Change sucks

But I do change…every day! I change my socks, my shirts, sometimes I go to work taking a different route. Why, once I even tried a new blend of coffee!

That’s all fine and good, but when was the last time you changed your job? And not because the boss suggested a different career path, but because you wanted to try something new?

When was the last time you decided to try a new food at a restaurant? To try reading a different type of book? To learn a new language?

Or, what I really would like you to try: when was the last time you tried to stop doing something you know you shouldn’t?

AHA!! Now we’re getting somewhere. AHA!! Now we’re hitting close to the mark. AHA!! Now we’re breaking a sweat just thinking about it! AHA!! Now we’re……Okay, okay, I get it: enough with the “AHA! Now we’re…” stuff.

Change does suck, mainly because we all get comfortable, even when we are talking about the miraculous workings of the Lord, God Almighty. The Israelites walked through the desert with a cloud to lead by day and a column of fire at night, and after a while all they saw was the cloud and the fire; they lost the “feeling” of wonder at what God was doing. Not only did God miraculously feed them good tasting manna every morning, but He provided water and food in the desert. And eventually they complained about how boring the manna was and how they wanted vegetables.

What has God done in your life that you have become inured to?  As for me, I miss the sense of His presence I used to feel when I was first saved. I miss His touch, which I haven’t really felt for years. That’s not His fault- His hands are always reaching out to me. It’s my fault because I am taking for granted what He has done, and what He still does. I am thankful that, every once in a while, I still get teary-eyed when I think of the moment the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) first entered me. I am thankful for the way God has protected me and Donna, and how He is answering my prayers to reconcile me to my children. Slowly, all too slowly for me, but I trust in His timing more than in my own understanding.

We come to trust God, to feel comfortable with our salvation, and to take advantage of His protection. Even David, a man after God’s own heart, said in Psalm 51, verses 10-12:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation; oh, how many times have I asked that from Thee, Oh Lord? As if You should do that, when it is really my responsibility, it is my job, my actions that will restore the joy. The joy You gave me is still there, deep inside, covered with dust from all the times I left it sitting and unused, hidden under the moss that grew as I did not move myself, spiritually, farther along the path of righteousness You have laid out before me, and rusted from my lack of care and maintenance.

I started this message with nothing, and look what You have given me, given us…a message that is straight from Your heart, Lord: “Come closer to me and I will come closer to you” We need to move, we need to change, we need to break out of our comfort zone and push the envelope, and we need to stop using so many cliches and just do it!

I must try to identify something that will please the Lord and work it into my life. I must try to pray to God to remind me of His wonderful gifts that He provides, every day, and thank Him constantly. I must try to see, what I have gotten used to seeing, in a new light, and I must commit myself to doing more in His name; at home, at work, at worship, and even at play.

This is what I must do, and I will try to do it for the rest of my life. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable, and everyone needs to take a breather, now and then, to enjoy what they have. I ask you all to recognize, right at this moment, what God has given you and thank Him, reach out to Him and ask for His touch and open your heart to receive it. Even if you don’t get that sensation, that tingling all over, that sense of relief that causes you to cry tears of joy …wait for it. We are not supposed to test God, but He is right and just in testing us, After all, He never goes back on His word and we do so often it almost seems silly to even promise anything. So keep asking, as the woman asked the unrighteous judge for justice (Luke 18), because whereas even sinners will do what is right for their own sake, how much more so will God do what is right because He is righteous?

Just keep at it, keep asking, keep working towards being a little different every day, doing something a little differently now and then. Be comforted by God’s gifts and protection, but don’t get too comfortable.

Will Rogers once said that even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there. So, get off your tuchas, get moving and change into what God wants you to become.

Change sucks, and it is scary, and it is disquieting, and it is hard. However, stagnation is worse.



“Doing Your Best” is just premeditated failure

How many times have we said, “I’ll do my best” , meaning that we would try to achieve whatever it is we wanted to accomplish?

But is that really what we do? I will confess that saying “I will do my best” usually means I will try. I will attempt to accomplish that goal, but I am already prepared to fail and feel alright about it, so long as I feel I have made a real effort.

That is fine with the world- the world says give it a shot, but if you fail you are still an OK person. It’s not your fault if you fail, and as long as you feel, in your heart, you have tried to do your best then no one can say anything about it.

Well, golly gee! That’s all I need to hear. Considering I am a self-centered, self-absorbed and rationalizing (not rational, but rationalizing) human being, you have just given me the “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Just as long as I feel I have tried, I can say I gave it my best shot.

Yoda told the truth when he heard Luke said “I’ll try” to lift his spaceship out of the murky swamp: Yoda said, “Do, or do not- there is no try.”

God wants us to do, or do not. He is patient, compassionate and understanding. He knows how weak we are, how self-absorbed (I like that term because it is just so appropriate to people, isn’t it?) and how sinful, in both acts and nature, we humans are. Yet, in His Torah I do not recall anytime or anyplace where He says there are partial sins; He doesn’t tell us that we can bring to sacrifice what we feel is good enough, or to act as nice to a neighbor as we feel like. God tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves; He tells us to bring the best grain, the finest flour, animals without blemish- not the best we can find, but the best, period. Not try to act the best way we can, but act as He says we should.

God commands us, over and over, to be holy because He is holy. Not to try, or “do our best”- He commands us to BE!

There is a big difference between trying and doing. Trying gets you nothing, doing gets you everything.  What God wants is for us to be good; not to try, not to do our best, but to be good.

It is hard. In all fairness, we are weak, we are not able to be good all the time. It is a fact, but not an excuse. It is also a fact that we can be good more then we have been. We can sin less today than we sinned yesterday. We can be better; we can be more obedient; we can stop eating things we aren’t supposed to; we can treat people with more compassion. And we can constantly be better than we have been.

We can never be sinless, but we always can sin less. 

We should not say we will try our best, we should say we will do better. That is the goal- to do better. It is attainable, it is possible, and it is what will please the Lord.

God knows we cannot be as holy as He is, and He also knows we can be holier than we are: that is the “do” in our lives.

The Bible is the ultimate Self Help book, and it will teach you how, with God’s help, you can stop trying and start being.



Pet Peeves

Sometimes you just have to wonder how we ever got this far as a species.

I love the word puzzles in the morning- they get my brain started. Today a word puzzle had the answer , “Good mothers have sticky floors, dirty ovens and (happy kids).” Really? I thought the main thing a parent was to do was to prepare their children for independence, teach them to be able to care for themselves as well as their family. Good mothers don’t have to sacrifice cleanliness and respect for property just to have happy children, do they?

In a previous life I owned a 2-bedroom condo, and I asked who I was married to at that time to please clean it once a week (she stayed at home with our daughter, who was only 2 at the time) because the dog hairs would get all over my clothes (I was a Bank Officer, so dog hairs covering my legs was not acceptable.) That was it- please vacuum the 895 sq ft or so once a week. I was told (and I quote), “What do you want? A clean house or a wife that loves you?” I was amazed, because I never realized that these things were self-exclusionary! I can be loved or I can have a clean house, but not both.

We need to raise our children to be loving, competent, respectful, compassionate AND able to clean up after themselves! Cleanliness doesn’t have to be sacrificed to be a good parent or spouse. Proverbs says that if we raise a child in the way he should go he will return to it. And the bible does NOT say if we spare the rod we spoil the child: what Proverbs says is that if we do not discipline our children we condemn them to death! Good parents do not condemn their children to death.

Another thing- I saw an article the other day about alcoholism, but they don’t call it that anymore. Now it’s AUD – Alcohol Use Disorder. It’s not so much a disease (having a disease is bad), it’s really just a disorder. By softening the name of a thing it seems to make the thing less our fault. It’s all part of that “Not really my fault” attitude that makes our kids irresponsible and our lives less meaningful. When you think everything that happens to you is someone else’s fault, you are really telling yourself you have no control over your actions and that means you have no hope to be happy. Your problems are from someone else and so your happiness must, as well, come from someone else. You can’t be happy on your own. Hopeless, useless, just a leaf blowing in the wind. Not a good way to live, is it?

What’s next? Serial killers will say they have RMD (Random Murder Disorder)? Transsexuals will have NGSD (Native Gender Specific Disorder)?  Career criminals can say they suffer LPOD (Legal Property Ownership Disorder)? Those who are infected with the pandemic of not being politically correct, bigoted and ignorant can fall under the banner of suffering from SABD (Socially Acceptable Behavior Disorder)?

Let’s just call it what it is and face the music about what we do and say. Yeshua told us that our ‘yes’ should be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ should be ‘no’, because anything else is from the evil one. That’s a strong statement- if we don’t face the music and be honest with ourselves and others, we are essentially doing Satan’s work.

Does your company have quarterly “Kudos”? We do- every quarter the managers make up kudos about their people, and we also have attitude awards where you say I did something really special this time and next time I will say you did something really special. Forced recognition of others, just to say,  “Look at how wonderfully we treat our employees.”

I won’t say what that is called, but you can plant flowers in it.

I have been in management most of my life and understand the value of recognizing good work. I also understand how forcing people to say good things about others undervalues recognition. People today generally have this attitude of, “I show up every day, usually on time, I usually don’t leave early, and I do the minimum I am supposed to do, usually without problems. I deserve a merit raise!” Huh? It’s called a merit raise because it is supposed to be earned by doing meritorious work- that doesn’t mean just doing what you are supposed to do. That means regularly, and effectively, doing more than what is expected from you. Here’s what Yeshua says about meritorious raises for just doing what you are supposed to do (Luke 17:7-10):

Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’

If you want a raise then earn it- just like John Houseman said in the old Smith Barney commercials about how they make money: “We earn it!” If you want a raise or a promotion, then do more than anyone else does so you can earn it! It shouldn’t, and most of the time isn’t, just given out.  I am pretty sure everyone reading this (both of you) know people who have received a promotion by simply being around long enough to get it – do you really think they were qualified for it?

The only thing you can get without earning it (in fact, you can’t earn it) is salvation. And even salvation, free as it is, requires you to work for it to keep it (search this site for ‘losing salvation’ to see why I say that.)

There are so many social and political ills in the world, and America isn’t the only country with them. Every country, everywhere, has the same problems because we all have one thing in common that we cannot escape- we are all human. If we did what God wants from us things would be so much better, and even though we will fail at times, by trying and keeping at it we can be better. God has given us all the answers we need for anything and everything that we have to deal with in the world, and He also provided for us the means to have eternal joy after we leave this lousy place. But we need to take stock of ourselves, be honest with ourselves and others, let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’, and even more important than that, we need to know when to say yes and when to say no. To do that correctly, constantly, requires more insight and understanding than most humans have, inherently. That’s where the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) helps- it is our comforter because it guides us and helps us find the correct decisions to those hard questions. And, not only does it give us the strength to make them, but also the strength and perseverance to abide by them.

I am ranting here, and my rants may be a little under-researched, I may not understand completely the reasons for some of these things, and I may be way off the mark on others but I know, absolutely, that the bible has all the answers we need, and that faith in God will provide us the wisdom to accept what the proper answers are, and strengthen us to do what is right.

The world thinks it has all the answers, and it does- only it’s answers are wrong.

Parashah Pekudey (Accounts) Exodus 38:21 – 40

This last chapter and a half (or so) of the Book of Exodus tells us all the things that God instructed Moses to have the people make, with regards to the Tabernacle, were made exactly as God had commanded.

All I can say is, “About time they did something right!” Yes?

Actually, when you read 39:43 it reads less like an account of what they did and more like an exclamation that they did it right.

Traditionally, when we finish a book of the Torah we cry out:

Chazak! Chazak! V’nit’Chazek! (Be strong! Be strong! And let us be strengthened!)

If this is what we cry out, then it begs the question, “What are we strengthening?”

For me, when we read the word of God, what we strengthen is our faith. Faith is believing, and when we read the Torah we see God in all His majesty, in all His awesomeness, and in all His glory. We see that His judgment is inescapable, as the Egyptians were powerless to stop Him from judging and punishing them for their cruel treatment of His people; we see His compassion and forgiveness when Moshe steps in to save the people from the destruction they earned by worshiping the Golden Calf at the very foot of God’s Holy mountain. And we see God’s faithfulness to us by continuing to keep His promise to the Patriarchs, leading the people through the desert, providing food and water for them and their animals, and protecting them from their enemies.

And we see God’s selfless love as he continues to forgive and provide for a stiff-necked, rebellious child who doesn’t really even appreciate Him.

And, as our faith is strengthened, so, too, is our appreciation, respect, trust, and love for God. But is it the right kind of love? Is it selfless, as He loves? Or, do we love God only when he is doing good things for us?

When people give us good things, should we love them? If we love for what we get, what happens when someone gives us more?

When the final days arrive, the Enemy will attack the people of God. However, for those who love the Lord only because of what God has given them, I don’t think the enemy will attack them with Tsouris. No- he will attack them with wonderful gifts, pleasures of the mind and body, power, riches; he will attack them by giving them every worldly pleasure they have ever wanted. In Matthew 4:9 and Luke 4:7, that is the temptation the enemy held before Yeshua when he tested Him in the desert. Yeshua refused, but when the world is falling apart and you are losing everything, and the enemy promises you everything you lost, and more, will you be strong enough (will you have been strengthened in the Lord enough?) to refuse?

In the Acharit HaYamim (End Days) God will not be blessing the world but cursing it. So everyone will be loosing things, and the enemy’s strategy, I believe, will be to give back the blessings of health, power, riches, etc., all the things of the flesh that are being destroyed, to those whose love is based selfishly, who love someone (or the Lord) only for what they get from them.

We need to strengthen our love by developing the same love that God has- selfless love. If someone slaps you in the face, turn to them the other cheek, as well. If they force you to carry their pack for a mile, carry it for two. If they ask to borrow something, give it to them without asking for it to be returned. Love not for what you get from others but love to give to others, without expectation of any return or reward.

Yeshua told us that when we do Tzedakah (charity)  we should do it in secret, so that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing (Matthew 6:1-4). That is the kind of selfless love that God has for us, and the kind we should return to Him by doing it unto others (Matthew 25:40), so that we strengthen our faith and our love.

When we have the kind of faith that comes from knowing God, and when we show the kind of love that God has for us to others, then the attacks of the enemy will fall off of us like nerf balls hitting a brick wall. And because we are strengthened by His word, we can protect and strengthen others by demonstrating our faith.

Faithfulness and love for God, His kind of love, will also lead to more fulfilling obedience. Obedience that comes from only respect or, worse, only from fear will not create love, or trust, or even any real joy. It often leads to resentment, animosity, anger and rebellion. But obedience that comes from love, from doing for someone what they want because we know it pleases them, well, that kind of obedience brings joy and satisfaction. Don’t you know that a “labor of love”, as we call it, creates feelings of immense satisfaction and joy when we see the one we labored for happily enjoying what we did for them? God wants us to obey Him because when we obey, we are blessed. He enjoys blessing us, and the way we can make God happy is to obey Him. It’s a Win-Win situation.

We hear often that God owns everything, and that He can create anything He needs or desires with only a thought, but there is one thing God cannot have unless we give it to Him- our love.

Do you love the Lord? Do you love Him for the right reasons? These are hard questions to ask, and they require a really long look in the mirror. So take a gander at yourself, at your intentions, at your true feelings. And don’t be afraid or ashamed if you are not happy with what you see- that’s OK. Remember, we’re not Messiah Yeshua, we know we have faults, and God knows it, too. That’s why He sent Yeshua…DUH!!

Again, when you see what you don’t like, don’t be upset or downtrodden- that’s what the enemy wants. When you see what you don’t like, do what God wants- strive to improve. Exercise your faith, exercise your godly love and exercise your obedience and you will be strengthened!

Chazak! Chazak! V’nit’Chazek!

Parashah V’Yetze (he went out) Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

Another great story from the bible. Jacob goes to find a wife, sees and immediately falls in love with Rachel, the daughter of Laban. Laban, the head of the family, welcomes Jacob in and Jacob lives with them. Laban offers to pay Jacob for the help Jacob provides, and Jacob asks that his wages be Rachel, so Laban agrees to let Jacob work for him 7 years to “earn” Rachel. After 7 years Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah, then gives Rachel, too, but for 7 more years of labor. We saw Laban’s treachery when Eliazer wanted to take Rebekah back to Isaac, and now we see Laban is still a trickster. Next he makes a deal with Jacob to give Jacob the weakest sheep and goats, but Jacob turns the tables and ends up with the strongest of the herds and flocks. After 14 years the sons of Laban are angry with Jacob for having tricked their father, and Jacob hears of it and flees back to his father’s land, but is not fast enough. Laban catches up, and uses the fact that Rachel stole the family idols to accuse Jacob of the theft, but Rachel, a bit of a liar herself, hides the idols where Laban cannot look for them (under her saddle/chair, which she said she could not rise from because it was her time of Nidah, her menstrual period.)

So Laban can’t prove Jacob a thief, and they make a vow by a standing stone Laban sets up not to cross over to do harm to each other. I think that they hated each other and made this vow not to promise to visit each other peacefully, but really to say ,”You stay on your side and I’ll stay on my side, otherwise there will be trouble.”

The importance of taking the family idols was not because Rachel was an idol worshipper- the family idols were more than just religious: they represented the leadership and power of the one who owned them. The other family members would go to that person to ask them to pray for successful crops, for children, healing, whatever they needed. By stealing these idols Rachel was taking the inheritance she felt that she and her family were entitled to have.

So far in Genesis we have seen that from the very first humans created there has been treachery and sin in the world. God is perfect, but He doesn’t create perfection. That is not a mistake on His part, He did so to fulfill His plan. There is balance in the universe, and in human nature we all, like Shaul says, do what we don’t want to do and don’t do what we want to. In some they want to do evil more than they want to do good, and others do more good than evil. There is a wide bell curve with good and evil in each of us, no one being right in the middle, and very few at the extremes. Eve sinned and caused Adam to sin, Cain killed Abel,  Noah got drunk, Abraham pimped Sarah (twice!), Isaac pimped Rebekah, Jacob tricked Esau and his father, Laban tricked Jacob, Jacob tricked Laban back, and Rachel tricked Laban, too.

And these people are supposed to be the Patriarchs and Matriarchs we look up to? Yes, they are. Because, as I say above, we all have the desire and opportunity to sin, and we also have the desire and opportunity to do good. We see the great Patriarchs did sin, sure enough, but they also did good. And the good they did was far more valuable and faithful than whatever evil they performed. Some of what they did that we see as sinful was culturally acceptable, in many ways. Stealing the family idols was almost understandable, from Rachel’s viewpoint. Jacob didn’t really trick Laban into stealing the strongest of the animals, he used good husbandry methods and was successful because of what he did with what he had (and God, of course, was helping.)

None of us is perfect, and the parashah we read this Shabbat shows that. But, on the other hand, none of us is purely evil (well, in today’s world with the current events in France and Israel, maybe I shouldn’t be too sure of that) and what really matters is not so much what we do, but what we want to do.

I believe that we read enough times in the Bible where God says He sees the heart, and how the blood of bulls and goats means nothing to Him. God wants a broken spirit and a contrite heart to come before Him; just doing the letter of the Torah is not going to please God. Obedience is important, and even forced obedience is better than non-obedience. What God wants, and what He constantly tells us in the bible, is that He wants joyful obedience, faithful obedience, obedience that comes from love and awe, not from coercion or threat of punishment.

We all have good and bad, Yin and Yang, Yetzer Hara and Yetzer Tov. We all have free will and the right to make our own decisions about what we do. And all God wants of us is to worship Him as He said we should (that’s all in the Torah) and to do so in order that we may live. God wants a cheerful and willing worshipper, He wants our obedience to be labors of love, He wants us to treat each other with compassion and respect. He knows we are sinful in nature and desire. I think that’s why He is so pleased when even one person does what is right in His eyes, because He understands how hard it is for us to do so.

You are going to sin. You are going to do so, over and over, no matter how hard you try not to. The thing to remember is that although it is wrong to sin, when we do we can ask forgiveness and receive it when it is our heart’s true desire to want to stop.   God is not stupid or gullible, and if you sin because you want to and ask forgiveness while your heart is still desiring to sin, do you really think God will buy that? He sees your heart! He knows what you really want! The bible tells us that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, and that is true; but, the underlying meaning is that the ones calling are not doing so just to save their butts from Sheol- they do so because they want to stop sinning! We should ask for more than just “Forgive me!”- it should be a call for “Forgive me, and help me to stop!” That is a call that demonstrates you are truly doing T’Shuvah in your heart, that you are turning from your sin, that you are trying to do what God wants and are not just sorry you sinned. You need to be rueful and feel totally distraught. Many people, I think you will agree, feel sorry they sinned not because of what they did,  but because they got caught. We need to be sorry for what we do to others that is hurtful and we need to feel terrible when we sin because no matter who we sin against, it is always first and foremost against God.

The enemy, HaSatan, wants you to feel so bad that you just give up trying to do right, so don’t fall for that. And don’t beat yourself up (well, maybe a little but not too much) when you keep doing the same sin over and over because your flesh is weak. It is your heart’s desire that is important.

I often say that before I was saved I was a sinner who rationalized my sins, and now I am a sinner who regrets my sins. That is the real difference- the feeling in my heart, the sadness in my soul when I sin, and the desire to stop doing wrong and to only do right.

We should look up to the people in the bible who are great leaders, righteous men and women, and recognize they are as weak and sinful as we are. Why? Because that gives us hope for ourselves: if Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rebekah, Noah, Moses (he committed murder, remember?), if all these great leaders and godly people were just as sinful as I am, then I can also be a righteous and godly person despite my sin. I just need to have the right attitude, have a constant desire to do what God wants me to do, and constantly work at it.

If you take three steps forward and then backslide two steps, you are still one step closer to God. We do right, we do wrong, we walk straight paths, we swerve, we fall, and we get up.

What matters is that you stay the course, that you keep walking forward,  and that you keep improving. How fast or how slow is not important; what is important is that you keep improving.