Be a Blessing

For the week of October 31, 2020 / 13 Heshvan 5781

Hands planting young plant in dark soil

Lech Lecha
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 12:1-17:27
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16

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Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Bereshit/Genesis 12:1-3)

God’s promise to Avram, whose name would later be changed to Avraham, sets the course for the entire Bible. Bereshit, the book of Genesis, informs us that human beings had been assigned the task of representing the Creator’s interests within his creation. Doubting God’s good intentions, they fell prey to temptation’s lure, plunging not only themselves and the whole human family, but the entire creation into corruption. It is not until Avram that we encounter the beginnings of God’s rescue plan for Planet Earth.

God’s rescue of his creation from the effects of Adam and Eve’s rebellion is described in terms of blessing. The Hebrew word for blessing is “barach,” which means, “to fill something with the potential for life.” It’s the opposite of “arar,” cursed, that which removes life or, in other words, brings death. The disobedience of our first parents brought God’s curse upon the creation. The promise to Avram is the beginning of God’s confrontation of the curse, culminating with the restoration of all things through Avram’s greatest descendant, the Messiah.

From the time God spoke these words until the future day of Messiah’s return, Avram’s descendants, natural and spiritual have been a blessing – not all of them all the time, nor, with the exception of the Messiah, no individual in an absolute and complete way. Still, so much of the goodness experienced throughout history has come to our broken world through God’s work in and through his people. For the blessing through God’s instruments are ultimately rooted in God himself and revealed through his Word. Tragically most people are not aware that the Hebrew Bible and the New Covenant Writings are the source of so many of the blessings we take for granted today, including the value of all human beings, the rule of law, personal responsibility, care for the poor and infirm, universal literacy, racial equality, ecology, the importance of family, the undermining of superstition, the importance of both work and rest, and so on.

Equally tragic is how the mishandling of biblical truth has been blamed on the Bible. For example, many fail to understand that despite the prevalence of slavery in so-called Christian societies that, without the teaching of Scripture, the transatlantic slave trade may have never been abolished. It was because God’s blessing as promised to Avram found fruition through some who were both blessed and were a blessing.

God was well aware of the twisty road between his calling Avram and the eventual day of permanent blessing through the Messiah. Through this time, he has looked for those who would be his instruments of blessing. That God will set all things right eventually doesn’t mean we should wait passively for that day. It’s truly heart-warming to know that the burden of the curse will finally be lifted, but until then we are not to stand back and passively wait, but rather we must do everything we can in our day to be a blessing.

It’s not easy to be a blessing. It’s much easier to let things be. But when we let things be, they don’t stay the way they are, they go bad or get worse. This is how the dynamic of the curse works: things left to themselves decay. It’s only through the power of life-giving blessing that we effect positive change.

That means we need to follow Avram’s example. He obeyed God’s call to leave family and the familiar and venture into hostile territory. He didn’t know how that would make a difference. In fact, he didn’t need to know. He just needed to be willing to face the challenges of uncertainty as he trusted God to guide him. What that looks like for you or me will be different, except it always means we need to be open to God’s voice and be willing to do whatever he says.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated


System Reboot

For the week of October 24, 2020 / 6 Heshvan 5781

A restart symbol superimposed upon a view of earth from outer space

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 6:9-11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5

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And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Bereshit/Genesis 9:1)

I am the main computer person at home. It helps that for years I worked in high-tech, including providing computer training and technical support. Most of the

I am the main computer person at home. It helps that for years I worked in high-tech, including providing computer training and technical support. Most of the time, my wife and kids have no issues with their various technical devices, but every now and then, they need my help: the screen is frozen, the mouse is stuck, the sound isn’t working, the web browser is too slow, a program won’t open, etc. These things don’t happen as often as they once did, but when the solution isn’t obvious, I often suggest restarting, or as it’s commonly called, rebooting. Rebooting clears out any data that may be lodged in memory and resets the computer, tablet, or phone. There are times when this is not the answer. Depending on the device, loose cables may need tightening, programs may need to be reinstalled, a virus might be present, and so on. The solutions to many of these problems are also pretty simple, except for viruses. Rebooting won’t repair physical damage, of course, but before taking more drastic measures, it’s always worth a try. But do remember before rebooting, save all open documents, if you can. Otherwise certain information may be lost forever.

Our planet is a very complex system within a larger complex system, the universe. This week’s Torah portion is about the time when the system of life on earth was so problematic, it needed to be rebooted. After Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s directions, human existence went from bad to worse. Near the end of last week’s portion it reads: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Bereshit/Genesis 6:5). Every intention of the heart continually evil! That’s pretty bad. The passage goes on to say: “And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Bereshit/Genesis 6:6). It is difficult for us to conceive how God could regret his original plan or how he might experience grief, but he did. Time to reboot!

I imagine he could have completely destroyed the earth instead, but he didn’t. Having found one man who was in right relationship with him, Noah, he restarted the human race through him and his family. He then blessed him to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” the same words he had said to Adam and Eve (see Genesis/Bereshit 1:28).

By rebooting the earth rather than replacing it altogether, God demonstrates his commitment to the system he created. The creation is essential to the plan of God. That might be hard for some people to understand or accept, for there is a tendency for spiritually minded people to view the material world as somewhat of a mistake. Associating evil with the creation itself is contrary to how the Bible regards life. Scripture views the material and the spiritual aspects of the creation as an integrated whole. We are called to love and serve God within the material world as integrated material/spiritual beings. The New Covenant Writings tell us that God’s motivation for sending the Messiah was that he “loved the world” (John 3:16). The Greek word for “world” here is “cosmos,” referring to the whole of creation, not just the people in it. Not only does God love the creation, he continues to work out his plans and purposes within it, the culmination of which will be a new heavens and a new earth (see Isaiah 66:1-24; esp. v.22).

The new heavens and the new earth are not a reboot, but an upgrade. While there are aspects of the current system that will carry-over to the new, there will be brand new features, some of which we have a taste of today through Yeshua the Messiah, including right relationship with God, forgiveness, and healing. The new system will feature God’s personal presence on earth forever along with the complete eradication of evil, sickness, and death.

You can experience the preliminary features of the coming upgrade right now, but for a limited time only! All you need to do is turn from self to God and trust in Yeshua’s death and resurrection. Your sins will be forgiven, you will have an intimate relationship with God, and you will live forever in his new creation. Act now before it’s too late!

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated


This Is My Father’s World

For the week October 17, 2020 / 19 Tishri 5781

Laughing young child with apple

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 1:1 – 6:8
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 20:18-42

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And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Bereshit/Genesis 1:31)

Many years ago, I was working as an instructor at a business college in Vancouver, British Columbia. As far as I know, I was only one of two believers among the staff. One day he and I were sitting in the lunchroom by ourselves, as he was enjoying the sort of large, very red apple that grows in British Columbia and Washington State. I pointed at his apple and exclaimed, “Our Father made that!” Instead of receiving the positive response I expected, he said something to the effect of: “I don’t necessarily share your perspective.” He might as well have added, “You fundamentalist simpleton, living in a fantasy land you call ‘faith!’ Don’t you know the slightest thing about botany? This apple is a cultigen, the product of ‘a plant that has been deliberately altered or selected by humans; …the result of artificial selection’ (; cf.”

I was saddened by his reaction. It reminded me of my father-in-law’s concern when we were still fairly new parents. He had asked a couple of our young children if they knew where they came from. As a devout atheist himself, he didn’t appreciate that their answer was “from God.” He made it clear to us that he hoped we would eventually teach them “the truth.”

I was less surprised by my father-in-law’s reaction than that of my “brother in the Lord.” That atheists reduce life to nothing besides nature is understandable. To them, bringing in God at all is dismissed as make believe or worse. But for a theist to detach the fruit (literal fruit in this case) from God’s creativity completely undermines the essence of his creation.

Pitting science against faith reflects misconceptions about each. Science is a useful tool in the analysis of nature. It can reveal how the natural world works. I find it curious however, that it is often presented not only as a system of exhaustive knowledge of everything there is to know, but also as a complete unchanging body of thought. For example, we hear politicians claiming that their particular policy on a certain issue is based on “the science.” Not only is science, good science at least, an ongoing investigation of observable natural entities and processes, it is always open to new information, which should challenge previous conclusions. Moreover, science is not the knowledge of everything. By itself, it is not very useful in determining its application. Just because we discover something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.

Faith, at least of the biblical variety, which I hold to be its only legitimate form, is not a denial of the natural world. Far from it! Faith is the lens by which we can most clearly observe the world in which we live. Well-informed biblical faith enables us to discover the “shoulds” of life, not by being blind to the world, but by the best understanding of it.

I know full well that my colleague’s apple was the result of years of careful cultivation on the part of human beings, just like I (and my children) know how babies are made. But life is far more than mechanical, naturalistic processes. The universe we inhabit is a vast and complex dynamic system designed, implemented, and sustained by God within which his plans and purposes are worked out. The Creator has assigned human beings to represent him by overseeing and caring for his creation. Our lives are to reflect God and his character in everything as we hear his voice and do his will. He then, as our ultimate Father, demonstrates his love through his providential care in and through the creation, including you, me, and others. This is most fully expressed in the gift of his Son in the person of the Messiah, through whom we are reconciled to him.

It is when we are in right relationship with God through Yeshua that we can appreciate the basic, though broken, goodness of the creation. Faith is that which enables us to see the creation’s goodness for what it really is. How the mechanics of the entire system of creation works, I don’t know. God bless the scientists as they do their work. What I do know is that every apple, every child, every good thing we enjoy, is a precious and deliberate gift from our loving Heavenly Father. To miss that is to miss what creation is all about.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated


Joyful Torah

For the week of October 10, 2020 / 22 Tishri 5781

Painting: The Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law at the Synagogue in Leghorn, Italy by Solomon Hart, 1850

Painting: The Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law at the Synagogue in Leghorn, Italy by Solomon Hart, 1850. Public Domain.

Shemini Atzeret
Torah: D’varim/Deuteronomy 14:22 – 16:17; B’midbar/Numbers 29:35 – 30:1
Haftarah: 1 Melachim / 1 Kings 8:54-66

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So Moses told the people of Israel everything just as the LORD had commanded Moses. (B’midbar/Numbers 29:40)

This weekend brings the annual high holy day season to a close. Beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the new year, the traditional expression of the biblical Feast of the Blowing of the Shofar (ram’s horn); followed ten days later by Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), a national day of humility; it culminates with Sukkot (the Feast of Booths), a week-long harvest thanksgiving festival that commemorates God’s care and provision of the Israelites during the forty years in the wilderness prior to entering the Promised Land.

Sukkot lasts seven days plus one. Each year, after the people of Israel live in temporary dwellings for seven days, we were to move back into our permanent dwellings and observe an additional holy day. Thus, it became known as Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of assembly, which this year begins Friday evening, October 9; coinciding with Shabbat.

A feature of Shemini Atzeret is that it marks the restarting of the annual Torah reading cycle. This celebration, called Simchat Torah (English: Rejoicing Over the Torah) is one of the most joyous Jewish occasions of the year. The Torah Scrolls are removed from their special cabinet and carried inside and outside the synagogue with exuberant singing and dancing. In Israel, Simchat Torah is observed the same day as Shemini Atzeret. While in the diaspora, it is the following day (this year, beginning the evening of October 10).

Non-Jews familiar with the Bible may find it curious to associate rejoicing with what is commonly known as “the Law.” Doesn’t the New Testament teach that the Law was the heavy yoke that crushed the ancient Israelites (see Matthew 11:28-30 and Acts 15:10), and that its only purpose was to demonstrate the sinfulness of human nature (see Romans 3:19-20)? But if that is the case, why then would King David write: “the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:8)?

The negative caricature of the Torah, supposedly derived from the New Covenant Writings, is one of the greatest tragedies of history. The true purpose of Torah has been obscured by confusing it with the system of the Sinai Covenant along with additional overbearing obligations forced upon people by religious leaders over time. Moreover, Torah’s illumination of human nature is a good thing designed by God to lead people to depend on him for the godliness delineated in Torah, not to disparage it nor discard it.

All of God’s written Word, beginning with the Torah as its foundation, is life giving. Through its pages we are instructed in his perfect ways. From sexuality to hygiene to politics to agriculture to business, God’s Torah, his instruction, guide our lives in a path of goodness, health, and life.

Torah was given to Israel at Mount Sinai and eventually shared with the world through the followers of the Jewish Messiah. The ways of God as revealed in Scripture are not principles developed by reason or higher consciousness; they are a gift from heaven. A gift certainly worth celebrating!

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated