Going Through the Fire is Necessary

Learning new things can be a lot of fun, especially when it is in a nice, safe environment like a school or college. But there are some lessons that have to be learned out in the real world, and although they are valuable they are more often than not much less enjoyable than reading from a textbook.

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The lessons we learn from school are designed not just to give us knowledge, but to give us the skillsets we need to be able to find the knowledge. At least for me, this is the quintessential gift of education: to learn how to continue to learn. Once we think we know it all, we do. That’s because when we stop learning we know all that we will ever know.

God’s textbook is what I call the Ultimate User’s Manual for Life, better known as the Torah. These five books contain everything that God wants us to know with regards to how to worship him and how to treat each other. Everything else, from Joshua through to the end of Revelation, is just commentary.

After learning what God wants from us, our life from that point on is continuing education. Reading, studying the languages, learning ancient Hebraic runes, etc. is a part of that education, but the real lessons are the ones we learn after we have left the classroom.

Recently, I have gone through the consistently constant pain of a kidney stone. I have, over the past two weeks, been unable to sleep, doubled-over with pain and not getting any real relief even from morphine I received. This all started right in the middle of a 7-day cruise Donna and I were taking to celebrate our anniversary! Last week I underwent two separate operations 4 days apart. The second one resulted in a lot of pain for about a day or so after the operation. I feel better now and, God willing, the worst is passed (pun intended.)

Donna was sort of kidding with me yesterday, saying this was the work of the Enemy, attacking me to ruin our vacation. I really doubt that; in truth, I wish I was doing enough in God’s service that I was a threat to “Old Nick”, but I don’t think that was the case. I think I was simply learning a life lesson that was designed to help me become more refined, like gold, after being placed through a fire. I tried my best to suffer through without taking out my frustration and pain on Donna, who supported me wonderfully throughout this. I think, in some ways, the pain I was suffering (which was only physical) was worse for Donna because she saw her loved one going through anguish and pain, and there was nothing she could do about it.

And that brings us to the lesson I learned from this experience! Yes, I was the one going through “the fiery furnace” but what was the most painful thing for me was watching Donna’s emotional suffering. I hurt so much but she was in even more pain than I was, and I couldn’t do anything more about her pain then she could do about mine. It was like a double-edged sword: my suffering was causing her suffering, which upset me, and neither of us could help the other.

This sort of experience is a necessary part of learning how to be a God-fearing person who will not submit to the Enemy or the will of the world. We will have to go through persecution: the Bible is rife with warnings about the Acharit HaYamim (End Days) and anyone who thinks they will just be swept away before the faecal matter hits the air circulation unit may be just fooling themselves. Maybe there will be a pre-trib rapture, maybe there won’t; people will choose to believe what they want to about this topic. As for me, I am expecting to have to deal with it if it happens before I die. I would rather be prepared to go through the Tribulation than to expect to be saved and find out I was wrong.

That is why going “through the fire” is so necessary for us to experience now, while we are able to fail the test and still have another chance to pass later in the semester. We need to learn these lessons while we have a sort of safety net to work with, before the real Tribulation hits. There is an old saying: “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” We are already at war, the ultimate war, which is a spiritual war. Physical strength can help us survive adversity and suffering in physical war, but since we are in a spiritual war we need spiritual strength, which I believe is far superior and will outlast any physical attributes we may possess.

Most people will just say I had bad luck and feel sorry for me having to deal with a kidney stone, especially on a cruise, but I see it as a learning experience. I learned what I can deal with, and I learned how hard it is to see the ones I love to suffer through watching me suffer. I will use this experience to strengthen me so that in the future I can be more supportive of those watching me suffer. This may sound almost like an oxymoron, supporting those who should be supporting me during a time of suffering, but I think that is the answer to this test that God has placed before me. I am correct, then I graduate this class and will be promoted to the next level.

Are you in class right now, or are you in between semesters? Look at your life, every day, and when something happens that makes you feel that you are going through the fire, accept it and work with it. Embrace the suffering and realize it is not only necessary but making you stronger. James 1:2 says,

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.”

He goes on to show how this testing brings perseverance and spiritual strength. Also remember that those who love you will be suffering as well, so use this time to teach them the lessons you are learning so that they, too, will be able to appreciate and thereby learn from what is happening. 

Suffering sucks- there’s no two ways about it, so what we need to do is to try to get past it honourably and faithfully. And, just for the record, you can certainly do whatever you can to reduce the suffering by using whatever God provides for you (doctors, medications, etc.) while you are in the furnace.

Finally, here’s the good news: when you successfully get through this fire you will then be advanced enough in God’s Kingdom to get to go through another one, which will be even hotter! Praise the Lord because he never stops giving us a chance to continue learning, unless (of course) we drop out of school.

Don’t be a spiritual dropout; be a graduate student of the University of God and maybe one day you will become a Professor of Righteousness.

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Until next time, Baruch HaShem and L’hitraot!

sometimes stuff just happens

You know, we live in a world that has been cursed. Sometimes the ground is like brass, the sky often holds back its rain, and there are terrible weather occurrences, such as snowstorm Stella in the Northeast today.

Last night as I was watching TV and thinking I had some popcorn stuck between my teeth (we’ve all been there, right?) I loosened it up and what came out wasn’t popcorn at all- it was a piece of my molar. Fortunately, the entire center of that tooth is amalgam (filling) so I don’t have any exposed roots or nerves, but still and all, it’s never fun to have a piece of your tooth come off.

So did God punish me? Did I perform some terrible sin that caused this to happen, which may very well interfere with whatever plans I had for today?

I don’t think so- I feel certain that, although God does know everything that happens to me, He has more important things to do than cause me tsouris (Yiddish for “troubles”) this morning.

That’s why I am sharing this event in my life with you today, because I have known people over the years who seem to think that everything that happens, whether for good or for bad, is a direct result of something God did to them. Whenever they have a little trouble in their life, they blame God. If the car breaks down, it’s because they were traveling on Shabbat; if the water heater needs repair, it’s because they sinned against someone; if they get sick and miss some event, it’s because God didn’t want them to go to it.

Now, maybe (just maybe) God did intervene- He does that now and then, but for everything? I don’t see that happening, do you?  Just because God is in control of everything doesn’t mean that He causes everything that happens. Often enough, I am certain (although I cannot speak for God- read Job to find out how God feels about people speaking for Him) that God often allows things to take their own course. He knows what will come from it, and there must be times, just like every parent goes through, when He knows that His children are doing something that will eventually harm them, but as a parent you allow it to run it’s course so that the child learns. It’s called Tough Love, and it is a necessary means to an end, which is that the child learns a valuable lesson so it’s life will be better. Coddling and over-protecting a child will never allow that child to develop self-dependence, or teach it to be responsible for it’s actions.

My plan for today, which was to clean and restore a rotor-tiller motor with a friend who is a good mechanic, may be quashed as I wait for the dentist’s office to return my call for an emergency visit. And who knows what the dentist will say needs to be done. He will most likely want to try to save the tooth or replace it ($$$) while I would rather just have him pull the problem tooth out and be done with it: after all, it’s all the way in the back of my mouth, has no cosmetic value and I have two other molars there to handle the workload.

But no matter what happens, I do not blame God for this, and do not feel that it happened because I was eating too much popcorn. I just can’t believe that God punished me because I was glutenous. As silly as that sounds, I know you have met people (as I have) that would actually believe that is why this happened. God broke my tooth because I went off my diet. Really? Are things that slow in the universe God has to take time to break my tooth as a punishment for eating too much popcorn?

So what’s my point? It’s this: things happen to us and to other people, and more often than not the cause is something we have done to ourselves and not some Divine intervention designed to change our behavior. The question is: how do we know when it is Divine intervention?

I can’t answer that one; I suppose we all just have to look at the event, and the causes of that event, and ask the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) to show us the reason. I would say that most of the time it’s probably your own fault, since humans are so prone to doing the wrong thing, and to evaluate the event in terms of how serious it is. For example, my tooth breaking isn’t exactly a change of life event- it happens all the time, to nearly everyone. Now, if every tooth in my mouth broke, that would be something more along the lines of a miraculous happening, something so unique and devastating that I would realistically have to consider God having a hand in it.

Don’t blame God for everything that happens- He is always there for you, He never abandons or forgets you, but He also has other things to attend to and more often than not will allow you to choose your own path. And He will also allow you to walk that path. If He has a definitive plan for you, something that He wants you to do, He will intervene to move you in that direction, but, in the end, we have free will to decide what we will or will not do. So, listen to the Ruach HaKodesh, pay attention to what you are doing, and always check with yourself to make sure that what you are doing is in keeping with how God told us to live our lives. Even when we are walking the path God told us to walk, we will still have troubles- Yeshua (Jesus) tells us so in His teachings.

It’s not how many trials you have that matter- it’s how you come through them that is important. God is there, He is watching, but He is not causing everything that goes wrong. Things will always go wrong when you follow God because you live in a world that rejects God’s ways, so (naturally) when you worship God as He said to worship Him, you are swimming against the tide.

Here’s what I do: I constantly try to remember that what I do now affects where I get to go later, and I concentrate on overcoming obstacles instead of trying to figure out why they are there. If you can do the same, I guaranty it will help you keep on the right path.

How to eat an elephant

Have any of you heard this question before? It is similar to the statement about the elephant in the boardroom, meaning that both situations seem overwhelming. Eating an elephant and having one in your boardroom? Impossible, right?

Not impossible. Not when you understand the meanings. The elephant in the boardroom is a figure of speech alluding to a major issue that no one really wants to face, and eating an elephant is a major issue that no one wants to undertake.

In relation to today’s message, the elephant in our boardroom that we all need to eat is sin. We all are sinful, both in action and in nature. That is why God had to provide a Messiah, one anointed to lead us into communion with the Almighty Father, but first charged with bringing us back from sinfulness to righteousness. Yeshua (Jesus) was that Messiah, and He still is; having saved us all by providing the pathway back to God through His sacrificial death.

I call our sin an elephant in the boardroom because even though we all are willing to admit we are sinful, too often we don’t really “feel” it. Even those people who have no fear of the Lord and don’t care about Him at all, are open to the fact that they do things some sections of society and the “religious people” think are wrong. They are just used to rationalizing their actions, so they don’t even see the elephant.

But for Believers, the elephant is the sin we don’t want to “own”- it’s one thing to say, “Yes, we are all sinners and Jesus died for our sins”, but if the underlying feeling when you repeat that (often from rote) is that you don’t really want to “own up” to your own sin, then don’t look now, but there’s an elephant in the room! No one really wants to be “bad”, so we thank Jesus for all He has done and say we are saved. Hallelujah!

But being saved isn’t enough: too many times being saved is thought to be the end of the trail, the 19th hole, the No More Worries Inn. Sorry- that’s not how it works. Being saved is just the beginning, and the trip isn’t easy. Calling on the name of the Lord is how you start, but following the pathway of righteousness is how you travel, and eating that elephant is what you survive on.

Eating the elephant called sin, in truth, is no different than eating one in real life. The answer to the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” is: one bite at a time.

And that is the way we turn from sinfulness to travel the path of righteousness: one bite (step) at a time. We walk a white line throughout our lives, with sin on the one side and righteousness on the other; we are constantly stepping on one side or the other. There are other lines running alongside the white line we first follow, paths that veer off to different directions. When we step too often on the side of sin, we tend to get farther and farther away from the line leading to God, and we end up on a pathway leading to damnation. But, when we walk on the side of righteousness, we find roads that all lead to salvation. What I am saying is that the way we walk becomes easier as we walk it, so if we start our trip in the right direction and keep our eyes on the goal, we find the trip easier.

Just like eating the elephant: one bite at a time, one step at a time, keeping our eyes on the elephant on the serving platter but concentrating mostly just on what is on our plate, today. Before you know it, the serving platter will not have so much on it anymore.

Maybe that’s why Yeshua said to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread…”, meaning one bite at a time, one day at a time, one step at a time.

Have you heard this expression: “Slow and steady wins the race.”? It means when you constantly do the right thing the right way, you will achieve what you are trying to do.

So face up to that elephant, sit down at the table with your napkin on your lap and your knife and fork in your hands, and get to work.

Be hungry for righteousness.

(No elephants or other large mammals were hurt in the construction of this message)

My Worst Nightmare Come True

To the person who said always follow your dreams, I say,”Bah!! Humbug!!”

I have had a beard, and a nice one, too, for about 18 years. My wife likes it, I like it, and I have been complimented on it.

Occasionally I have this nightmare where I am really tired, and getting ready for work, and instead of shaving around the beard I accidentally shave a portion of it off.

Well, you can see where this is going, I am happy, at least, to say it wasn’t a careless mistake. I bought a new beard trimmer and was testing the plastic heads that allow you to trim to a specific length, and the one that I wanted to use slipped off the shaver head just as I was working my way up the left side of my moustache. So, ZIP!! Half the moustache is gone. I tried to shorten everything else to make up for it, but when I really did not want to face the truth, I took the coward’s way out…I asked Donna if it looked okay.

After I picked her up off the floor (not from fainting but from hysterical laughter) she confirmed what I knew all along, ever since the shaver head fell off.

Like the lead song from that 1960’s movie: Bye, Bye Beardie!

So, nu?  What’s this got to do with God, or Messianic Judaism, or anything, for that matter?  Good question.

My beard was a part of me, and it was something I had cared for and never expected to lose. But in a moment it was gone. Worse than that, in a moment it suffered a devastating accident, and I had to take action on  my own to complete the partial loss.

It’s like when a loved one is suffering, or brain-dead and we have to be the ones to pull the plug. Yes, yes…I know….a beard is not a loved one, but the lesson is the same. We never know when something will happen to change what we expected to remain the same.

In the B’rit Chadasha (Good News) Yeshua is talking with a man who says he is going to build a barn, store his grain, yadda-yadda-yadda. He was telling Yeshua all the plans he had made before trusting totally, and Yeshua called the man a fool, because he was making all these plans for his life, but his life was going to be called that very night. The lesson was that the man was too busy being involved in worldly things to recognize the need to first and foremost be right with God.

We don’t know when we will have an accident. That’s why they call it an “accident”: if you plan for it, it is an event. We don’t know why or when or what will happen, day by day, minute by minute. That’s why we have to be prepared for the unprepared. The way to do that is to be right with God, and trust God to take care of whatever comes your way.

If you are right with God, and you know someone who isn’t (they shouldn’t be hard to find) please tell them about my beard. Tell them how the world is an unknown, and that we can never get back what has been lost. We can only go forward, and sometimes we need to be able to let go of the little bit that is left so we can move on.

There is nothing of this world that is more important than preparing for the second life. The whole purpose of being alive is to take the opportunity to prepare for death. If we plan to wait only a minute longer, we may not have even a second to do that. We need to make sure we are not afraid to tell someone who is not a Believer, or a Believer who is not doing right, that they have no time to wait.

I believe we are living in prophetic times. I see the world coming against Israel, the growth of unrest, wars, bad weather, and an evil that is growing very quickly from the Middle East. We, those who believe in God, that Yeshua is the Messiah, and have been saved must try to get the word out. I often take “chances”, dropping little hints here and there in conversation at work or when I volunteer at the Brevard Zoo, or just in general conversation to see if I get a reaction. I will talk about a story in a book relating to the conversation and tell one of the parables, or a story from the Torah or one of the writings, to exemplify the point I am making. If I get a positive response, I may ask further, “Oh, you know that one. Do you read the Bible?” and that can lead me into a discussion, if the other person is willing.

It’s always by baby-steps so I don’t do wrong. Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) tells us there is a time for everything, so if it seems the other person is willing to listen, talk; if they are shying away, leave them be. You can’t shove God down someone’s throat. But you can give them a small taste, and since God’s word never returns void, you don’t know what  good you might have just done by sowing seeds.

We need to sow the seeds, no matter what kind of soil, and let God do the rest.

I’m not sure if I will keep the baby-face look or not. I figure since it’s done, I might as well stay clean-shaven for a while and see what the general reaction is. You know Donna didn’t waste a second before posting my shaven face on Facebook, and we got a dozen OMG!’s before 5 minutes passed (don’t these people have a life?) Maybe I should leave the beard off- being Messianic doesn’t mean I have to look Orthodox, right? Besides that, Donna has a real good belly-laugh every time I try to kiss her now. Until she gets used to it, it’s worth being this way just to make her happy.

Maybe you won’t have to suffer the loss of your beard, but we all will suffer the loss of our loved ones, and our loved ones will suffer the loss of us. Prepare for them- have your will or trust in order, get a Living Will so they don’t have to make that decision for you when you can’t make it for yourself, and tell people to be prepared for death.

The most important way to be prepared for death (as far as I am concerned) is to reserve my place in the resurrection. I have done that by accepting the truth that Yeshua is the Messiah God promised throughout the Tanakh, and I have accepted the gift of Grace through Yeshua. I have made fellowship with God through the fellowship sacrifice Yeshua made when He gave up His human life so I could have my spiritual life. My human life is how I prepare for my eternal life, and I am set. I have a reserved space, a guaranteed ticket, and all I have to do is make sure I do my part while I am waiting to be called.

The Torah says never come before the Lord empty handed. When I am called before Him, I want to have baskets and baskets full of fruit, the first fruit of my life’s work to bring the Good News to people. I am no missionary, and I am not the type to minister to people. I don’t have that strong a love. I am a good teacher- that is my gift from God, and I will try to use that to bring His word to the world.

I also need to live the word and not just speak the word. That’s hard to do, and I stink at it. But I am getting better.

That’s what living the life of a Believer means to me: not being a different me, just being a better me. And not being who I was, a sinner who rationalizes his sins, but being who I am, a sinner who regrets his sins. This is the path we walk, the way we need to be, and the most difficult thing in the world to do: live in the world but refuse to be a part of the world. I am a foreigner, a sojourner in the world, but unlike those that sojourned with the children of Israel and were expected to live as they did, I am not accepting the world’s ways. I want to live as God says I should live.

What about you? Are you ready to lose people important to you? Are you ready to lose things that you love? Are you ready to lose your very life? If not, get with the program, people! Get real- you will lose everything when the Tribulation starts! If you aren’t ‘raptured’ out you will be in the middle of it (and I have to add I don’t think anyone can say, for certain, who will or won’t be enraptured, or even if or when it will happen.) We must steel ourselves for the battle, get familiar with our armor (read Ephesians) and prepare our emotions and our very souls for loss and sadness. The Ruach will get us through it, if we learn to look to it and draw on it’s strength. It is, after all, the Comforter.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord by preparing yourself.