Kol Nidre Message 2018

If you prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.

This night, September 18, 2018, is Kol Nidre, the eve of Yom Kippur. As such I would like to share the traditional message I used to give when I was “acting” Rabbi (for about 1-1/2 years) at the Northeast Philadelphia Messianic Synagogue I had attended for 17 years.

Before we go into the message, I have a beautiful rendering of the Kol Nidre prayer which you can watch by clicking on this link: Kol Nidre.

For centuries, the Kol Nidre prayer has been used as a polemic against the Jewish people, accusing us of being untrustworthy and stating that our word is useless.  At one point there was even a movement within Judaism to remove this prayer. That movement came to a stop once it was discovered that the prayer dates back to 17th Century Spain, where persecution of the Jews was taking place under the Inquisition. Many thousands of Jews were forced to forgo their beliefs and swear allegiance to Christianity or suffer torture and death.  That is why even though the Torah requires us to strictly adhere to any oaths we take, this prayer seems to be an anomaly; however, we are not asking to be released from valid oaths and contracts we make but only from those oaths we were coerced into making.

On this day, when we ask God to forgive us our sins, we must realize that we have an obligation to forgive those that have sinned against us.  And not just to forgive others, but to forgive ourselves, as well.

It is strange that we are willing sometimes to forgive others their sins against us but we will not forgive ourselves for sins we have committed against others. After all, if we love others enough to forgive them their sins, shouldn’t we love ourselves enough to forgive our sins? Doesn’t it say in Leviticus 19:18, “Love thy neighbor as thyself?” If we love our neighbor enough to forgive them, then shouldn’t we do the same for ourselves?

If I ask God for forgiveness but refuse to forgive myself, then I am placing myself above God!  So many times I have heard someone say, “How can God possibly forgive me for this?” That person doesn’t understand Grace and doesn’t understand that God is able to do so much more than we can.  In Romans 5:20 we are told that where sin is increased, so too is Grace.  There is no sin too great or too horrible for God to forgive. 

And God is not just willing to forgive: he desires to forgive! He is so compassionate that he assumes our sins are accidental.  Numbers 15:25-26 states that we will be forgiven from our sins we did “in error”; in other words, God assumes that we did not intend to sin but that we did it by accident!  What a wonderful demonstration of the compassionate understanding and forgiving nature of God! 

But let us not forget that disobedience of the Torah is still rebellion and a sin. And the wages of sin is still death (Romans 6:23.) However, because of God’s forgiving nature, he is willing to see our sins as his children making a foolish mistake.  However, that is no reason for you to get comfortable with your sin- sin MUST be removed from our lives if we want to be with God eternally. He may look upon us with compassion and love but he is still God, and there can be no sin in his presence.

Too many people have been taught that “Once saved, always saved” is how things work under the blood of Yeshua. That is a lie. We are not to take advantage of God’s willingness to forgive us and just assume he will, which can only lead to an attitude of unrepentance. If we think it is OK to sin now and then, that is like trampling the blood of Messiah into the dirt. Even though God understands it is our nature to do so, it is NEVER acceptable to sin.

Because we cannot overcome our nature, Yeshua came to earth and sacrificed himself for us so that through his goodness we have the opportunity to overcome our sinfulness.

Today we pray for forgiveness and ask God for the atonement of our sins. This is a process:

  1. First, we must recognize our sin and take responsibility for it so we recite the Al Chet prayer, also called the Ashamnoo (we are guilty);
  2. We must choose to do Teshuvah (repent) and remove sin from our lives;
  3. Once we have done these two things, only then can we ask God to forgive us. Because we cannot sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, we ask forgiveness through the blood of the Messiah, who gave his life as a ransom for us over 2,000 years ago and through his innocent shedding of blood we can receive forgiveness (Messianic Jews/Hebrews 9:22.) 

Some of you may be asking why bother to go through fasting and prayer to ask forgiveness when we already have it through Yeshua ha Mashiach?  The answer is simple: because it is a commandment! Besides that, don’t we still sin? Don’t we still need to ask forgiveness? “Once saved, always saved” is hogwash and a lie from the pit of Sheol which is designed to keep us out of God’s Grace. We need to ask forgiveness of our sin(s) every single day! Maybe even more than once per day. So, nu? If we are to ask forgiveness any time we sin, why should we not ask on this day, the one day that God specifically said we should?  

Another reason is to show solidarity with our unsaved Jewish brothers and sisters. Look at the prayers we recite on this day (the Al Chet and the Amidah) – they ask forgiveness for the sins WE have committed. Not the sins I have, but the sins we have committed. These prayers are community prayers because in Judaism God sees the entire nation of Israel as a single entity. We are not just responsible for our own sins, but for the sins of all Jews; those who came before us and those who are with us. 

One last word: what we do on this day is not to be left in the Synagogue or Church- we are to take this attitude of Teshuvah and forgiveness for others out into the world. Going to Shul on the High Holy Days isn’t enough. We meet together to reinforce each other and to strengthen each other so that we are able to go back out there- back into the darkness to be a light. What we do today is what we should be doing every day.

So whether you are attending Shul all day or staying home and worshiping with God alone, take what you do out into the world with you tomorrow and every day thereafter.

The Day of Jubilee is on Yom Kippur for a Good Reason

This Shabbat (29 September, 2017) is also Kol Nidre, the first evening of Yom Kippur. As such, the traditional Torah reading is Leviticus 16:1-34 which are the rulings regarding this day.

However, I am going to talk about Leviticus 25: 8-10, which goes as follows:

You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.  Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land.  And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.

The Jubilee Year is designed to allow every Israelite to return to take possession of his ancestral land, and to be freed of any and all debts that he has incurred. It allows him  and his family to restart their life in their own home and without any debt. The economy of this action is remarkable: it prevents land grabbing, it maintains a working class, it establishes a moral economy, and it prevents people from being sold into slavery forever. It maintains a family standard of wealth, in that their property will always revert to them, at some point in the future, if they should ever fall on bad times.

It is not unlike the biblical prophecies regarding the Children of Israel that state no matter how many times they are conquered, or how far from home they are dispersed, their homeland and their own, personal property will always be there and one day God will bring them back to it.

Yom Kippur also allows us to restart our life debt free; not free from owing money to someone, but free from the debt we owe to God for our sins.

When we sin we owe God restitution- whether it be blood of the innocent, grain, 1/5th additional to what we took, or any combination of those things. What we owe Him is more, though, than just things- we owe Him our life. When we sin we separate ourselves from God, and our eternal life is then forfeit. The only way we can be reunited and gain back our eternity is to pay the debt. Yom Kippur provides us a single point in time where we can know that our debt will be paid off and we will start anew.

The Jubilee Year and Yom Kippur have this in common- both free us from debt; the former from worldly debt, and the latter from spiritual debt. The year when Yom Kippur and Jubilee fall together is certainly a joyous occasion, even though Yom Kippur is a solemn event.

In case you were not aware, 2017 is a Jubilee Year, and starting on Saturday evening, 9/30/2017 all Jews are to receive back their ancestral lands. I live in Florida, in the United States, and don’t even know what tribe I belong to, but I do know this: I will be forgiven of my sins and somewhere in Israel is a plot of land that belongs to me.

As a Messianic Jew who has accepted Yeshua ha Maschiach (Jesus Christ) as my Savior, you may ask why I need to fast or worship on Yom Kippur. After all, didn’t Yeshua die for our sins? Yes, He did, but He didn’t change the commandments. Yom Kippur, including the fast, is still a commandment of God and all who worship God should obey it. Not because I believe, as my fellow  “mainstream” Jews do, it is the only means of forgiveness, but simply because it is commanded. I think we should also fast and worship as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people, most of whom have not accepted Yeshua, to show them that believing in Yeshua doesn’t mean one is no longer an observant Jew. Most any Jew will tell you, if you are Jewish and believe in Yeshua as your Messiah, you aren’t a Jew anymore because you have to be a Christian if you believe in Jesus. It’s really sad- they don’t even know what the term “believe in Jesus” means!

Today is a very, very special day- the Yom Kippur of Jubilee Year! We are freed from debt to Man and to sin, and we can start our lives afresh, clean and unencumbered.

Of course, this is a spiritual statement; I don’t suggest going to the local bank branch and insisting that because this is the Yom Kippur Jubilee Year you would like the deed to your house. I think you will find yourself on the sidewalk.

One last note: since Yom Kippur is all about forgiveness, I also suggest there be one other type of debt you relieve yourself of. That is the onerous debt of unforgiveness for others. Starting at sundown tonight we will be praying and fasting, asking God to move from the Throne of Judgement to the Throne of Mercy and to forgive us the debt of our sins, which we owe Him. We must, therefore, also forgive those that owe us a debt of sin, whether they ask for it or not.

Remember Matthew 6:14-15:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Remember also the parable in Matthew 18:23-35 about the man that was forgiven a large debt and refused to forgive one who owed him only a little. It didn’t go well for the one who refused to forgive. It will be the same for you and me if we refuse to forgive, so on this day, more than on any other day, as you pray to God for forgiveness, think also of those that have sinned against you, and forgive them!

Believe me, please, when I say that the heaviness of spirit we feel when we have monetary debts is nothing compared to the emotional emptiness you feel when you are unforgiving.  Debts can be paid, after which they are just a memory, but unforgiveness is a poison that eats away your heart, little by little, until you can’t even love anymore.  It destroys all your relationships, and it hurts everyone you care about and who cares about you.

So celebrate the forgiveness you receive from God by forgiving others, especially those you have refused to forgive because they “don’t deserve it.” It doesn’t matter what they deserve because your unforgiveness separates you from God, and when you forgive them you will be reunited with the Lord in joy, the pain of being hurt will be gone, and a great weight will be lifted.

Forgiveness brings us closer to God, both when He forgives us and when we forgive others.

Parashah Bo (come) Exodus 10 – 13:16

The plagues continue, with locusts, darkness and the final plague, the death of the firstborn of Egypt.

Moses is instructed by God what the Israelites must do to be protected from the angel of death, for even though Goshen had been protected from the other plagues, it seems that the angel of death was over everyone and everything, and only the blood of the Passover Lamb would protect you from death. They are also told to sacrifice the lamb, and to make sure that the sacrifice is eaten in the prescribed manner, with nothing left over, and only those who are Israelites, or slaves and sojourners with Israel who have been circumcised may eat of this meal.

After the death of all the firstborn, both men and animals, Pharaoh lets the people go. They plunder the Egyptians, who give willingly, and leave the very next day. Moses reminds the people of the Passover regulations, commanding them to teach this story throughout all their generations and to eat the Passover meal (Seder) every year according to the way it should be done, with no leavened products for a week.

The term “The Passover Lamb” is first introduced to us in this parashah. To the Jewish people, the Passover Lamb represents freedom from slavery to Egypt, and is a very important part of our history. Because the Temple no longer exists, and the Torah specifies that the Passover Lamb had to be sacrificed at the Temple, we do not eat lamb at Passover; the usual dish chosen is chicken.

I have this great recipe for baked chicken: grease a pan, place the cleaned chicken pieces in the pan and spread butter over them. Sprinkle on salt, pepper, garlic powder and fresh parsley flakes. Bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes, or until the skin is browned and bubbling. YUM!!

The Passover Lamb means freedom from slavery to Jews, and to Christians it is a reference to Yeshua, who sacrificed Himself to free us from a different form of slavery: slavery to sin.

Now here is the interesting part: the Passover sacrifice was not a sin sacrifice- it was a thanksgiving sacrifice. There are 5 types of sacrifices:

  1. Whole Burnt Offering
  2. Meal Offering
  3. Peace Offering
  4. Sin Offering
  5. Guilt/Trespass Offering

The first three offerings are voluntary, and the last two are mandatory for atonement from sin. The main difference is that of all 5 sacrifices, the only one where both God and the person sacrificing shared of the meat was for the Peace, or Thanksgiving sacrifice. This was representative of the communion between man and God.

Yeshua’s sacrifice was clearly one made for the atonement of sin- it was most representative of the wholly burnt sacrifice, since His entire body was given to God. But wait! If the sacrifice Yeshua (Jesus) made was a sin sacrifice, why is He called the Passover Lamb? The Passover Lamb sacrifice was a peace offering, a Thanksgiving sacrifice, and not a sacrifice to atone from sin. So, then, is calling Yeshua the Passover Lamb really accurate?

Not from a human timeline, but since God is not subject to any timeline, we need to look at another specific sacrifice to find the complete relationship opportunity that Yeshua’s sacrifice made possible. That sacrifice is described to us in Leviticus 16- it is the Yom Kippur sacrifice. We are told to have 2 goats (not lambs)- one to be sacrificed and one to be released into the desert after the people have placed upon it’s head their sins. The goat that was chosen by lot to be sacrificed had it’s blood used to atone the alter and the Most Holy Place, and the rest of it was a burnt sacrifice. I checked the Chumash and did not see specifically where it mentioned if any portion of the Yom Kippur lamb was to be given to the Priests, but since God says that we are all to afflict our souls ( fast), clearly this had to be a wholly burnt sacrifice, with no parts being eaten by the Priests.

As we can see, Yeshua’s sacrifice was more like the Yom Kippur goat, not the Passover Lamb, so which is it? Did Yeshua’s sacrifice cleanse us of our sins, or bring us into communion with God?

The answer is: it has done both of these things at one time.

The way I see this working is that Yeshua took on our sins, as the Yom Kippur goat does, and freed us from sin when He sacrificed Himself on Passover. The Passover Lamb sacrifice was a Thanksgiving, or Peace offering which allowed us to commune with God. But, communion with God is not possible when we are covered in sin, so first we must have the sin removed. Only after we have been cleansed of our sins can we have complete communion with God and come into His presence. Under the Sacrificial System one had to perform two, separate sacrifices to attain this state of communion, but with Yeshua’s sacrifice both were accomplished, at once.

Yeshua is the Passover Lamb, which was a lamb chosen by man whose blood would protect them from death, and He is also the the Lamb of God, the Yom Kippur lamb chosen by God (through throwing lots) to atone for the sins of the people. He is both of these: God chose Yeshua to atone for the sins of the people, and when you choose Yeshua as your Passover Lamb, then you have both atonement of your sins and protection from death (not the first death, of course, but the second death, which is for all eternity.)

PS: Next week Donna and I will be on our annual anniversary cruise so I will not be blogging. Have a great week, and I will be back on February 13. 

God’s word is the same for everyone

Here I am, sitting at home, writing in my blog and wondering how much longer I will be able to go before the caffeine (actually, lack of caffeine) headache starts to hit. Last night began Yom Kippur, and we had a Kol Nidre (Hebrew for “All oaths”) service. Despite technical issues, it went well. Normally there would be prayer services all day, which makes the time go by faster, but not this year. Maybe, if we grow more and get enough people who want to celebrate this day in prayer, we can hold the evening and all day services, as well.

I was talking with someone last night who was drinking something from a cup as we talked, and this person has been a Believer and Hebraic Roots Christian (the other side of the Messianic Jew coin) for a long time. Yet, here he is, drinking in front of me knowing that I am fasting.

He was telling me of plans for a break-fast together at the house of one of the people who has a home fellowship meeting every Wednesday, and they usually bring food and eat at around 1830 or so. Of course, Donna and I were invited but we have our own traditional break-fast that we have done for nearly 20 years and have no desire at all to stop doing: it’s called the Outback Steak House!

Anyway, back to the story: so, I tell him that it would be too early to eat since the sunset isn’t until around 1930, and you wanna know what he accused me of being? He accused me of being “legalistic”! He has no idea what an insult that is, and no idea of what he was talking about, either. Legalism, as Shaul (Paul) used it in the letter to the Galatians, means to follow the Torah only as a means to attain salvation; in other words, we do what God says so we can be saved. I don’t do what God says to be saved- I do it because God said to do it. God didn’t say to do it half-way, or in whichever way is easiest for us, or whichever way we want to. God said this is what you are to do, and this is how you are to do it. Period.

I am not really mad at this person for the sin he accused me of. He needs to re-read the word of God, and include those sentences that come after what he wants to believe. Such as when, in Acts 15, the Elders told the newly-converting Gentiles that they are expected to do 4 things. That was not the end or entirety of their expectations. The letter sent to the Gentiles who were converting to Judaism- if you followed Yeshua that is what you were doing- said that they need to immediately stop eating blood, stop eating anything strangled, stop eating anything devoted to an idol, and to stop fornicating. But that wasn’t the end of it-there was more. Most Christians like to think (or have been taught) it stopped there, and that all the other commandments in the Torah were left up to the individual Gentile to take it or leave it. Not true.

As Paul Harvey would have said, “And now for the rest of the story…”. These four commandments, so to speak, were to be immediately adhered to by new converts, but all the rest of the Torah was not thrown out- the next sentence says that these new converts will be hearing the laws of Moses in the synagogue every Shabbat. Why did they say that, if the Mosaic law (Torah) wasn’t important? They said that because the point is that these 4 restrictions are just the start, not the end, of the process these new Believers would be going through. These 4 restrictions are what the Elders felt could be reasonably expected from Gentiles who have spent their entire lifetime without any restrictions. To throw the full weight of the Torah on them, all at once, would be too much to expect of anyone. Even the Jews, who were expected to fulfill every command of Torah and who had been raised from infancy with those restrictions, even they still couldn’t obey them completely! To throw them all, all at once, on the Gentiles was unreasonable, and would only result in creating a stumbling block in their path to salvation.

That’s why I say we all need to read the next sentence. The Elders clearly expected that these converts would now be leading a Jewish lifestyle, and going to Synagogue every Shabbat where they would hear the words of God and learn the Torah. And, as such, it was expected that they would, eventually, be able to take on the fullness of the Torah.

The statement made to me by my brother last night, which was that Jews are expected to honor the entire Torah but Gentiles don’t have to, is ridiculous. It is nearly blasphemous, accusing God of playing favorites, and announcing that what God said is required (of those that follow Him) is not true for all people. Basically, he called God a liar.

GOD HAS NO RELIGION!  He has Torah. He gave the Torah to the Jewish people, His chosen people, who are chosen to bring the Torah to the world. There cannot be any discussion or argument against that; at least not if  you read the bible, either Old or New Covenant, and read all the sentences. And what I mean is that you don’t just read what you want, pull something from here and something from there: the entire bible is valid, from the first line in Genesis to the last sentence in Revelations. And there is nothing in the New Covenant that is new- and there is nothing anywhere that says some have to do what God says and others don’t- and there is nothing Yeshua (Jesus) said that goes against Torah- and there is nothing Shaul (Paul) said that goes against Torah.  There is nothing, anywhere, in the entire bible that says all laws are for Jews and only some are for Christians.

God is very clear that anyone who sojourns with His people, meaning anyone who wants to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and call themself one of God’s chosen, has the same rights and privileges as a natural-born Jew. That goes both ways- if you have the same rights and privileges, you are also subject to the same laws and commandments. You can’t have your Kugel and eat it, too.  If you believe in God, if you profess that you are saved because you have accepted Yeshua/Jesus as your Messiah and Savior, then you MUST honor His word and worship Him as He said to.

And how we do that is in the Torah.

When Yeshua died for our sins, it did not release us from obeying God’s word. I am spending today, this very moment, fasting and praying for forgiveness NOT because Yeshua’s sacrifice doesn’t cover me, but because I am still a sinner, and because God commanded that this day, the tenth day of Tishri, is a day to be devoted to asking for forgiveness. The fact that Yeshua has covered my sins doesn’t mean I don’t ever have to ask to be forgiven anymore.

Think about it: if you don’t ask for forgiveness of a sin, that means you don’t really feel any remorse, and if you feel no remorse, then you can’t be repentant. Yeshua’s sacrificial death will not save a sinner who is unrepentant.

I fast this day because God said to, and that means the entire day, sunset to sunset, as God decreed it should be done. That’s not legalism, my friends, that is called worship! That is called devotion! That is called demonstrating my love for God by being obedient!

My friends, my brothers and sisters out there somewhere, reading this now- I pray that the truth of God’s complete plan of salvation is fully revealed to you. I pray that the forgiveness provided by Yeshua’s sacrifice, which is the ultimate demonstration of God’s willingness and desire to forgive you when you do T’shuvah (repentance), is not diluted and perverted into some form of license to ignore Torah.

Thanks to Yeshua, I will not go to hell if I eat ham, and with or without Yeshua, I will not go to heaven just because I don’t eat ham. However, if I chose to obey the laws of Kashrut in Leviticus 11, I will demonstrate my desire to please God, to obey Him, and I will earn blessings for obedience.

Obedience brings blessings- it is the promise of God (Deuteronomy 28)-do you have so many blessings that you don’t want any more?

Do you feel that you don’t need to ask for forgiveness? Have you lead a totally sinless life since you accepted Yeshua? Do you think that just because Yeshua died for your sins you don’t have to stop sinning? What is a sin? Isn’t it disobeying God? If God said, “This is what you are to do”, and you refuse to do it, for whatever reason, isn’t that a sin?

If you think that because you are a Gentile you don’t have to follow the Torah, you are wrong. Sorry, don’t mean to burst your “Buffet Believer Bubble” that you can obey what you want and ignore the rest. But, the truth is that everyone, whether or not they accept God or Yeshua, EVERYONE is required by God to do what He says to do. That is the truth. If you doubt me or disagree with me, that’s your right- God gave us all free will to decide for ourselves. It is not just your right, it is your choice, your decision, and whether or not you make it because of what you believe the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) has told you, or what your religious leader has told you, or just simply what you would rather believe because you want to- it is your choice.

And when you come before the Lord, God, Almighty- and we all will come before Him – you will be held accountable for whatever choice you have made.

That is why I pray you make the right choice: the choice that is right in God’s eyes.

May God bless you all with peace, joy, wisdom and discernment.

And may you have an easy fast.

May You Have an Easy Fast

Tomorrow night is Erev Yom Kippur- the evening that begins the Holy Day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is one of the holiest days of the Jewish year.  It is a commanded day of gathering together (although this is not one of the “Big Three” where you need to go to the Temple)  and “afflicting one’s soul”, which has been interpreted as fasting. No food, no water, nothing from sundown tomorrow until sundown Wednesday.

You may be thinking, “But Steve- you’re already saved. Your sins are forgiven. Why bother?” and the question is not unwarranted: I am saved. My sins are forgiven and will continue to be forgiven because I belong to Yeshua. So long as I am trying harder and harder to be what God wants, to obey His laws and do T’Shuvah (turn from sin), I will be forgiven whenever I call on God and ask forgiveness in the name of Yeshua Ha Mashiach.

And that is the very reason I fast and worship as all the “unsaved” Jews do- because I do belong to Yeshua, and Yeshua did not do away with Torah, and the Torah says I should fast.

How many of you out there can say you are without sin at any given time? Do you really think that once forgiven never held responsible again? If so, you’ve got a really nasty surprise coming. Sin separates us from God, and every time that we sin, we are that much more separated from God. Forgiveness is available but it isn’t shoved down our throat. God will not automatically forgive you just because in 1993 at 10 AM on a Tuesday you “found Jesus.” That’s great that you did, and once forgiven, all those prior sins are not going to be held against you. They were paid for. And the sins you commit afterwards, well, you have to ask forgiveness of them, too. You still need to confess and ask forgiveness. This isn’t revolving credit where you make a payment, run a debt, then make a payment. We sin every day and every day we need to ask forgiveness.

Yom Kippur is a day when we don’t ask just for individual forgiveness, but for corporate forgiveness. Read the prayers in the Machzor (the special prayer book for High Holy Days); read the books of the Prophets, who always asked forgiveness for the people; this is not just a day of asking for personal forgiveness. That’s why we are commanded to have a communal day of prayer, to gather together and confess to God our failure to meet our end of the Covenant He made with our Fathers. It is a communal request to forgive all of us, therefore, everyone who is saved should be even more willing to obey this commandment because we need to show the unsaved our desire for them to be forgiven and reconciled to God (through Messiah.)

Oh, by the way, did you catch that part about “we are commanded”? The best reason to do what God says is because He said to do it! How many times do you hear people say ( or maybe you’ve said it yourself), “Oh Lord, oh Yeshua, oh Jesus- I love you!”  Do you love Yeshua? Do you love Jesus? Are you one of His flock?

Then read John 14:15 (“If you love me, keep my commands.“)  And what commands did Yeshua give? The same ones that His Daddy gave to Moshe. John knew this and the Gospel he wrote began making sure that the very first truth of the Good News that he told us was this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

There is nothing “new” in the New Covenant writings- it is all the same stuff as in the Torah and the Prophets. That is what Yeshua taught from, that is what Yeshua taught about, and that is what Yeshua told us to obey. When Yeshua told us to prove our love for Him by obeying His commands, He was talking about the Torah. Yeshua/Jesus IS the living Torah!

That is why I fast and worship on Yom Kippur. For the same reason I do so on every Holy Day God has commanded us to celebrate- because He has commanded it. That is all the reason any one needs. Because I love and worship God, and because I belong to Yeshua, I do as my Master tells me to do. And I do so willingly, happily and faithfully, to the very best of my abilities, which are incompetence and failure. In truth, as much as I try, the best I can hope for and the best I can do, is better than what I have already done.

And that is good enough. Don’t try to be perfect- it ain’t gonna happen. I just want to be better than I was, I want to wake up and sin at least one less sin each day. I will walk three steps forward, but backslide two steps because it is my very nature to do so, yet as long as I net out one step closer, I am performing T’Shuvah. I am getting better, I am sinning less, I am becoming more spiritually mature and growing closer to God.

Tomorrow night I will fast. By Wednesday around, oh, let’s say 1130 or 1200, I will have a killer caffeine headache. My stomach will be grumbling and I may become a little testy. But I will be worshiping. Although the place where I worship cannot hold services because of a special needs school it runs during the day (services would be disruptive and disturbing to the children) I will worship in my home. I will read the Machzor, I will sit on my porch and enjoy the Sabbath rest that this day has for me, and I will commune with the Lord. I will recite the Ashamnu and the Al Chet, prayers listing the many sins we have committed against God and prayers asking forgiveness.

And I will demonstrate my love for Yeshua and for God by being faithfully obedient, and I will demonstrate my solidarity with my people by joining them in corporate prayer, even if I am not with them physically, as our prayers reach up to heaven and are presented to God on a golden patter held by Yeshua, Himself.

And I will do as every Jew should do on this day; actually, as everyone who says they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob should do on this day.

Because God said we should.

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?

Parashot Acharey Mot / Kedoshim (Leviticus 16 – 18; 19 – 20)

Acharey Mot starts with the regulations about how to celebrate Yom Kippur, then about not eating blood and ends with forbidden types of marriages and worship. This is a continuation of the main theme throughout this entire book, which is to teach the people how to be holy.

Kedoshim is the central book of the Torah because it is right in the middle. It is the center of Vayikra, and also the center of Torah. As such, the Rabbis have regarded it as “the essentials of Torah” ( Pentateuch and Haftorah, Soncino edition) and a brief description of it’s main points follows:

* holiness and imitation of God

* moral and ritual laws

* Duties to and treatment of other people

* Prohibitions against hatred and violence

* additional precepts and ordinances

* prohibition against the pagan lifestyle

* ethical injunctions

* penalties for disobedience

* laws regarding immorality

* final exhortation to be holy and set apart

As I say above, this book is not just a set of laws and rules. It is how we become sanctified, holy and separated for God from the rest of the world.

In America, the court cases of Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. The Board of Education (of Topeka, Kansas) are well known to almost everyone, lawyer or not. “Plessy” was a Supreme Court ruling (in 1896) which stated separate accommodations, if equal in quality and standards, is not unconstitutional. Half a century later (1954), “Brown” was the reversal of that decree stating the very nature of things being separate means they can’t be equal (I ask any law professionals to excuse any minor misstatements I may have made in condensing these.)  The belief that separate cannot be equal is also what we are told in Leviticus, and throughout the Bible. If we want to be holy, as God is holy, we need to be separate and NOT equal. We need to be different.

Let’s get something straight here: different is not better than; it is not worse than;  it is just different from. The only thing that separates Believers from the rest of the world is Messiah Yeshua. We are still sinners: the only thing different is that we are saved sinners. And because we profess to accept the truth that Yeshua is the Messiah, and accept God’s Grace provided through Yeshua’s sacrifice, we are bound to change our way of living to that which God decrees in the Torah. Doing that makes us different from the world. God tells us to be holy for He is holy, and in Leviticus He gives us all the rules, regulations, and ordinances that will teach us how to worship Him properly and how to properly treat each other so that we can be holy.

Problem is…we ain’t holy! God gave us all we need to be holy, but it’s beyond us, that’s why God also provided Yeshua, and why we so desperately need Him, our Messiah, to bring us into the communion with God that we cannot bring ourselves into, by means of His sacrifice cleansing us of our sins.

We need to be different, and in the way God says to be different. Not as a means of rebellion (of course, if you’re a teenager, rebellion is mandatory behavior) or as a means of acting “holier-than-thou”, but as the proof that we worship God. It’s just that simple. We worship God, Adonai; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Holy One of Israel, the one, true God. And when we do this as He said we should (not as a religion tells us) then we are separated from the world.

The world says “holier-than-thou” as a condemnation against someone thinking they are a better person than someone else. Yeshua told His Talmudim (Disciples) that the Goyim (nations, or Gentiles) lord it over each other and they should not, so He also teaches us not to think we are any better than anyone else. But, in the long run, we are supposed to be “holier than thou”, but not because we are better: we are to be holier because our God is holy and we represent Him. We aren’t better, just saved. The difference between heaven and hell is certainly much more than that between railroad cars (Plessy vs. Ferguson) and we definitely want to be in First Class.

I believe this about Leviticus: the central theme of this central book of the Torah is to be holy so that we can represent God correctly.

The book tells us exactly how we achieve holiness by telling us how we are to worship, how we are to treat each other, how we are to marry, how we are to have intimate relationships, how we are to eat; essentially, Leviticus tells us that we should be, and how we are to be, separated from the world.

The brokerage firm Smith-Barney had a great commercial where their spokesman used to say (something like), “We make money the old fashioned way…we earn it!”  That’s the way the world works, and there’s nothing wrong with that- you work hard and you earn your reward.

With God, it isn’t like that. Salvation cannot be earned through hard work, it can only be gained by asking for it.

It’s not until after we have been saved that the hard work starts.

Forgive Yourself as You Would Forgive Others

This evening is Kol Nidre, the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is all about forgiveness, and usually we concentrate on asking God to forgive us. We ask that He move from the Throne of Judgement to the Throne of Forgiveness, and we are to “afflict our souls” as we request His forgiveness. But it shouldn’t be just about God forgiving us, or about us forgiving others. It should also be about us forgiving ourselves.

It’s strange, isn’t it? That we should be able to forgive others but often we can’t forgive ourselves?  The Manual tells us we should do unto others as we do unto ourselves, and that we will be forgiven as we forgive others. Isn’t the converse true? Are we as willing to forgive ourselves as we are others? If God is willing to forgive us, but we don’t forgive ourselves, then isn’t that the same as saying we are above God, in that He is willing to let it go but we won’t? We think what He does isn’t good enough, He’s too easy- we should be punished! If we think that, then we are saying what we think and feel is more important than what God thinks and feels. That’s idolatry- we put ourselves before God and above Him when we refuse to do what He is willing to do.

If you feel there is something you have done which is so bad you can’t believe God will forgive you, then you just don’t understand Grace. In Romans 5 Shaul tells us that as sin is increased, so to is Grace. Basically, there isn’t a sin big enough that God’s Grace can’t cover it. In fact, Kippur (as in Yom Kippur) doesn’t really mean “atonement”, it means “covering.”  God is covering our sin, like a mother hen protects her chicks by covering them with her wings.

What I find wonderful is that God is not just able to forgive, and not just willing to forgive, but that He wants to forgive!  He even has a means to forgive us for sins we committed in error (see Numbers 15.) In Ezekiel He says He gets no pleasure from seeing the sinners die, but that He would rather they do T’Shuvah and live. His forgiveness is more than just something He does- it’s what He wants to do. I can’t imagine that anyone who even thinks God could exist is not able to grasp that we are sinful and He is willing to overlook that if we only ask Him to do so.

But God is no fool. Just because He will forgive sins doesn’t mean that it’s OK to sin. Today Christianity is teaching that Grace covers everything to the degree that sin is not an issue anymore. We are “under the blood of Christ”; He died for our sins so we are forgiven.  All who call on His name are saved and we are forgiven everything. Just so long as you say you are a Believer and you call on His name you are saved, your sins are forgiven and you get to go to heaven. Just confess and ask forgiveness and you are clean. Hallelujah!  That’s not Grace from sin they are teaching, it’s license to sin. People are being taught that their sins are forgiven simply by asking God to do so, and although that is technically correct, it implies that to continue to sin will have no detrimental effect on your salvation.

That is a lie from the pit of hell! If you continue to sin, without concern, without truly being repentant, you better bring along an umbrella and plenty of Coppertone when you meet the Lord before the Throne. You can ask, and it will be given unto you, but not if you don’t really repent. And the way to be repentant is to stop sinning.

Atonement is not a one-time, slam-blam-I-forgive-you-Ma’am thing. It’s a process. First and foremost, you have to own your sin. That means to recognize your own sinfulness and take responsibility for it. Next, you must do T’Shuvah, that is, turn from your sins. You must really, really want to not sin anymore. Once you have done this, you “own” your sin. And when you own something, you have the right and ability to give it away. That’s the third step- give that sin to God. Ask Him to take it from you, and then “go, and sin no more” (see if you can find that Bible quote.)

This is the start of one of the holiest of the High Holy Days. Even though we have been forgiven, even though we, Believers, understand and accept the Grace of God made possible through the ultimate and final atonement that Yeshua made on our behalf, we still should observe Yom Kippur. Why? Well, first off, it’s a commandment. Duh!! Second, Shaul tells us we should suffer with those that are suffering- not eating or drinking for 24 hours is certainly my idea of suffering!

No, seriously, we should observe this festival because God said we should and to show our non-accepting (of Yeshua) Brothers and Sisters that Messianic Jews do what God said we should do, that we follow the Torah and that being Born Again/ Messianic is not a different religion- it is what being Jewish is all about. It is the epitome of Judaism; to not just follow Torah and hope for a Messiah, but to know the Messiah and be part of God’s plan of redemption. Actually, it is beyond Judaism, it is beyond any religion- it is doing as God said we should do. It is following His commandments. It is being faithfully obedient.

Remember- God has no religion. If you say you believe in God and want to follow Him, to do as Yeshua did, then you better know Torah because that’s the User Manual for the program called Salvation.

When we pray this evening and throughout tomorrow, remember that you need to forgive yourself, too. Also understand that the solidarity we have with the unsaved Jewish people is in our prayers. Look at the prayers- they are often not asking for individual forgiveness, but for corporate forgiveness. The Prophets accepted responsibility for the sins of the people, the Cohen Ha Gadol (High Priest) transferred the sins of the people to the goat or bull to be sacrificed. We are not just asking for our individual forgiveness, but we are interceding for all the people, everywhere. This day is not just about you- it’s about all of us.

Lastly, let me ask you to think of Yom Kippur not just as a holy day, but as an every day activity. In Judaism this day is the culmination of the Days of Awe and leads us into the final festival of this time (Sukkot) when we (now clean) can enter into communion with God as our Fathers did, by living in Sukkot (Tabernacles, or tents.) After this week of intimate communion, we begin our cycle again with turning back the Torah (Simchat Torah) and starting our love affair with God, all over again.