Proud of Yourself?

For the week of March 19, 2022 / 16 Adar 5782

Message title information over a boy delighting in himself

Tzav
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36 (English 6:8 – 8:36)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 7:21 – 8:3; 9:22-23 (English 7:21 – 8:3; 9:23-24)

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Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:22-23; English: 9:23-24)

Purim, the Festival of Esther, begins this year Wednesday evening, March 16. These two verses from this week’s Haftarah reading reflects a key component of the amazing turn of events that this festival commemorates.

Before I get into specifics, I want to comment on something in these verses that might be strange for many of us. I am referring to boasting. Older English translations use “glory” or “glorieth,” while newer translations use boast or even brag. I suspect that many Bible readers would expect that when God speaks against boasting as in “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom,” his goal would be that the readers would perhaps boast about God instead. Yet, the reader is called to boast about self. There are certain things about oneself we are not to boast about, but other things we are. We will get into what those things are shortly.

The Hebrew word for glory/boast/brag is “halal.” It’s the same word used in the expression hallelujah, praise the Lord. Hallelujah is often used as an expression of praise, but actually it is an imperative – a command – calling people to praise the Lord. To praise is to declare the goodness of someone or something. While it is common for people to say “hallelujah” or “praise the Lord,” praising the Lord is declaring his attributes or actions in great positive ways. Appropriate praise is not limited to God but can be directed towards others. In these verses from Jeremiah, they are directed at self.

It might be that glory/boast/brag are not the best ways to express halel here, where the subject is what personal attributes in our lives are praiseworthy from God’s perspective. We might put it another way. What about ourselves should we be proud about? For many, pride is viewed exclusively as negative. But there’s a good pride, one in which we recognize what is truly good about ourselves.

Those who are wise, shouldn’t be proud of their wisdom; the strong man not in his strength; nor the rich man in his wealth. All these are gifts of God, not derived from self. The only thing truly worthy to be proud of is understanding and knowing God. This is a pride about self that ironically isn’t self-focused. But we can feel good about ourselves when we truly know God.

It’s important not to miss, however, that this knowing of God isn’t simply a relationship with little substance. To know God here includes an awareness that he is a doer of love, justice, and righteousness. To know and understand this is not merely intellectual. The one who truly knows God knows that we, who are made in his image, are to reflect these things. In other words, to know God is to do what God does. Those who reflect God in this way have something to be proud about.

Mordecai in the Purim story was such a person. He lived a life of love, justice, and righteousness. Whether he cared for his orphaned cousin, spoke up when the king’s life was in danger, or strategized the protection of his people, his life demonstrated that he knew and understood his God. His confidence in his relationship to God enabled him to effectively discern real need and provide real solutions. He didn’t possess the kind of phony humility that often prevents one from boldly taking on difficult situations. Instead, his positive self-understanding, based on his authentic relationship with God, equipped him to represent God’s interests in his day.

Perhaps it’s time we shed the false humility that prevents us from doing what God is calling us to do, thank God for the gifts he has given us, and if we truly know and understand him, be proud of ourselves.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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The Dynamics of Sacrifice

For the week of March 12, 2022 / 9 Adar II 5782

Message title information on an illustration of the mishkan (tabernacle)

Vayikra & Zakhor
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26; D’varim 25:17-19
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 15:2-34

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The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1-2)

The directives in Torah regarding sacrifices and offerings are far more concerned about the what than the why. God through Moses was speaking to a culture where animal and other sacrifices were the expected norm. Sacrifice goes back to at least Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve. Some think it goes back further when God provided animal skins to cover Adam and Eve to replace the skimpy fig leaf “clothes” they made. Regardless, the Bible assumes sacrifice as a primary human activity without explaining why. The lack of why has not prevented it from being core to many societies throughout human history, continuing until today.

Similar to the why question is what does sacrifice do? It appears that many cultures understood it to be a way to appease the gods. It was believed that the gods were behind the challenges of nature. Somehow the offering up of an animal, often through burning it, transferred it to the domain of the gods. If the gods accepted it, good things would happen. If not, you continued to be a victim of their wrath through drought, famine, floods, and so on.

There are some hints that biblical sacrifice worked in a similar fashion. God speaks of receiving an acceptable sacrifice as a pleasing aroma (e.g. Vayikra/Leviticus 1:9). Torah teaches that blood is imbued with a certain quality that makes sacrifice effective (see Vayikra/Leviticus 17:11). Yet, it is very clear that the Bible rejects any sort of mechanical dynamic regarding sacrifice. For if a person’s attitude toward God wasn’t one of humility and genuine honor, the sacrifices would accomplish nothing (e.g. Hosea 6:6). It was never the sacrifices themselves that made the difference. It always was (as it still is) more to do with how people personally relate to God. Biblically speaking, rituals were always intended to be an outward expression of an inner reality.

The great exception to this is the Messiah. His sacrifice actually made a practical difference by breaking the power of sin in the world. A case could be made that every other sacrifice is a sort of symbolic gesture reflecting the uniqueness of Yeshua’s selfless death.

The call to sacrifice continues despite the effectiveness of Yeshua’s own. I am not referring to the Old Covenant sacrifices established through Moses, for they are now obsolete due to the establishment of the New Covenant as prophesied through Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 31:31-34). This is thoroughly explained in the Book of Hebrews. Under the New Covenant the focus on sacrifice shifts from giving up what we own to the giving up of our very lives. We read, “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). Far from seeking to court favor from the gods in order to reap benefits, we give our whole selves out of gratefulness to the one who graciously restored us to himself.

Yeshua called his followers to a lifestyle of sacrifice. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). And yet these words are often misunderstood to refer to the need to reckon with the great difficulty of following him. “Oh, what a heavy cross I have to bear!” one might say. That misses the point, however. Instead, this is in line with the call to be a living sacrifice. Yeshua is saying that his followers must be ready to do God’s will even if it results in giving up our lives just as he did.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Filled

For the week of March 5, 2022 / 2 Adar II 5782

Message title information on a illustration of a love meter

Pekudei
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 38:21 – 40:38
Haftarah: 1 Kings 7:40-50
Edited version of message posted the week of March 1, 2014 / 29 Adar 5774

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Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Shemot / Exodus 40:34; ESV)

The manifest presence of God is a key component of biblical truth. According to the Bible, God is not simply a philosophical concept. He is an independent, self-defined, self-aware, active, responsive relational being with personality. As a relational being, while invisible, he isn’t cut off from human beings. Rather, he has made himself known and accessible to people. While God has revealed himself in implicit, more subtle ways, through such things as creation, which acts as material evidence for his existence and his creativity, he also has done so in more explicit, dramatic ways, through prophetic utterance and his manifest presence.

The Bible itself is the product of prophetic utterance. The most obvious examples of this are the recorded words of the prophets themselves as they spoke God’s actual words to their hearers in their day. Knowledge of God and his will is not determined by divination and fortune telling, but by God’s intimate communication through people. This also applies to the entire Bible in that its authors wrote under the authority of God’s inspiration.

But God not only reveals himself through words, but also through observable phenomena, whereby he, who is normally invisible and nonphysical, makes himself known in some sort of physical way. The Torah mentions such occurrences, including the burning bush (see Shemot / Exodus 3:2-6) and thunder at Mt. Sinai (see Shemot / Exodus 19:19). God even manifests himself in human form on more than one occasion. He comes in this way to Abraham to announce Isaac’s birth, to warn him about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Bereshit / Genesis 18), and in his life-transforming wrestling match with Jacob (see Bereshit / Genesis 32:22-32). That God would come in a similar fashion in the Messiah should not surprise us.

During Israel’s forty years of wilderness wanderings, God’s manifest presence guided and protected them through a pillar of fire and cloud. When the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), the center of Israel’s worship, the mobile precursor to the permanent Temple built many years later, was completed, the cloud covered it and the kavod (English: glory) of God filled it. Kavod is one of the ways the Torah refers to God’s manifest presence. Where God was to be worshipped, his presence was really there. Note that this didn’t occur until every detail of the Mishkan’s construction as given by God through Moses was fully completed. It was only then that God’s presence filled the Mishkan.

The filling of the Mishkan foreshadows a much greater event when God’s manifest presence would fill individuals as foretold by the Hebrew prophet Joel:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit (Joel 3:1-2; English: 2:28-29).

Joel speaks of a day when we could experience God from the inside out due to the indwelling of his very presence through his Spirit. But as in the construction of the Mishkan, every God-ordained detail needed to be completed first. People could not be filled with God’s Spirit until we were made ready.

But we can be ready right now. For the Messiah has done everything necessary in order that we can be filled with the glory of God. The forgiveness of sins through Yeshua’s sacrificial death and the newness of life through his resurrection are all we need to be so filled. All we need to do now is turn to God and put our trust in Yeshua and what he has done for us.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Inspiration

For the week of February 26, 2022 / 25 Adar 5782

Vayakhel & Shekalim
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 35:1 – 38:20; 30:11-16
Haftarah: 2 Kings 12:1-17 (English: 11:21 – 12:16)

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And he has inspired him to teach (Shemot/Exodus 35:34)

One of the most important concepts in the Bible is inspiration. Inspiration is the foundation of the dependability of Scripture as an accurate record of God’s communication. The New Covenant Writings, primarily in reference to the Hebrew Scriptures, express this as follows:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (1 Peter 1:20-21)

The English word “inspiration” attempts to capture the idea that Scripture was breathed out by God or that the writers were carried along by God’s Spirit. Either way, the origins of the biblical writings are not found in the human authors but in God. There is no sense that God overrode the consciousness of the writers. Exceptions include, the Ten Commandments, which are particularly unique in that they were handwritten by God himself (see Shemot/Exodus 31:18; D’varim/Deuteronomy 9:10). There are some sections of Scripture that are dictated by God. Much of what Moses taught may have been like that. Also, when the prophets declare, “Thus says the Lord!”, they may have been repeating God’s word verbatim, though there are hints that God gave them something more akin to an impression that they then put into their own words. There are other large sections, such as the Psalms, which arise out of individuals’ own prayers and struggles with God and life but are no less inspired. Then, of course, much of Scripture is narration, describing situations or summarizing events, but are no less “breathed out by God.”

I find the dynamic of inspiration fascinating. That the origins of what Scripture teaches is expressed through a great variety of writing styles demonstrates a remarkable cooperation between God as the ultimate author and the people he chose to record his Word. We see this reflected in this week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading portion). Here, God chose lead craftsmen to equip others in the development of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), Israel’s beautiful and intricate, semi-portable, worship center. We read that God filled Bezalel “with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft” (Shemot/Exodus 35:30-33). In the following verse, the Hebrew reads, “he put in his heart to teach” (Shemot/Exodus 35:34). The English Standard Version represents this as “he has inspired him to teach.”

Inspiration is God putting his ideas into people’s hearts. While the inspiration of Scripture is unique in that Scripture is our only authority for faith and life, God continues to put into the hearts of people his influence, moving upon them to fulfil his will in the world. I don’t understand how he does it, but he does.

What has God put into your heart?

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated

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Accidental Covenant

For the week of January 29, 2022 / 27 Shevat 5782

Message info and Canadian coat of arms

Mishpatim
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 21:1 – 24:18
Haftarah: Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26

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The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them (Jeremiah 34:8)

This week, I would like to address “my home and native land,” to borrow a line from the Canadian national anthem. But first, let me set up the biblical background to the serious situation we find ourselves in today. The Haftarah reading from the prophet Jeremiah has to do with his confronting of King Zedekiah. These readings from the Hebrew prophets are generally chosen based on some connection to the weekly Torah portion. The current portion includes specific instructions about the limited terms of service for Hebrew slaves. They were to only serve six years and be released in the seventh. In Jeremiah’s day, the king made a decree in keeping with these Torah directives only to rescind them soon afterward. This resulted in God’s giving Jeremiah a harsh message of judgement to deliver to the king.

It’s with a sense of caution that I now seek to connect this story to contemporary Canada. Covenant with God is nothing to take lightly. But what does that have to do with Canada? Emblazoned on our coat of arms are the Latin words, “a mari usque ad mare” (“from sea to sea’) taken from Psalm 72:8 (“May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth”). Applying this verse to the fledgling nation was suggested by Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley of New Brunswick. The Psalm originally refers to King Solomon and is his prayer for the establishment of his rule according to borders delineated by God. Tilly was most likely thinking of the eventual expansion of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Be that as it may, the adopting of “a mari usque ad mare” as the official Canadian motto establishes a connection of our country to the Bible.

These same words, but more fully and in English, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea” (KJV), are also etched into the front of the large clock tower in the center-front of our houses of parliament. On the other two sides of the same tower are the verses: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!” (Psalm 72:1; KJV) and “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV). From what I understand, these Scriptures were not officially mandated by the government of the day but were inscribed by the builders anyway. When they were  unveiled, they weren’t removed. Despite contrary sentiments, our parliamentary houses have declared these truths since 1927 when the tower was inaugurated.

This connection to God’s written word eventually found itself woven into the foundation of our legal system in 1982, when our current constitution became law. The introductory sentence of the Canadian constitution reads, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”.

I am aware that this reference to God is generic, but from this country’s earliest days, there was no question that “God” was the God of the Bible. And since this God is the only God anyway, it is he who is referenced no matter how anyone may try to interpret it.

As for the “rule of law,” whether or not people are aware of it, it is a principle of governance deeply rooted in the Bible.

Samuel Tilley may have been dreaming about a railway system that would one day be the backbone of an ongoing British presence from sea to sea despite American aspirations, yet he drew Canada into an accidental covenant with the God of Israel.

To deny, ignore, or reinterpret, these biblical connections is to undermine the foundations of our country. Even without these accidents of history, God through the Messiah is the true sovereign over all nations. But when a country acknowledges these truths only to later neglect them creates a most precarious situation. It is one thing to dwell in the darkness, it is another to have embraced the light only to close one’s eyes to it.

The very fabric of this great nation is at risk of completely unravelling unless there is a turning back to the biblical truths upon which it once stood. That begins with each and every Canadian upon whose hearts God’s Word is engraved.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated

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Eagles’ Wings

For the week of January 22, 2022 / 20 Shevat 5782

Illustration of a flying eagle with mountains and rainbow in the background

Yitro
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 18:1 – 20:23 (English: 18:1 – 20:26)
Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5
Originally posted the week of February 15, 2020 / 20 Shevat 5780

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You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. (Shemot/Exodus 19:4)

This has to be one of the more beautiful metaphors in the entire Bible. Israel, oppressed from generations under Egyptian taskmasters, helpless to alleviate their plight, cry out to the God of their ancestors for deliverance. The years go by and things go from bad to worse. Then the day comes; God to the rescue! Despite all odds, the Master of the Universe swoops down seemingly out of nowhere and miraculously carries the nation on his back to freedom.

Beautiful metaphor indeed, but that’s not what happened. Miraculous, yes. However it was much more of a process and a difficult one at that. From Moses’ first being given the exodus mandate to getting support from the Hebrew elders to Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to the ten plagues, culminating in the death of Egypt’s firstborn and their departure. Not completely free of their oppressors, they are then pursued by the Egyptian army that drowned in the parting of the Red Sea, while Israel made it safely to the other side. While this finally disconnected the liberated slaves from Egypt for good, the difficult process continued as they were learning to trust God for his miraculous provision and care in an uninhabitable wilderness on their way to Mt. Sinai and the Promised Land.

What is this about eagles’ wings then? I could imagine scholars musing over how such an image is nothing more than a mythic version of the exodus put into God’s mouth centuries after the fact. I am very aware how after a period of time the sting of hardship fades from memory and we just remember the good parts – and then the good parts are remembered so much better than they actually were. The problem with this train of thought is that the painful details weren’t forgotten. They have been well-documented and preserved from then until now.

How then could such an expression as “I bore you on eagles’ wings” be appropriate? Perhaps we picture riding on eagles differently from the Israelites of old. They wouldn’t share our Hollywood-influenced view of such an experience. In my mind I see the film version of Lord of the Rings, where near the end of this epic, Gandalf rescues Frodo and Sam with gigantic eagles that scoop them up with their talons, carrying them to safety as they blissfully soar through the sky. The Israelites, on the other hand, likely have related to “eagles’ wings” differently. Whether they pictured normal-sized eagles which would not be accustomed to carrying such loads or gigantic ones that are more the stuff of nightmares than what we see in Lord of the Rings, the image evoked may not have been a nice one. Instead, it might have included the precarious nature of the process they had to endure.

A more likely possibility is that the eagles’ wing picture of God’s rescue reflects the outcome and purpose of the exodus, not the process. This metaphor evokes an image of God’s intense and personal activity in bringing the people to Mt. Sinai where he would reveal his will to them, constitute them as a nation, and send them on a mission to establish themselves in the Promised Land. While the process was difficult, the outcome was never in question. He did whatever it took to accomplish his will. While the process was never forgotten, the impossibility and success of the exodus makes being carried through the sky an apt image after all.

No wonder many years later the prophet Isaiah would recall such a picture to encourage his generation of Israelites that their divine rescue was coming: “but they who wait (meaning “hope”) for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:1). In this case the people themselves become eagle-like as the power of God fills them with his powerful presence. But remember eagle-like doesn’t automatically mean easy or simple. Yet, however difficult the process may be, God will get you to where you need to go.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Go Forward

For the week of January 15, 2022 / 13 Shevat 5782

Beshalach
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 13:17 – 17:16
Haftarah: Shoftim/Judges 4:4 – 5:31
Updated version of message originally posted the week of January 23, 2016 / 13 Shevat 5776

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The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.” (Shemot/Exodus 14:15)

The people of Israel were between a rock and a hard place, metaphorically speaking. They were actually between an impassible body of water and the Egyptian army keen on dragging them back to Egypt. An interesting interchange ensues between Moses and God. Well, actually, it’s not an interchange. The people freak out, thinking that they are about to be slaughtered, Moses reassures them, but then God tells Moses what to do, contradicting him in the process. Let’s look at this more closely.

Moses said to the people: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Shemot/Exodus 14:13-14). Based on everything Moses knew about God up to that moment—his character, his power, and his methodology—this sounds so right. Moses knew how fundamentally misguided the people’s freak-out was. God didn’t bring them to this point only to abandon them. Moses knew that he was leading them to Sinai and on to the Promised Land. So, this couldn’t be the end. How God would rescue them, he didn’t know, but after all that had happened with the ten plagues and a reasonable analysis of the situation, Moses concluded that all Israel had to do was to do nothing, except stand. God would take care of the situation all by himself.

But with all due respect to Moses, he was wrong. They were not just to stand there; they were to “go forward.” I know Moses was also told: “Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground” (Shemot/Exodus 14:16), but the people were not to wait for the sea to part first, but rather they were to march toward the sea.

God was calling the people to readjust their orientation to the situation. He had called them to journey in a certain direction, which required getting to the other side of the water. But instead, they were frozen by fear. They needed to refocus and get with God’s program again.

Note that God was not calling them into the water before it parted. He might call people to do that from time to time, but not in this case. They simply had to move in its direction. He also didn’t order them to turn around and confront the enemy nipping at their heels. The day would come when Israel would engage in battle, but not now. In this situation they had to go forward.

I remember a situation I was in where I was called to go forward. It was nowhere near drastic as what the Israelites were facing. But for me at the time the dynamic was similar. I was at a large leaders’ conference, a pretty intense time of seeking God. I was privileged to be part of the core group tasked with discerning direction for the various meetings. I was new to such things and probably a little too excited about it all. In one of the core group meetings, I felt a real burden over something, but once I finally had a chance to speak out, I got the impression (right or wrong) that I was out of line. I felt absolutely terrible and embarrassed. I went to my hotel room, not wanting to show my face in public again (I am being only a little overdramatic!). As I called out to the Lord in my fear and confusion, I had the clear sense that I needed to go forward. That meant joining the others to face whatever might happen, whatever others might think of me, whatever reprimand I might receive, whatever. I had no guaranty of how God would deal with the scary elements ahead of me. I simply had to face them. And as I did, nothing I feared came to pass. My sea had parted as I went forward.

I am concerned that too many of us are frozen in place right now. We’ve have been disoriented by fear of sickness and death along with constantly changing restrictions. Waiting for it all to be over is not God’s will. What is God’s will for you right now, I can’t say. But I do know he wants you to keep moving forward in whatever direction he is calling you to.

We were not to be distracted by the threats and obstacles of life before and we are not to be distracted by them now. Perhaps we were too comfortable with the way things were before the current crisis. We are not used to our lives being so constricted. But God hasn’t changed. With him, there is always a way forward. We just need to find out what that is.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Call the Midwives

For the week of December 25, 2021 / 21 Tevet 5782

Husband and midwives assisting woman in labor

Shemot
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 1:1-6:1
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6 – 28:13; 29:22-23

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So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” (Shemot/Exodus 1:18)

The Bible teaches that godly people should respect authority as we read here:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (Romans 13:1-2).

If this is so, then what’s with the midwives in this week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading portion)? To appreciate what’s going on here, let’s look at more of the context than my brief quote at the beginning:

Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. (Shemot/Exodus 1:15-21)

The Hebrew midwives clearly disobeyed the governing authority in this case. The king’s edict was clear. They were to murder the male babies, but they didn’t. Not only did they not follow the law, they concocted a cover up, claiming the Hebrew women gave birth before they got there.

Disobeying government? Lying to the authorities? How terrible. Since when does the end justify the means? Who would defend such a thing? God would. He blessed the midwives for what they did. And why did they do what they did? They feared God. Because they put God ahead of human authority, they not only saved lives, God favored them.

Then what’s with Romans 13? Is this a case of some sort of superior New Testament morality? I myself would not normally assume such a thing, since the person who wrote Romans, also wrote:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

New Covenant morality and spirituality is built upon a strong Hebrew Scripture foundation. There are some developments that occur due to the coming of the Messiah, but general morality doesn’t change. Even if it did, it would be very difficult to contradict the clear positive assessment of the midwives’ actions.

Which brings us back to Romans 13. Does the injunction to “be subject to the governing authorities” contradict the actions taken by the midwives? Not if you read further in the chapter. First, God-given jurisdiction of governing authority is defined as “God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). But what is the obligation of people to government, when government goes beyond its God-given duties? Note the subtle: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7). While there is respect and honor due to government, what are we to do when its policies contravene those of God himself? Are we to respect and honor government over God? The midwives certainly didn’t think so.

What the midwives did is reflected well elsewhere in the New Covenant Writings: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:7). Yes, submit to governing authorities, but fear God. The midwives understood correctly that God and his ways must come first. As long as government doesn’t contravene God’s directives, go along.

Some think that the only time to ignore government is when a life is immediately at risk. That normally should be the case. But what do we do when human authority dictates harm in other ways, prevents us from speaking truth, or demands we uphold falsehood? Thankfully this kind of government overreach is historically rare. But when government attempts to take God’s place, it’s time to listen to the midwives.

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The Other Side of the Coin

For the week of December 18, 2021 / 14 Tevet 5782

Message information superimposed on the front and back of a 1980 Canadian 25-cent coin

Vayechi
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 47:28-50:26
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 2:1-12

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But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Bereshit/Genesis 50:19-21)

What I attempt to share here is quite personal and sensitive. So, forgive its cryptic nature. I trust it’s clear enough to effectively communicate this important lesson from the life of Joseph.

I was trying to get perspective after a difficult week. A few days before, I got the shocking news that I was being released from a volunteer position that I absolutely loved. My performance was not in question. It seemed that there may have been some issues between me and leadership, but I was not given the whole story. I was rejected, I couldn’t figure out why, and there was nothing I could do about it.

As I took some focused time to pray about this, my mind turned to the story of Joseph and his words, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Bereshit/Genesis 50:20). These are some of the most profound words in all of Scripture. That a human being could endure the amount of suffering that he did from his own family without resentment overwhelms me. His brothers were so jealous of him, they wanted to kill him. As it turned out, they sold him into slavery instead, which eventually resulted in his spending many years in an Egyptian dungeon after being falsely accused by his master’s wife. Even though it became obvious that God used his painful circumstance for good, few people would be immune to extreme bitterness. Yet somehow Joseph rose above it all. Not that he didn’t see his brothers’ wrong for the evil that it was, but at the same time he accepted God’s higher purpose.

“You meant it for evil; God meant it for good.”  One set of circumstances; two intentions. Like two sides of the same coin.

The image of turning over a coin to see the other side came to me some time before. It happened while I was mulling over another rejection; probably the most painful, I have ever experienced.  Another firing, this time directly related to my faith in Yeshua. Through the years I would often relive the experience. I can’t tell you the number of dreams I have had where I would find myself pleasantly back in that situation, broken relationships restored. Innumerable times I have wondered that if only this or that would have or would not have happened, then perhaps things would have worked out differently.

It was during one of those times that the coin flipped. It was probably thirty years after the event. All of a sudden, I realized how God used that painful event for my good, my best actually. I finally saw the other side of the most bitter coin that I have ever carried.

With that in mind I was trying to process the situation I mentioned at the start. Thinking of “you meant it for evil; God meant it for good,” I decided to go through my life and think of all my past unpleasant events (I’ve had several) and note how God used them for good. Some I had already previously processed. Still, it’s encouraging to remember how God works through painful circumstances, and I needed encouragement that day.

As I started my memory journey, I was not prepared for another coin to flip. I asked God to show me the other side of the coin of my father’s leaving me and my mother when I was fourteen. I had never taken the time to think that through in this way. I simply assumed that I needed God to heal the father-wound that I have carried around almost my entire life. But then the coin flipped! I was hoping to get insight on my latest disappointment, but instead I got clarity on something far more foundational.

Without getting into the details, I realized that my father’s leaving was also for my good. While I saw him for some months after his leaving. It wasn’t long before he was completely out of my life. As I prayed, I realized that a close relationship with him would have not been good for me, especially in regard to my development as a young man.

Have you been carrying a coin of pain and bitterness? Perhaps it’s time to flip it over and see what’s on the other side.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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It’s Alright To Cry

For the week of December 11, 2021 / 7 Tevet 5782

Vayigash
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 44:18 – 47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
Originally posted the week of December 15, 2018 / 7 Tevet 5779

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And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. (Bereshit/Genesis 45:2)

Sometime in my late teens I stopped crying. I don’t mean that up until then I was crying nonstop. It was as if I had lost the ability to cry. All children cry. It’s our automatic, God-given survival device. As we get older, most of us learn to control the tears and express our needs and disappointments in other ways. In many cultures, males are often discouraged from crying at all. “Big boys don’t cry,” we’re told; so they stop, but that’s not why I did. My parents didn’t teach me such a thing. I remember seeing my father cry on more than one occasion, and there was no shame in that. Despite that, I distinctly remember by the time I was eighteen years old, I could feel an incessant need to cry lodged in my throat. It was awful.

My life was awful. My father had abandoned me and my mother a few years before. By this time, my mother was not well enough to work, forcing us to turn to government assistance. I had no direction in life, I was very superstitious, I thought success was measured by degrees of pleasure, and I was becoming more and more afraid of dying.

Everything about my life was out of sorts. I had no clear vision of what it should be or could be. Wrapped in a shroud of confusion and fear, I was stuck just like the lump in my throat. Then a few days before my nineteenth birthday, my life was transformed by my first encounter with the truth of Yeshua as Messiah. As I reached out to God that day, I had no idea I was embarking on a truly Great Adventure. Yet, still no tears, just smiles.

In those early months, I experienced a happiness I never dreamt of. I was ecstatic, and people could see it all over me. The next few months were exhilarating even though there were also new tensions and relationship strains due to the unusual path I was on. Still no tears.

A year after coming to faith, I left home for biblical studies. Leaving home brought with it renewed anxiety as I began to face some of my entrenched insecurities and fears. As I woke up one morning in my dorm room, I was fiercely struggling with I don’t really know what. I was not doing well and didn’t know what to do. I was alone since I didn’t have an early morning class that day. My roommate had a small (for those days) stereo and a few Gospel albums. I didn’t listen to a lot of music back then, as music had been one of my gods during my Bad Old Days. I don’t know why I put the album on. Then something happened as the singing started. The faucet finally opened. I was shocked as for the first time in I don’t know how long, I cried and cried. It felt so good! And while the lump would return from time to time, eventually so would the tears as God has allowed me to express myself in this way.

It’s hard to say for sure what it was about that moment that released all that pent-up emotion. I can guess, because I have had similar experiences since. It hasn’t always been with a song, but when I get a glimpse of the essence of life’s reality, it’s as if in that moment I see things as they really are, that amidst the confusion and chaos of life – my life – God really is my security, and everything will be okay after all. When that truth hits me, I am undone as all the tension of the insecurity I feel from the instability and pressures around me is released in an emotional torrent.

Perhaps that is something akin to what Joseph experienced when he was finally reconciled with his brothers. We can’t overestimate the emotional turmoil he must have carried all those years. We shouldn’t assume his rise to power in Egypt completely soothed the confusion, anger, and sadness he carried for so long. The emotions must have built to volcanic proportions during the process of revealing himself. For his own reasons, he shrewdly dealt with them as they travelled back and forth to Egypt for food all the while not knowing he was their brother. Then when he deemed the time was right, all that pent-up emotion flowed so freely that everyone around knew he was weeping.

I am aware that there are many people, men included, who cry like freely flowing fountains. You probably have no trouble relating to Joseph. You might be crying right now. Then there’s the others. Maybe you have an incessant lump in your throat as I had. Perhaps you have buried your emotions for so long that you can’t feel them anymore. I don’t know what it will take to release all you have been carrying inside. I just wanted to tell you: it’s alright to cry.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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