Force-fed spirit

Have you ever seen a horse get a pill? They take a sort-of gun, stick it deep down the horse’s throat, put the pill inside and push a plunger that forces the pill down its gullet. It’s not very easy to do, and it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun for the horse, either.  I am willing to bet the more you do it, the less likely the horse will be willing to cooperate. And I guarantee he will hate that gun!

It is the same way with humans and religion. When we are brought up with religion as a part of our lives, it can be either an edifying and pleasant experience, or it can be a pain in the tuchas, generating resentment. I wanted to have a Bar Mitzvah, and I am appreciative that my parents went along with it, but they didn’t really care one way or the other. I know many Catholics who went to Catholic school, all the way through high school, and never learned one thing about God. They didn’t want to because it was force-fed to them. They read the Catechism, studied hard, and at their Confirmation, when the Priest told them they had the spirit of Christ in them, all they felt was relief that it was over.

I am sorry, but no one can tell you you have the spirit of God in you- you need to accept it yourself. You are saved by faith, not by giving the correct answer on a quiz.

How many of you know someone who has turned from God only because they had Him shoved down their throats from an early age? I met a woman once (and that was enough) who was raised Ultra-Orthodox, and as soon as she grew old enough to be on her own, she converted to become a Quaker. Then she started to find any other Jew-turned-Quaker person she could. I met her when I was leading the Shabbat services for an assisted living facility. I did a totally Jewish (i.e., non-Messianic) service and the funny thing is: there were only 1 or 2 Jewish people, and about 10-12 Gentiles attending. Yet, this “converted” woman raised a stink that I was teaching about Jesus and she insisted (now remember- she turned her back on Judaism and became a Quaker) that Jesus has nothing to do with Shabbat services. She even told me, after I confirmed that I was Messianic, that we were alike, both of us have given up our Judaism.

No, I didn’t hit her, although…..

It ended up that I stopped doing the services because the management was afraid of upsetting her. That’s what comes from force-feeding people religion. They grow up hating the religion, but still feeling tied to it, so they end up confused and bigoted. It turns them away from God.

Whether Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, whatever- when we raise our children we need to teach them about God, not about religion.  Remember: God has no religion, only people do. And look how we screw up everything we touch, so maybe it’s best to teach our kids about God and let them decide about religion on their own.

Yes- this is a somewhat radical thought. I confess I can’t give any experiential advice since I didn’t get to raise my children. All I can suggest is that they be taught the word of God, straight from the Bible. If you are a church-going worshipper, taking them along is necessary when they are too young to be on their own. But once they can be left at home, they should get to choose. It is important that the parents show them the “fun” side of worship, keep them involved in the congregational and social aspects of worship. If the place where you worship doesn’t have children-friendly activities, you should find another place.  It is important that children are raised with God representing fun and peacefulness. We need to fill them with the joy and wonder that David felt.

Of course, this means the parents have to know the Lord, intimately. Everyone of the people I know who is not “saved” is religious by practice, but they don’t practice their religion. They just go through the motions: go to services on Shabbat or Sunday, go to the main Holiday or Holy Day celebrations, write a check for what is comfortable (i.e., not tithing correctly, but tithing conveniently), follow the regulations they are comfortable with and find excuses to ignore the ones they don’t like. You know what I am talking about, don’t you?

And this isn’t just for non-Believers. Oh no! We all know some “Buffet Believers”, too.

The Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, is available to all of us. In the days before Yeshua, it was given and then taken back. Once the breach sin causes between God and people was repaired by the sacrificial death and resurrection of Yeshua, the Ruach became available for us to have and keep. It is now a lifetime gift. We need to treat it with the respect and awe it deserves, and not hand it out like someone calling for the next deli customer:

“OK. Number 17- got your answers ready? Hello? Number 17?  Number 17!- speak up now or you will go to Hell!”

No, no,no…the giving of the Holy Spirit can only be from God. It always has been from God, and can only be from God. And only when someone of age asks for it. The Elders of the Messianic Community laid hands on people and they were given the Spirit, but it didn’t come from the Elders- it came from God! The Elders were nothing more than a conduit for the Spirit to transfer through. Just as the miracles that were done were from the power of God and not from the power of men, so ,too, the Spirit is transferred through us. It can be given directly from God, or through those God chooses to use. But it is ALWAYS from God. And we must want it.  We must ask for it; at least, if we want to keep it. There are some stories in the Bible when God did give His Ruach for a time, even though the people didn’t ask for it: for example, the few elders who refused to attend Moses’s meeting when he called for the 70 Elders and Shaul, the King, when he first was to be anointed.

But if we want to have God’s Holy Spirit in us forever, we must ask Him for it. It can’t be handed out like Halloween candy or grade school test papers. It is way too valuable to just throw to someone who may not even care about it and are just doing what they are doing because they are told they have to. That’s not how to teach others to love the Lord with all their heart, soul and might.

Here’s the hardest part of all- the best way (I think) to teach our children, and anyone else (for that matter) about God’s wonderful peace and the joy of salvation, is to show them what it is. We need to be living water ourselves, and to demonstrate how accepting the Ruach has changed us for the better. How it has given us peace in a world full of disarray, how it holds us together during times when we just want to fall apart, and how it gives us hope for the future. I don’t see how anyone can feel peaceful when they think everything that exists, everything that has ever happened, and anything that might ever happen, is all by chance. No control, no plan, no way that anything you want will come to be except by luck. How can anyone live with that? No wonder they are so lost; in fact, they are so lost they think they know where they are. They think they are in control. It is the blind leading the blind.

Teach your kids, your friends and loved ones, even your enemies, about God by showing them what He has done for you. Make them jealous for His spirit, make them desire the peace you feel (which you need to show) and the joy you get when you worship. If they don’t go to worship, talk about it. Don’t ram it down their throat, just mention it in passing. And always find a way to bring God into the  conversation; gently, just as an aside (‘you know, there is a story about that I read in a book once….’ Don’t tell them it’s from the Bible until after you have told it. They will think it’s gossip and be all-attentive, so by the time you tell them the meaning and the source, God’s word will have been spread. And His word never returns void.)

OK, that is a little sneaky, but we are lambs in a fold of wolves- we need to be gentle as doves and wise as serpents (that’s from the Bible, you know. I’ll give you a hint- look for it in Mattitayu.)

This is a hard thing to do- live as God wants us to live. None of us do it totally correct. I confess I don’t do it well, at all. But I try, and I know that it does work sometimes. I am so totally blessed when someone asks me if I am a Believer because they noticed how I act. I am so proud of myself, and happy that I must be pleasing the Lord to get asked that question. Oh, Lord- if only I was asked that question daily! I am so sorry that I am not.

How do your kids feel about God? How do your friends, the ones that aren’t Believers, feel about God? Do they see Him in you?

Why God Blesses those who reject him

When I was a kid, in my early teens, I would curse God. I was depressed, feeling unloved, always angry…you know, those normal adolescent emotional waves of trauma that we all go through. And like many people who don’t understand God, I blamed Him. I had no idea that all the time I was cursing and blaming God for all the bad things in my life, He was gently leading me to Him, to salvation, and protecting me. Both physically and spiritually.

Eventually (it took nearly another 25 years) I found my way to Him. Now I understand better how the world works and how God works. Please don’t get me wrong- I do not understand all about how God works, I just understand it better than I used to.

And one thing I have learned, and truly believe, is that God’s love is totally absent of ego. Oh, He says He is a jealous God, and He is, but I do not believe it is the jealousy we feel, as humans. As a human, my jealousy is selfish, self-centered and (usually) leads to destructive behaviour, either against myself, the person I am jealous for, or both.

I believe (and I have to say this is not something I can quote from the Bible, so I am sharing just my belief) that God is totally focused on our well being. He cares for us so much that He loves and cares for us even when we reject Him for anything else, such as another god, another person, or Monday Night Football; whatever comes between us and God is an idol that separates us from all that God wants us to have. And that is what gets His goat. He is not jealous that we are not loving or worshipping Him for something else, He is jealous that we are not doing what is best for ourselves.

In other words, He is not selfishly angry that He is left out, He is un-selfishly angry that we are hurting ourselves.

Think of someone you love who constantly does things that are bad for him or her: drinking too much, using other drugs that are harmful, maybe never seeing a doctor, never exercising, eating too much, dating total jerks and users…whatever. It is harmful to them, and because you love them it burns you inside that they do this to themselves. And there’s usually little or nothing we can do about it.

It’s like the joke: “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?    Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.”

When people don’t want to be better to themselves, we who love them have to sit on the sidelines and try to help when we can, suffering for them and with them, all the time feeling helpless and forlorn. That’s sort of how God feels when we reject Him.

In the real world, we can’t do anything to change a person’s behaviour if they don’t want to change. The best we can do is be a light for them, an example of what they can feel or be if they do change. And during this process of watching them destroy themselves, we will try to be supportive, try to direct them to the right path, then inevitably (often for our own protection) leave them to their own devices. Or vices, as the case may be.

That’s what God does. He will bless those who curse Him, He will protect them even when they tell Him to leave them alone. God loves us that much. Eventually, though, if someone totally rejects God, and does so long enough, God may just leave them alone. After all, His love is so great that He will do what we ask, even if it may hurt us. Being omniscient, maybe He knows when to leave us alone so that the world will beat us up so much we might finally look to Him for salvation instead of ourselves, or some other god or drug or social fad?  Maybe, maybe not.

I read how someone asked Billy Graham’s daughter how a good God could allow such evil in the world (I think this was after the Columbine murders) and she said, in brief, that we have asked God to leave our lives, to leave our government, and to leave our schools (thank you very much, Brown vs. the Board.) And, being the gentleman He is, He has. That’s why there is so much violence and evil in these places today.

I don’t need to go on about how God has helped, guided, protected and blessed me even as I was rejecting and cursing Him. I am certain that most of you can look back in your lives and remember a time when this was true for you, too. That’s why I don’t need to go into detail anymore than what I have already said.

The point is this: God’s love is so holy, so unselfish, so far beyond any love any human can generate, that He is happy to bless us when we reject Him, when we ignore His Torah, when we teach others to ignore His Torah, and even when we fervently deny the very truth of His existence. In the Manual the Lord says He will have mercy on those He will have mercy on , and not on those He will not. It also says He rains on the just and unjust, alike. God loves us all, and it doesn’t matter if we love Him back or not.

I remember hearing a story in Jewish lore, maybe it’s in the Talmud, but it goes this way:

After the Jewish people crossed the Red Sea, and as the waters were crushing in on the Egyptian soldiers, destroying the army of the Pharaoh, the angels in heaven wanted to sing for joy at the salvation of the Jewish people. But God said not to sing, and when they asked why not, His reply was, “Because my children are dying.” That’s how much He loves everyone.

Unrequited love is hard to live with- I am certain that all of you reading this have had to live through it at one time or another in your life.  I know, absolutely, that every parent has had to live through a time when their own children hated them. I myself have two children whom I  love and miss terribly. They have used me, taken me on an emotional roller-coaster ride and as each one reached maturity (legal maturity, not emotional) and received the inheritance from my parents they were due, they rejected me. It wasn’t even that much money, and they squandered it before it got warm in their hands. They were raised by their mother and it’s a long story; I think I can safely assume that I am not the only one who has such a story to tell. Yet, if they wanted to reconcile (which is my daily prayer) I would do so in a heartbeat, because my heart still beats for both of them. That will never change. And that’s why I think I can understand, to some degree, how God feels and why He still blesses those that hate Him.

That’s just how love works.


Heaven Can Wait

Do you look forward to going to heaven? Yeah, me too. Of course, you do know that we don’t get to be in heaven forever, right? After all, the heavens is where God lives, and the Manual tells us that after the End Days are completed and all has come to pass, the new Temple will be here on the new Earth, and we will each sit under our own fruit tree and enjoy the fruits of our labor in peace, forever. Israel is where we spend eternity.

For me, all that is anti-climatic. Yes, it’s true. As wonderful as God’s promise of eternal peace and joy in His presence is, what is really important to me is not the final destination but the possession of the ticket that gets me there.

Most of my life I had been searching for God. I wasn’t sure about His existence, and often I didn’t even want Him to exist. Mainly because I knew that that would mean I had to change, I would have to discipline and watch myself, be on guard every second for the rest of my life.

That doesn’t sound like a peaceful way to live.

But I didn’t understand that with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) that ever-watchful lifestyle is easier. God’s very spirit is inside of me, slapping me upside the head whenever my natural tendencies want to show themselves. That makes it much, much easier to know when I am in need of guarding my tongue, as well as my attitude. And believe-you-me, as a native New Yorker, I got plenty of attitude, Buddy!

Now that I know the Lord, and that I have come to accept Messiah Yeshua as my Messiah, I am one of those that has done T’Shuvah (‘turned’ from my sin) and by calling on the name of the Lord, I am saved. That doesn’t mean I can go on sinning on purpose, or that I am not required to produce fruit to demonstrate and, quite frankly, prove I really meant it when I called on His name, but it does mean I have been given my ticket to Eternity.

I’ve got…my ticket to Paradise. Pack my bags, I’ll leave tonight. I’ve got…my ticket to Paradiiiiiise”  (my apologies , Mr. Money)

Do you have your ticket? Oh, yeah, heaven is gonna be absolutely fantastic! It will be beyond what any of us can imagine. It will be eternal joy, peace, and we will still be doing stuff but we will love doing it. We will get to worship God right to His face, we will be (I think) back to the simple, agrarian lifestyle that gives one so much pleasure in seeing what one’s work produces, then enjoying the tastes and pleasure that comes from eating the fruits of ones farming labors. You know, Thomas Jefferson (remember him?) said that farmers were God’s chosen people- he wasn’t talking against the Jews, he was just demonstrating how wonderful he believed farming was.

Whatever heaven will be like, for me heaven can wait. It is after-the-fact wonderful because the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me, or ever will happen to me, is my salvation.

Note to Donna: I’m talking spiritually, Sweetheart. Of course, the best thing that ever happened to me or ever will in the physical world is you, Donna, my wife.

The greatest feeling I ever experienced was the moment I felt the Ruach HaKodesh enter me, and I have a constant reminder of it’s presence (meaning it keeps me in line all the time, because I need to be kept in line, all the time.)

So, as I said, heaven can wait because the most wonderful thing is that I am in! I have my irrevocable, guaranteed, no black-out date, fully redeemable and never-expiring ticket to eternity.

Does anything else really matter? If only I could keep in mind how insignificant and silly everything I am going through in this life will be once I turn in that ticket. That’s the real peace we get while we are still on Earth. Maybe that’s why Shaul said he knew how to be satisfied in every situation- he was able to stay focused on the future. He knew that nothing that happens here on Earth will matter or even be remembered, for all we know, once we are resurrected and with the Lord.

I think that’s the takeaway for today: if you’ve got your ticket, stay focused on that. You’re there, you’ve got your seat and nothing else from this point forward is as important as owning that ticket. The more fruit you produce, the better you can upgrade, but still- when all is said and done, you only need to remember that ticket and nothing the world throws at you should be so bad anymore. There is peace in knowing you are already there. Man-Oh-Manischewitz, life is really not a problem when you know that God’s got your back.

Does God have your back? As you are reading this can you say you are saved? If not, are you afraid of it? I was. But there is nothing better. The world stinks, and life is hard. Being saved won’t save you from life, only from death, and being saved can make life so much easier to live through. Read some more of this stuff in my older posts, read the Bible (that’s the best source), ask people you know who are Born Again (if you don’t know anyone like that, find someone. We’re all around), and start to think about your future. It’s not something that you can just do when you get the time because you don’t control time.

Waiting is stupid, so be smart. The journey isn’t short, but I believe the time is, so you need to get started now!


You Love Me? Really?

We all know that the Lord loves us. Whether or not we love Him, He loves us. His love is unconditional, it is forever, it is based on who He is and not who we are (thank God for that!), and it will cause Him to judge us fairly with mercy. Which we all need.

It is so much above human love, and so far beyond human understanding; how can any of us, really, associate with what He did when He sent His only son to die for us so that we could be close to Him. Something we could never have achieved on our own, even though it isn’t that hard. After all, Moshe told us that it isn’t so far away we need to send someone to get it for us, or so deep we can’t retrieve it, or so high above us we can’t reach it. It is right there, right in front of us.

But we can’t get hold of it, not a real good hold. So God did for us what we should have done for ourselves, at a great cost. Yeshua stripped His robes of righteousness and took on a mantle of flesh: filthy, dirty and mortal coverings that He wore just as the rest of us. Except despite this, He did not sin in the flesh that causes all the rest of us to sin. He survived unblemished, He showed us how to live, and He properly interpreted God’s word for us (which means Jesus/Yeshua did NOT create a new religion- those that followed after Constantine created a different religion, but Yeshua taught from the Tanakh and taught how to follow the Torah correctly.) Yeshua died so that I could live; so that you could live. It was, and is, a very personal thing.

Do you love the Lord? Most everyone I ever met who is Born Again says “YES!! Emphatically! Totally! Absolutely!”

I love God, too, but I don’t feel it.  I feel love for my wife. I feel love for my children (even though they have rejected me, so in that way I know a little about how God must feel), but I confess I don’t feel love for God- I know I have love for Him. Maybe because He is so wonderful, so far from me (in holiness, but not emotionally or relationship-wise), or maybe just because I am really selfish with using the word “love”, I don’t have the same emotional sense I feel with other humans. I love the Lord, and I am His bride (wow- to say such a thing in today’s world, and so close to election time, is scary) and those who read this most likely know the true meaning of that reference. But I just can’t honestly say I love God and feel it. I want to, I know I do, but I don’t feel it. I do feel unworthy, unresponsive, and undeserving of what He feels for me because I just don’t know how to return it. And I absolutely know that He deserves it.

Maybe my real problem is that I can’t separate the holy love I know for God from the romantic love I feel as a human. How many of you out there love someone because of how they make you feel? You feel whole, completed with the other person, right? My relationship with God has made me feel completed as a Jewish man, I feel that I have (finally) come full circle with God and we are on the same page, so to speak. My relationship is wonderful and fulfilling with the Lord- exactly what He planned when He sent Messiah. And more than anything or anyone else that ever was, God deserves my love. He has earned it because He gave me life, because of His sacrifice for me, through His devotion to me, through all He has done during my meager life that has protected me and kept me from harm, both physical and spiritual. God is worthy of my worship, my devotion, and more than anything, my love. He is worthy and deserving of everyone’s love.

However, I am not. That’s why I am confessing to you that I don’t “buy it” when a stranger, or even someone I worship with regularly and would call a friend or acquaintance, comes to me at the worship and says, “I love you, Brother!” I don’t doubt their sincerity, but I doubt they really love me. Not me. Maybe the spirit of God that they expect I should be housing? I could go along with that. But not me. They don’t know me. They haven’t seen me at my worst. They haven’t  heard the words I use when I am angry and frustrated (for me, those two emotions are so close together they are almost like Siamese Twins.) They haven’t heard my vengeful talk when I am wronged; I don’t take vengeance- that is for the Lord. But, I do plan it out for Him, now and then. They haven’t seen my evil twin, Skippy, at work when he locks me in the basement and takes over for me in real life, going to work and impersonating me. He angers the clients, makes trouble for the co-workers, he even gets my wife angry at him. It takes a lot to get Skippy to leave town; fortunately, he doesn’t get along with the Ruach HaKodesh so the closer I get to God the less often Skippy comes around.

But if you met Skippy, you certainly wouldn’t say to him, “I love you , Brother!” You would probably say something more like, “Oh Brother!”

I don’t tell people whom I don’t really know that I love them. I am not much of a hugger, either. I find it very impolite when someone hugs another person without asking permission. It isn’t their love for me that makes them want to hug me- it is their own desire to feel loved. They physically misuse my body, they assault me, in order to feel that they are loved. And if I should say, “I’m not really a hugger” their response more often than not is, “Well, I am.” and they proceed to violate my space, my body and my rights by hugging me. And if I should complain, guess who’s at fault? That’s right- they blame me for not loving as the Lord loves. They insult God’s love and cheapen what Yeshua did by ( as the psychologists call it) “projecting” their feelings at me instead of reflecting on what I said.

{By the way, to those who know me and those who worship with me, if you are thinking you should keep your distance don’t worry- I do hug people I feel comfortable with, and if you offer and I reply with a hug, it’s OK. If I should stick my hand out, that’s the signal that I am not comfortable enough yet. It’s not a rejection, it’s just caution on my part. Don’t stop asking, and please do not be upset or feel rejected if it isn’t time yet. It will be, eventually.}

You love me? Really? I don’t think so. I don’t think humans have that kind of love. Again, I don’t doubt your sincerity, and I appreciate your attempt  to be more like God, but love for others is worth a lot to me, and I don’t just throw it at the feet of anyone who says they are a child of God. It is like throwing pearls before swine, in my book. I pretty much start of with giving everyone the benefit of the doubt when I first meet them, or start to work with them, and I assume (and expect) they will be professional, dependable and trustworthy. I trust them and am looking forward to working with them, or knowing them as friends, whatever the relationship is supposed to be. It is up to them to give me cause to feel otherwise.

But it’s not like that with love. Love is something that the Bible teaches us we should have for each other. Love thy neighbor as thyself- Leviticus 19:18 (for those who don’t know this, when Yeshua gave us the “Golden Rule” He was quoting from Torah. There is nothing ‘New” in the New Covenant)- is the standard for all of us. Yeshua said the two most important commandments (in this order, by the way) are to love God, and love each other. He told His disciples that the way people will know they are His disciples is if they love each other. There is nothing but love in the life of a true Believer, a real worshipper of God. Shaul tells us, ultimately, no matter how many gifts he has been given, no matter how many talents he has, no matter how hard he works for the Lord, if he has not love, he has nothing.

I guess I am just a step or two above nothing. I have love, but I am selfish with it. I am too ensnared in the world, still, to separate the romantic version of love from the holy love that God feels for us. And, I am sorry to say, I don’t think I am that much different from most everyone else.  I believe that people cannot love the way God loves, but I do honor their attempt. That’s why when someone says they love me, I don’t argue with them. I may thank them, I most likely won’t say anything, and I guarantee I won’t say that I love them, too. I don’t know them that well, I am not that Godly, and I am certainly not that open with my feelings.

I hope you are different. I hope that some of you reading this will pity my weakness, my fleshly curse that prevents me from feeling love the way God does and keeps me chained to the emotional, romantic understanding of love that is a bane, in many ways, of humanity. Pray for me, if you will, and pray for yourself that you are really feeling the intercessory power that comes from truly loving as God does- not romantically, not selfishly, not humanly.

I doubt that I will ever feel that way, at least, not in this body. I do believe that once resurrected, I will be beyond the human level of emotions; I believe that we will all, those of us resurrected to the second life, no longer have emotional feelings as we do now. Our sense of love and emotional closeness to each other will be beyond the physical and it will be as God feels- love that is so powerful, so much a part of us that it is like breath, and as such we will be in total joy just being with each other.

I can hardly wait.

No Pain; No Gain

Having been very active in sports during High School, and throughout my life, I have a deep and intimate understanding of the title for today’s Drash.

It’s not wise to hurt yourself, but when you push your muscles to their limit, you will feel it over the next couple of days. It is a “good” hurt because, although having sore muscles does hurt, it represents that you have done a good job, you pushed yourself to the limits of your ability, and (so far as physical exercise is concerned) that means you will gain more muscle and endurance.

Real muscle grows when you destroy it. When you feel that “burn” and your muscle is “pumped”, the excess blood flow that causes that feeling is going there in order to help the destroyed tissue. The destroyed tissue isn’t just replaced; the body builds more tissue than there was originally. That is how body-builders get those large muscles (even without the ‘roids’). The constant destroying of muscle and careful rebuilding through proper diet and rest results in larger and stronger muscles, with greater endurance.

Faith is a spiritual muscle that we need to work with, every day. And, just like biceps, pecs and abs, we need to push it to it’s limits; indeed, we need to destroy it so that we can rebuild it to be stronger and more enduring. The way we exercise our faith is to live  in a way that pushes us to do more than we want to do. In other words, we need to force ourselves to get outside our spiritual comfort zone.

Get more involved in activities at the place where you worship, witness to friends and family, even strangers, more often. Risk their disapproval. Go on mission trips, help the homeless and needy, volunteer, just get off your butts and do something that takes faith. Pray more often (see my section on Prayer for some ideas about that), read the Bible more often, trust more often (oh, that is a hard one). And here’s the really difficult one: forgive more often, and more completely.

Exercise your faith by using it. I gave you some ideas above, but I don’t know what you need to do. I don’t know where your faith is weak…but you do. You know what makes you feel uncomfortable, you know what you don’t like to do, and you know what God is telling you to do. Finally: it’s all about you now.

Search your heart, seek those things that God tells us we should all be doing and that you know you don’t do, and do it!

That’s pushing your spiritual muscles to the limit. And just like the professionals, rest and eat properly. The proper diet is to read the Word of God (Man doesn’t live on bread alone but every word from the mouth of God) for food to nourish your spirit, and rest through intimate and private prayer time with the Lord. Prayer is refreshing to both your soul and your spirit, and even to your physical body.

So get on out there and work those spiritual muscles! Feel the burn, get pumped; Yeshua worked His spiritual muscles completely and showed us how we are to do it. Stop being a Weakling of Worship, and become a Schwarzenegger of Spirit!

Remember: Yeshua was the first one to say, “I’ll be back!”

Are You (uh, hold a sec… it, tnx….OK- I’m back) Distracted?

Miss Manners agreed with a woman who was complaining that when people call others it shouldn’t be when they are distracted. She said she gets calls from people who freely admit they are just a few cars behind the drive through window or doing something else that makes her wait for them to get back on. She said she doesn’t call people back until she has the ability to be undistracted, and when she receives a call she turns off the TV, or the radio, whatever, to be fully attentive.

How many times do we pray while distracted. I say this, and confess I am probably one of the guiltiest of all for doing this. I pray most often while driving to work. I don’t know if it is more of a private time with God or a test of Him to keep me safe.

We should pray in solitude, in a peaceful environment and undistracted. I am alone in the car, and the radio is off, but I am certainly distracted. Oh, yeah, I’m a New York driver- the long pedal is supposed to be all the way down and that other pedal, well, I don’t know what that’s for. But, I still have to watch where I’m going, so I am distracted.

We are told to pray constantly. We are also told that prayer should come from the heart, and a broken and contrite spirit will not be turned away by God. Have you been there? Have you found yourself so deeply embedded in prayer that you cry? That you feel almost like you are in God’s presence, floating, those little chills going from your head to your toes, knowing that the Lord is embracing you as He embraces your prayers? I remember those feelings, and once in a blue moon I am there. But it’s rare, and that’s my fault. I can’t be fully in prayer when I am doing something else.

So, do as I say and not as I do. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted when praying. Especially in your house of worship. Shaul admonishes us in a couple of his letters about prayer. Talking in tongues, praying on and on like pagans, looking silly (my word) when praying. I have heard people just ramble in prayer: I can literally hear them searching for something to say, like they need to orate ad infinitum to gain God’s attention: “And, Father God, I…uh…um…I pray to you, Father God, for …uh….for….Father God, ..uh…” Just stop! Just say, “Thank you, Lord, for everything. In Yeshua’s name I pray, Amen.”

One of the most powerful prayers I ever heard was when Moses asked God to heal Miryam after striking her with leprosy for talking against Moses (Numbers 12). Here is his big sister, who risked her life to follow him as a baby in the basket (nile crocodiles hang around in the marshes and can be up to 20 feet long and weigh about a ton) and who has been a great help to him and supported him all his life, and now she is as white as a ghost. What does Moses say? The man who can talk to God  face-to-face, a friend of God, a fore-runner of the Messiah: does he go on and on about curing her, or how powerful God is, or why God should listen to him? No. All he says is, “Oh Lord…please heal her.”

And that was all God needed to hear. Why? I think because it was from the heart. It wasn’t King James vocabulary, it wasn’t a Dylan Thomas-like rendering of beautiful poetry, it was just a  simple, heartfelt and sincere request.

We don’t need to be in prayer for hours. I sometimes am. This habit I have of praying on the way to work started when I was in sales and a real Road Warrior, doing some 850-1,000 miles of driving a week. I sometimes was in prayer for an hour or more and never realized how long it was. I also often find myself distracted not just by traffic but by my own thoughts. I start to ask God for something, then go off on a tangent and later realize I have been rehearsing a speech to someone, or  talking to myself, or thinking of what to write in this blog, or just auto-piloting the car. You know, when you have been driving somewhere and suddenly realize you don’t remember the last 20 miles at all? And then I realize that my prayer has been distracted, and I ask God’s forgiveness.

He is God. He is the Almighty, the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, and Host of Hosts. He is the creator of all things, our Father in Heaven, our Judge, our Saviour. He deserves our undivided attention, but does He get it?

I confess, to my shame, not from me. Not as often as He should. I pray silently  to Him when at Shabbat services, often with the worship music in the background. But that is only once a week. All the rest of the time I am praying in the car, or on my bike in the mornings when I am exercising.  I am not concentrating directly and fully on God.

I would like to develop a better prayer habit. One where I am doing my devotional and prayer time silently, in solitude and undistracted. Honestly, it worries me that I may end up not having time for other things, because sometimes we can get lost in prayer. That’s not a bad thing, not at all, if it is really deeply involved in communion with God. I don’t know. I am just so happy that He is forgiving and compassionate and that He understands our weaknesses.

So there you have it. I am not a good pray-er. I can sometimes pray with the best of them, but that is not as often as it should be. I need to be better- no excuses, no more worrying about where to find the time. The time is always there, we just need to organize it.

Has any of this struck home? Do you see yourself doing the same thing with your prayers? Are you one of those that find yourself rambling too often? Searching for something else to say because you feel your prayer isn’t “good” enough?

If you pray from your heart, if you keep it simple and honest, if you only ask for what you need today and when you pray for others you really mean it, that’s all you need. God isn’t impressed by our rhetoric or language, but He can be moved by a sincere, loving and humble attitude of prayer. And, you need to do it when it is just you and Him. No more distractions.

I truly believe that when we pray to God in solitude, sincerely and openly, with a humble and worshipful respect for who He is, we will commune with Him in such a full and  spiritually rewarding way that His presence will be so real we will be able to reach out and touch it.

At least, that’s what I am going to try to do in my own life. Starting today.

What about you?

How to Feel Better

Dontcha hate the blues? Not the music genre, the feeling.

All humans get down-in-the-dumps sometimes. It might be the effect of the moon on us, maybe it’s a biorhythm down cycle, maybe it’s too little coffee, maybe it’s too much coffee. Maybe it’s stress from work or kids, or not having a job to go to, or not having kids you wanted. Maybe it’s really bad- a death of a loved one, a sudden tsuris in your life. Maybe you just feel like *&%#.

Whatever the reason, we all feel “blue” now and then. Some people have a real hard time with it, and others get over it quickly.

It is a very individual thing, but all agree it stinks.

There is a way to get over the blues. It isn’t from some hokey television infomercial, or best-selling Self Help book. It’s simple, it’s something anyone can do, and it always works.

It’s giving praise to God and worshipping Him with thankful prayer.

Whoa!! Stop the music!! Steve- you are talking about being sad, feeling blue, hate-the-world-and-everyone-in-it! And now you say, in the midst of that deep, dark funk I am supposed to be thankful? Vas bist du? Meshuggah?

No, I’m not crazy. Well, maybe…but not about this. Praising God and giving thanks to Him requires us to think about what we have to give thanks for. That takes emotional energy and concentration. That makes us think of something different than our meager and petty issues (because compared to Eternal joy in the presence of the Almighty, our current issues are just that- petty and meager) and gets us thinking about what we do have.

Praise has power that is hidden from us until we begin to use it. Praise reminds us of who we are- the children of the Almighty! Praise brings back to our minds all He has done in our lives, and the lives of others. When we praise the Lord we can’t help but become joyful, for His spirit is awakened in us as we call on His name in thanksgiving. The best way to get out of the dumps is to count your blessings, and that is a form of praise.

Praise is powerful. How? When you are as low as you think you could ever feel, do what I suggest- give praise to God. Thank Him for your salvation, think of all that Yeshua did so you can be with God eternally. Think of what the prophets did to try to save the people, think of the things you do have, of how God has interceded in your life. I guarantee if you sincerely think of all that God has done for you, of all He has planned for you, and how little whatever you are going through now will seem when you are with the Lord, you will start to feel better.

I am not saying what you are going through is nothing- please don’t think I am maligning how you feel. What I am trying to point out is that no matter how bad you feel, and I accept that you do feel bad and what you are going through is bad, it is still true that paise will make you feel better, and isn’t that a powerful thing?

To give thanks, to worship praise-fully, takes thought and effort. Especially when you feel bad. It redirects our self-pitying thoughts to worshipful thoughts. It transfixes our concentration to think of all God has done, and brings forward  thoughts of good things and joy, pushing back and out of the way the dark, mournful thoughts of depression. It removes us from ourselves and places us before the Throne of the King: in supplication we find ourselves in the blissful light of the Almighty instead of the dark and dank throes of remorsefulness. Prayer- thankful and praising prayer- lifts us up to the very feet of the Lord of Hosts, and we cannot feel blue when we are in the presence of the King of Kings.

Next time you are sad and forlorn, don’t sulk in self-pity. As the old song says, take the hand of the hand of the man who stilled the waters. Welcome Yeshua into your pity-party, take His hand (which is always opened to you) and let Him lead you out of the darkness and back into the light. Give praise to God, thank God for all you have, and when you are bathed in praise and worship, you won’t be wallowing in self-pity and remorse.

The next time depression knocks you down, let Yeshua lift you up.

Still Crazy After All These Years

Yes, Mr. Simon, I am also guilty of suffering from this condition.

I have been a “Believer” for nearly 18 years. My testimony is available for you to see from when I was “newly reborn” on the About Steven page of this blog. I have read the Bible dozens of times, been involved in Ministry leadership, been on a Council (twice), and acted as Rabbi-Pro-Tem for about a year and a half. I also have a Certificate of Messianic Studies.

And after all that, I am still the same jerk I was before I was saved. I am just a saved jerk.

Why this confession? Last night I had a dream (oh- how I hate dreams sometimes!) and in it I had said something that hurt another person. It wasn’t a break-down-and-cry hurt I caused, it was just the truth spoken truthfully in a way that cut to the bone. I don’t know what I said, but I remember I was justifying and apologizing at the same time, which in real life can’t be done. I have often stated that I am passionate about my beliefs and opinions.

Passionate=discompassionate. At least, in my case.

Recently I have been reading in Shaul’s letters to the Philippians and Ephesians, and realized that passionate discourse doesn’t cut it if it is cutting to someone else. I think I have good ideas, and I am usually ahead of the crowd in meetings when we are discussing how to handle a situation. What I mean is, I will make a suggestion that is straight to the point, without sugar-coating it, and usually it comes across so straight-forward that people don’t understand it because,well, people don’t want to hear truths: they want to hear roses and serenity and everyone loves everyone else, and my answer would have to be, “World Peace!” Then, after about 10 minutes, someone else will say the same thing; it will be “smoothed out” and presented in a tactful and polite manner, and everyone will say, “Ooh- what a good idea.” My wife, Donna, has been with me during some of these meetings. She will look at me and I will look at her and we just smile. Thank God I have gotten to the point where I no longer really need (although I do like) the accolades for having “the idea.”

In any event, it’s nearly two decades later and I am still talking with my New Yorker attitude (Oh yeah? What’s it to ya?) and I should know better. I should know that we are to deal with each other with loving kindness and compassion. That we should think of the other person’s feelings before we think of our own. That we should be forgiving not just in what others have done to us, but in how we treat others who don’t really deserve to be treated nicely. Proverbs says to treat your enemy nicely- to give him food and water and it will be like pouring hot coals on his head. In other words, the enemy will be so surprised that he may stop to think about wanting to be an enemy any more.

They say you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. That may be true, but who wants a bunch of flies hanging around? I would rather get a zapper and listen to them fry.

There, you see? I still think the way I used to, I still talk (less but too much like) the way I used to, and I still have those jokes in my head that got me in so much trouble when I was younger. It’s all still there.

I have prayed and prayed, and asked the Lord to excise the bad parts of my brain that make me think thoughts that aren’t proper, or look at people more like produce than images of God, and I asked Him, over and over, why he won’t just make it all go away. I told the Lord I want to give it up to Him: Please, take it!.

A few years ago he answered me. He said, “It doesn’t work that way.” And I knew what He meant. He was telling me that I need to learn to surrender to the Ruach, to learn to draw on it rather than allow my own thoughts and desires to rule what I say and think and do. And the reason why was because if God was to simply take away the parts I don’t want, how would I ever learn to rely on His Spirit for strength. And when the Day of Judgement comes, and the Tribulations are here, I will need to draw on the strength of the Spirit to survive. My life, and yours, should be Boot Camp for the End Days.

Shaul said that when he is weak, then he is strong. That’s because in our weakness God’s strength is made manifest. It’s another one of those spiritual truths that non-spiritual people think to be foolish: it is my weakness that makes me strong. Not because I am strong, but because God is all-powerful, and when I get out of His way (i.e., die to self) then through me He can do remarkable things.

When I am strong, God cannot do as much.

I am getting weaker, I see it, but like losing weight it is slow to work, and quick to fail. I can gain 3 pounds in a sitting, and it will take three weeks to lose it, only to get it back again. I just can’t seem to get it to pick up speed and keep going down.

I have the same problem with dying to self. I can do it sometimes, but I keep making these stinking lousy recoveries!

How’s your spiritual health? Are you dead to the world and alive and kicking in the Lord? If you are, Hallelujah for you! Really. There is great encouragement in seeing people who have been successful in allowing the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to fill them. It reminds me that there is still a prize to be won.

If you, like me, are not yet in that crowd, don’t despair. I really am not dissatisfied with myself, I am just impatient. I can find solace in knowing that God will not give me more than I can handle, and that His timing is perfect. And, I trust Him more than I do myself to know when the timing is right. In the meantime, I will keep running the good race and doing what I can.

I may be a jerk, but I am a saved jerk. As we read in Psalm 84, one day in the tent of the Lord is better than a thousand days elsewhere.  Even the court jester of old got to live in the castle, so I will be happy in my salvation and grateful to God for whatever improvements I make. Because, when it comes down to it, every step closer to God is worth whatever it takes to get there.

If I take three steps closer to God, then backslide for two of them, I am still one step closer. And if the rest of my life ends up as just one step closer, I will be very happy. So should you.

Parashah Noach (Exodus 6:9 – 11:32)

What to say? What to say? There is so much in this Parashah.

The flood representing God’s awesome power over the Earth, the righteousness of Noach that saved not just him, but his family. The first covenant mentioned in the Bible. The fear of man upon the animals, probably representing that before the flood meat was not on the menu, not for men and not for animals. Isiah tells us the lion will lay with the lamb and we are told that in the End Days they will eat straw together. Does this mean that they originally were all herbivores? That’s part of what’s in here.

Then we have the question of was the flood really all over the entire Earth, or just locally? They have found a large layer of clay deep under the Earth in the mid-East that scientifically proves there was a great deal of water, and for a long time, in that part of the world, but  was it just the mid-East or everywhere? Does it really matter?

What about clean and unclean animals? The laws of Kashrut (Kosher) were not absolutely spelled out until God gave them to Moshe, but Noach knew clean from unclean. There were 7 pair of clean but only 1 pair of unclean. Yet, God tells Noach that all the animals are for him to eat, so did God allow Noach to have future knowledge to make sure there were 7 times more clean than unclean pairs? Is that because God knows everything in advance, and He knew He would make Kosher regulations a requirement of worshipping Him, so he had Noach save enough of the clean animals to make sure there would be enough to go around?

Oh, and the lineages. We see how Ham was cursed for his disrespectful treatment of his father?  We didn’t even have the 5th Commandment, yet here Ham was cursed for simply seeing his father naked. I wonder why nothing was done to Noach? After all, he got fall-down, lose-your-clothes drunk! What? That’s OK? In any event, Ham becomes the father of the nations that are enemies of the descendants of Shem, who is the favorite here. Japheth seems to be sort of the “middle child”- not as bad as Ham, and not as good as Shem, so Ham is slave to them both but Japheth has to live under Shem’s authority (in the tents of Shem). Does this represent the fact that there will only be a remnant of righteousness in the world? Out of the three sons only one was blessed. As the population grew, the number of righteous people remained small.

What about Babel? God, Himself, said that if men were to get together as one there is nothing they could not accomplish! That’s pretty high praise, and from the Highest of the High, too! So why did God stop that? Because He gave us different speech, from which we ended up with different cultures and different ethics, we have never been a united people, and we have always been at war. Why did God, a loving and compassionate Father to all, set us up against each other like that?

I don’t know.

There could be an entire treatise written about how, when God said , “Let us go down and see…” regarding visiting Babel, that it is impossible for Him to do that because He is everywhere all at once. If you are already there, how can you “go down” to it?

Since God promised not to destroy the Earth by flood, is that why in the Acharit HaYamim He will burn the Earth? Is that some sort of “Escape Clause” He figured into the Noahic Covenant? He can keep His covenant about not destroying the Earth with a flood but still destroy it. Actually, all He has to do is sit and watch- mankind is pretty much destroying the Earth without any help from the Lord. Will the ultimate destruction God plans to bring on the Earth be accomplished through mankind’s own self-destructiveness?

If you add up the years Noach lived after the flood, and the years between the birth of his sons leading to Avram (later to be named Abraham by God) we see that Avram was 88 years old when Noach died. There is no reference as to when Terah left Ur, but I think it is safe to say that Avram could have spent a lot of time with his ancestor Noach, and could have been influenced by Noach. Of all the children that sprung from the loins of Noach, only Avram was righteous enough for God to call upon him. Maybe, just maybe, since Noach had been the only righteous man on the Earth, he was able to teach and influence Avram so that when God was ready to begin His plan of redemption, Avram would be ready.

Who knows? You can’t make an argument from nothing. On the other hand, sometimes you do need to read between the lines, and that’s why reading God’s word with the leading of the Ruach is so necessary; it helps you  get past the P’Shat (written word) to the Drash (underlying or hidden meaning.)

Well, well, well…all these questions and not one “answer.” And you know what? That’s how I’m leaving it today. That’s right- the lesson today is for you to ask God to show you what He has for you from this parashah. If  I am to edify you, my readers, and help you come closer to God by better knowledge of His word, then I need to let you find some answers on your own. Of course, I mean on your own with God’s Ruach leading you.

I am leaving it up to you and the Lord to go through this parashah together. Find out what God has for you, and (maybe?) share it with the rest of us.

The Lone Ranger, the Bible and Fruit

Remember the Lone Ranger? He stood for right and justice in a world where it was not always found. He travelled all over, and helped those who sought out what he stood for- righteousness, fair treatment, justice, and also compassion, forgiveness and tolerance (his best friend was a Native American at a time when they were not accepted in society.)

I often think of him when I think of the Gospel verse about the man who approached Yeshua and said he wanted to follow Him. Yeshua told him that the fox has it’s hole and the bird has its nest, but the Son of Man doesn’t even have a rock upon which to lay His head. In other words, there is no rest, no place of comfort, no vacation spot for Yeshua during His time on Earth- He is to wander and expose Himself and the B’rit Chadashah (Good News) to everyone He can.

Like the Lone Ranger, Yeshua travelled around, looking for those in the dark seeking light, spreading love, compassion and tolerance (not as we mean tolerance today. Today it means allowing others to sin while you say it’s OK. Yeshua’s tolerance is the kind that lets you hate the sin but love the sinner.) And all in a world and a society sadly lacking those things. He didn’t stay in any one place for long, and although He did have places He revisited He was always on the move.

There is another thing that I think of when I think of the Lone Ranger. This may seem a little far-fetched (actually, really far-fetched) but I also think of pruning a vine. Yeah, I know- Huh??  The Lone Ranger and a vine?

Yes, the Lone Ranger and a vine. And the Bible, too! When a vine is fruitful and produces a lot of good fruit, what do you do with it? That’s right- you prune it, and replant it so that it becomes a bigger vine, producing more fruit. The Lone Ranger was a fruitful vine, producing justice and compassion, and he was transplanted every time he finished cleaning up the bad guys. Yeshua was a fruitful vine, also. Probably the most fruitful vine there ever was!

I can see it now: a desert town, the bad guys taking over and misleading the residents, teaching them traditions over the word of God, using unfair weights and tithing little but taking everyone else’s tithes for themselves. In rides Yeshua, with His trusty companion, Torah. He tells the truth, He shines light on the darkness and leads some of the people back to God. He does away with the wrong teaching by teaching what God really wants, then He leaves and goes to find more darkness. Hiyo, Righteousness…away!!!

Well, maybe not.

There is a lesson here, somewhere. I believe that lesson is if you want to be a fruitful vine, which (by the way) we should all want to be, you need to be prepared to be pruned. You will never realize the fullness of your gifts from God or the fullness of your influence on others for God if you stay in one place. That may not mean moving around geographically, so much as spiritually. We can grow in spiritual maturity and, thereby, produce more fruit without having to renew our passport. On the other hand, we may need to physically relocate, or travel. Maybe go on a trip to some Third World country to do missionary work, maybe just go down the road to help in a homeless shelter. Maybe just go to your place of worship more often to intermingle and edify those there that need help.

The fruitful vine is pruned so that it will be able to do more. Pruning is not fun- you are cut away from your roots, replanted in a new place and you need to grow new roots. You need to start all over again, and all you have going for you is the strength you took with you. You are dependant on the gardener to provide you with good soil, water and protection from the elements until you have put out strong roots. Once you have, and you produce fruit again, you will be allowed to stay there and grow. At some time, not by your choosing, the gardener will prune you, again, and it starts all over.

This doesn’t sound like fun. And, in many ways, it isn’t. When you are working for God, you can never settle into a comfort zone. At least, not for long. As long as you are producing fruit, you need to understand that you will be pruned. Maybe that’s why Yeshua said  we need to pick up our own execution stake and follow Him. As long as we are with Yeshua we will be against the World, which is a cursed and unrighteous place. The good we do is the water for our soul, the light in the darkness we bring is the fruit we provide, and the word of God is the soil we are planted in, which nourishes us.

Let’s all try to be a Lone Ranger for God, a fruitful vine, a person who brings righteousness and justice to those that seek it. Also, let’s all be prepared to be pruned, and willingly go where God leads us to do His work.

It won’t be easy, but the rewards will be greater than anything you can imagine.