giving-gifts

The Gift of Giving

Thanksgiving is the time of year when family and friends gather together and express their gratitude for all they have. It’s the season for giving to others and a time to put into perspective the things that truly matter.

But why is it so difficult for us to do these things all year round?

I’ve recently noticed how quickly and easily people give up. I’ve shared with friends about some of the struggles I’ve encountered in this season I’m in and I was surprised to find how many were quick to say maybe I wasn’t in the place God wanted me, maybe I should try something else, or maybe I should just quit altogether.

But being in God’s will doesn’t mean a struggle-free existence. Often times, it means walking right into the battle. His plan usually includes sharpening us through tests and trials and refining us through fire.

How much do we miss out on in life when we give up too easily?

Our society has cultivated an attitude of “what’s in it for me?” When we feel we aren’t getting enough out of what we’re doing, we quickly give up and move on. But what if it’s not about us or how we feel? What if we’re gaining skills and training for something down the road? What if His plan is not for you to get something but for you to give something?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Joseph lately. God’s plan for his life involved being kidnapped, sold as a slave and false imprisonment. What if he had given up? What if he had run away or escaped from Egypt? The world at that time, and what would eventually become the nation of Israel, would have been completely destroyed by famine.

We’ve fallen prey to the idea that says if we’re on the right path then we should face very little adversity, and if we do face difficulties they should be overcome very easily. So when we come across adversity, we quickly look for the easiest way to ease the pain.

Joseph, however, didn’t give up. He persevered and continued on the difficult path God had set before him. Joseph never imagined he’d be a slave or a prisoner and, yet, because of his perseverance through these trials and continued to give of himself, he was able to save his family, the entire nation of Egypt, and ensured the survival of YHVH’s chosen people Israel.

How much could we accomplish if only we didn’t give up at the first sign of difficulty?

Like Joseph, God could have us on a path that, while difficult in the present, could be for the benefit of countless others later. But if we’re too quick to give up, we could miss out on being a blessing to others further down the path.

As I’ve walked out this new season with new challenges, I feel YHVH asking me to give of myself in new and difficult ways. As I serve others, I don’t get anything obvious in return. In fact, it often costs me a great deal to serve others in this new capacity, but I know this is where YHVH wants me and that He’s training me for something more.

In these difficult moments of feeling empty after giving of myself to others, YHVH has reminded me that when we give, we should give freely, expecting nothing in return. He’s also reminded me that sometimes we are put into difficult seasons not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those we will cross paths with on this journey.

One of the most powerful ways to serve others is to persevere through the struggles of life and completing the task YHVH has set before you. As you persevere, you just might find others who are also struggling and need to be shown the love of Yeshua. As they watch you rely on YHVH as you walk through difficulties, you just might be shining the light and love of God that they so desperately need.

Giving of ourselves and expecting nothing in return is difficult, draining and tiring to be sure. But if we are faithful to the work He is doing in us, it will be to our benefit and to the benefit of those around us.

Like Joseph, we can never fully grasp why we must walk the paths we are on or why we must endure the trials we go through, but if we can continue to endure and be faithful to give of ourselves – even when it seems we don’t receive anything in return – YHVH will always be faithful to provide for us and help us become stronger through it all.

And that’s something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Many Communities, One People

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.

Boaz Drawn to Ruth

Boaz and Ruth: A Shavuot Love Story

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).

Indirectly, then, the story of Ruth provides a strong message to Christians: 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.

Rejoicing
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 commands!

This is part 3 of 5 in the Shavuot series.

Queen Hadassah A Courageous Bride

Purim: The Story of a Courageous Bride

Her name was Hadassah. You might know her as Esther. She was a Voice in the Desert who saved her people from destruction and death. She was beautiful. She was obedient. She was courageous. She was a Jew. Hers is a beautiful story of love, courage, and obedience. The story of Purim is most commonly associated with the Jews of Persia (modern-day Iran) being victorious over their enemies. However, there is so much more to this story. Purim is a lesson in being courageous, what it means to be obedient, how to be a voice in the desert, and how to be a Bride that is worthy of her King. This and so much more is what we learn from Hadassah and the story of Purim.

Over the course of time, King Ahasuerus gained victory over his adversaries and brought peace to his kingdom. To celebrate this peace, he held a large banquet for the royals in his kingdom. At the end of this long banquet (and much drinking), the king summoned Queen Vashti to come before him so he can parade her as his prize to the other nobles. Queen Vashti refused to come before the king and the king’s wise men advised him to send out an edict that Vashti be queen no more and was to be replaced by someone better and more worthy.

Enter Hadassah. When Hadassah was a young girl, her parents were killed and she was left an orphan. The text does not tells us how her parents were killed but we can presume it had something to do with a battle during the captivity of the Jews. As an orphan, Hadassah is taken in and raised by her older cousin Mordecai. When the edict goes out to the kingdom that all “lovely young maidens be sought for the king,” Hadassah is taken to the citadel of Susa. Mordecai instructs Hadassah not to reveal her Jewish identity and she is obedient. After 12 months of preparations, Hadassah is brought before the king.

Each young woman could ask for anything to take with her to go before the king. While the other young women asked for jewels and gold, Hadassah asked for only what the guardian of the women advised. When she went before the king, he “loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and loving-commitment in his eyes more than all the maidens. And he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.”

In time, there arose to power an evil man named Haman. He hated Mordecai and sought to have him killed. Haman devised a plan that would not only kill Mordecai but all the Jews in Persia. He manipulated the king into signing a decree which would destroy all the Jews in the province. When Mordecai learned of Haman’s plan, he told Hadassah that she must use her position with the king to stop this annihilation from happening. At first, Hadassah does not see a way to do this as she has not been summoned by the king…and no one can appear before the king unless called upon.

In one of the most famous passages of the book, Mordecai tells Hadassah,

“Do not think within yourself to escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep entirely silent at this time, relief and deliverance shall arise from another place, while you and your father’s house perish. And who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

In the second most famous passage, Esther responds, “Gather all the Jews in Susa and fast for me. Then I shall go to the king, which is against the law. And if I perish, I shall perish!”

Hadassah goes before the king and after two strategic banquets, exposes her true identity and the deceit of Haman. The king then signs another edict allowing the Jews to bear arms and defend themselves against their enemies and Haman is hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. It was a great victory for the Jews of Persia.

However, there is so much more to this story than just the victory over Israel’s enemies. Underneath all the layers, there is a story of a courageous bride; one who has made herself ready and has done the hard work so that she is found ready when she appears before the King.

Hadassah had to leave the life she knew and move to the palace where the king dwelt. We envision life at the palace as this glamorous life of food, fun, and freedom. But in reality, the palace was a harsh place for a woman. She could only stay in the women’s quarters, unless of course, she was summoned. She had to essentially compete with the other women and concubines for her place in the palace and her life certainly was not her own. But Hadassah was obedient to go and when she arrived, she won favor by being submissive to the servant of the king.

In the same way, we need to leave our life and all we envisioned for our lives behind when the King calls us to His palace. We should never expect our King to leave His palace and come to live in our house. We have to conform to His ways, not Him to our ways.

Hadassah underwent twelve months of preparations before she could go in to the King. Twelve months. That was just for their one night, that doesn’t include the waiting period afterwards for him to decide which girl to make queen! Hadassah obediently and patiently waited and went through all the preparations that were given to her. She understood that she would not be ready for the king without them. She did not fight the hard work or deny the areas in which she lacked. Instead, she embraced this time as a time to make herself perfect and ready for her king. And it paid off! We read that she found favor in eyes more than all the other maidens and that he loved her.

Often times, the Holy Spirit will send people or circumstances our way that highlight the areas in our lives in which we lack. Many times we fight these changes because we don’t think we need to change, we don’t see the point, or we don’t want to wait the time it will take in order to complete the work. Don’t fight these preparations…embrace them as a gift from YHVH. It is in these times of hard work and preparation that we are making ourselves more beautiful, more pleasing, for our King. And how worth it will it be when our King says to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

When she appeared before the king, we see that she only took that which her guardian advised her. This is key; it’s what set her apart from all the other women vying for the king’s affections. She took the time to seek the king’s desire by asking his servant. Often times, we think we can pick what gift we bring to our King. We think that just because we bring Him a gift that He should accept it. That’s not how His kingdom or any earthly kingdom works. When you bring someone a gift, especially the King of Kings, you should always ask what He wants to receive. She desired to know what would please him. Again, we should conform to His ways instead of making Him fit ours. The fact that Hadassah sought the servant about what the king desired, demonstrates her willingness to obey and submit.

Unlike Vashti, Hadassah knew to whom to submit herself. Hadassah started with her family, Mordecai. She obeyed his command to not reveal her identity and she listened to his counsel when it was time to rise up in order to save her people. We can assume that as a young girl, she obeyed him and learned to submit herself to authority. Vashti, who clearly had an issue with authority, had gotten prideful in her place as queen. So prideful, she thought she was even above the king himself! Sometimes we can get too comfortable with where we are in life and this can produce a sense of pride. When we no longer listen and obey, shema in the Hebrew, to the voice of our King, we put ourselves in a dangerous situation. We set ourselves up to be removed. If we learned anything from the book of Esther, its that everyone is replaceable if they refuse to play their part. Vashti’s rebellion towards her husband and her unwillingness to submit to her king caused her to be removed from her position for someone “who is better than she.” Don’t be a Vashti.

Hadassah was not only beautiful and lovely, she was incredibly courageous and strong. She was a warrior. When the time came for her to lay down her life for her people, she was ready and prepared. Had she not submitted and done the hard work, she may not have been ready at the right time. And just like we learned from Vashti, “do not think you will escape because you are in the king’s palace. For if you remain completely silent, relief and deliverance will arise from another.”

Hadassah had lived her whole life as a sacrifice to God. YHVH never leaves us unprepared. Think back to the circumstances you have faced or are facing. All of these things are actively being used by YHVH to prepare you for His destiny for your life. Don’t doubt your abilities; don’t doubt the call on your life. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

It’s not about us; it’s always about bringing Him the glory He rightfully deserves. Because everything is to bring YHVH glory, if you refuse your position, like Vashti, there will be another to replace you. We tend to think that God will go on begging us to play our part and to do His work. The truth is that He doesn’t need us to accomplish His work. He wants us and desires us to be part of His plan, but He is King of the Universe, He doesn’t need us to do anything! So how merciful and beautiful that He would choose us to bring Him glory. Don’t refuse Him. There is always someone else who would love to take your place.

Hadassah also had to face the enemy seeking to destroy her and her people. She did not cower and she did not back down. She was smart and cunning when dealing with Haman and was able to find favor with the king on behalf of her people. We all face the enemy seeking to destroy us every day. Our enemy is not flesh and blood but the one who seeks to destroy the people of YHVH. He will try everything he can to deceive us and destroy us. He will whisper in our ears lies that keep us deceived. Lies that tell us we aren’t good enough. Lies that we didn’t really hear from God. Fear is one of his favorite tactics. If he can make us so afraid that we refuse to act, then he will be victorious over us every time.

Being afraid is normal, but it doesn’t have to stop us. Think about skydiving. You can be afraid, but you can’t let it stop you from jumping out of the plane. Don’t be afraid to stand up and be a voice in the desert. YHVH will never leave you alone; He will never leave you unprepared. Never be afraid to stand for what is right, even if it is against the law. Seek the Lord and ask for His wisdom and He will be faithful to provide and show you the way in which to walk.

This year, Purim begins on Saturday, March 15 at sundown and ends Sunday, March 16 at sundown. As you celebrate Purim, reflect on the story of Purim and the life of Hadassah, a courageous bride who saved her people.

People Arguing

Conversations with an Atheist

This week, I had the opportunity to talk with someone who is a “devout atheist” about what he believes. It was an interesting conversation to say the least. I learned several things about my faith, myself, and what I believe because of it.

1. Faith And Belief Is Not For Those Unwilling To Lay Aside Their Own Knowledge and Intellect 

Faith in God means we don’t always understand the way everything works; that we may not always have the answers to every single question. But that’s ok. I don’t have to understand the way the world works. As long as YHVH does, I’m ok with that. This doesn’t mean we stop our pursuit of knowledge or wisdom, it simply means that we recognize our limited abilities and that we can only take ourselves so far. Because really, isn’t it just pride to think we could ever have all the answers anyway?

We should also recognize that the wisdom and knowledge we pursue as believers is not the same wisdom the world seeks after. The world seeks after its own wisdom. They seek to have the answer within themselves. We, as believers, are seeking after YHVH’s wisdom. He tells us in His Word, “Your ways are not My Ways; your thoughts are not My thoughts. My thoughts are higher than Yours.” As believers, we are first seeking the One who has the answers and second we are seeking His wisdom. The world is primarily seeking the answers within itself and apart from God.

In case I haven’t made it clear, let me clarify what I am and what I am not saying: I am NOT saying that as believers we give up our right to think or to be intelligent or to seek answers. God tells us in Hosea 4:6, “My people die from lack of knowledge.” I am NOT saying that believers can’t be intelligent or smart or should just give up trying to learn altogether and just accept what they are told. I AM saying that as believers, we should accept that we won’t always have the answers and what we believe won’t always make sense to nonbelievers. However, that’s kind of where faith comes in. It’s not a cop-out answer, it’s just the way it is.

2. No Matter What Reasons You Give, To The World It Will Always Sound Like Gibberish

Yeshua tells us that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we are to become like children. Think back to when you were little. It was much easier to believe in “fantastical” things and to believe in the things you didn’t fully understand. Again, going back to my previous point, this doesn’t mean that believers should be ignorant or simply accept whatever they are taught; rather, that we believe human wisdom and understanding can only take us so far and we must leave the rest up to faith.

Because of this belief, there will never be an argument that will appease an atheist or an intellectual who is relying solely on their own understanding. Our beliefs and our faith in the unseen will never make sense to those who rely on their own strength to comprehend. But guess what? It’s not supposed to. The Word constantly reminds us that the message is for those “who have ears to hear and a heart to understand.” This means that not everyone will “hear” or understand the message. That’s ok. It’s not our job to be the Holy Spirit and convince others of God’s truth. That person may come to believe in God one day but it will be when they have a personal encounter with God, not when your words or defense of faith is perfect.

I love the way Frances J. Roberts puts it in “Call of the Turtledove” in Come Away My Beloved:

The voice of the Bridegroom is calling His Bride. It is the call of love, and those who truly love Him will respond. Those whose hearts are fixed on things above will not be held by worldly entanglements. Those who are listening to the voice of their Beloved will not be deafened by the cries of men. In a world filled with noises, each demanding attention, they will hear him. Another stand besides them and hears only the voice of the preacher. Another may be giving attention to the opinions and arguments of men. But you need not fear that you will miss it. Be it ever so soft, you shall hear. Your heart shall hear, and your heart shall leap with joy.

3. God’s Truth is Not for Everyone

Here is where I’m going to get emails and calls…but stick with me on this one. Like I said before, a person might come to develop a relationship with God when they experience a personal encounter with Him. However, some people may never have this experience. Or if they do, they may chalk it up to something entirely different than God.

At dinner, my “devout atheist” was asked if he had ever had a spiritual or supernatural encounter. He responded with two stories. The first experience he admitted was definitely of the supernatural but it was not enough to convince him that God is real. The second example was in moments of complete contentment and happiness. He said that in those moments he desires to attribute it to something beyond himself and wonders in those moments if there is something more to life, but eventually dismisses the feeling altogether and instead decides to attribute the feeling of happiness to himself.

My point is that some people, even after having spiritual encounters, will still refuse to believe there is a God. That is their decision. You cannot do anything to change that. If someone is so prideful that they can experience God and desire to believe in Him but continue to fight it, then nothing you say or do is going to change that person. Again, only the Holy Spirit can do that. The Word also tells us in Revelation that even in the last days when the earth is being destroyed and the world is crumbling before their very eyes, there will still be those who refuse to acknowledge or humble themselves before God.

4. It Truly is Pointless to Argue With Someone Who Has No Desire to Have a Conversation

The Word tells us not to engage in pointless arguments that only bring division. This is a healthy boundary to have in your life in any relationship. If a conversation is clearly going nowhere and its going there fast, then stop. Clearly it’s of no benefit for either party…unless of course the person you’re engaging is thriving off the conflict, in which case you should really really stop the conversation. Besides the fact that it is a waste of time to engage in pointless arguments that lead nowhere, you’re only going to push them further away from the truth and deeper into their own beliefs. The more you challenge someone, the tighter they will hold to their beliefs. So if your goal is to be a witness, share your faith and then leave it at that. Don’t get yourself into a conversation where it benefits neither side and doesn’t bring glory to God.

5. God Doesn’t Need You to Defend Him

You will never convince someone that YHVH is loving or just or true or even real for that matter, if they truly don’t want to be convinced of it. But guess what? YHVH doesn’t need you to defend Him. This is something I have been struggling with lately, “Am I doing a good job of defending who YHVH truly is?” YHVH used Roberts’ “Sing, My Children” to deeply minister to me when I was struggling with this.

Do not be concerned for My reputation. I have withstood many storms, and I will survive this one. Human strivings are like the waters around Gibraltar. They have beat upon the rock, but they have not changed it. I am not disturbed, and I forbid you to be anxious.

You can stand your ground and stand firm in your faith, but like I said before, no matter what argument you try to use it’s never going to make sense to them…if they don’t want it to make sense. Do you know why? Because you’re not the Holy Spirit. Only God can convict someone’s heart and only His Spirit can stir someone to believe. Your job is to be a vessel and speak only when He gives you words to speak. If you don’t have the words and the person clearly doesn’t have an interest in learning about what you believe, it’s as foolish as “throwing your pearl to the swine.”

A Quiet Pool

A Sabbath Prayer: A Quiet Pool

“Quiet Pool” is from Frances J. Roberts’ book Come Away My Beloved. God has been showing me these past few weeks that I need to lay aside my worries, fears, doubts, questions, and anything else that keeps me from Him and His perfect peace…His shalom. This is really a great devotion any day but I thought it was especially perfect for ShabbatI pray this Sabbath you will enter into His rest. Enjoy and be blessed!

Wait upon Me.

Let your life be as a deep, quiet pool. Let your heart rest in My hand as a bird in a nest. Let your eyes be still. Let your hands be free. For then I shall fill all your vision, and then I shall take your hands into Mine and My power shall flow forth into you.

If you would only make yourself a place apart, yes, removed from the pressure and turmoil, and there I will meet you. Yes, I wait for your coming. For I long to pour out My blessings upon You, and I long to give you My fullness. Only be still before Me. Never let the toils and cares of the day rob you of this sweet fellowship with Me.

For I know what you need, and I am concerned about your duties and responsibilities. You will find your cares vanish, and your load is lightened by an unseen hand. I would have you bring Me your love, and even as you are bringing Me your love, I shall in turn bring to you My power, so that I work for you in a twofold measure.

I will give you the power to discharge your duties with greater efficiency. I am actively engaged in working for you in ways you cannot see, to make your path clear, and to bring about things you could never accomplish, and which would otherwise absorb your energies and wear out your patience.

So I say again…Rest in Me. Wait upon Me. Come apart with Me. Seek My face. Seek My fellowship.

O YHVH, what shame that You should need to beg us thus! Better that others might find us unavailable because of our occupation with You, rather than for us to be so slow to come, so dull to hear, so cold of heart, so indolent of soul.

O God, spare us Your wrath! Do not let Your anger be kindled against us. Let us ask only one thing more, and do not turn away.

Grant this one prayer more, O YHVH, that You would give us all that is lacking in us; intensify our hunger and fire our devotion; take the indifference from our spirits; and have within us Your wonderful way and perfect will, O YHVH, we pray. Amen

 

Sephardic Journey -- Wanderings of the Spanish Jews

Arizona’s S.B. 1062 Bill Protecting Christians Doesn’t Give Businesses License to Discriminate Against Gays and Spanish Jews in New Mexico pt.3

Tolerant Liberals

Discrimination or Freedom: Agreeing to Disagree

So today, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed Christian business owners the right to refuse to provide services for gay weddings. Brewer, who spent several days considering whether to sign the bill or not, said, “it had the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways that we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want.”

For those of us here in New Mexico, we saw this issue rise up a few years ago when the New Mexican photographers refused to photograph a gay wedding. And more recently, a Christian bakery in Oregon was found to have violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007 when they refused to bake the cake for a gay wedding.

In the Oregon case, the subsequent investigation found, “that the bakery is not a religious institution under the law and that the business’ policy of refusing to make same-sex wedding cakes represents unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation,” said Charlie Burr, a spokesman for the Bureau of Labor and Industries. Under state law, the complaint against the bakery now moves into a period of “reconciliation”. If they can’t reach an agreement, formal civil charges could be filed and the Kleins (bakery owners) could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said their desire is to “rehabilitate” businesses like the one owned by the Christian couple. “Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that folks have the right to discriminate,” he told the newspaper. “The goal is never to shut down a business. The goal is to rehabilitate.” Aaron Klein said there will be no reconciliation and there will be no rehabilitation. He and his wife will not back down from their Christian beliefs.

Widespread praise and celebration over Brewer’s decision to veto the bill has erupted all over the internet and social media. Many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, have written their support for Brewer’s decision and have cited the need to love and accept everyone as a valid reason to veto the bill. People are calling for the “discrimination, segregation, oppression, public shaming, and hatred” of gays to stop.

And that’s where I have a problem. Do we use these terms too loosely? Our society does not hate, oppress, shame, segregate, or discriminate against the LGBT community. The last time I went into a restaurant, I did not see a section labeled “gay section.” I do not see water fountains with signs posted “for straight people only.” We don’t require homosexuals to pay different taxes or to sit in the back of the bus or prohibit them from a certain career field or from pursuing a college education. We embrace people of all colors, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and religion and encourage them to pursue the American dream.

We are told to be “tolerant” and “accepting.” That’s fine. We shouldn’t hate anybody. And, yes, we should love everyone as Christ loved us. But to love and accept people doesn’t mean you have to agree with or condone every single decision they make. Yeshua loved everyone He came across but He also told them “go and sin no more.”

We are told to be tolerant and accepting but where is the tolerance and acceptance for those who believe homosexuality is wrong? Because I think it’s wrong I am somehow hating and discriminating and oppressing the LGBT community? Where’s the love and acceptance, people? You don’t have to agree with me, but you do have to respect my decision and view-point….just like I respect yours.

Which brings me to my next point. If we must respect everyone’s personal decisions on how they live their lives, why is it that this private-business’ decisions are not being respected? One of the benefits of owning your own business is that you get to set your hours, make your own rules, and decide how you will operate your business. You also get to decide with whom you and your business work. If a consulting firm, for example, decided that they and their potential clients would not work well together, they have the right to turn down the business deal.

I mean, really, if we let the free-market system work and enough people simply stop frequenting these business who refuse to be a part of gay weddings, then won’t they go out of business all on their own? It’s economic Darwinism. Let it happen.

So here is the question: Where do we draw the line? At what point are privately-owned businesses exercising their religious liberties or violating the civil liberties and “discriminating” against potential customers?

I am concerned that the message being sent is that civil liberties trump religious freedoms. And that’s a dangerous and slippery slope to go down. If one liberty trumps another, what’s to stop our other liberties from being taken away? Free speech? Freedom to practice religion the way we see fit? The freedom to own a gun? The freedom to choose how we raise our own children? And who gets to decide which liberties take precedence over another? The government? Is that really the best solution?

Now, to all the believers out there who feel guilty or embarrassed about their belief that a business has a right to refuse to participate in gay weddings: Don’t let others bully you into thinking that you are somehow a bad Christian and that you are not “showing the love of Christ.” That’s not hate…it’s simply a choice to disagree. Sharing the love of Messiah means that you don’t judge the LGBT community. That you don’t hurl hate-speech at gay people. That you don’t condemn at every opportunity. It is not our place to condemn or judge anyone. 

However, showing people love doesn’t mean you now have to participate in or agree with their life choices…whatever they may be. When did “love” come to mean “approve?” You don’t have to agree with my decisions and I don’t have to agree with yours. We do, however, have to respect each other’s beliefs and sometimes, that simply means agreeing to disagree.

image

Why I Don’t Celebrate Valentine’s Day

I do not celebrate Valentine’s Day. I know what you’re probably thinking. “If you had a boyfriend you’d probably feel differently.” Thank you for pointing that out but, no, that’s not why I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. As a Biblical believer, I do not celebrate holidays that have pagan origins. I bet I know what you’re thinking again, besides asking “when did she become a mind-reader”: “But I don’t celebrate it that way so, it’s ok.”

In the spirit of romance, let’s think about it this way. What if your husband had previously dated someone and every year on this former girlfriend’s birthday, he had a celebration? When you ask him about why he celebrates his former girlfriend’s birthday every year, he says, “Well, I am not celebrating her birthday anymore. I redeemed it and now use it to celebrate your birthday!” I don’t know about you, ladies, but this answer would not make me happy. The fact that he still sees this day as any sort of holiday is bad enough but now, add the fact that he has taken my special day and changed it to what is her special day! I would not be thrilled…to say the least. I certainly wouldn’t want to celebrate this so-called holiday. Questions would race through my mind of, “Does he still love her?”

“Does he love her more than he loves me?”

“Does he just see me as a replacement for her?”

“Does he even love me, for me?”

It is the same with God. We all at one time lived apart from God and were joined to other lovers (i.e. the former girlfriend). When we make a commitment to leave our past behind and seek after YHVH with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, we must leave behind our past and our former lovers. The same questions we would ask if our husband refused to let go of his former girlfriend are the same questions God asks too. “Do they just see me as a replacement? Do they even love Me, for Me?”

When we just replace the meaning behind the pagan holidays and their rituals, instead of leaving them completely behind, we are doing the same thing as the husband in the analogy. We show YHVH we haven’t left our other gods behind; our former ways are our current ways but in a different form.  

While some historians believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated to commemorate the death or burial of St. Valentine (there are several prominent saints with this name so it’s uncertain which Saint Valentine is the real one), others claim that it was an attempt by the Christian church to “Christianize” the pagan ritual of Lupercalia. Lupercalia, celebrated February 15, was a Roman fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.

To kick off the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The Luperci priests would then sacrifice a dog as a symbol of purification and a goat as a symbol of fertility. The goat skin was then cut into strips and then dipped in sacrificial blood. The fields and the young women of the area were then “gently slapped” (whatever that means) with the dipped-in-blood goat strips in order to make them more fertile in the coming year.

According to legend, all the young women would then place their names in a giant urn, in which the city’s bachelors would then take turns selecting the name of a maiden to be paired with for the coming year. Often times, not always, however, these matches led to marriage. Because of the promiscuous nature of this pagan festival, it was outlawed at the end of the 5th century by Pope Gelasius, even though it had survived the initial rise of Christianity. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day as an alternative to Lupercalia.

So you see, Valentine’s Day is rooted in pagan tradition. YHVH tells us to be set-apart; a nation of priests. How can we be set-apart if we yoke ourselves to the ways of this world? Why is it so hard for us to let these things go? Yes, I know…they are tradition. And yes, I know…you don’t celebrate with these intentions. But does celebrating these holidays sanctify us? Does it bring glory to YHVH?

Many Christians say that they have somehow redeemed these pagan holidays for God and so it’s ok to celebrate them. The truth is that you as a person or we as the church body have no power to do that. Only God can redeem something. But does He really want to redeem these holidays? No, He doesn’t. He never chose these pagan celebrations for His people. Besides that, you can’t redeem something that was never yours to begin with. To redeem something means to release, liberate, deliver, rescue, save, or restore something. There is an implication that the thing you are trying to redeem once belonged to you but has since been lost. These pagan holidays never belonged to YHVH; they were never meant to be part of His system. In fact, He specifically warns us against the pagan ways of the surrounding nations.

         “Guard yourself that you are not ensnared to follow after them [the nations which YHVH cuts off], after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire about their mighty ones, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their mighty ones? And let me do so too.’ Do not do so to YHVH your God, for every abomination which YHVH hates they have done to their mighty ones, for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their mighty ones.” Deuteronomy 12:30-31

YHVH has feasts and celebrations that He has designated as set-apart in order to sanctify us. These are the holidays the people of YHVH should be celebrating, not holidays steeped in pagan and godless tradition. Leviticus 23 outlines the 7 feasts of YHVH as Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Shavuot (Pentecost), Yom Teruach (Day of Trumpets), Yom Kippur (Day of Coverings), and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). These were the holidays Yeshua would have celebrated. These are the holidays Jesus guarded and treasured with every fiber of His being.

Does it somehow negate what Jesus did on the cross to celebrate the Biblical feasts? Most certainly not. Yeshua Himself said, “And it is easier for the heavens and the earth to pass away than for one tittle of the Torah to fall away.” We, as Christians, believe that God and His Word stand forever; that they are unchanging. This includes His feasts and His warning against pagan celebrations.

If this day is all about showing love to the special people in your life, then let’s make a conscious effort to do that more than just this one day. We don’t need to designate a day to show those we care about that we love them. Maybe this year we need to get better about loving those around us, instead of needing a designated day to remind us. We can also work on showing YHVH that we love Him and His Word. Let’s show Him that we love Him more than our traditions. More than what everyone else is doing. More than our pride. More than ourselves. Let’s make everyday a good day to fulfill the Torah by loving YHVH and loving others!