What’s in a Name?

For the week of April 30, 2016 / 22 Nisan 5776

A name tag with the words, "Hello my name is ?"

Pesach 8
Torah: Devarim/Deuteronomy 14:22 – 16:17; Bemidbar/Numbers 28:19-25
Haftarah: Isaiah 10:32 – 12:6

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Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)

The special Haftarah (reading from the Prophets) traditionally chosen when the end of Pesach (English: Passover) falls on a Shabbat (English: Sabbath) is a high point in the Hebrew Scriptures. It speaks of a day when King Messiah will establish everlasting peace on earth. In response, people will celebrate God’s goodness with great joy. This is where the well-known song and folk dance, Mayim (meaning “water”), comes from: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).

Salvation to many people has very spiritual overtones as if it is exclusive to the domain of the intangible.  This comes out of the false notion that God is really only concerned about our souls. The body, as is the rest of the material world, is temporary and decaying. Our only hope is if our souls connect with God adequately so that the essential non-tangible part of us might have the opportunity to exist in an eternally blissful state in heaven.

Biblically speaking, salvation is indeed a spiritual concept since it is rooted in God, but it isn’t only spiritual. The Bible doesn’t view the realm of God as completely detached from the other aspects of life. Scripture teaches that the spiritual and the material are integrated. Salvation is not a concern for only our souls, but for the whole person. Plus, it isn’t just for individuals, the salvation foretold by the Hebrew prophets is the salvation of the entire creation. That’s something to sing and dance about all right!

Almost forty years ago, when I was a new believer, I was working part time at a Jewish Community Centre. My fairly new faith in Yeshua as the Messiah (I normally called him Jesus back then) was not something that the administration valued, to say the least. One day, the Centre’s director thought we should have a talk. I don’t remember everything that was said, except for when he challenged me to show him where Jesus was mentioned in the Hebrew Bible by name. Obviously (or so I thought) the name Jesus is not in the Old Testament. So what could I say! I was aware of the many prophecies that so vividly predicted his coming (http://www.alangilman.ca/content/messianicprophecies.html), but his actual name? He thought he scored some points with that.

But, as many of you know, Jesus’s Hebrew name is Yeshua, which means “salvation.” If I would have known, I could have shown him the over three hundred and fifty occurrences of the noun and verbal forms of that word, including from this week’s Haftarah: “Behold, God is my yeshuah; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD God is my strength and my song, and he has become my yeshuah.” (Isaiah 12:2). I know that salvation isn’t being used as a proper name here, but the name given the Messiah is repeated over and over again.

At Pesach we rejoice over God’s salvation of our people, delivering us from slavery in Egypt. Over and over again since then, God has been our yeshuah. It is fitting that this would be the Messiah’s given name. For he is our salvation, our rescuer, our deliverer. Let us draw water from the wells of Yeshua!

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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Types

For the week of April 23, 2016 / 15 Nisan 5776

A focus, using a magnifying glass, on the words in Genesis 1:1

Pesach 1
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 12:21-51; Bemidbar/Numbers 28:19-25
Haftarah: Joshua 5:2 – 6:1; 6:27

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For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. (Shemot/Exodus 12:23)

It is absolutely astounding how the Hebrew Scriptures point to Yeshua. While there are predictive prophecies that were designed to create expectation in the hearts of ancient Israel, so many characters and happenings foreshadow the Messiah. There’s no way anyone could have made this up or figured it out in advance. And it’s not as if these foreshadowing elements call themselves out to be noticed. But once Yeshua came and said what he said, did what he did, and there was some time to reflect on the implications of all this, the intentionality of God in overseeing it all becomes obvious.

When teaching from the Hebrew Scriptures, it is common and appropriate to make these connections. Sometimes, however, the search for these types (as they are technically called) goes too far, in my opinion. We should be careful not to create illegitimate parallels, making up ideas and concepts about either the Old Testament or Yeshua that are simply not true. I have also seen how an Old Testament passage may be properly interpreted and explained, but then as the climax of the teaching, we are told that whatever good thing we may have encountered in the passage, it pales in comparison to Yeshua and whatever way he might be the epitome of the lesson at hand.

For example, we could be told in graphic, dramatic detail about what it must have been like for Isaac to be bound to the wood and see his father about to plunge the knife into his heart (see Bereshit/Genesis 22:1-19). But then we’re told that’s nothing compared to Yeshua, who actually was killed. The resulting effect on the hearers is that everything said before is eclipsed by making so much of what Yeshua did. Why even bother telling the earlier story if it pales in comparison?

I have the impression that for some people Old Testament study is nothing more than finding these connections to Yeshua. Don’t get me wrong! That these connections are there are wonderfully astounding. I believe that they help validate the divine authorship and integrity of the entire Bible. But is that what the earlier stories are all about; making interesting connections?

As I was thinking about this the other day, I realized something. While it is true that Yeshua fulfills the types in such great ways, it is the types that enable us to connect with the truths they communicate. So while Yeshua is the greater, Noah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, etc., if we only had Yeshua, then we could easily distance ourselves from who he is and what he did since he is unique as the Messiah, the Son of God. But when we see others being like him in so many ways, we learn that we can be like him too. So the types bridge the reality of God in Yeshua to us.

Which brings us to our special Torah portion for the feast of Pesach (English: Passover, which begins this year the evening of April 22). Prior to the tenth and final plague, the killing of the firstborn, the people of Israel were instructed to take the blood of a lamb and apply it to the doorframes of their homes. That night the Angel of Death would pass over every house which had applied the blood. How Yeshua fulfills this is obvious. Having shed his blood for our sins, if we figuratively apply his blood to our lives, then we will not be condemned when judgment comes.

Yeshua’s greater deliverance doesn’t eclipse Passover. Besides it being an essential aspect of Israel’s history, it challenges us to see faith not as something hidden in our heads and hearts, but an outward public act. Every house that night was set apart publicly as a result of faith and obedience to God’s word. Yeshua is certainly the greater Passover, but it’s Passover that reminds us that we ourselves must respond.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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Defiled No More!

For the week of April 16, 2016 / 8 Nisan 5776

Clean

Mezora
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 14:1 – 15:33
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/Kings 7:3-20
Revised version of message originally posted the week of April 12, 2008 / 7 Nissan 5768

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Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst. (Vayikra / Leviticus 15:31)

This is perhaps one of the most important statements in the Torah that helps us to understand the implications of the New Covenant. Vayikra (the Book of Leviticus) contains detailed instructions regarding how the community of Israel was to deal with spiritual uncleanness.

The term unclean in Hebrew is “tamei.” It does not mean unclean in the sense of being dirty but rather refers to defilement with regard to spiritual purity. When someone or something is tamei, they are unfit to be in God’s presence or to be used in God’s service. Not only did the defiled person risk death by attempting to be in God’s presence, their defilement also defiled God’s dwelling.

Let me explain. God’s plan and purpose for creating the people of Israel were to make himself known to the world through them. God instructed them through Moses to construct a tent-like structure called the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), which would later become a permanent structure called the Temple (the Hebrew word for Temple is simply “bayit,” meaning “house”). Whether it be the Mishkan or the Temple, they represented God’s dwelling place. The various inner sections of these structures, while providing, in one sense, access to God, they vividly illustrated the barriers that existed between us and him.

Much of the sacrificial system was to deal with this issue of defilement. On one hand it allowed people to engage God by undergoing ritual cleansing, but at the same time, it continually reminded them how they, as an example of the condition of all nations before God, were unfit to intimately engage him.

Many of the things that defiled a person, which in turn threatened the purity of God’s dwelling, were unintentional, including certain diseases, bodily emissions, and childbirth. While immorality was also defiling, it was necessary to learn that human defilement was fundamentally involuntary. Being unfit to approach God was an aspect of our natural human state.

The Torah’s teaching on defilement, therefore, describes our predicament before God. Even though Israel was called to be God’s people, human nature as derived from our first parents is unable to engage our Creator as he originally intended.

It is this predicament that the Messiah came to resolve. He, who in his nature was completely undefiled, took upon himself our defilement so that we can approach God freely and fully. The New Covenant book of Hebrews details how Yeshua purified God’s heavenly dwelling of which the earthly Mishkan and Temple were models. Our defilement defiled God’s dwelling place and kept us alienated from him. But the sacrificial blood of the Messiah the Son of God removed the effects of our defilement, making all who trust in him eternally pure, and thus absolutely fit to be in God’s presence and be in a state whereby we can freely serve him.

It is no wonder then that not long after Yeshua’s coming the Temple was destroyed. There is no longer any need to go through the motions of purification or to be reminded of our defilement since Yeshua has purified us once and for all.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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Some Things Are Just No Big Deal

For the week of April 9, 2016 / 1 Nisan 5776

Man looking in a mirror, concerned about hair loss.

Tazri’a, Rosh Hodesh, & Hahodesh
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 12:1 – 13:59; Bemidbar/Numbers 28:9-15; Shemot/Exodus 12:1-20
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46; Isaiah 66:1-24
Revised – originally posted the week of April 5, 2008 / 29 Adar II 5768

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If a man’s hair falls out from his head, he is bald; he is clean. (Vayikra/Leviticus 13:40)

This week’s parasha (weekly Torah reading portion) contains a statement which at first may seem a little out of place. Yet it actually helps us gain some understanding of God’s perspective of life. The context in which this statement is found is one which addresses the issue of leprosy and leprosy-type diseases. Here we are given very specific details regarding how a cohen (English: priest) was to determine whether or not a person was infected with a leprous disease, which would result in that person being quarantined for as long as they had it.

To avoid false diagnoses, the passage includes a few skin conditions that could have been taken to be serious, but were, in fact, no concern. Their similarity to the serious ailments clearly justifies their inclusion. Thankfully having a condition similar to the real thing did not result in the same course of action as having the real thing.

The statement about baldness was likely included since losing one’s hair could be a symptom of a leprous condition. But the statement tells us in no uncertain terms that simply going bald with no other symptoms is no big deal.

Maybe baldness is a big deal to you. I know it is for some – at least from a vanity point of view. But regarding personal health, spiritual matters, or the welfare of the community, it is nothing to be concerned about.

Like baldness, many things that happen to us in life are no big deal. Yet some people think that everything that happens to us is for a reason. They try to look behind every circumstance and figure out its significance. Certainly many things do happen for a reason. I myself have experienced many unusual situations that appeared to be due to spiritual activity of some sort. Sometimes the reasons for these things were obvious, other times not. But unless God makes those reasons clear, who am I to guess what is going on behind the scenes of my life? And perhaps there isn’t a reason for everything after all.

There are certain things that happen to us, such as going bald, that should not cause us concern. You might be going through some normal body changes that are really bothering you, but are simply due to your getting older. Maybe you aren’t looking for some grandiose meaning behind this. Maybe you just don’t like it and it has become a much bigger deal than it needs to be.

This is not to say that there aren’t things in life that should be taken very seriously, whether they be certain medical conditions that require attention or circumstances through which God is seeking to speak to you. But at the same time, there are a great many other things that are no big deal. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we will be able to focus on the things of life that are truly important.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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Unauthorized Fire

For the week of April 2, 2016 / 23 Adar II 5776

UnauthorizedFire01_480

Shemini & Parah
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47; Bemidbar/Numbers 19:1-22
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38

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Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. (Vayikra/Leviticus 10:1-2)

It is incidences like this one that challenges pop notions about God. Perhaps it also reinforces an older view that helped create the current one. It seems that there was a time when the God of the Bible was depicted as a big angry man in the sky, who was just waiting for one of his lowly human creatures to mess up, so he could give him what for. I don’t know if this is myth or not, but this depiction of the Great and Awesome Holy God was completely devoid of love, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance.

We don’t hear too much about the Great and Awesome Holy God anymore. He has been replaced by a far gentler, tolerant, and understanding universal force known for his unconditional love.

From a biblical perspective both of these caricatures of the God of Israel are inaccurate. From Genesis through Revelation, his love, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance are essential aspects of his character. From the moment the human race fell into the clutches of evil, he has been determined to rescue us (see Bereshit/Genesis 3:15). The reason for calling Abraham and developing the nation of Israel was to bring the blessing of life to the whole world (see Genesis 12:1-3). The whole story of Israel is one of a loving Father yearning for the welfare of his people with the goal of the promised blessing enveloping the globe. The greatest expression of this love is evidenced in the gift of the Messiah, his Son, along with an invitation to all to receive eternal life (see John 3:16).

If this is true, what do we do with a story like Nadab and Abihu? How could a God of love strike down Aaron’s sons like this? Apart from offering “unauthorized fire,” we don’t even know exactly what they did wrong. They may have been drunk (see Vayikra/Leviticus 10:8-9). But the prohibition against priests being under the influence wasn’t given until afterward. Whatever the reason, it resulted in a most drastic response from an otherwise merciful and loving God.

This is not an isolated case. Through the Hebrew Scriptures, we see God harshly punish people. For some, the activities of a wrathful God is a so-called “Old Testament” phenomenon, but that simply isn’t true. This same complexity of character is revealed in the New Covenant Writings as well. While love, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance are so central, Yeshua has harsh and even cold words for all sorts of people. Later, God kills two people for spiritual hypocrisy (see Acts 5:11), and Paul even strikes a person blind who was getting in the way of God’s love (Acts 13:4-12).

Believing in a god who only does nice things is escapism. It might make you feel better to think that God’s love is warm and cozy fluff that wants nothing more than to coddle you in your dysfunction. But God loves you too much to simply give you whatever you want. The love of God is love on his terms, not ours. He is overwhelmingly merciful and accepting, but only if we are willing to come to him his way, by repenting of our sins and humbly trusting in the Messiah Yeshua.

And once we experience his forgiveness and acceptance in Yeshua, that doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want. It’s true that God isn’t waiting to blast us for the smallest slip-up. He is way more patient than that. But if we think we can take his love for granted, and assume that he will put up with our irresponsible behavior, we are fooling ourselves. I don’t know what your “unauthorized fire” might be. But don’t wait until it’s too late.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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More than Heart

For the week of March 19, 2016 / 9 Adar II 5776

Book pages in the shape of a heart

Vayikra & Zakhor
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26 (English: 1:1 – 6:7) &
Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: 2 Shmuel/1 Samuel 15:2-34

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If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. (Vayikra / Leviticus 1:3)

When reading the descriptions of the various sacrifices in the third book of Moses it becomes apparent that the emphasis isn’t so much over why various sacrifices were offered, but rather what the requirements were for each sacrifice. This includes which animals were allowed, since certain animals were acceptable for some and not for others; which offerings included portions for the cohanim (English: priests) and which did not; when the people were to keep parts of the animal for eating and when not to; which offerings included grain and/or drink; which ones allowed for less expensive items when given by the poor, and so on.

It is clear that God was very particular about the regulations surrounding the sacrifices. People were not to offer to God whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and however they wanted. How God was to be worshipped was determined by God – not by the people.

Someone might want to point out that God was never really interested in the external aspects of worship. Didn’t the prophets make this clear as in this example from Isaiah and quoted by Yeshua several centuries later?

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 cf. Matthew 15:8).

Performing our duties, while our hearts are actually distant from God is hypocrisy. God is not fooled by our simply going through the motions. But the prophetic warning against the trap of heartless submission to God doesn’t imply that it’s all about the heart. Scripture never gives the impression that God accepts anything and everything we choose to offer him. Faith in God is never to be a cover up for evil.

Our acceptance by God due to Yeshua’s final sacrifice for sin doesn’t mean that how we approach God no longer matters. In fact, the restrictions upon us are greater than ever before. While the sacrificial system is no longer in force, the offering he now calls for is the offering of ourselves. The New Covenant writings sees this as the only reasonable response to his great mercy toward us in the Messiah. Paul writes:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1)

And just as Torah carefully outlined the requirements for the sacrifices, so Paul reminds us that we should take similar care about how we offer ourselves:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Certainly our inner motives are essential, but so are the externals. We don’t live godly lives in order to achieve God’s acceptance. Rather because of God’s acceptance of us in Yeshua, we strive after godliness—a godliness according to his design.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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Divine Interruptions

For the week of March 12, 2016 / 2 Adar II 5776

Divine Interruptions

Pekudei
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 38:21-40:38
Haftarah 1 Melachim/1 Kings 7:40-50

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Shemot/Exodus 40:34-35)

Who likes interruptions! We live in a busy world. Places to go; things to do. But interruptions are a fact of life these days especially. Phone calls, text messages, tweets, emails all vie for our attention. Already while I have been writing this message I have been interrupted by a text and a phone call. I know I could probably do a better job at resisting the buzzes and bells of these attention grabbers, but you know how it is.

Some people are better than others at not being interrupted. They are very focused individuals that are so keenly aware of their responsibilities that nothing will get in the way of their goals.

Hold on, my daughter is texting me.

Okay, I’m back. Where was I? Oh yeah, focused individuals—

Focused individuals can be so good at resisting interruption that they might actually be missing what God is trying to do in their lives. You might wonder how that could be possible. If God is God, then how can he be resisted? We’ll get to that in a minute.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses is interrupted by God. After completing the building and setup of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), we read that the glory of God filled it in such a way that it prevented Moses from going into the special tent where he normally met with God. That means that this tangible manifestation of God kept Moses from doing his regular God duties.

I imagine most people reading this would consider it amazingly wonderful that God’s presence would be among people in such a spectacular, awesome way. But that’s the perspective of an objective reader. It’s another thing when you are in the middle of it. In Moses’s case, he may not have had much of a choice, but how about when God interrupts our lives in other not-so-obvious ways? When great unexpected events happen to us—the kind that have the potential to completely change the course of our lives, what then? I am not saying that every such event is a divine interruption, but I wonder how much we might be missing—or worse—resisting.

The greatest divine interruption in history was the coming of the Messiah Yeshua. The Jewish people had been prepped by God for centuries for his arrival. By the time he came, messianic expectation in Israel was at a fever pitch. As he began to teach and perform signs and wonders, crowds of people began to wonder if he might indeed be the One. The leadership was hesitant, just as established leadership tends to be. But then most of the leadership became more than hesitant. They became outright resistant; hostile, in fact. Even though they were the ones who had taught the people about the Messiah in the first place, he was interrupting their lives by not doing things exactly as they expected. They had successfully built a community of survival within a very oppressive society and were legitimately afraid that change would undermine their rule. Therefore, interruptions could not be tolerated. They may not have been conscious of how much their insistence on staying on course blinded them to God, so that most of them failed to see that the Messiah was in their midst.

This should be a great warning to us all. These leaders, for the most part, were acting out of a good motive as they sought to fulfill their God-given responsibilities. But if experts and keeners out of their earnestness could resist a divine interruption, how much more we? Do we think that we are not susceptible to being so focused on our agendas, our plans, and our ways of doing things, that we wouldn’t ever push God away when he shows up?

This is not to say that every interruption in our lives is from God and should be wholeheartedly embraced. But let’s be careful that in our desire to stay focused we don’t miss how God might be trying to get through to us.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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Toward a Biblical Understanding of Fund Raising

For the week of March 5, 2016 / 25 Adar 5776

Fundraising puzzle piece

Va-Yakhel & Shekalim
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 35:1 – 38:20; 30:11-16
Haftarah: 2 Kings 12:1-17

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Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution…” (Shemot/Exodus 35:4-5)

I was brought up with an unhealthy relationship to money. It was the subject that my parents seemed to constantly bicker about. My father taught me that “money made the world go round,” something he firmly believed. As I grew up I regularly was told that we couldn’t do this and we couldn’t do that, because of the money. Not long after my parents divorced in my mid-teens, my mother and I were on welfare. We had a nice enough place to live and we didn’t starve, but the thought of not having enough was always with us, and it got to me. Our poverty was likely a key aspect in the panic attacks that eventually led me to know Yeshua.

Coming to know God and reading the Bible radically transformed my thinking in many areas, including money. The most mind-blowing concept was that I was no longer alone with regard to material provision. According to Yeshua, I had a Heavenly Father who was committed to taking care of my needs (see Matthew 6:25-34). So instead of every future hope of mine being stamped with a big and bold red “CAN’T” on it, I had a funding resource beyond my wildest dreams. I am not saying that I expected God to give me whatever I wanted, but as I have sought him for everything from education to marriage (which would eventually include 10 kids!), houses, cars, travel, and so on, he has provided for me and my family in so many surprising ways.

I am so grateful that the first community of believers I was involved with after coming to faith highly valued the Messiah’s teaching on God’s provision. Unlike some groups, their understanding regarding the relationship between faith and finances led them to rarely, if ever, talk about money. The idea was that since God promised to provide for our needs, then it would be dishonoring to him to ask people to give. This approach was firmly rooted in people such as George Müller, who was famous for founding orphanages and schools in England in the 19th century. As far we know, Müller never made a private or public request for funds, except to God alone in prayer. His story and the example of my community at the time led me to believe that this was the only way to be a genuine person of faith. To ask anyone for money was regarded as putting my trust in people, not God, thus undermining Yeshua’s teaching on God’s generosity toward his children.

As I mentioned, I have innumerable examples of God’s provision, but my commitment to keep my needs to myself at times became more than I could handle. Years ago, we sought to establish a ministry. We were affiliated with a group of believers but were basically on our own in terms of support. When little by way of finances came in, I had a difficult time of it. I regret to say that this was one of the factors for leaving the work I was doing. Based on my conviction, I concluded that I was at fault for not trusting God.

That was about twenty-four years ago. When I considered stepping back into fulltime Bible teaching ministry in 2012, I wondered how I was going to handle the trust factor. It’s only been since then that I have been challenged to rethink how fund raising is supposed to work. It has taken a long time to accept that the George Müller method was not actually biblical after all. The Bible doesn’t teach it’s wrong to ask for money. Look at this week’s Torah portion, for example. God instructed Moses to ask for contributions for the building of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle). While there are right and wrong ways to raise funds, being open and honest about the need to fund ministry is godly.

I have come to realize that my difficulty with asking people to fund my ministry is not derived from the Bible, but rather due to deep-seated values that I somehow inherited that makes me feel ashamed for being a “charity case.” But why should it be acceptable to trade money for temporal goods, but shameful to invite people to invest in something that will bring eternal benefits? People fund all sorts of legitimate (and not-so legitimate) activities. What’s wrong with funding the work of God’s Kingdom? We have no problem with someone hawking their wares at the side of the road. Why then are we put out when someone makes a request raise money for ministry? You can always say, “No.”

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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Flip Flop

For the week of February 27, 2016 / 18 Adar 5776

Yes, no, maybe, etc. word cloud

Ki Tissa
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 30:11 – 34:35
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 18:1-39

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And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Melachim/1 Kings 18:21)

This week’s Haftarah (selection from the Prophets) was likely chosen because of the Torah’s reference to the sin of the golden calf when Israel became impatient waiting for Moses to return from meeting with God on Mt. Sinai. While he was in the presence of God receiving revelation for the nation, they were worshiping cow statues in God’s name.

The idolatrous situation in Elijah’s day was different. While there may have been elements of syncretism (the blending of true and false spiritualities) as in the earlier episode, the latter situation was one in which the people flipped flopped from faith in the Lord to Baal and back again as they desired. In this case, there was no confusion as to the identity of these two deities (or supposed deity as in the case of Baal) or the requirements each demanded. When and why one or the other would be approached would have depended upon the particular needs of the person at the given time.

Elijah challenged the people to stop flip-flopping. Note that he didn’t appeal to culture, preferences, or benefits. He didn’t even use the appeal most common in Scripture, that of the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt. Instead, he urged them to follow the one who is truly God. He left no room for syncretism. It was either one or the other, not both. The people’s reaction at the end of the story, after seeing which of the two responded in power, agrees with Elijah’s exclusive view of God. Only one divine being can be supreme, and therefore, only one God should be served. Whatever the other represented, real or not, had no claim on the people’s loyalty.

Israel had been experiencing a drought for three years ever since Elijah said it would be so. Since the Lord didn’t send the rain (or was blamed for holding it back), Baal, the storm god, was their next best choice for help. The people’s silence in the face of Elijah’s challenge exposes their uncertainty. That a god of power existed they had no doubt. But who was the true and only God? Of that they were so unsure, they didn’t know what to say. Their inability to discern spiritual truth had left them shifting back and forth between allegiances.

The difficulty in relating a story like this to our day is that we don’t tend to give our false gods personal names, such as Baal. But just because we don’t have personal names for education, money, technology, health, religion, sex, power, and fame doesn’t mean we don’t flip flop back and forth between relying on these lesser powers and the only true God. These and other areas of life are tools, not gods. But when we serve them instead of the Master of the Universe, we become enslaved to them. Then when we try to retain a right relationship to the Master of the Universe we become more and more confused, not knowing what to say when we are confronted on our duplicity.

The only way to stop flip-flopping is to stop. We need to remember that every aspect of life is under God’s rule. Whatever your need is, whatever your situation, the God of Elijah, the Father of our Messiah Yeshua is supreme. Don’t give yourself to lesser powers anymore, but rather submit to the one and only God. Don’t let impatience drive you to give yourself over to lesser powers. He will come through for you in time.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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Putting It On

For the week of February 20, 2016 / 11 Adar 5776

Formal attire

My wife, Robin, and I at the wedding of one of sons , September 2013.

Torah: Exodus 27:20 – 30:10
Haftarah: Ezekiel 43:10-27
Revised version originally posted March 7, 2009 / 11 Adar 5769

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And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. (Shemot/Exodus 28:2)

A few years ago my wife and I were treated to a two-night getaway at a lovely manor in the country. Their high-quality restaurant had a dress code for evening meals. I find it interesting how the putting on of nice clothes makes such a difference in how we feel about ourselves and our surroundings, as well as in how others relate to us.

I had a friend who was a taxi driver. The company he worked for didn’t impose particular dress standards, but when he started wearing suits; his customers began to treat him differently, calling him “Sir,” for example.

I don’t think that the wearing of nice clothes made my wife and I or my friend different people. Wearing nice clothes or a uniform doesn’t transform a person into something he or she is not. At the same time how we present ourselves does communicate something about ourselves. It could be anything from our economic situation, the people group to which we belong, our likes and preferences, or our desires and intentions. Of course it is possible that what we wear may not be consistent with who we really are. If I wore a police uniform in public, I would be giving the false impression that I was a police officer. On the other hand, when a police officer wears a uniform, it not only communicates to others his authority, but reminds him to behave accordingly.

In the days of the Mishkan and the Temple, the priests were required to wear special clothing whenever they performed their duties. To fail to do so would have resulted in dire consequences. It is not as if they were priests on the basis of their clothing. Not wearing their priestly garments would not make them less of who they were. Still, their clothing was a necessary part of their performing their priestly duties. Priests not only played a special role in the community, they had to look the part as well. They physically and mentally could have performed their duties in regular clothing, but they could not truly represent their position if they didn’t take the time to put on their special ones.

One of the contrasts between the Old and New Covenants is a shift of focus from things external to things internal. Under both covenants what God is seeking to communicate both to and through us is very much the same, but how he does so is quite different. With the coming of the Messiah and the loss of the Levitical priesthood due to the destruction of the Temple, the external elements of worship and service to God have been internalized in those who trust and follow the Messiah. What was at one time necessary through things such as clothing and other objects is now experienced in and through the living out of our day-to-day lives.

As the priests had to purposely put on special clothing to fulfill their special role in the world, so we too must do the same, figuratively speaking. We are to purposely apply the elements of a godly lifestyle to our behavior (see Colossians 3:1-17). While it is not our deeds that make us God’s children, godly living requires decisive, purposeful activity.

At times purposely putting on godly behavior can feel as if we are play acting – more like a costume than a uniform. Being kind, generous, disciplined, merciful, and so on, may not seem natural to us. But we shouldn’t think that just because we possess the inner reality of God’s presence in our lives that godly behavior will automatically spring forth without our cooperation. Similar to dressing up to eat in a fancy restaurant, things we have never or rarely done can feel quite strange. But once we realize that we, like the priests of old, have a special place in the world, then it shouldn’t surprise us to learn that it requires our putting on special behavior.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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