Follow Me

For the week of October 16, 2021 / 10 Heshvan 5782

School of fish with one fish swimming in an opposite direction

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)

I don’t know if you have heard of the show, “The Chosen,” the first-ever multi-season dramatic depiction of the Gospels, currently with season three in development. At some point I want to do a full review of it on my weekly video podcast “Thinking Biblically,” but for now let me say that I have found it very insightful, especially in reminding me how very real Yeshua, his followers, and the time they lived in were. Also, it has shown me how much I have read into the Bible without realizing it, including elements such as emphasis and tone. The Chosen depicts the characters and the cultural context in surprising ways, challenging me to give more thought to these elements than I usually have. Their interpretations aren’t necessarily correct but are certainly worthy of consideration. Here’s an example.

Up until watching the Chosen, I always understood Yeshua’s call as “Follow me,” (e.g. Matthew 9:9) with the emphasis on the “me.” That preaches well. As Messiah and Son of God he calls us to focus on him. After all, he is Messiah, Lord, and Savior, “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), the only one who can restore our relationship to God. But in the Chosen, the Yeshua character doesn’t say it like that. Instead, it’s “Follow me,With the emphasis on “follow.” (I have provided a link below to the Chosen clip of Yeshua’s call of Matthew the tax collector, where you can hear it yourself.)

Of course, we don’t know for sure how it sounded. It was probably Aramaic anyway, though it could have been Hebrew (the scholarly jury is still out on that one). The point is, however, the “follow” in “follow me” is at least as important as the one we are called to follow.

Last week, we looked at what I called “Noah’s secret,” which is walking with the Lord. I mentioned that doing so is a mark of every good Bible character. Whether or not a person heard the actual words, “Follow me” as did many of Yeshua’s disciples, true godliness is expressed by living according to a course set by God, a course that is most often very different from that of the prevailing culture.

Few characters exemplify this as much as Abram, whose name became Abraham, as described in this week’s parsha (Torah reading portion). I never tire of thinking about what it must have meant for this elderly man to journey in those days from his homeland to live as a nomad in hostile foreign territory. His following a God unrecognized by those around him is the biblical model of faith.

The call to follow is a call to direct our lives in God’s direction alone. He doesn’t lasso us and drag us on a leash (sorry for the mixed metaphor). He is intent on finding those who are willing to keep in step with him, whatever the cost. To follow is to give ourselves to him as he leads us into the great unknown, a life out of step with the crowd, to go against the grain, to swim upstream, and as I mentioned last week, to march to the beat of a different drum.

To follow is not to enter into an alternate spiritual state disconnected from reality. Far from it! It is to journey through life according to reality, the reality of a creation God designed and is restoring. To follow is to live like Abraham, who, by turning his back on what others thought was normal, helped to set the course of God’s rescue plan whereby all the nations of the world would be blessed.

You can be part of that plan. But are you waiting for God to swoop you up on a magic carpet and carry you along on some spiritual high? Or will you get up, turn from whatever it might be that is holding you back, and follow the Messiah right now?

An example of “Follow me” from The Chosen:

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

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Noah’s Secret

For the week of October 9, 2021 / 3 Heshvan 5782

Title information against colorful background

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

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And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. (Bereshit/Genesis 6:13-14)

We live in troubled times. Whether you believe that we are doomed due to climate change or climate change politics, it’s pretty unsettling. COVID, of course, has taken this to another level. Whether we view it as the plague of all plagues or an excuse for the establishment of totalitarian control, pandemic or no pandemic, we are certainly in a global predicament.

Whatever the exact nature of the current situation, whether we are on the brink of disaster or this whole thing will blow over (I would be very happily surprised if that is the case), this week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading) is instructive. Its lessons are a sort of one-size-fits-all solution to just about any kind of challenge we might face in life. While it’s simple in its all-encompassing nature, implementing it is easier said than done. Yet, it’s something that is within reach of everyone.

This week’s reading includes the story of Noah and how God enabled him to overcome the second greatest disaster in world history. The greatest disaster of all time hasn’t happened yet. As we wait for that to happen, we continue to endure many lessor disasters. So let’s learn Noah’s secret.

It’s not a secret, actually. We are told in Bereshit/Genesis, chapter six and verse nine, “Noah walked with God.” That’s it. That’s all we need to know, sort of. You need the rest of the Bible to fully understand what walking with God is all about. But that’s what he did. That’s what made the difference between him and everyone else. That’s why only his family survived the flood. And that’s what we need to survive the challenges of our day.

To walk with God is a metaphor, a figure of speech, that creates a mental picture of traveling with God as we would with any other person. Walking with someone is necessarily relational. It requires a basic agreement between the two parties. If the parties are peers, the directional orientation may be that of mutual consent. If one is regarded as the senior in any way, then that person sets the course and the other follows, which would be the case with Noah and God. God set the course; Noah followed.

Noah’s day was one in which the prevailing culture was on the brink of destruction due to lifestyles completely contrary to the Creator’s design. Noah was different in that he kept in step with God. As a result, God entrusted him with a long-term plan that saved not only his own family, but also God’s overall creation project. To walk with God is not only beneficial for self, it finds fruition in being a blessing to others.

This is also the essence of God’s call of Abraham (see Bereshit/Genesis 12:1-3). The directive to him to go to the land which would become the land of Israel was a call to walk with God. It’s no wonder, that when the Messiah finally appears on the scene, he says, “Follow me.” To walk with God is set to one’s course in the direction in which God is going. Whatever might be happening around us, God sets the course; God determines the destination.

How walking with God finds expression in each person’s life will be different. For Noah, it meant spending a large portion of his life building an enormous rescue craft that must have appeared ridiculous to everyone else. But since Noah walked with God, he wasn’t deterred by people’s opinions and emotions. Abraham lived as an elderly foreigner in a hostile environment with little to show for his efforts while he was alive yet laid the groundwork for God’s master plan. We could look at almost every other key Bible character and remark on how they marched to the beat of a different drum – different metaphor, but you get the point.

So then, when you and I respond positively to the Messiah’s call to follow him, we find ourselves on the same journey as all these before us who walked with God. To others, we may look strange, out of place – crazy perhaps – but on a road full of life and blessing. We don’t have to be overwhelmed by these troubled times if we walk with God.

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

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