Let’s Talk Police Shootings

Let’s talk police shootings and racial discrimination. It is unfortunate we have to have this discussion but in this day and age it’s becoming the norm.

I want to make something perfectly clear upfront: I support our police officers. They, like our military, take an oath to uphold, defend and protect our freedoms by putting their very own lives on the line. That’s a huge commitment and a burden that shouldn’t be so quickly dismissed.

Is every, single officer in America perfect? No. Is every, single officer in America good? No. Is every, single officer in America above reproach? No.

But let us remember that neither are we.

I do believe the vast majority of officers are trying to do the right thing and are motivated by their desire to protect and defend. I can’t imagine being in life-and-death situations where you have an instant to make a decision that could mean your life. When an instant could mean the difference between your kids growing up without you; an instant where you simply no longer are.

But that’s what our officers face every, single day on the job. They put their lives, and by default their family’s lives, on the line every time they put on the uniform.

Once again our nation is thrown into the fire of dissention as we dissect and judge the decisions of our defenders.

Alton Sterling was shot by police on Wednesday outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I watched the two videos that have surfaced of this incident (the original one has the camera turning away at key moments while the second one has a very clear view of the incident from a different angle) and it’s very clear to see that he did have a gun.

But the mistake most people are making in their judgments of these situations is asking “what if that were me?” They are assuming that these men, like themselves, are law-abiding citizens. That these men did nothing wrong, as they would have been doing if it were them caught in this situation with police. They think, “I have a gun. Would I get the same treatment simply because I have a gun?”

The problem with this type of thinking is that you’re assuming the men involved in this situations were actually doing nothing wrong or that they complied with police once approached.

You would have complied but that doesn’t mean they did.

Some people are even saying that the mistakes of his past shouldn’t dictate who he is today

Even if you don’t want to take his criminal background into account, the fact of this situation was that police were called to the scene because it was reported he had a gun — so the police were indeed on high alert. Then, when he resisted them, it became clear to police he did in fact have a gun and was reaching for it with his free hand. Even though the police had tackled him, they were only attempting to neutralize him because he was resisting them. If he had complied and cooperated and was truly doing nothing wrong, the story might have turned out different.

It’s easy for us to say police should have handled it differently but I don’t know what I’d do in a life or death, split second-decision moment.

The media is largely liberal and left-leaning so I’m not surprised we have heard a lot about racial discrimination in the wake of this shooting. But it’s up to us to discern the facts from the propaganda.

Many are saying this police violence is happening “way too often,” but I wonder if it really is happening way too often or if it only appears that way. Psychology describes the Social Impact Theory of how people can be the sources or targets of social influence — basically how people can be manipulated. It describes the three things needed to have a social impact. A strong source of impact (strong emotional reaction), immediacy of the event (the democrat’s “never let a good crisis go to waste”) and many “sources” all making the same point.

We see this all the time with these types of racial discrimination stories. Ironically though, these same black lives matter people never want to discuss the dozens of black-on-black crimes that occur in areas like Chicago on a daily basis. It’s like it only matters if it’s a white man killing a black man. That seems questionable to me and makes it hard for me to believe there isn’t some hidden agenda behind these claims.

I also wonder why the Black Lives Matter leaders and protestors don’t ever call for peaceful means of protest? When they condone and celebrate and feel justified in the murder of whites and police officers, doesn’t it just make them the very thing they hate? Racial discriminators?

Our nation has seen much injustice this week.

Hillary Clinton will not be formally charged even though she was found to have committed wrong doing and acted with “gross negligence.”

The officer shootings in Dallas that took place in response to Sterling.

Our nation is at a critical crossroads. We can either divide or unite.

If we divide, we risk tearing apart our nation. But if we unite, there’s no stopping us.

We celebrated Independence Day a mere four days ago. In 1777, at the height of the Revolutionary War, the fledging United States faced a similar situation. Within their own ranks, they were a divided army. There were some top brass who felt they were entitled to more than they were getting. They had hidden agendas that betrayed the Americans to the British. But rather than letting them be divided, Washington turned his attention to uniting the newly independent states and it was the difference between victory and failure.

I believe that for all of us, the current circumstances should make us appreciate the difficult situations our police officers and military members are placed in every time they put on their uniform. While I do believe that government and law enforcement shouldn’t be unquestioned and not held above the law, I do believe we should not be so quick to judge the decisions of those who protect us. It does us no good if our nation is torn apart by the manipulative agenda of a few. Instead, we should focus, not on divisive judgments but on uniting together in the search for truth and justice.

Brexit: Lessons on Liberty

In a historic move, the United Kingdom voted last week to leave the European Union. The outcome of the vote on the referendum of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union nicknamed “Brexit,” a play on “Britain” and “exit,” is a sign that global politics is shifting – with many lessons for the American people.

The only areas of Britain that voted to remain in the EU were London, which has a disproportionate share of wealth and power, and Scotland. Virtually every other area of Great Britain, including Wales, said enough is enough.

Under the European Union, more than fifty-five percent of the laws in Britain originate with unelected officials and judges in Brussels (EU capital) with no ties to Britain. The people of Britain were voting to remove themselves from under the thumb of the foreign elite who have become disconnected from the average citizen.

The vote represents a rejection of globalism and a rebirth of nationalism as the UK has decided to put Britain first. One of the biggest factors driving the Brexit vote was an increased concern over unlimited immigration into the UK. With no rules in place limiting immigration into the UK and the growing concern over global terror, the British want the freedom to implement laws and regulations to protect their borders and implement their own anti-terror policies.

Brexit is also an absolute rejection of the economic and intellectual elites who have profited from the existing system while remaining massively disconnected from the middle class that has seen their income shrink. By voting to leave the EU, Britain voted for a future in which the power of unelected elites is diminished and the power of everyday individuals is enhanced – I wonder where they got that idea!

Amplifying the rejection of foreign powers meddling with Britain’s politics, the vote also demonstrates a defiance of President Obama’s threat that Britain would be last on our priority list for a trade deal. Back in April, Obama said that despite the histories of America and Britain being intertwined, if Britain were successful in leaving the EU they would have to go to the “back of the queue” in regards to future trade deals with the United States. Way to treat our allies who simply want the same sovereignty we take for granted enjoy!

There are several implications of this historic vote for us across the pond. Let’s take a look at some of the possible implications the Brexit vote could have on the United States.

As of 2am ET on Friday, June 24, mere hours after the results of the Brexit vote were finalized, the Dow was already down 700 points and the European market was down 11% at the opening bell — this is the largest single drop in its history.

The UK is the world’s fifth-largest economy and one of the United States’ largest trading partners, so there is concern that any economic pains felt in the UK might make their way here as well. To avoid disruption to their business in the EU, many big companies and banks might move staff to Germany or France. There’s also legitimate concern that increased unemployment coupled with the growing economic uncertainty could lead to a recession in the UK, which could trickle into the US economy as well.

Global Stability
Far-right politicians in the Netherlands and France have expressed interest for “Brexit” referendums in their countries as well. If enough countries decide they want out of the EU, there is a very real possibility that the EU could collapse. While the collapse of the EU may not be the most terrible thing in the world (the EU has been increasingly critical of Israel and is essentially the proto-type for a global, socialist government), there would be dramatic, far-reaching effects that would be felt around the world. There would certainly be economic collapse, political and social chaos, not to mention the unintended consequences on global security. If governments around the world are thrown into chaos, it would be the perfect distraction for terrorist groups to make a move.

Additionally, Scotland, which voted to remain in the EU, is almost certain to once again push for its independence in order to join the EU as a sovereign nation. Leaders in Northern Ireland may push to reunite with Ireland – the fight for which has rarely been a peaceful one. All of this could leave the US and the world to face a volatile and unstable Europe.

Similarly, with the UK part of the EU, the US is currently able to exercise a certain degree of influence on the EU through its relationship with the UK. With the UK leaving the EU, the US will have to begin cultivating better political and economic relationships with other European countries in order to ensure we don’t lose any influence we might have within the EU.

Election 2016
The rally cry of Brits wanting to leave the EU this year have been slogans such as “make Britain Great again,” “let’s take back control” and “believe in Britain.” Sound familiar? These are the same slogans we are hearing in America in regards to the upcoming presidential election. No doubt presidential hopefuls will take a cue from the Brexit vote and vamp up their messages. Many of the concerns driving the Brexit vote are the same concerns facing Americans heading to the polls this November – immigration, global terrorism, the economy and international policy just to name a few.

Fears surrounding immigration, in particular, was a major factor in the decision of the thousands of Brits who voted to leave the EU. Expect both sides of the aisle to pay special attention to these points in the months leading up to the election.

Trump, in particular, who was showing signs of tempering down his positions somewhat, is expected to continue full steam ahead with his ideas on immigration, including building a wall along the Mexican border and his proposed Muslim ban.

But while Hillary may be behind the power curve with her stance on these issues, don’t be surprised if you see a sudden (slight) shift to the right on these issues. She is would be an utterly incompetent politician if she didn’t recognize the temperature in Europe (which is typically quicker to adopt a more liberal position than America) as a sign of what is coming in America.

Though the Brexit movement involves issues of politics, immigration, economic concerns and global terror, at the heart of the movement, Brexit was a vote for personal freedom, national autonomy and a rejection of rule by a self-appointed oligarchy. Our founding fathers taught the world that lesson in 1776. Since then, we have taken our freedom and sovereignty for granted; but we can no longer afford to do so.

If we have learned anything from Brexit and the UK it should be that we have a duty to protect and defend our freedom and sovereignty before its too late; before we allow our laziness, disguised as liberal and tolerant thinking, to give way to corrupt and deceitful leaders quietly stealing away our liberties.

One of the many ways to keep this from happening is to thoughtfully vote. Don’t simply follow popular opinion; find out the facts and make your own decision based on them. I pray we never find ourselves in Britain’s position of having to vote for our own sovereignty.

The Spirit of Shavuot: Redeeming Israel

In my last post, I talked about the love story between Boaz and Ruth that took place during Shavuot. But there is another love story that takes place during the season of Shavuot. A love story 5,000 years in the making. The story of a King who is scorned by His beloved bride and vows to redeem her to Himself. The story of a King’s waiting that transcends time…a price He willingly pays in order to reclaim His precious bride. This is the real message of Shavuot: No one has greater love than this — that he should lay down his life for his friend. It is the love story between YHVH and Israel.

In order to tell the love story of YHVH and His people Israel, we must examine the parallels between the first Shavuot that occurred at Mt. Sinai and the Shavuot that took place in Jerusalem in the Upper Room. To begin, let’s take a look at the passages describing both events.

Exodus 19: 3, 5-6, 10-20
And Moses went up to Elohim, and YHVH called to him from the mountain, saying, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob, and declare to the children of Israel: ‘And now, if you diligently obey My voice, and shall guard My covenant, then you shall be My treasured possession above all the peoples – for all the earth is Mine – and you shall be to Me a reign of priests and a set-apart nation.’ Those are the words which you are to speak to the children of Israel.” And YHVH said to Moses, “Go to the people and set them apart today and tomorrow. And they shall wash their garments, and shall be prepared by the third day. For on the third day YHVH shall come down upon Mount Sinai before the eyes of all the people. And you shall make a border for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch the border of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall certainly be put to death. Not a hand is to touch it, but he shall certainly be stoned or shot with an arrow, whether man or beast, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds long, let them come near the mountain.”

And Moses came down from the mountain to the people and set the people apart, and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be prepared by the third day. Do not come near a wife.” And it came to be, on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain. And the sound of the ram’s horn was very loud, and all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with Elohim, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. And Mount Sinai was in smoke, all of it, because YHVH descended upon it in fire. And its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and all the mountain trembled exceedingly. And when the blast of the ram’s horn sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and Elohim answered him by voice. And YHVH came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And YHVH called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Acts 2: 1-8, 12-21, 37-41
And when the Day of the Festival of Weeks [Shavuot] had come, they were all with one mind in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from the heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and settled on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Set-apart Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them to speak. Now in Jerusalem there were dwelling Jews, dedicated men from every nation under the heaven. And when this sound came to be, the crowd came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marveled, saying to each other, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how do we hear, each one in our own language in which we were born?” And they were all amazed, and were puzzled, saying to each other, “What does this mean?” And others mocking said, “They have been filled with sweet wine.” But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice and said to them, “Men of Judah and all those dwelling in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen closely to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you imagine, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall be in the last days, says Elohim, that I shall pour out of My Spirit on all flesh. And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams, and also on My male servants and on My female servants I shall pour out My Spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy. And I shall show wonders in the heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapor of smoke.

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and splendid day of YHVH. And it shall be that everyone who calls on the Name of YHVH shall be saved.’ And having heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the emissaries, “Men, brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each one of you be immersed in the Name of Yeshua Messiah for the forgiveness of sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Set-apart Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are far off, as many as YHVH our Elohim shall call.” And with many other words he earnestly witnessed and urged them, saying, “Be saved from this crooked generation.” Then those, indeed, who gladly received his word, were immersed. And on that day about three thousand beings were added to them.

After comparing the two texts we can see there are quite a few similarities, however, there are five main parallels I want to discuss. The first parallel is fire. At both Shavuots, fire was present. At Mt. Sinai, we are told that YHVH Himself descended as fire. He was the fire that engulfed the mountain. In the Upper Room, tongues of fire descended upon the disciples. We can deduce from the texts that if YHVH descended on the mountain as fire it’s a safe conclusion that He was also the fire that descended on the disciples in the Upper Room.

A common misconception is that until this day in the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit was not present in the world. This simply isn’t true. We read at various points in the Scriptures where it is clearly stated that the Spirit of God was present – before the outpouring in the Upper Room. Some of these instances, include the creation of the world (and specifically the creation of man), the Psalms consistently declaring the praises and wonders of His Spirit, and references in Haggai, Nehemiah, Zechariah, and Isaiah that the Spirit of God taught and directed Israel. In addition, the Spirit of YHVH filled the people with the knowledge of how to build the Temple and its furnishings, the Spirit instructed Moses how and whom to appoint as the 70 elders, and Joseph, Joshua, Saul, David, the Judges of Israel, and the prophets of YHVH are all said to have the Spirit of God upon them. These are just a few examples to show how extensively the Holy Spirit of God was present in the world before the Upper Room. The list, however, could go on forever.

Fire is the second commonality. Fire is typically related to cleansing and judgment. Think of all the times we see fire used as a tool of YHVH. Is it possible these were also instances of the Holy Spirit of YHVH? What does it tell us about the connection between judgment, His Spirit, and cleansing/purification?

The third parallel is that, in both cases, after the Spirit of YHVH appeared, YHVH then presents His people with the Torah. At Mt. Sinai the Torah was given on stone tablets through Moses. In the Upper Room, the Torah was written on the hearts of believers directly through His Spirit.

Deuteronomy 31:16-21 tells us that YHVH knew Israel would break the covenant that was written on stone tablets.

And YHVH said to Moses, “See, you are about to sleep with your fathers. And this people shall rise and whore after the mighty ones of the strangers of the land into the midst of which they shall enter, and forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My displeasure shall burn against them in that day, and I shall forsake them and hide My face from them, and they shall be consumed. And many evils and distresses shall come upon them, and it shall be said in that day, ‘Is it not because our Elohim is not in our midst that these evils have come upon us?’ And I shall certainly hide My face in that day, because of all the evil which they have done, for they shall turn to other mighty ones. And now write down this song for yourselves, and teach it to the children of Israel. Put it in their mouths, so that this song is to Me for a witness against the children of Israel. And I shall bring them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they shall eat and be satisfied and be fat, then they shall turn to other mighty ones, and they shall serve them, and scorn Me and break My covenant. And it shall be, when many evils and distresses come upon them, that this song shall answer before them as a witness. For it is not to be forgotten in the mouths of their seed, for I know their thoughts which they are forming today, even before I bring them to the land of which I swore to give them.”

These verses indicate that YHVH knew the covenant written on stone tablets would be broken. He knew before they ever sinned against Him that their necks would be stiff and their hearts would be hard. However, YHVH also foretold of a time when He would renew this covenant with His people and would write His Torah on their hearts.

“See, the days are coming,” declares YHVH, “when I shall make a renewed covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,” declares YHVH. For this is the covenant I shall make with the house of Israel after those days, declares YHVH: I shall put My Torah in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts. And I shall be their Elohim, and they shall be My people. And no longer shall they teach, each one his neighbor, and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know YHVH,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares YHVH. “For I shall forgive their crookedness, and remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34

YHVH says that He is going to make a new – or renewed – covenant with the House of Israel. Notice, however, that YHVH’s new covenant still involves Torah. The new covenant that we as believers are part of still requires us to guard and observe YHVH’s Torah. It is common doctrine in today’s churches that Christians no longer have to keep Torah as part of the new covenant under grace. But clearly, YHVH never said such a thing. YHVH tells us that He intends to release His people from their captivity and that He would then write His Torah in our inward parts and on our hearts. He is essentially saying that He will make Torah a part of us; that it will be so precious to us and so inseparable from our lives that it actually becomes part of our makeup; that we can never be separated from His Torah.

Tradition has it that when the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, it was given in 70 different languages. Perhaps this is also a foreshadowing of the captivity in many nations which Israel would find herself in generations later. It is because of this captivity foretold by YHVH that it became necessary for the disciples to speak in many languages. Yeshua had to send the disciples out to the nations because that is where the captives of Israel were! This is why it so important to believe that we are part of Israel…just as Ruth did.

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these matters. And see, I am sending the Promise of My Father upon you, but you are to remain in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:44-49

And meeting with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “But you shall receive power when the Set-apart Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judah and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:4,8

Yeshua told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the promise of receiving the power of the Set-apart Spirit came upon them. Only when this happened could they begin to spread the message of the Good News! Why did they have to wait in Jerusalem? First, we are instructed by YHVH that Shavuot is a feast celebrated in Jerusalem – Yeshua was instructing His disciples to keep Torah. Second, judgment – and blessing – are first for the house of Israel and then for the surrounding nations. Likewise, the Good News began in Jerusalem and was sent out from there.

One of the major elements of the Good News is redemption and restoration, the fourth parallel. We learned from the story of Ruth and Boaz that the season of Shavuot is a season of redemption and restoration. To further this point, we learn that in Jerusalem 3,000 people were added to the assembly of believers. Why is this 3,000 number important? At Mt. Sinai, there were 3,000 missing from the House of Israel to receive the Torah because of the sin of the golden calf.

 And Moses saw that the people were let loose, for Aaron had let them loose, to their shame among their enemies. And Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Who is for YHVH? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves to him. And he said to them, “Thus said YHVH Elohim of Israel: ‘Each one put his sword on his side, pass over to and fro from gate to gate in the camp, and each one slay his brother, and each one his friend, and each one his relative.’ ” And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day.” Exodus 32:25-28

Once the people of Israel were redeemed, they could then offer their first-fruits to YHVH. At Mt. Sinai we see this redemption take place by the marriage covenant that was established. In Jerusalem thousands of years later, we see this by the ingathering of the lost sheep of Israel; the ingathering of exiled Israel from the nations.

The fifth and final parallel we see in both of these examples of Shavuot, is that we are the first-fruits being offered to YHVH. It is a time of the giving of the harvest. We are the harvest that is being offered. But we cannot bear fruit if we are not first connected to the Vine.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. Every branch in Me that bears no fruit He takes away. And every branch that bears fruit He prunes, so that it bears more fruit. You are already clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you. Stay in Me, and I stay in you. As the branch is unable to bear fruit of itself, unless it stays in the vine, so neither you, unless you stay in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who stays in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit. Because without Me you are able to do naught!

If you guard My commands, you shall stay in My love, even as I have guarded My Father’s commands and stay in His love.” John 15:1-5, 10

The Holy Spirit has always played an important role in Shavuot and, as we can see from these two examples, is an integral part of the covenant between YHVH and Israel. Once we allow the fire of YHVH to cleanse, judge, and declare us purified, only then are we able to receive the Torah of YHVH that keeps us from sin and allows us to draw near to YHVH. It is YHVH’s desire that we love and guard His Torah to such a degree that it becomes inextricable from our very being. Torah becomes who we are; it becomes the very essence of our being.

Once we hear and receive this message of Torah and redemption in our own language, then we become the redeemed of Israel and are restored to our rightful place under the covering of the Most High God – YHVH El Elyon! It is only then that we can offer ourselves as first-fruits to YHVH to serve in His Kingdom and to declare the Good News: that the captives of Israel have been freed by the power and blood of Yeshua haMashiach – Yeshua the Messiah!

Offering ourselves to YHVH is the ultimate gift of love we can offer Him. “No one has greater love than this: that he would lay down his life for his friends.” By giving Him our lives, our hopes, our fears, and everything that we will ever become, we are saying “I choose you. I choose all that You are and all that You have for me. You will never cease to be more than enough for me; You are all I will ever need or desire. I choose to love You and obey You. I choose to lay down my life for You.” This “sacrifice” becomes our wedding vow to our King. And that is the real love story of Shavuot.

Part 4 of 5 in the Shavuot series.

A Shavuot Love Story: Ruth and Boaz

The story of Ruth and Boaz is a beautiful story of redemptive love and devotion. It is a story that demonstrates the redeeming power of love, devotion, and obedience. The story of Ruth is commonly read during Shavuot for several reasons. The first reason is the physical harvest that occurs in story. The “courting” of Ruth and Boaz takes places during Shavuot. The second reason is the spiritual harvest that takes place in the story. This is demonstrated when Ruth accepts and joins herself to Torah, and simultaneously the God of Israel, and becomes grafted into Israel. Through the union of Ruth and Boaz, not only did we receive Messiah Yeshua, but we can also glean much insight into the season of counting the omer and Shavuot.

A Few Things from Torah Before We Begin
Before we begin, there are a few things we need to first understand from Torah.

  1. Laws of redemption (Lev. 25:32-55)
  2. Laws of Shemittah and Jubilee years (Lev. 25:4, 10, 23)
  3. Laws of family inheritance (Num. 27:8-11): if a man died without a son, the inheritance would be transferred to the daughter, and since Ruth was the widow of Machlon, she was the legal heir of the line of Elimelech. In other words, if Boaz could be persuaded to marry Ruth, then he could redeem the land and save the family from being obliterated in Israel.
  4. Laws of yibbum or “levirate marriage” (Deut. 25:5-10): Naomi understood that Boaz was a “near kinsman” to her husband Elimelech, and therefore he was qualified to redeem her land from those who presently were leasing it. Recall that the Torah allowed for the redemption of land based on its pro rata value before the year of Jubilee. The “law of redemption” required that a next of kin had the duty to redeem (buy back) the land of their close relative if the relative was in such financial difficulty that he was forced to sell it: ‘If your brother becomes impoverished and sells some of his property, then his near redeemer shall and redeem what his brother has sold” (Lev. 25:25). Since Naomi was destitute, she needed to persuade a close relative to redeem her land for the legacy of her family’s name in Israel.
  5. Various farming laws regarding leaving food for the poor and the stranger (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19)
  6. God’s repeatedly stated commandment that Israel must be holy and not assimilate with surrounding cultures (Exod. 34:12; Deut. 7:1-6; 14:2, etc.). This restriction applied not only to the seven Canaanite nations (Deut. 7:1; 20:17-18), but also to the descendants of Lot (i.e., Amnonites and the Moabites), since they showed enmity to Israel when they first came to the land (Deut. 23:4-6).

The story of Ruth provides a strong message to believers: to understand the story of redemption, you must first understand the Torah and its commandments!

The Story of Ruth
The story takes place during the time when judges ruled Israel, before the monarchy was established. In Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, there was a man named Elimelech who lived with his wife Naomi and his two sons Machlon and Chilyon. There came a great famine in the land and Elimelech decided to lease out his land and move his family to the land of Moab, where he died shortly thereafter. His sons each married a Moabite woman; Chilyon married Orpah and Machlon married Ruth. Soon, Elimelech’s sons died too, leaving Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth as widows.

Naomi decides to go back to the land Israel and urges her two widowed daughters-in-law to return to their fathers’ homes. Orpah returns to her people but Ruth remains devoted to Naomi. Despite Naomi’s warning that Ruth would be regarded as an outcast in Israel who would likely remain a perpetual widow, Ruth refused to be dissuaded. Once Naomi understood Ruth’s heartfelt resolve, she accepted Ruth’s decision, and the two women arrived in Bethlehem in the early spring, during the time of the barley harvest in Judah.

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” Ruth 1:16-17

Naomi sends Ruth to glean in the fields. Boaz sees Ruth while she is working and is immediately drawn to her BUT he doesn’t yet know if he has a claim to her…..that will be revealed to him later. But he does decide to keep her close to him…and good thing he does because YHVH eventually reveals to him (with a little help from Ruth and Naomi) that he is, in fact, the kinsman redeemer for Ruth!

Boaz and Ruth have a type of courtship during weeks of the barely harvest – during the counting of the omer. Boaz was a “near kinsmen” to Naomi’s late husband Elimelech (perhaps the son of Elimelech’s brother), so he had a legal claim to redeem the land. Moreover, Boaz had a legal entitlement to marry Ruth, but he needed to be persuaded to do so.

Ruth also had a legal right to ask for Boaz to perpetuate the family line in Israel by marrying her. Before Boaz could do so, however, Ruth had to express her “legal intent” by claiming him as her “near kinsman.” In preparation of this significant event, Naomi instructed Ruth to beautify herself and present herself before Boaz at the end of the harvest, when the harvesters would be joyfully celebrating God’s provision – during the holiday of Shavuot. After the feast, Ruth was told that Boaz would sleep at the threshing floor and was instructed to lay at his feet and pull his covering over her feet to symbolize her claim.

And Boaz ate and drank, and his heart was glad, and he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. And she came softly and uncovered his feet, and lay down. And it came to be at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself, and saw a woman lying at his feet! And he said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your female servant. Now you shall spread your covering over your female servant – for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “Blessed are you of YHVH, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, not to go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do nRuth and Boazot fear. All that you say I do for you, for all the people of my town know that you are a capable woman. And now, it is true that I am your redeemer. However, there is a redeemer nearer than I. Stop over tonight, and in the morning it shall be that if he does redeem you, good – let him do it. But if he is not pleased to redeem you, then I shall redeem you, as YHVH lives! Lie down until morning.” Ruth 3:7-13

Boaz then discusses the matter with the man that is the nearer kinsman redeemer in the presence of the town elders. The nearer kinsman redeemer refuses as it would jeopardize his own inheritance. And Boaz said to the elders and to all the people,

“You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Kilyon’s and Mahlon’s, from the hand of Na‛omi. And also, Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance, so that the name of the dead should not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his place. You are witnesses today.” And all the people who were at the gate, and the elders, said, “Witnesses! YHVH make the woman who is coming to your house as Rachel and as Leah, the two who built the house of Israel. And prove your worth in Israel and proclaim the Name in Bethlehem. And let your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which YHVH does give you from this young woman. And Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife.” Ruth 4:9-13

The blessing given to Boaz suggests that God’s plan of blessing overcame the weakness and frailty of all the people involved. Isn’t it encouraging that no matter what your struggle, no matter the battle that wages all around you, God is more than able to accomplish the promises He has made?

Lessons About the Counting of the Omer and Shavuot
As you can see, there are many things that the story of Boaz and Ruth reveal to us about this season of counting the omer and Shavuot. Here are just a few:

Joining Ourselves to YHVH, Israel and Torah
It is a time to leave our old ways behind us and join ourselves wholeheartedly to the God of Israel…to YHVH. It was through Ruth’s obedience to the laws of Torah that allowed her to find life, love, and blessings beyond that of anything she could have imagined. Once Ruth vowed to join herself to YHVH, the ways of Torah, and to the people of Israel, she was able to fulfill her destiny of bringing forth the line that would bear the Savior of the world. In the same way, we too will never be able to fully walk out the calling on our lives until we join ourselves to YHVH and His ways.

Care and Provision
Once we fully and completely join ourselves to YHVH and walk in His Torah, the blessings and provisions that YHVH promised would follow can now freely flow forth. Ruth was obedient not only to Naomi and Boaz, but also to YHVH. Through her obedience and servitude, YHVH’s care and provision were afforded to her. She was obedient in her time of mourning and her time of waiting. She didn’t jump the gun and she didn’t question the instructions given to her. She was obedient and was richly blessed because of it.

Shavuot is a season of rejoicing in YHVH’s provision and guidance. Through Ruth’s story, we see that the counting of the omer is a season of waiting. Shavuot is the subsequent celebration and fulfillment of the promises we have anticipated and prepared for.

Finding Favor with Our Bridegroom
Ruth did not go after other lovers – even in her precarious situation. She had dove’s eyes for Boaz. We too need to have dove’s eyes for YHVH. We cannot go after other lovers but instead seek to please YHVH and find favor with Him alone.

Redemption Through Our True Kinsman Redeemer
When we think of redemption in the story of Ruth, we tend to focus on Ruth alone being redeemed. However, there were actually several things that were redeemed in this story. The land that belonged to Elimelech’s family – to include Ruth and Naomi – was redeemed. Naomi’s family line and lineage was redeemed – and even produced King David and Messiah Yeshua! Last, but certainly not least, both Naomi and Ruth were redeemed from a life of widowhood. They were taken from a season of death and mourning to a season of life and rejoicing! So you see, redemption of persons was not the only thing that needed to be redeemed by Boaz. Through Boaz’s willingness to be the kinsman redeemer, we see that property, family lineage, and people were all redeemed. This shows that YHVH is not only concerned with our spiritual welfare but our physical as well. In the end, everything we have is His and YHVH will not let His treasured possessions be lost forever; He will redeem what is His and restore all things.

Ultimately, the story of Ruth provides a powerful message to believers: to truly understand the story of redemption, you must first devote yourself to YHVH and His commandments!

Part 3 of 5 in the Shavuot series.

First-Fruits of Shavuot: Giving Our Best to YHVH

In my last post, I began the topic of Shavuot by showing how we all as believers in Messiah are made part of the House of Israel by being grafted into the olive tree. As members of Israel, the Torah –or God’s Word—is, indeed, for us too! In this post, we will talk about the giving of first fruits at Shavuot and how we can offer our own first fruits to God.

Leviticus 23 summarizes the feasts – or appointed times – that YHVH calls us to celebrate.  The below verses are describing Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the bringing of the first fruits at Shavuot (highlighted portion).

“These are the appointed times of YHVH, set-apart gatherings which you are to proclaim at their appointed times. ‘In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, between the evenings, is the Passover to YHVH. And on the fifteenth day of this month is the Festival of Unleavened Bread to YHVH – seven days you eat unleavened bread. On the first day you have a set-apart gathering, you do no servile work. And you shall bring an offering made by fire to YHVH for seven days. On the seventh day is a set-apart gathering, you do no servile work.’

“And YHVH spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and you shall say to them, ‘When you come into the land which I give you, and shall reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest to the priest. And he shall wave the sheaf before YHVH, for your acceptance. On the morrow after the Sabbath the priest waves it. And on that day when you wave the sheaf, you shall prepare a male lamb a year old, a perfect one, as a burnt offering to YHVH, and its grain offering: two-tenths of an ĕphah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to YHVH, a sweet fragrance, and its drink offering: one-fourth of a hin of wine. And you do not eat bread or roasted grain or fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your Elohim – a law forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

“And from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, you shall count for yourselves: seven completed Sabbaths. Until the morrow after the seventh Sabbath you count fifty days, then you shall bring a new grain offering to YHVH. Bring from your dwellings for a wave offering two loaves of bread, of two-tenths of an ĕphah of fine flour they are, baked with leaven, first-fruits to YHVH. And besides the bread, you shall bring seven lambs a year old, perfect ones, and one young bull and two rams. They are a burnt offering to YHVH, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering made by fire for a sweet fragrance to YHVH. And you shall offer one male goat as a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old, as a peace offering. And the priest shall wave them, besides the bread of the first-fruits, as a wave offering before YHVH, besides the two lambs. They are set-apart to YHVH for the priest. And on this same day you shall proclaim a set-apart gathering for yourselves, you do no servile work on it – a law forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.” Leviticus 23:4-21

Counting of the Omer
The counting of the omer begins on the first Shabbat after Passover. An omer is a unit of measurement. During the counting of the omer, an omer-measurement of barley was offered in the Temple every day until Shavuot. You count 7 full weeks…meaning you count 49 days. The 50th day is Shavuot – many might know this as Pentecost which is Greek for “50” or “the 50th day”; in Hebrew Shavuot means “weeks”.

The importance of counting the omer is oftentimes overlooked. But one way to look at it, is that counting the omer is an important part of preparation for Shavuot. It was on Shavuot when the children of Israel received the Torah and, later, the prophetic outpouring of the Spirit read about in Acts 2.

One thing we as Americans have a hard time understanding is the concept of preparation and the time we spend waiting as we prepare. We want to rush through seasons and don’t understand the profound nature of waiting. As we count each day of the omer, it creates a sense of expectancy within us. If we truly take the time to count the omer, we will not try to rush forward from Passover to Shavuot and miss the lessons that can only be found in the waiting of preparation. Instead, we will learn to walk out each day and live in every moment as we wait for the appointed time. It makes waiting seem less difficult as we begin to see the importance of every, single day and the role each day plays in getting us to the ultimate goal.

Shavuot is the day that the children of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is a holiday that in modern times is unfortunately overlooked. However, this is certainly no small festival and there is great reason to rejoice and celebrate. In fact, this is one of 3 feasts that YHVH required us to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate; sounds like this feast is VERY important to YHVH.

In order to come before YHVH, the children of Israel had to prepare for 49 days, including having to refrain from anything that would make them unclean in the final 3 days. For those that were obedient, their reward was the gift of the Torah. We talked last week how important the Torah is; how Torah tells us what sin is, how it lights our path, directs our steps, and allows us to draw closer to YHVH. No wonder Shavuot is so important to YHVH.

Later, we read in Acts 2 of the disciples who, just days before had been walking with the resurrected Messiah, were celebrating Shavuot. We are told they were all gathered together of one mind to celebrate Shavuot. Had they not been keeping Torah and been obedient to YHVH’s commands to keep His feasts, they would not have been at the right place at the right time in order to receive the prophetic spirit of Joel 2. We will talk more about this in another post.

First Fruits
In ancient times, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks (49 days) and was a season of gladness. It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. Shavuot was thus the concluding festival of the grain harvest. During this time of first fruits, an offering of two loaves of bread from the wheat harvest is made on Shavuot.

Bikkurim, Ceremony of First Fruits
Shavuot was also the first day on which individuals could bring the Bikkurim (first fruits) to YHVH. The Bikkurim were brought from the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel is praised in Deuteronomy 8:8: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.

In the primarily farming society of ancient Israel, Hebrew farmers would tie a reed around the first ripening fruits from each of these species in their fields. At the time of harvest, the fruits identified by the reed would be cut and placed in baskets woven of gold and silver. The baskets would then be loaded on oxen whose horns were gilded and laced with garlands of flowers, and who were led in a grand procession to Jerusalem. As the farmer and his entourage passed through cities and towns, they would be accompanied by music and parades. First Fruits Going to Temple

The ceremony of Bikkurim conveys the children of Israel’s gratitude to God for His provisions, for the first fruits of the field, for His guidance throughout the year in their own lives, and for His guidance for the nation as a whole.

Shavuot & Firstfruits in Our Own Lives
Are we offering YHVH our best? Are we offering Him our firstfruits? Are we giving Him our best or are we scraping the bottom of the barrel? Psalm 106 is a good reminder to us to stop allowing other things to take precedence over YHVH. It is a reminder to offer up to YHVH our first fruits from a thankful heart; not just on Shavuot, but every day.

Praise Yah! Oh, give thanks to YHVH, For He is good! For His kindness is everlasting. Who does relate the mighty acts of YHVH? Or declare all His praise? Blessed are those who guard right-ruling, Who do righteousness at all times! Remember me, O YHVH, in the acceptance of Your people; visit me with Your deliverance, to see the good of Your chosen ones, to rejoice in the gladness of Your nation, to make my boast with Your inheritance. We have sinned with our fathers. We have acted perversely; we have done wrong. Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; they did not remember Your many kindnesses, but rebelled by the sea, the Sea of Reeds. But He saved them for His Name’s sake, to make known His might. And He rebuked the Sea of Reeds, and it dried up; And He led them through the depths, through a wilderness. And He saved them from the hand of the hater, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. And waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Then they believed His words; they sang His praise. They soon forgot His works; they did not wait for His counsel, but greedily lusted in the wilderness, And tried God in the desert. And He gave them their request, but sent leanness within their being. They forgot God their Savior, the Doer of great deeds in Egypt.” Psalm 106: 1-15; 21

We read throughout the Bible of YHVH’s faithfulness and loving-commitment; we read of how He never fails us and we tend to focus on that when we need something. But do we ever stop to think about how we fail Him? How we don’t always show Him the same loving-commitment or faithfulness He shows us?

We put others before our relationship with Him. We let other things get in the way of drawing near to Him. We let our emotions cloud our vision till it’s so small there isn’t room for anything else. And then, after we have reached a point of desperation, we remember Him. We remember His faithfulness and His loving-commitment. He has been there the whole time waiting for us; beckoning us to draw ever-nearer to Him.

Why don’t we wait? Why do we let so many other things get in the way? Why do we so easily forget the wonders He has done in our own lives? We read how the children of Israel forgot the wonders and miracles of YHVH and we think that we could somehow do a better job than they did. But there is nothing new under the sun…would we really be any different?

“They then despised the pleasant land; They did not believe His word, and they grumbled in their tents, they did not listen to the voice of YHVH. So He lifted up His hand in an oath against them, to make them fall in the wilderness”Psalm 106: 24-26

“They did not destroy the peoples, as YHVH had commanded them, but mixed with the surrounding nations and learned their works, and served their idols, and they became a snare to them. And they slaughtered their sons and their daughters to demons, and they shed innocent blood; the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they offered to the idols of Canaan; and the land was defiled with blood. So they became unclean by their own works, and went whoring by their own deeds. And the wrath of YHVH burned against His people, and He loathed His own inheritance.”Psalm 106:34-40

Put aside the iPhone. Turn off the TV. Get off the couch. Stop letting family and friends interrupt your time with YHVH. Put Him first and see what a difference it makes. What would happen if we cultivated our relationship with Him as much as we do our Facebook “friends?” Why do we faithfully watch our favorite TV show and never miss an episode but constantly miss or cut short our time with God? Why do we always have time for the things that don’t really matter but never seem to have enough time to worship our King? I am guilty of all these things too.

“Many times He delivered them; but they rebelled in their own plans. So they were brought low for their crookedness. But He would look on their distress, when He heard their cry, and remember His covenant for their sake, and relent according to the greatness of His kindness. And He would let them find compassion, before all those holding them captive. Save us, O YHVH our Elohim, and gather us from among the nations to give thanks to Your set-apart Name. To exult in Your praise. Blessed be YHVH Elohim of Israel from everlasting to everlasting! And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ Praise Yah!”Psalm 106:43-48

We cannot let the distractions of this life trip us up. Why do we think we are the exception to the rule? That we can put other things before YHVH and not call them an idol? Why do we think we are invincible or that the rules and standards somehow don’t apply to us? Time is short and our calling and purpose too important. If we are not prepared, YHVH will find another. He won’t have time in the middle of the battle to call a time-out and get you prepared; you have to be trained and ready to go when the battle begins!

When the battle starts, I want to take my place fighting alongside my King! I don’t want to be put on the side lines, thinking the entire time how if I had just shut off the distractions or gotten off the couch I could be fulfilling the role and destiny I was meant to play. How incredibly sad would that be? Let’s vow to be ready. Let’s make more of an effort to build, strengthen, and prioritize our relationship with YHVH. Isn’t He worth it? Doesn’t He deserve more than our half-hearted attempt?

He deserves our first fruits.

This is part 2 of 5 in the Shavuot series.

Shavuot: Who was the Torah Given To?

Shavuot begins this Saturday night, June 11, 2016, and as we get closer to this momentous feast day, it’s important that we don’t miss all the important lessons YHVH is trying to teach us in this season.

Before we can begin the topic of Shavuot, however, we need to address a very crucial question: “Who is Israel?”

You might be thinking, “Why does it matter who Israel is?”

Jeremiah 31:34-47 tells us why it is so important to understand who is Israel.

“And no longer shall they teach, each one his neighbor, and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know YHVH,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares YHVH. “For I shall forgive their crookedness, and remember their sin no more. Thus said YHVH, who gives the sun for a light by day, and the laws of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who stirs up the sea, and its waves roar – YHVH of hosts is His Name: ‘If these laws vanish from before Me,” declares YHVH, “then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.” Thus said YHVH, “If the heavens above could be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I would also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done,” declares YHVH.

The reason this is the starting point is because Shavuot is the time we celebrate the giving of the Torah. There are MANY lessons and themes to glean from this harvest festival, but the main even that took place on the very first Shavuot at Mt. Sinai was the giving of the Torah to Israel.

Who is Israel?
So back to our original question. It’s very important to understand who Israel is because the Torah is for all of Israel. If you asked five different people this question, you would probably get about 7 different answers. So we won’t ask people’s opinions…we’ll just go straight to the Word of God.

Exodus 19:3-8 tells us that if we obey YHVH’s commands then we will be His treasured possession.

“And Moses went up to God and YHVH called to him from the mountain, saying, “This is what you are to say to the house Jacob and declare to the children of Israel: ’You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. And now, if you diligently obey My voice and shall guard My covenant, then you shall be My treasured possession above all the people – for all the earth is Mine – and you shall be to Me a reign of priests and set-apart nation.’ Those are the words which you are to speak to the children of Israel.” And Moses came and called for the elders of the people and set before them all these words which YHVH commanded them.  And all the people answered together and said, “All that YHVH has spoken we shall do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to YHVH.

We can conclude from this scripture that ALL those who obey His commands (Torah) will be His treasured possession.

Leviticus 24:22 says, “You are to have one right-ruling for the stranger and the native-born, for I am YHVH your God.”

Even Yeshua taught that the Torah/Old Testament pointed the world to Him:

“For if you believed Moses, you would have believed Me, since He wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how shall you believe My words?” John 5:46-47

And again in Matthew 5:13-19

“You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt becomes tasteless, how shall it be seasoned?   For it is no longer of any use but to be thrown out and to be trodden down by men. You are the light of the world. It is impossible for a city to be hidden on a mountain. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand and it shines to all those in the house. Let you light so shine before men, so that they see your good works and praise your Father who is in the heavens. Do not think that I came to destroy the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to complete. For truly, I say to you , till the heaven and the earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall by no means pass from the Torah till all be done. Whoever, then, breaks one of the least of these commands, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens.”

Some would say that these Laws are only for the Jews or for Israel, but we, as believers, know that we have been grafted into the House of Israel.

Romans 11:24-27 speaks of this grafting into the olive tree.

“For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not wish you to be ignorant of this secret, brother, lest you should be wise in your own estimation, that hardening in part has come over Israel, until the completeness of the gentiles has come in. And so all Israel shall be saved, as it has been written, “The Deliverer shall come out of Zion and He shall turn away wickedness from Jacob and this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”

These verses tell us we must be grafted into the house of Israel; not replace Israel but join ourselves to them and be a part of Israel. How can we be grafted into the house and think the rules don’t apply to us?

Our attitude should instead be like that of Ruth.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you, or to go back from following after you. For wherever you go, I go; and wherever you stop over, I stop over. Your people is my people, and your Elohim is my Elohim. Where you die, I die, and there I shall be buried. YHVH do so to me, and more also – for death itself parts you and me.” Ruth 1:16-17

When we choose to follow after God with all our hearts and with all our soul and with all our strength, that means leaving our old ways behind and adopting HIS WAYS. We should never make God conform to our ways but instead, we should conform to His ways.

Ephesians 2:17-22 confirms that we are all ONE house in Messiah Yeshua.

And having come, He brought as Good News peace to you who were far off, and peace to those near. Because through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the set-apart ones and members of the household of Elohim, having been built upon the foundation of the emissaries and prophets, Yeshua Messiah Himself being chief corner-stone, in whom all the building, being joined together, grows into a set-apart Dwelling Place in YHVH, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of Elohim in the Spirit.

Who is to Obey Torah?
Most Christians say Torah is not for them but only for the Jews. In reality, the Jews are only 1 of 12 tribes that make up the whole House of Israel. They come from the tribe of Judah, but throughout the exiles and diasporas, the term “Jew” has become a catch all for anyone who once belonged to the House of Israel. So to say that Torah is only for the Jews, it still leaves out the other 11 tribes of Israel. But that’s a whole separate article.

The truth is that the Torah is for all those who come under the covering of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; for all those who are grafted into the House of YHVH; all those who, like Ruth, joined herself to the House of Israel.

Why is the Torah so important? Torah tells us what sin is. Without Torah, we have no way to know what sin is, and conversely, what pleases our Father. Let me make this clear: obeying Torah is not trying to earn salvation, but rather it is the fruit and evidence of our salvation.

I have often tried to figure out what the big deal is about Torah and why people are so against obedience to it. After all, it is God’s Word and I thought we all agreed that we are to live, walk, and obey God’s Word? So what’s the problem? The only thing I have been able to come up with, is that we are taught to be wary, skeptical, suspicious, and distrustful of “Torah” because we don’t understand it. We are told that it is dangerous; that it leads to legalism, and it somehow negates the faith of our salvation. But if that’s the case, why even keep it in our Bibles? Why not just get rid of the entire “Old Testament”, start the Bible at the Book of Matthew, and just be done with it? It doesn’t apply to the majority of Christians anyway, right?

Wrong. Torah has become so unfamiliar to us that we steer clear of it altogether; it’s the fear of the unknown. But that’s the problem…it’s not supposed to be unknown. We should know the Word of God and have it hidden in our hearts. The Word of God should be so much a part of us that it becomes the very essence of who we are.

Growing up in the church, some of the very first verses I learned were,

“Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105 and

“I will hide Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11

Why is Torah So Important?
So why would the enemy of our salvation want to keep us as far from Torah as possible? Because Torah tells us what sin is. Without Torah, we become lawless – literally….one translation of “Torah” is “law.”  If we are lawless, we cannot draw near to YHVH.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matthew 7:21-23

The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Matthew 13:41-43

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4

Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:28

And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. Matthew 24:12

I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. Romans 6:19

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 2 Thessalonians 2:7

You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions. Hebrews 1:9

I encourage you to look up these scriptures and read them for yourselves; don’t just take my word for it. And don’t just read these verses, read the other verses surrounding these ones to give you more context and understanding.

Remember, the Torah is for all those who live under the covering of YHVH, the God of Israel; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Torah is for all of Israel…even the wild branches that have been grafted into the natural olive tree.

Our natural inclination of the flesh is to avoid the law and do what we want. Our flesh doesn’t like being told what to do; we don’t want rules and boundaries. But what YHVH asks of us is that we submit ourselves to obedience to His Word and His desires. Just as a wife submits herself to her husband out of love and respect, so we too, as the Bride of Messiah, must also submit ourselves to our loving, faithful Bridegroom.

This is part 1 of 5 in the Shavuot series.

Passover Preparations: Removing the Leaven from Our Hearts and Homes

The week before Passover has always been a very special week for the people of Israel. It is the time when all of Israel was searching out to find the perfect, spotless lamb for Passover. It was a time of inner reflection — both on the past and coming year. Where did I fall short this past year? How can I do better in the coming year?

It is a time for reflection as we clean out the leaven from our homes and hearts. It is a somber time when the reality of our sins becomes more real as we select the perfect lamb to offer in atonement for our sins.

In Biblical days, the lamb would spend this final week of Passover preparations with the family who had selected it. He would eat, sleep, and essentially become part of the family. This was an important part of the Passover preparations because it made the consequences of sin more tangible for them. When you have to see the living creature that will be a substitute for you, it becomes clearer that your actions have consequences and the way you think about your decisions begins to change.

The Passover lamb was selected to be a substitute in exchange for us. When we sin, that sin must be removed from our lives before we can draw close to God again. But in order to remove that sin, a price must be paid. YHVH created a system whereby the debt caused by our sin could be paid for with the life of an animal. Think back to Adam and Eve in the Garden. When Adam and Eve disobeyed YHVH, they brought sin into the Garden and their eyes were opened to their nakedness. The Word tells us that YHVH then fashioned clothes for them out of animal skins in order to cover their nakedness – the first animal who died in exchange for a human’s sin.

This is the same concept behind the Passover lamb. The angel of death in Egypt passed over the doorposts which had the blood of the lamb, thereby giving the first-borns mercy and allowing them to live. Fast forward 2,000 years and its clear to see that Yeshua was the Passover lamb Who was our substitute so we also could have life despite our sins.

When you realize that another living creature must act as a substitute to cover your sins, it causes you to be more cautious and intentional in your decisions. It becomes a deterrence from having sin in your life.

Today, without a working Temple in Jerusalem, there is no Passover lamb that is offered for our sins. However, we still clean out our hearts and homes from the leaven within.

In Hebrew, the word chametz is used to describe something that has been leavened. Chametz is anything that has been “puffed up” and in the same way leaven “puffs up” food, sin “puffs” us up. Sin creates a barrier and a distance from God. When we are distant from God, we pridefully believe we don’t need Him anymore; that we can survive without Him. During the Passover season, we remove the chametz from our hearts and homes in obedience to YHVH’s Torah. But at the same time we are removing the physical chametz from our homes, we are removing the spiritual chametz from our hearts as well.

So this Passover, as you rid your home of chametz, don’t forget that cleaning out your heart is just as, if not the most, important part of Passover. Ask YHVH to reveal what things need to be removed. Thank Him for His Son Yeshua Who was our Passover Lamb. And thank Him for freeing us from the bondage of slavery and sin and bringing us into the quiet, desert place where He reveals His Word to us.

Chag Sameach Pesach!
Happy Passover!

Passover Simplified: A List of Leavening Agents

Passover is just a few days away which means that it’s time to do our last minute spring cleaning to get all the leaven out of our houses and hearts. And if you’re anything like me, I get so confused about what’s considered a leavening and what’s not that I usually rely on my sister to tell me what’s allowed for Passover and what I need to get rid of; but instead of bugging her with the same questions again this year, I decided to create a list of leaving agents of my own!

I know it’s easy to look at the process of removing the leaven in our homes as somewhat ritualistic and just an all-around hassle even though we know its a necessary process that ultimately benefits us. Traditional Judaism has very confusing lists for leaven and complicated instructions how to clean at Passover. I’ll admit that I tend to get a little discouraged and extremely overwhelmed with all the different opinions of what’s considered leaven and what’s not during Passover. Some say no beans but rice is ok, while others say no rice but beans are ok. Some say anything that even appears to “puff up” when water is added (such as oatmeal, beans, rice, etc) is strictly prohibited; hence, the prohibition against almost all grains during Passover. But I’m not sure that this is completely accurate.

Personally, I feel that the process of getting rid of leaven has become way too complicated in religious circles. And when this happens, it takes away from the true purpose and focus of Passover: Yeshua and His sacrifice of love for our sins.

I believe that YHVH intended His rules to be fairly straightforward; we are the ones who complicate them. Sometimes we over-complicate things when we try to do the right thing and make everything perfect. But when we over-complicate things, not only do we take the joy out of keeping Torah in our own lives, but we take away the joy from others as well. We are meant to be a light to the world, but if we are grumbling about the hassle of cleaning and complaining about what we can’t eat (for one, whole week of our lives!), we send the wrong message to those who are watching us. Not a very good light if you ask me.

Yes, we are to remove the physical leaven from our homes and we should take the process seriously, but we shouldn’t be so focused on the outward physical leaven that we forget about the inward spiritual leaven. This is also a time to search the deepest corners of our hearts and ask YHVH to reveal the leaven that is hidden deep within us. Leaven represents the sin we hold onto in our lives but it also represents pride. This is the season of removing the things that “puff us up” and keep us far from Him.

In Exodus 12, YHVH instructs His people about His Passover.

13 And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I shall pass over you, and let the plague not come on you to destroy you when I smite the land of Egypt.

14 And this day shall become to you a remembrance. And you shall observe it as a festival to YHVH throughout your generations – observe it as a festival, an everlasting law.

15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. Indeed on the first day you cause leaven to cease from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that being shall be cut off from Israel.

16 And on the first day is a set-apart gathering, and on the seventh day you have a set-apart gathering. No work at all is done on them, only that which is eaten by every being, that alone is prepared by you.

17 And you shall guard the Festival of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I brought your divisions out of the land of Egypt. And you shall guard this day throughout your generations, an everlasting law.

18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, in the evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month in the evening.

19 For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, that same being shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether sojourner or native of the land.

20 Do not eat that which is leavened – in all your dwellings you are to eat unleavened bread. (emphasis mine)

In verse 14, YHVH specifically says that this day is to be a “festival to YHVH forever.” Passover, like the entire Torah, is not about us; it’s about Him. Our Father and King has requested that we observe this day with Him. And it was during this festival, centuries later, that He gave the greatest Passover gift to His people: the redemptive blood of Yeshua, His Son, as the Passover Lamb. What more reason to celebrate and be joyful could we need?

So here it is; the list I will be using to (hopefully) simplify things a little this Passover. I make no claim that this is the “ultimate Passover list” or that I am the authority on Passover leaven. But this list helped me at a time when I was struggling with how to observe Passover and rid my home of leaven.

I had become so focused on leaving agents instead of YHVH and the joy of Yeshua that I was in danger of missing the whole point of Passover. I tend to over-think things so YHVH had to remind me to refocus my priorities, fix my gaze on Him, and let Him lead me in how to follow His commands. Even though I’m sharing this list with you all, I encourage everyone to seek the Lord and let Him lead and instruct you. You may disagree with my list or have other items that you remove from your homes, but my hope is that everyone will do their own research about leaven and make a decision about how to celebrate Passover in your own homes.

And this Passover, let’s commit to simplifying things and bring back the joy of our Salvation Yeshua!

Chag Sameach Pesach!
“Happy Passover!”

Leavening Agents

 Commonly used leavening agents in food:

  • Yeasts, including: baker’s yeast and active dried yeast
  • Ammonium carbonate
  • Ammonium bicarbonate
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate)
  • Dipotassium carbonate
  • Monocalcium phosphate
  • Potassium carbonate
  • Potassium bicarbonate
  • Sodium aluminum phosphate
  • Sodium aluminum sulfate
  • Sourdough

Leavening agents found in non-food items:

  • Preparation H (has yeast)
  • Cat and dog foods with yeast
  • Toothpastes with baking soda

False Leaven
Below are foods or ingredients not leavened, although some people mistake them for leavening or leavened foods. Biblically speaking, they pose no problem:

Puffed cereals: Some food products are “puffed up” by mechanical means but cannot be used as a contact spreading agent. They are just puffed up by air and are not chemically leavened. They include: popcorn, beaten eggs, and air puffed cereal like puffed rice or wheat. Double check your cereal, however, to ensure there is no actual leavening.

Brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae:) is an inactive yeast, meaning the yeasts have been killed and have no leavening power. It is the yeast remaining after beer making. It is used as a nutrient supplement to increase the intake of B vitamins. Brewer’s yeast comes powdered (the most potent form), in flakes (best for health shakes), and in tablets.

Yeast extract (autolyzed yeast extract): When yeast cells die, they automatically break up, a process called autolysis, in which the yeasts’ digestive enzymes break their proteins down into simpler compounds. What remains is a collection of protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer.

Soda pop: Although its name says “soda,” soda pop is not leavened as if with bicarbonate of “soda.” It is made with water that has been infused with carbon dioxide in a non-leavening process.

A “Thriller” Passover!

One of my new favorite things about the Passover season are the awesome parody videos out there! Last year, I was obsessed with the Passover version of “Uptown Funk” — here’s my post from last year in case you missed it — and this year is no different. I give you, “Seder” based off of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller!” Trust me, you won’t want to miss it!

You’re welcome.

Echad: Many Communities, One People

Echad. United as one.

We hear this phrase used a lot when we talk about the Church or the Bride of Messiah. We stress the importance of being united in Christ and in being one body. But oftentimes, we don’t really understand the meaning of this.

As those of you who follow me on social media know, I recently moved to a new state. Everything is new and every day is an adventure and I navigate through new streets, meet new people, learn a new job, and create a new normal for myself.

Part of all the newness also means searching for a new congregation to call home. I’m always nervous when visiting new groups – you never know what you’re going to find! But so far, I have been pleasantly surprised by the groups I’ve attended. But visiting new groups has opened my eyes to a whole new aspect of what it means to be echad.

Oftentimes, when we think of being echad or “one,” we think of being one with Messiah Yeshua or one with those in our congregations. But it also means being echad and united with other believers around the world.

I realized something beautiful as I’ve visited new congregations: we are many communities, and yet we are one people.

Each congregation may do things a little differently, but we are all doing the same thing. For instance, one group may sing the Shema in a different tune than another, but they are both singing the Shema. Another group may meet at a different time but we all gather on Shabbat. One group may say the prayers in a different order but we are all saying the same prayers. It was a beautiful sight to see!

This past weekend, I fellowshipped with a group that welcomed me in as if I had always belonged there with them. As worship began, I felt so excited to hear songs I was familiar with and loved being sung. It was comforting to see tallits being put on; to see the menorah being lit. It made me feel at peace to hear songs welcoming the Holy Spirit and worshipping Our Heavenly Father. And it made me realize that even though we are different congregations, we are all one people when we come together to worship our Father.

So let’s not let the little things get in the way of being echad. In the end, the little things are important, but they’re not the most important. In the end, all that really matters is bringing glory and honor to YHVH. And that can only be achieved when we are echad with one another.

Trump Boycotts Debate after Feud with Megyn Kelly

Ahead of tonight’s Republican Debate on Fox News, Donald Trump escalated his feud with Fox reporter Megyn Kelly. This childish feud started back in August 2015 at the first Republican debate when Kelly took Trump to task over derogatory statements he’d made about women. Trump – who prides himself on being tough, unapologetic, and politically incorrect – felt he was being unfairly targeted by the news channel and publicly criticized Kelly and the network.

Trump announced this week that he would boycott Thursday’s Fox News debate following a mocking Fox statement which suggested that Trump would replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers and that the leaders of Iran and Russia “both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly” if he becomes president.

Trump accused Kelly of being a “lightweight” and announced he will hold a completing fundraiser instead of attending the debate.

As if this whole feud isn’t already childish and completely ridiculous, Trump just took it up a notch by tweeting out a racy pic of Kelly from a photo shoot she did for GQ in 2010 and called her a “bimbo.” Classy, Donald. Classy.

Trump Tweet Megyn Kelly

Honestly, I think this whole thing is ridiculous. Is this really the kind of man we want to see in the White House? A man who involves himself in Twitter feuds with TV news anchors? A man who publicly throws temper tantrums for getting criticized by the media? THAT’S POLITICS! If you’re going to be president, you better get used to being scrutinized and criticized by the media! Grow up, put on your big-boy pants and try to act like an adult because you’re running for the position of the leader of the free world for goodness sake!

I honestly hope this feud will make him drop in the polls. Ted Cruz is running a close second behind Trump and I would love to see him take the lead in this presidential race!

Tell us what do you think of Trump’s actions and the feud between Trump and Kelly/Fox News in the comments below!

Presidential Primary Voting Dates

Looking for when your state votes in the primaries? Look no further than this handy chart! You’re welcome.

Presidential Primary Dates by State, Date

State Date Filing deadline Primary/caucus Primary type
Iowa February 1, 2016
Caucus Closed
New Hampshire February 9, 2016
November 11, 2015Primary Mixed
Nevada February 20, 2016 January 1, 2016Democratic Caucus Closed
South Carolina February 20, 2016 September 30, 2015Republican Primary Open
Nevada February 23, 2016January 9, 2016Republican Caucus Closed
South Carolina February 27, 2016November 16, 2015Democratic Primary Open
Alabama March 1, 2016November 6, 2015Primary Open
Alaska March 1, 2016January 28, 2016Republican Caucus Closed
American Samoa March 1, 2016Democratic Caucus Open
Arkansas March 1, 2016November 9, 2015Primary Open
Colorado March 1, 2016January 25, 2016Caucus Closed
Georgia March 1, 2016December 1, 2015Primary Open
Massachusetts March 1, 2016January 4, 2016Primary Mixed
Minnesota March 1, 2016January 4, 2016Caucus Open
North Dakota March 1, 2016Republican Caucus Closed
Oklahoma March 1, 2016December 9, 2015Primary Closed
Tennessee March 1, 2016December 1, 2015Primary Open
Texas March 1, 2016December 14, 2015Primary Open
Vermont March 1, 2016January 11, 2016Primary Open
Virginia March 1, 2016December 10, 2015Primary Open
Wyoming March 1, 2016Republican Caucus Closed
Kentucky March 5, 2016January 7, 2016Republican Caucus Closed
Kansas March 5, 2016January 20, 2016Caucus Closed
Kansas March 5, 2016March 1, 2016Caucus Closed
Louisiana March 5, 2016December 4, 2015Primary Closed
Maine March 5, 2016December 15, 2015Republican Caucus Closed
Nebraska March 5, 2016March 11, 2016Democratic Caucus Closed
Maine March 6, 2016December 15, 2015Democratic Caucus Closed
American Samoa March 8, 2016Republican Caucus Open
Hawaii March 8, 2016February 16, 2016Republican Caucus Closed
Idaho March 8, 2016December 9, 2015Republican Primary Closed
Michigan March 8, 2016December 11, 2015Primary Open
Mississippi March 8, 2016January 15, 2016Primary Open
District of Columbia March 12, 2016January 4, 2016Caucus Closed
Guam March 12, 2016Republican Caucus Closed
Northern Marianas March 12, 2016Democratic Caucus Closed
Virgin Islands March 12, 2016Republican Caucus Open
Puerto Rico March 13, 2016Primary Open
Florida March 15, 2016November 30, 2015Primary Closed
Illinois March 15, 2016January 6, 2016Primary Open
Missouri March 15, 2016December 29, 2015Primary Open
North Carolina March 15, 2016December 21, 2015Primary Mixed
Northern Marianas March 15, 2016Republican Caucus Closed
Ohio March 15, 2016December 16, 2015Primary Mixed
Arizona March 22, 2016December 14, 2015Primary Open
Idaho March 22, 2016February 5, 2016Democratic Caucus Closed
Utah March 22, 2016Caucus Closed
Alaska March 26, 2016January 29, 2016Democratic Caucus Closed
Hawaii March 26, 2016January 8, 2016Democratic Caucus Closed
Washington March 26, 2016February 26, 2016Democratic Caucus Closed
Wisconsin April 5, 2016January 26, 2016Primary Open
Wyoming April 9, 2016March 10, 2016Democratic Caucus Closed
New York April 19, 2016February 4, 2016Primary Closed
Connecticut April 26, 2016March 4, 2016Primary Closed
Delaware April 26, 2016February 26, 2016Primary Closed
Maryland April 26, 2016February 3, 2016Primary Closed
Pennsylvania April 26, 2016February 16, 2016Primary Closed
Rhode Island April 26, 2016February 23, 2016Primary Mixed
Indiana May 3, 2016February 5, 2016Primary Open
Guam May 7, 2016Democratic Caucus Closed
Nebraska May 10, 2016February 25, 2016Republican Primary Closed
West Virginia May 10, 2016January 30, 2016Primary Mixed
Kentucky May 17, 2016January 26, 2016Primary Closed
Oregon May 17, 2016March 8, 2016Primary Closed
Washington May 24, 2016March 10, 2016Republican Caucus Closed
Puerto Rico June 5, 2016Democratic Caucus Open
Virgin Islands June 5, 2016Democratic Caucus Open
California June 7, 2016March 26, 2016Primary Closed
Montana June 7, 2016March 14, 2016Primary Open
New Jersey June 7, 2016April 4, 2016Primary Mixed
New Mexico June 7, 2016February 2, 2016Primary Closed
North Dakota June 7, 2016May 2, 2016Democratic Caucus Closed
South Dakota June 7, 2016March 29, 2016Primary Closed
District of Columbia June 14, 2016March 16, 2016Primary Closed
Presidential primary dates are still being determined. The dates listed are subject to change.