future meaning, we are both saying something different about the same thing, and we are both correct.

I know this is confusing and may make some of you feel uneasy and doubtful. That is good! Never accept what anyone says as correct, not even me- always verify it for yourself in the Bible using the proper tools of interpretation. And always, always, always ask God for guidance and understanding.

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Share me out and please don’t hesitate to make comments: all I ask is that you be nice.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch Ha Shem!

Being in Control Doesn’t Mean You’re Controlling Everything

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How often do we proclaim that God is in control?

How many times (you don’t really have to count) does the Bible tell us that God is in control?

Yet, it seems that too many times we see things happening in the world that would indicate God is not in control. We see good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good ones.  We see mass murders, crimes go unpunished, people in positions of authority abuse that authority and no one does anything about it.

The writer of the Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) asked about these things as well, and his conclusion was that nothing really matters- all our efforts are as useless as chasing the wind. His final statement is that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

With all due respect to the writer of Kohelet, I have the answer to why it seems God is not in control:

Being in Control Doesn’t Mean You’re Controlling Everything

I was in the business world for some 40 plus years and most of that time was in control of something: my own office, a department, a number of different departments, and anywhere from 12 to over 350 people at one time or another. And what I learned from that is when you are the one in charge, to develop your people and give them the skills and understanding that they need to improve themselves, you sometimes have to leave them in control and let them screw up on their own.

Of course, you don’t let them screw up anything really important, or anything that would cause harm to themselves or others, but just let them have their way with the little things and give them the chance to swim, or sink.

And always be there to fish them out if they need you to.

With God and humanity, it is the same. God is in control of everything- there is nothing he cannot do or make happen. But just because he can make anything happen doesn’t mean he will make anything happen. He will often leave us to our own devices to allow us to learn the important lessons we need to learn.

What are those lessons? Well, for one, we need to learn to depend on God and not on our own strength. What better way to do that then leave us alone to totally mess things up to the point where we have to call on him for help?

Another lesson we need to learn is patience, as in waiting on God for justice. What better way to do that than to allow evil to propagate and let us see it happen?

I like to say, “Proverbs 20:22 tells us, ‘Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the LORD, and he will avenge you.‘, and sometimes God actually let’s us see that happen.”

One of the most important lessons we need to learn is about forgiveness. How can we learn that unless someone hurts us?

God is unquestionably able to control everything that happens everywhere, but he doesn’t. He controls everything by not controlling everything and allowing us to control those things that will lead us to better understand God, his ways and our role in his plan of salvation.

Don’t let yourself be fooled by those that argue because of all the evil and wrong done in the world God doesn’t exist because if he did, he would not allow it. They just don’t understand how it works. They are trying to box God into their own understanding and desires and that will never work. God is so far above us that we cannot even imagine or ever understand his ways, and we shouldn’t be able to.

I once read that a God who can be understood by the mind of Man is not worthy of the worship of Man. I totally agree.

I am not all that upset when I see the evil that is being done in the world, but it is not because I like or condone it. Just like you, I would love to see evil excised from our lives but it ain’t gonna happen until God is ready to take out his righteous vengeance on the nations.  My response to evil is not apathy, but trusting confidence that God will render justice when he is ready, and that his justice will be perfect.

I know that God will let me control whatever things he puts in my power to control, and as long as I try to let God lead me I know he is there waiting to catch me if (and when) I mess up.

 

Pruning hurts, but it is a necessary pain

I wonder if the place where I worship will even be here in a year. We have a very small congregation, and need to disassociate ourselves with the Assembly of God, which will result in a significant loss of available funds. It’s a long story and not for print, but suffice it to say we are being “realigned” (as our Senior Pastor calls it), and this realignment is painful.

Maybe lethal- who knows?

Some of the people who have been faithful and constant are feeling led to serve in other congregations and churches; even though they still come on Friday nights, they also go to other places to help on some Friday’s (so we don’t see them) and Sunday services. One or two have indicated they will probably leave completely (on good terms, of course) because they feel led to go elsewhere.

I don’t see this, as some might, as a rebellion or desertion: it is pruning. When a branch gives forth good fruit, it is cut off from the main trunk and replanted elsewhere, so that it can grow more than it would be able to on the tree that first nourished it. It is painful but it is necessary for growth. Of course, being cut off and replanted is tough- it hurts, you miss the regular flow of nourishment you first received, and it is scary. The root that has fed you for many years is now gone, and you are on your own.

It’s like finally moving out of your Mother’s basement.

We are in a realignment, in that the mission of the Zionist Revival Center (our website is: zionistrevivalcenter.org) has moved from the cookie-cutter “Save-the-World” Christian mission to being a teaching ministry. Not just to teach Christians about their Hebraic Roots (which is a major part), but to teach Christian churches what is their true role in the plan of Salvation. That being that the “Church” is grafted onto the Tree of Life, which is the Torah. And, as is taught throughout the New Covenant writings, being grafted on means feeding from that one root, which God provided to all in His Word.  To be able to do what God has planned for the Gentiles who have been saved by Messiah Yeshua, all churches need to be one with Israel and support the Jewish people. This is, unfortunately, not the standard teaching in most Christian churches, who reject Judaism (Israel, the Jewish people and the Torah) because of nearly two thousand years of wrongful teaching.

Since we are teaching “against the tide” of traditional Christian understanding, getting the word out will be difficult; getting congregants will be even more difficult, and we really need to trust God to help us. You see, there are so many churches in Melbourne (Florida) that if you spit in any direction on a windy day, it will land on some church. We want to teach the “Church” it’s role in God’s plan of salvation, and we also want our congregation to grow, but we don’t want to “steal” the sheep from other places, so it is a sort of balancing act. We need to work with the other churches, and stealing their members is not going to help us reach that goal, so we are facing a difficult road.

But, then again, with God all things are possible. I see us fulfilling an essential role and I totally agree with our vision/mission.

For our own people, we are going to have different Shabbat services to “mix it up”; one Friday will be song worship, one Friday teaching, one Friday testimonials, one Friday prayer worship, etc. We will have five different types of Shabbat services, scheduled ahead of time, and we expect that those who like music will come to that worship service, but those who don’t, won’t (on that Friday); those who like prayer will come to prayer services but those that don’t want to be in prayer for an hour or so, won’t (on that Friday.)

In the long run, who knows what this will do? That is why I started out saying that we may end up pruning ourselves- the scary thought is when you cut yourself off, how do you replant yourself?

This blog is my ministry, and I would love for it to grow. I guess I need to get back on Face Book, Twitter, Google Plus (and whatever) other social media in order to gain wider exposure. I trust in God to make things happen, but I also believe He expects us to show that trust by stepping out as if we already knew what was going to happen. Abraham didn’t call AAA for a Trip Tik when God told him to leave Ur- he just up and left. That’s what real faith is- leaping without looking because you trust God to make sure there is something there to land on.

Please pray for our center, for our mission to be fulfilled, and for the Gentile world to come back to it’s roots- too many churches have cut themselves off from the very root that feeds them. I talk about this in my book, in the chapter called, “You Can’t Get Pears from an Apple Tree”- if the Gentiles that have been saved by Jesus want to be like Jesus, then they need to live and worship as Jesus did.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what traditional Christianity teaches.

Parashah Shmot (the names) Exodus 1-6:1

We all know this story- the Pharaoh that was hundreds of years after Joseph was of a totally different people and enslaves the Israelites from fear of their size. All the male babies are to be killed, Moses is hidden then sent down the Nile by his mother who trusts in God to protect her son. He is found by a daughter of Pharaoh, raised for the first years of his life by his mother, then returned to the Princess to be adopted into the royal family. Years later, as an adult, Moses sees one of his countrymen being beaten by an Egyptian (his mother had taught him about the God of Israel and his heritage), loses it and kills the Egyptian, then runs for his life. He goes to Midian, marries and becomes a shepherd. Years later he sees the burning bush, and is told by God that he will be God’s spokesman in order to get Pharaoh to free the people.

NOTE: If you feel you don’t know what your calling from God is, just be patient: Moses was 80 years of age before he found out.

He goes back to Egypt, faces Pharaoh and declares to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.”

Pharaoh doesn’t take too well to this, and orders that the Israelites are to now make bricks without being provided the straw, so instead of going home at sundown to rest they had to glean the fields all night. That didn’t make them very happy at all, and the Parashah ends with Moses about to get stoned by the people for making their lives even more miserable than before he came to free them.

I want to take one little line, just a few words from this Parashah, and talk about them today. They are found in Chapter 3, verse 14, when God tells Moses His name. The exact translation is: Ehyeh asher ehyeh– I am that I am.

This seems to be a simple statement, but it is in reality, vast. Popeye the Sailor says, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam…”and in his case, his statement is simple. Popeye is his own man, he is a modest and simple person who doesn’t profess to be anything other than what we see.

However, when God says “I am that I am” He means that He is now what He is, He has always been what He is, and He will always be what He is. Popeye is Popeye only during his lifetime, but God is God, God has been God, and God will always be God- there is no timeline for God.

When we try to put a timeline on God we end up upset and disappointed with Him. But how can we ever expect God to be constrained to our parameters of time and space? He is beyond physics, He is beyond restrictions, He is beyond understanding.

I can count to a Million, but can I really understand what a Million is? I can know who God is, but can I understand Him? Not a chance. He is beyond human understanding; as such, we must trust in His knowledge and timing, and ability to do that which He says He will do. Such was the lesson Moses was learning when he first went to Pharaoh. He had the staff that turned into a snake and the hand-leprosy trick: to Moses that must have seemed like more than enough to get Pharaoh’s attention. When it failed, and failed miserably, I am sure Moses was having second thoughts. In fact, we read how he asks God, essentially, what’s the story? Why isn’t this working as you said it would?

That’s because God had more planned to happen then Moses was aware of, and God kept it that way. God told Moses what He was going to do, but didn’t spell out every step of the procedure. He didn’t need to because He is (after all) God, and Moses didn’t have a “Need to Know” at that time. Faith is walking in complete darkness and trusting God to tell you where to step. Moses needed to develop that level of trust, which is why (in my opinion) God took Moses step by step through the Plagues, telling Moses only that which he needed to know, and only when he needed to know it.

We should be walking as Moses did (once he caught on), trusting in God to tell us where to step and where to avoid stepping. Moses was the most blessed of people in that he got to speak with God, face-to-face, but what we have is the very next best thing- we have the in-dwelling Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, to be our spiritual GPS, leading us in the way God wants us to walk. The hard part, for us, is to listen to it.

Well, maybe not for you, maybe you can hear and obey the Ruach, but I confess it is very hard for me to continually be led by the Spirit. Even my language is hard to control (we could do an entire year of lessons on the difficulty of controlling the tongue), so you can imagine how much more difficult is it for me to control my actions. I am happy to report that I am making progress, slow as molasses going uphill against the wind in February, but still, it is progress. Three steps forward and two steps backsliding is still one step closer to God, and that is all we can hope for- getting closer to God, day by day, step by step.

When you feel that God isn’t doing as you thought He should, or you are getting impatient waiting for a prayer to be fulfilled, remember that God is eternal and we are mortal- apples and oranges- and it is unfair to God (and to us) to expect that we will be able to understand what is happening in our lives as God directs us. Work on following God’s instructions, remembering and trusting in the fact that He is what He was, and He will always be that which He is. That’s a really difficult concept to wrap your head around, but don’t worry about understanding it. You don’t need to.

Understanding what God is going to do is not necessary to accomplishing what God is calling you to do: all you need to do is trust Him and follow His lead.

“What if…” thinking is faithless living

What do you think about when something is about to occur? Do you look forward to change? Do you embrace new ideas and new challenges?

Or are you the type who thinks, “What if…?” whenever something different is about to happen, or you need to do something?

Those of us who profess to believe in God and trust in Him should not be living out a  “What if…?” life.

So what if “what if…” happens?  Do you really trust in God? Do you really believe that there isn’t anything on the earth, or in the heavens above, or in the depth of the seas that God is not in control of?

When I read the Psalms, and the Prophets, and the letters from Shaul (Paul) to the newly formed Messianic communities (there was no “church” in the first century) I can read what is in-between the lines: they all suffered much. The Prophets suffered much, as did Moses (emotionally), as did Jeremiah (emotionally and physically), as did David, as did Shaul, as did Kefa (Peter), as did…well, just about every righteous person we read about in the bible experienced suffering. Being righteous in an unrighteous world is asking for Tsouris (Yiddish for “troubles”) and even Yeshua (Jesus) tells us that if we wish to follow Him we must be prepared to carry our own execution stake (Matthew 16:24); Jesus is telling us that to follow Him is no bed of roses, and will, in fact, cause us strife and difficulty.

So if you want to wonder “What if..”, you don’t need to: if what you are going to do is pleasing to God, it will be difficult, you will have troubles, you will have to suffer, emotionally, physically, maybe even both, and you will not like it.

So, you may ask, if doing what pleases God will cause us pain and suffering in the world, why should we do that? The answer is: because it is pleasing to God. Because it is what leads to righteousness, it moves away from sin, it works to bring you closer to God, and in the long run (meaning eternity) it will bring rewards that are so much greater than the level of suffering that the suffering will be forgotten.

In other words, keep your eyes on the prize, look towards the goal, and do not hang your head and see nothing but where your feet are walking. Tunnel vision is a handicap and dangerous when walking. With regards to your spiritual life, having tunnel vision (i.e., looking only at what is directly in front of you and not seeing the end result) is more than dangerous- it can lead to spiritual suicide.

We need to keep walking in God’s will, along the pathway He designed for us, individually and corporately. God’s path is a straight path, it is a narrow path, and we can always see the end. When we walk with our heads hanging down, looking only at each step we take, trusting only in our own ability to walk, we are forced to wonder “What if…” because we can’t see where we are going. People- you can’t see where the path leads when you are only looking at your feet! It’s no wonder that you wonder what will happen with each and every step you take.

Keep your spiritual eyes ahead of you, trust in God, I mean, REALLY trust in God and show Him you trust in Him (as you will also be showing others) by confidently walking in faith. Walk tall, walk securely, walk with confidence that no matter what dangers or trials you will encounter on the road, you know God is there, walking alongside you and guiding you. It’s like the poem about footprints in the sand; trusting in God means walking looking ahead and never questioning or doubting God’s presence and help.

We all want to be like fine gold and pure silver; the good news is that we will be, so long as we continue to walk in God’s will; the bad news is that it can’t happen without going through the furnace. So, Brothers and Sisters, look forward to going through the furnace, and never ask “What if…” because God already knows what will happen, and He always allows whatever happens to work to the good for those that trust in Him and are called in accordance with His word (Romans 8:28): so, be confident, be sure, be faithful.

Living a “What if..” life is living a faithless life.

 

Parashah Mikketz (it came to pass), Genesis 41-44:17

Joseph is still in jail, unjustly accused by Potipher’s wife, and now forgotten by the cup bearer to Pharaoh, but God has given him grace and Joseph is in charge, the position we would call “Trustee.”

Pharaoh has a dream, the dream of the 7 ears of corn and the 7 cows, and is so troubled by it that he calls all the magicians and soothsayers to interpret it, but none can. Now the cup bearer remembers Joseph, and Joseph is brought forth. Joseph interprets the dream and consults Pharaoh regarding how to prepare for the coming famine. Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams and manage things that he immediately appoints him Grand Vizier over all of Egypt. Pharaoh also, it is important to note, gives credit (as Joseph did from the start) to God, whose spirit rests in Joseph. The honor bestowed on Joseph also honors God.

Now Joseph is “The Man”, married into a very influential family and running the country. The famine has hit so hard and is so extensive that Israel’s sons and their families feel the crunch, so Israel tells his sons to go to Egypt and buy food (apparently Israel had to give them a bit of a kick in the pants to get them going.) The sons go down, all except Benjamin, who Israel has been dotting over and guarding like a prized fragile vase. The brothers go to Joseph, who recognizes them in an instant, but they do not recognize him. That makes sense, since (for a start) why would they ever expect to even see Joseph again, let alone expect to see him as an Egyptian noble. Joseph is dressed differently, is groomed like an Egyptian, wearing royal clothing and (probably) eye shadow and mascara. Even his voice would be different since he was only 17 when they threw him in the cistern and now he is a 30-year old man.

So begins the testing by Joseph of his brothers: not a vengeful retribution but a test to see if they have repented of the evil they did to him. And the brothers, having been accused of spying out the land and placed in custody, immediately count all that is happening to them as just deserts for the way they treated Joseph. It’s been 13 years, yet the first thing they think of when they are in trouble and misjudged is that God is striking them for their sin against their brother.

Joseph lets them think about it for 3 days, then announces that he is a fair man and will hold only one hostage so the rest can bring the needed food to their families. Simeon is taken as the hostage (the reason for this, according to Rabbinical thought, is because Simeon was the one who first suggested killing Joseph, so maybe a little “get-back” is happening here) and the brothers are told that if they ever return without the youngest to prove their innocence, then they will be killed. They relate this to Israel, who now finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place: let Benjamin go down with the brothers and risk losing him, or keep Benjamin at home and risk dying of starvation and leaving Simeon in jail for the rest of his life.

Finally, Judah (the leader) guarantees Benjamin’s safety and Israel relents. They go down, prove their story and Joseph, who is finding it harder and harder to maintain his identity a secret, invites them all to dine with him at his house. He tests them, one last time, by hiding a cup of his in Benjamin’s pack and after they leave he sends his men to catch up with them and accuse them of stealing. They rashly make an oath that whoever has stolen anything will be killed, and lo! Benjamin is the one. Totally crestfallen, they are all taken back to Joseph for judgement. Here we are left hanging until the next Parashah.

This seems to be easily explained with the old adage, “What goes around, comes around.” The brothers mistreated Joseph, and now they are being mistreated, as well. They immediately accept that their sins have caught up with them, and although they are scared for their lives, they accept their misfortune as deserved.

How many of us are willing to accept the results of our own inappropriate actions or words? Isn’t it true that when we do something wrong, the first reaction is to avoid the blame? To say, “Well, you could’ve done this” or “They should’ve done something to prevent that”, or just, “I didn’t mean it.”  The harm is done, and now someone has to pay, so if it is me, I need to get away from the pointing finger. Many people take almost a pridefulness in being able to avoid the consequences of their actions. I call those types “Teflon people”, because nothing ever “sticks” to them.

Those who fear God, who try to do their best, who show maturity and honesty, will always accept the consequences of their actions. President Truman used to have a sign on his desk that said, “The buck stops here”, meaning that ultimately he was responsible. He took that responsibility seriously, as well, and when we are responsible we are more careful about what we do and say.

Joseph knew what his brothers felt about him when he was a child, and certainly has never forgotten what they did to him. Yet, instead of feeling vengeful he wanted to embrace them because he had already forgiven them. I think it becomes clear as the story goes along that he was also desperate to reconcile with them. He was the one harmed but he showed understanding, forgiveness and love- all those things God likes us to do. But he wasn’t stupid about it- forgiveness doesn’t mean trusting again. His desire to reconcile was tempered by his common sense to make sure that before he lets them know who he is, which could mean their trying to take advantage of his position and power, he first tests their morality and trustworthiness.

We need to learn that no matter how poorly someone has mistreated us, the only way to overcome the pain and insult is to forgive and reconcile; first we forgive in our hearts, but we shouldn’t try to reconcile until we know their hearts. Forgiveness is first and foremost between the one that has been hurt and God, whereas the one hurt shows God that he or she has forgiven the sinner. That is the most important thing because forgiving someone who has sinned against you makes YOU right with God, and has nothing to do with their relationship with God. They need to ask God’s forgiveness. If they ask forgiveness from you, that’s a really good thing, but (ultimately) they need to ask for and be forgiven by God because He is the one who counts. Your forgiveness will do nothing to help them repair the rift between them and God that their sin caused.

We forgive the sinner to make ourselves right with God, which then also relieves the pain of the insult and mistreatment we suffered. If the sinner is willing and desiring to be forgiven by you, you have already done so, but that person needs to prove they have changed before you should trust them or reconcile. Let’s say I worked for you, and as your office manager I stole from you. I am caught, I return what I stole, and I ask for forgiveness. You forgive, and are even willing to let me work for you again, but you should not place me in a position where I can steal from you. Forgiveness is a spiritual thing, and not to be confused with real-life common sense. I abrogated a trust, and forgiveness works toward repairing our relationship but doesn’t reinstate the trust. The trust you had for me I now need to reestablish.

When God forgives our sins, they are forgotten, but when humans forgive, we should not totally forget what we forgave until the other person proves their true T’shuvah, repentance, and through their actions regains the trust that they violated.

Forgiveness is a spiritual action, whereas trust is real-life: always give them the chance to reconcile and regain trust, but don’t be naive about it.

Parashah Shelach Lecha (Send out) Numbers 13:1-15:41

This parashah tells us of the spies that went into the land and returned after 40 days with a report that disheartened and demoralized the entire camp of the Hebrews.

What really happened was that God provided everything He said He would, brought us to the land He promised our fathers, and showed us it’s wonderful riches.

And we said , “No thanks- we can’t do this.”

After all God showed us, all the miracles, all the battles we had won up to this point against strong enemies, all the wonders He had performed- fire at night, cloud by day, Miriam turning into a leper and recovering, the plagues, the Red Sea splitting, water for millions in the desert, manna from heaven, and on and on and on. After all that, they still only saw what God told them He would do coming as a result of their own strength and their own ability.

Jeez! How stupid can you get?

On the other hand, here is a generation that was raised in slavery, without any self-respect, without any self-confidence or self-governing training. They were, as a result of how they lived and were raised, truly unfit for self-rule. That isn’t a slap in the face, it is a statement of fact. However, for God, that didn’t matter. He proved to them that He was all they needed to be protected and cared for, and after all He did they still weren’t able to trust in Him. They can’t blame their upbringing for that.

He was ready to destroy the entire camp, but with Moses’ intervention, only the 10 spies that spread the bad reports died immediately, the rest died in the desert while wandering for 38 more years.

The parashah ends with God reviewing the regulations for sacrifice, which will happen when they are in the land. This seems out of place, but it is a confirmation that, although God will not allow them to enter the land now, He will bring them in, eventually.

This is a powerful lesson for us- the lesson being that God is always the power behind the action. When we walk with God He will provide and protect, and when we walk on our own we can’t do much at all.

It also shows us that once we have been judged, we are judged. God determined that He would not allow this generation into the land, and when they tried to attack the Canaanites (just another rebellion against God’s commands) they were severely beaten.

How many times do we still “kick against the goads” when we are trying to do something? When the people were given the chance to enter the land, they refused; yes, they were scared and they were feeling helpless in the light of what seemed to be overwhelming odds, but isn’t that the difference between the faithful and the faithless? If Arnold Schwarzenegger beat me up, so what? That would be expected. But if I kicked his Mr. Olympia butt into next week, that has to be the work of a supernatural power! That is what faith can do- help you overcome overwhelming odds.

David beating Goliath, Gideon overcoming an army, Samson killing a lion; these biblical events have one thing in common- God was the real power behind the action. The things these people did was not from the ability of humans, but from the power of God.

We need, even today- no! especially today- to rely on God in everything we do. In today’s world we aren’t attacked just physically but digitally, too. We are having our very identities stolen and we don’t even know it. Financial ruin today is as terrible as a drought or a famine was in biblical days. We face the End Times, which are lurking right around the corner. We are seeing prophecy become fact, hurricanes and Tsunamis, murder, religious genocide, and where is God?

Right where He always has been- in the wings, waiting for us to call on Him to come out to center stage.

The generation that died in the desert deserved that, although it really wasn’t all their fault- they were the result of their upbringing. Yet, Joshua and Caleb were also the result of their upbringing and they didn’t falter or go along with the bad reports. Consequently, they were allowed to go into the land. They had to wait, from no fault of their own, but they made it. And God kept them strong enough to not only conquer their land, but live long enough to enjoy their victory.  God is no respecter of persons, and when someone has done evil in His eyes, whether or not it was by their own choice or a result of what they had been taught, they are accountable.

That is another lesson for us today, which is something you will hear me saying over and over- it doesn’t matter what you are told by people, what matters is what God tells you. Don’t you think there were people in that generation destined to die in the desert that felt it wasn’t their fault? They were just doing and acting like everyone else! And what happened?- because they did what the others told them to do, they were judged as the others were judged. If one sins, and others follow that person in his or her sin, then they are sinners, too. Innocently or by volition, it makes no-never-mind to God: if you follow someone in their sin (just ‘following orders’ is not repentance, it is an excuse) you join them in their judgment.

Yeshua tells us that when the blind lead the blind they BOTH fall into a pit (Matthew 15:14), and that means pleading innocence or ignorance when you are before the Judge of the World, you will be told, “I understand you were just doing as your (fill in whatever religious leader title you want) told you, but it’s what I told you to do that counts. Sorry. Here is your bottle of SPF 10,000 and an umbrella- enjoy your afterlife! Going down!”

God is the power, God is the way, God is the relief, God is everything to everyone, everyday, forever. Amen! When you trust in God you will be unbeatable- even after a loss, you will end up winning as long as you maintain your faith. The Hebrews got their tuchas whipped but later they destroyed their enemies. God is eternal, and when we put our faith and trust in Him, that means that we are on an eternal plane.

Life will always have it’s ups and downs; the trick to overcoming life is by trusting faithfully in God to direct it. Trusting that God will do what He says He will do will allow you to see your life as more than just birth to death: you will realize it is only a dress rehearsal for eternity.

Life is temporary, eternity is forever. Choose to live for eternal rewards, keep your eyes on the Kingdom, and trust in God to provide everything you need.

Real faith doesn’t require understanding how God does it, it only requires that you trust He will.

Everyday Faith

We talk about having faith in God, but what does that really mean?  Does it mean believing God exists? Yes. Does it mean accepting that He has created everything and is who and what we hear about him? Yes, it does. Does it mean accepting that His promises of salvation are true and trustworthy? Absolutely!

But how do we show our faith? In the book of James we are told that faith without works is dead, so one way to show our faith is to do those things that please God (He is very clear about what pleases Him throughout the bible) and to use those talents and gifts He has given us to give Him glory.

We minister to others; we become missionaries for God and His Messiah (for those that have accepted Yeshua as their Messiah), whether in the Third World or our own backyard, or we just live simple lives demonstrating our trust and faith to all we meet and know.

That is the topic for today- whether or not our everyday life demonstrates true faith in God.

Do you worry about things? Do you show one line of the bible to be not exactly true? Which line? The one about how we cannot make even one hair on our head black or white (Matthew 5:36.) If we go through life worrying about everything we will not only have gray hairs, we may make them fall out, altogether! (I know- it’s just an Old Wives tale.)

I rear-ended someone last week because I didn’t watch the road carefully enough. No one was hurt, her car has little damage (it will still cost a lot to replace her bumper) and my car may actually be totaled because of all the front end parts that are busted- I will find out this morning. Am I upset?- you bet I am! I am mad at myself for being careless (of course, that’s why they call it an “accident”, isn’t it?) and upset about the damage I can’t fix. I am also concerned that my rates might go up. All justifiable and understandable concerns, but am I worried about it?

No. I am not. I know that whether or not the car can be repaired or whether or not I have to get another car, or whether or not the insurance company will raise my rates is going to happen whether or not I worry about it. And if I dwell on it, I am not just worrying for no good, but I am demonstrating my lack of faith in God.

I gave this all to God the other day. I know that from my past I can trust God to handle it, to provide transportation if I need it or to give me a way to resolve my immediate and temporary problem. By the end of this year whatever the solution will be to this it will be old hat and I will be so used to it that this event will be forgotten.

That’s what everyday faith looks like.

It doesn’t mean I am not concerned, it doesn’t mean I am not upset that I may have to take on more debt or spend savings, and it doesn’t mean I am preaching fatalism or apathy. In fact, I fully trust God to make whatever I need available, and the only thing I am “worried” about, if I may use the term, is my ability to properly hear what God is telling me to do.

This morning I take the car to the body shop to find out what the story is, and then I either make arrangements to rent one while this one gets fixed or I look for another car.

Did you see the movie, “Bridge of Spies?” In this movie, the spy that was captured by America and was being traded for Capt. Gary Powers had a very calm, almost fatalistic attitude. I took it to be the quiet, professional resignation any spy should show, once captured, to the inevitability of their situation. Every time Tom Hank’s character asked the spy if he was worried or scared, the answer was something like, “Would it make any difference?” I thought that was more than just quiet resignation- I saw that as the ultimate indication of faith.

Of course, a Russian spy during the Cold War wouldn’t be a faithful follower of God, but we are. We should have that same trust and faith in our everyday lives to show everyone else the inner peace that comes from knowing God is on our side, that He is more than able to handle anything, and that no matter what happens we can remain calm and comforted because we know that all things work to the good for those that are called in His name (Romans 8:28.)

That is everyday faith. Do you show that to others? Do people ask you how you can remain so calm in the midst of certain destruction? Are people amazed, maybe even a little angry with you, because you are always sure that things will work out?

If you can’t answer that with a “yes”, then you need to work on your everyday faith. I know I do.

Making a big show of how much we love the Lord by dancing in the aisles, going to synagogue or church every Sabbath, volunteering, ministering on the streets- all that is good; there is nothing wrong with it at all. But if you worry about every little detail, if you are upset when things go wrong to the point of crying out, “What do we do now?” and if people do not see you as having a calming effect on everyone, then you are not showing faith in God to those who desperately need to see how wonderful that faith can make us feel in the midst of Tsouris.

Everyday faith is one of the best ways to demonstrate to others your faith in God, which will also bring glory to Him. It might even make them jealous of what you have to the point they start to wonder if this is something they should have, for themselves. I know people can come to faith that way, because my journey to finding God started by seeing the calm and peaceful attitude of Believers that God placed in my life, and I wanted to feel that way.

Yeshua tells us in Matthew 6:24, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

How about we think of it this way: today was tomorrow, yesterday, and we are told not to worry about tomorrow, therefor since every day is (yesterday’s) tomorrow, just don’t worry, period.

God can handle it, no matter what it is, and even if we feel we can’t handle the Tsouris we are going through, our everyday faith in God will show others that we know it will be alright, eventually.

And that everyday faith in God is what will allow us to handle it, too.