Resting with God: Filling Our Empty Cups

I have never understood the importance of resting in YHVH more than in the past few weeks. It is here, in this place of stillness and rest that He restores my soul; that He refreshes my being.

“YHVH is my Shepherd; I do not lack. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my being, He leads me in paths of righteousness.”

Throughout the week, we empty ourselves to our work, family, friends, volunteering activities but on Shabbat YHVH refills our cups. If we never let Him lead us to these still waters and lay in green pastures with Him we miss out on having Him refill our cups. And if we go several weeks without being made whole and rejuvenated, it’s a recipe for disaster.

“When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. For You are with me. Your rod and Your staff comfort me.”

If we don’t rest in Him, eventually you reach a point where you can’t go on anymore — and this is not the best plan YHVH has for us. He has so much He wants to bless us with and so much love to fill our cups with. But do we let Him?

What does it mean to rest in Him? It’s not just about not going to work and sitting home and doing nothing all day. Resting in Him means connecting with Him. It means establishing and cultivating your own personal, intimate relationship with YHVH. It means taking time away from work, the stressors of the week, our to-do list and even all our godly work to simply be with Him. If we don’t actually connect with Him, we’re not really being filled by Him. And if we’re not being filled by Him, we will remain empty. When we are empty, we have nothing to give to Him or others.

Unfortunately, I’ve found this out the hard way. Even though I observe Shabbat and take time to read the Torah portion each week and study His word, I wasn’t doing the work to really connect with Him — and that’s the real key to unlocking the mystery of Shabbat.

No other people or religion has anything that compares to the beauty that is Shabbat. It’s called the weekly festival; a special time between YHVH and His people. It is on Shabbat that we are given a gift — the gift of connecting with our God and King in a way not possible during the rest of the week. A time where we can cast our burdens on Him, let go of the cares of this world, and lean completely on the One who holds the universe — and our lives — in His hands. But if we aren’t taking the time or putting forth the effort to connect with Him, then we miss this precious gift from our Father.

I’ve missed the fullness of this gift and have felt the emptiness as a result. But this week, I commit to drawing close to Him and just being with the lover of my soul. What about you? Do you hear Him calling to you? He desires to be with you. He longs to love you and be loved by you.

“You have anointed my head with oil, my cup runs over. Only goodness and loving-commitment follow me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the House of YHVH forever!”


 

The Birth of a Savior: For Unto Us a Son is Given

Many believe the Bible does not say when Yeshua (Jesus) was born and because of this, claim Christmas is as good a time as any to celebrate it. But what if the Bible did spell out when Yeshua was born? What if all it takes is looking at Scripture with an understanding of how YHVH’s system operates, specifically the timeline of His feasts? The following is the Biblical timeline for the birth of our savior.

Let’s read Luke 1 together and I’ll give you some explanation along the way.

There was in the days of Herodes, the sovereign of Judah, a certain priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And it came to be, that while he was serving as priest before Elohim in the order of his division, according to the institute of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to burn incense when he went into the Dwelling Place of YHVH.    Luke 1:5, 8-9

Often times, we gloss right over some very important pieces of information that are critical to our understanding of the Bible simply because we don’t understand its importance! Here, we see that Zechariah is a priest of YHVH in the division of Abijah. According to the pattern that David established through his son Solomon, the priesthood of YHVH was divided into 24 divisions. Each division would come to serve YHVH in the Temple one week twice a year. There were also three times a year when all 24 divisions would serve together because YHVH commanded that on these feasts, all of Israel would gather together: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

There were always priests serving in the Temple because there were continual sacrifices offered to YHVH. Therefore, if each division served two weeks out of the year and there were three weeks that all the priests served together, the entire year was covered (24 x 2 + 3 = ~ 51 weeks). The Biblical calendar, which is centered around the moon not the sun as is our Gregorian calendar, is approximately 11 days shorter than our sun-centered calendars of today. Therefore, this 24 division setup allowed for the Temple service cycle to start with division 1 every single time a Biblical new year began.

1 Chronicles 24 tells us when each of these 24 divisions would serve in the Temple.

And David, with Zadok of the sons of Eleazar, and Aḥimelech of the sons of Ithamar, divided them according to their offices in their service. And there were more leaders found of the sons of Eleazar than of the sons of Ithamar. So they divided the sons of Eleazar into sixteen heads of their fathers’ houses, and the sons of Ithamar into eight heads of their fathers’ houses. And they were divided by lot, one group as another, for there were officials of the set-apart place and officials of Elohim, from the sons of Eleazar and from the sons of Ithamar…the seventh [lot] to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah, the ninth to Yeshua, the tenth to Shecaniah. 1 Chronicles 24:3-5,10

This scripture tells us that Zechariah was in the 8th division of the priesthood and would come to serve in the Temple the 8th week of the year. An interesting side note, is that the division of Yeshua would have immediately followed Zechariah’s division in the Temple service. Leviticus 23:5 tells us that Passover occurs in the second week of the first month and verses 15-16 tell us that Shavuot is 7 weeks after Passover. Therefore, the 9th week of the year would be the approximate time of Shavuot (Pentecost) every year. This means that Zechariah would have to work two weeks in a row every year because of his Temple division coinciding with the requirement for all Israel to be in Jerusalem for Shavuot.

Going back to Luke 1:8-9, we see that Zechariah was serving in the Temple and was chosen by the casting of lots to bring incense to the altar of incense. This was a very special job because whoever brought the incense to the altar was allowed to make one personal request of God that was guaranteed to be granted. However, once a priest was given this privilege, he could never have this job again. We see from Luke 1: 13 that Zechariah’s one request was for his barren wife, Elizabeth, to have a child.

But the messenger said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard. And your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

Luke 1:23-25 tells us that after his time serving in the Temple, Zechariah went home and Elizabeth conceived.

And it came to be, as soon as the days of his service were completed, he went away to his house. And after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived. And she hid herself five months, saying, “YHVH has done this for me, in the days when He looked upon me, to take away my reproach among men.”

Shavuot occurs roughly about the May/June time every year on our calendars. This means that by the time Zechariah finished his division’s Temple service and made the journey home, several weeks had already passed and it was roughly July/August time when Zechariah returned home and John was conceived.

And the messenger answering, said to her, “The Set-apart Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. And for that reason the Set-apart One born of you shall be called: Son of Elohim.

“And see, Elizabeth your relative, she has also conceived a son in her old age. And this is now the sixth month to her who was called barren, And Mary said, “See the female servant of YHVH! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the messenger went away from her.

And Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered into the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And Mary stayed with her about three months, and returned to her home. And the time was filled for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Luke 1:35-40, 56-57

These above verses tell us that Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel in Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy. Remember, Elizabeth became pregnant roughly in July/August; six months later would be roughly December/January right around the time of Hanukkah — the Feast of Dedication and Lights. What a perfect time for the Light of the World and the Son of God to be conceived!

We then see that Mary stayed with Elizabeth and Zechariah three months and then went home. After this, Elizabeth gave birth to John. If Elizabeth conceived around the time of June/July, then nine months later would be approximately March/April – right around the time of Passover.

Now let’s read the story of the birth of Yeshua from Luke 2.

And it came to be in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus for all the world to be registered. This took place as a first registration while Quirinius was governing Syria. And all were going to be registered, each one to his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth to Judah, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, who was engaged to him – being pregnant. And it came to be, that while they were there, the days were filled for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her first-born Son, and wrapped Him up, and laid Him down in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in a lodging place.

And in the same country there were shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And look, a messenger of YHVH stood before them, and the esteem of YHVH shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. And the messenger said to them, “Do not be afraid, for look, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all people. “Because there was born to you today in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah, the Master. “And this is the sign to you: You shall find a baby wrapped up, lying in a feeding trough.”

And suddenly there was with the messenger a crowd of the heavenly host praising Elohim and saying, “Esteem to Elohim in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!”

And it came to be, when the messengers had gone away from them into the heaven, that the shepherds said to each other, “Indeed, let us go to Bethlehem and see this matter that has taken place, which the Master has made known to us.”

And they came in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a feeding trough. And having seen, they made known the matter which was spoken to them concerning the child. And all those who heard marveled at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary kept all these matters, considering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, boasting and praising Elohim for all they had heard and seen, as it was spoken to them.

And when eight days were completed for Him to be circumcised, His Name was called Yeshua, the Name given by the messenger before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her cleansing according to the Torah of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to YHVH – as it has been written in the Torah of YHVH, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called set-apart to YHVH” and to give an offering according to what is said in the Torah of YHVH, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

And see, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and dedicated, looking for the comforting of Israel. And the Set-apart Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Set-apart Spirit that he would not see death before he sees the Messiah of YHVH. And he came in the Spirit into the Set-apart Place. And as the parents brought in the Child Yeshua, to do for Him according to the usual practice of the Torah, then he took Him up in his arms and blessed Elohim and said, “Now let Your servant go in peace, O Master, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your deliverance, which You have prepared before the face of all the peoples, a light for the unveiling of the gentiles, and the esteem of Your people Israel.”

And Joseph and His mother were marveling at what was said about Him.

And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “See, this One is set for a fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against – and a sword shall pierce through your own being also – so as to reveal the thoughts of many hearts.”

And there was Ḥannah, a prophetess, a daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, and had lived with a husband seven years from her maidenhood, and she was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not leave the Set-apart Place, but served Elohim with fastings and prayers night and day. And she, coming in at that moment, gave thanks to YHVH, and spoke of Him to all who were waiting for redemption in Jerusalem.

And when they had accomplished all matters according to the Torah of YHVH, they returned to Galilee, to their city Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, being filled with wisdom. And the favor of Elohim was upon Him.

And His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Festival of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the practice of the festival. Luke 2:1-42

These verses are very informative in terms of what the details reveal. For instance, look at how many times the author specifically mentions that Joseph and Mary raised Yeshua according to YHVH’s Torah. They were completely obedient. They did not take part in the mixed worship that some of the other Hellenized Jews had adopted at this time. They remained completely set-apart and holy to YHVH.

Next, let’s talk about the shepherds. Not in Biblical days and not today do shepherds watch over their field by night in the dead of winter! Going back to what we have already learned about Mary’s pregnancy, we know that Mary conceived at Hanukkah (December/January time). Meaning that nine months from then would be September/October – the time of YHVH’s feast of Sukkot!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Elohim, and the Word was Elohim. He was in the beginning with Elohim. All came to be through Him, and without Him not even one came to be that came to be.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from Elohim, whose name was John. This one came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all might believe through him. He was not that Light, but that he might bear witness of that Light. He was the true Light, which enlightens every man, coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of Elohim, to those believing in His Name, who were born, not of blood nor of the desire of flesh nor of the desire of man, but of Elohim. And the Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us, and we saw His esteem, esteem as of an only brought-forth of a father, complete in favor and truth. John 1:1-14

These verses tell us that not only were the births and lives of John and Yeshua intertwined from the beginning, but that Yeshua “pitched His tent among us.” Some versions will say “He tabernacled among us.” The word “Sukkot” means tabernacle. It’s the time of year where people build sukkahs or tents/temporary dwellings and live in them for a week to remember how YHVH brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and delivered them from their bondage. This wording did not happen by chance or coincidence. It is a reference to the lost sheep of Israel (who understand His Torah) that Yeshua came to us at Sukkot.

Something else that both Luke 2 and John 1 have in common are two characteristics given to Yeshua. He is called both a Light and a Divider.

…a light for the unveiling of the gentiles, and the esteem of Your people Israel…And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “See, this One is set for a fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against – and a sword shall pierce through your own being also – so as to reveal the thoughts of many hearts.” Luke 2:32,34-35

He was in the world, and the world came to be through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. John 1:10-11

Yeshua is and always has been the Light to those who seek Him and His truth; but He has also been a Divider which tests the hearts of man in order to separate the sheep from the goats.

There are a lot of Christians who, when presented with the facts about the pagan origins of Christmas, say that they are not celebrating Christmas with this intent but, rather, they are celebrating Christmas as the birth of the Savior. They go on to say that since the Bible doesn’t specifically say when exactly Jesus was born why not just celebrate it at Christmas.

But if, after the presentation of the facts, you still won’t change your mind about Christmas then perhaps you should reevaluate why you really celebrate Christmas. Is it really to honor our savior or is it to make yourself feel good? God specifically spells out how much He hates the ways of the nations of the world and goes to great lengths to warn His chosen people against following these ways. Why then, after learning the truth about these abominable traditions that have been passed down and seeing Scriptural evidence that our Savior was not born at Christmas, would you continue to celebrate it? Is it because of the happy, jolly way it makes you feel? Is it that warm, fuzzy feeling you get this time of year? What is more important? The way you feel or the way He feels?

“For unto us a child is born; a son is given.” He gave His very life in spite of His own desires in order to do His Father’s work and save us all from sin. Why then do we insist on corrupting His Holy life with our pagan practices? Why do we insist on putting ourselves and our wants and our desires and what makes us feel good ahead of our Heavenly Father? That is idol worship in its truest, most basic form.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of Elohim, to those believing in His Name, who were born, not of blood nor of the desire of flesh nor of the desire of man, but of Elohim. John 1:12-13

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Letting Your Walk Talk: Living a Thankful Life

Thanksgiving. A time when we can gather with family and friends and be thankful for the many blessings we have in our lives. But I worry we are losing sight of what it really means to be thankful. In a generation that demands free stuff and feels they are entitled to whatever they want for simply existing, I fear that we have forgotten what it truly means to be thankful for what we have.

Take Keely Mullen, the Million Student March national organizer, who is protesting for free college and debt forgiveness. This is seriously one of the most cringe-worthy interviews I have ever watched. I felt so embarrassed for her. Seriously, watch the video and you’ll understand why. And, yet, I was so frustrated as I watched her struggle to find any real answers to the basic, logistical questions she was being asked. She feels entitled to have other people (the rich 1% that these poor, gullible kids are lied to about) pay for her college and to pay off the debt that she and others have accumulated in student loans. The third demand these protesters want is a $15/hr minimum wage for those working on college campuses. Unfortunately, the math just doesn’t add up.

Right now, if we were to institute a 100% tax on the rich 1% who is “hoarding” all the wealth, we would get roughly $1 trillion. There is currently about $1.3 trillion in student debt across the U.S. that these protesters want erased. The point? Even if we taxed 100% of the 1%’s wealth, it wouldn’t be enough to cover even one of the three areas these protesters want covered by the wealthy. She says that college systems are “unfair” and that there is “injustice” in the system. She was asked very basic questions like “at what point do you earn enough to be considered the 1%?” She had no answer. “What if the wealthy the leave the country? Who will pay for all this free stuff then?” No answer. “Even taxing the 1% at 100% we wouldn’t have enough to keep Medicare afloat for 3 years. How do you propose we pay for all the new stuff you’re asking for?” No answer. “Countries like Greece have also provided the same benefits that you’re demanding and now they’re going broke. Why do you think it will work here?” No answer. “Do you really think colleges won’t jump at the opportunity to raise the cost of tuition and room/board?” Some lame answer about what would happen in an “ideal” world.

It’s extremely frustrating to see the next generation of young people being as selfish and self-centered as they are. The world doesn’t owe us anything. We’ve confused a “right” with a “privilege.” These students are saying that education is a “right.” No, education is a privilege. When we begin to think that we have a “right” to anything and everything we want, we start going down a slippery slope. Suddenly, there’s no need to appreciate what we’re given because it was “owed” to us to begin with. We don’t have to work for anything or strive to be our best because it will all just be handed to us. We hear this and we’re outraged but are we any different than this entitled generation?

How do we show that we’re thankful? How do we show our appreciation?

We need to set the example. We need to first remember what we are thankful for and then show it! We can’t just talk about it. Take care of what God has blessed you with. From your family, friends, home, job, school, and life! Even if everyone else around you is complaining and talking about what they wish they had, make it a point to be thankful and appreciative for what you have been given.

It’s easy to get caught up in the life we want and forget what we already have. I know it’s cliché but life truly is a gift. We can take this gift and make a difference in the world in which we live or we can waste it by complaining and always wanting what we don’t have. There’s nothing wrong with ambition or striving towards the next goal but when your focus is on what you don’t have rather than what you do have, we run the risk of becoming selfish, self-centered, entitled, spoiled brats.

I know in my life, I have so much to be thankful for. I live in a free country, I have food on my table, a safe home to live in, family and friends who love me, and a loving God Who has never left my side. I have an education (for which I worked extremely hard), a job where I can earn money to pay my bills, and a car that, while not the nicest looking, gets me from Point A to be Point B just fine.

We each have things in our own lives for which we are thankful, but there are things that we can all collectively give thanks for too. Like our military. These brave folks selflessly serve their country and its citizens and put their lives on the line so that we can enjoy the freedoms we are privileged to have. Often they aren’t able to be home with their family and friends because of their work and for their sacrifice we should be eternally thankful.

Democracy. I am extremely thankful for democracy. “We the people” can vote to elect the people we choose to run our country instead of just being taken over by some crazy dictator. And while we aren’t always happy with the outcome, we can still find satisfaction in knowing that the citizens chose our leader…even if it was the dumber half of our citizens.

These things just scratch the surface of the things we have to be thankful for. But rather than simply saying we are thankful, we should be showing we are thankful. We should live our lives in a way that our joy and gratitude is evident to all we meet, whether it’s Thanksgiving Day or not.

Thanksgiving is just another day on the calendar if we can’t learn to be thankful for what we have every day of the year. So don’t just say you’re thankful…actually be thankful.

How can you live a thankful life? And no, it does not involve using the hashtag #blessed! Volunteer. Give to others. Put others before yourself. Don’t complain about your job. Don’t lust after what you don’t have. Take care of what you do have. Love those who are in your life.

My high school vice principle had a saying that he would walk around school saying every chance he could. He would say, “Your walk talks, and your talk talks but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” We all thought it was cheesy, and it was, but it was a good reminder that has stuck with me all these years that the way you live your life speaks louder than how you say you live your live.

So what are you thankful for? And more importantly, how will you show it? Tell us in the comments below! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Voice Talk: A Believer’s Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Join me on this edition of Voice Talk as I’m joined by some very special guests to discuss a believer’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Leave your thoughts and comments below!

The New Moon and the Feasts: A Calendar of 2015’s Fall Feasts

I thought I’d write this post to clarify the dates of 2015’s Fall Feasts. Rabbinically, Yom Kippur will begin Tuesday – Wednesday, September 22-23 and the Feast of Sukkot will begin Sunday evening, September 27. However, according to Leviticus 23, the dates for YHVH’s Feasts are always established in relation to the new moon. Furthermore, in Genesis, YHVH set the precedent that the sun, moon, and stars were to be signs for His “set-times.”

“God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night; they shall serve as signs for the set times – the days and the years; and they shall serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars.” Gen.1:14-16

These two great lights are the sun and the moon, respectively. The word for ‘set times’ here is moedim (appointed times) which is the very word that Yahweh chooses to use to describe His festivals. One more passage that speaks of these two lights is found in Psalms 104:19: “He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows when to set.”

This passage clearly sets the moon apart as the main marker of the seasons, while the sun is to mark the day. The moon that reflects the light of the Sun confirms throughout the month as it waxes and wanes that the created order is not chaotic. Its visible rebirth each month is very orderly and precise, but not absolutely predictable. Therefore, each month has a degree of expectancy about it.

If you read my last post about Yom Teruach (a.k.a. the day and the hour which no man knows), then you’ll know that this particular holiday cannot start until the new moon is spotted. This year, after much anticipation (and several delays), the new moon was finally spotted the evening of Tuesday, September 15, 2015. The days for Yom Kippur and Sukkot are dependent on Yom Teruach and when the new moon is spotted. Yom Kippur is always on the 10th day of the month while Sukkot is always on the 15th day of the month. Therefore, according to the pattern YHVH established in Leviticus 23, the following days will be the Biblical dates of the Fall Feasts:

Yom Teruach: Tuesday, September 15, 2015 (sundown) – Wednesday, September 16, 2015 (sundown)
Yom Kippur: Thursday, September 24, 2015 (sundown) – Friday, September 25, 2015 (sundown)
Sukkot: Tuesday, September 29, 2015 (sundown) – Wednesday, October 7, 2015 (sundown)

Chag Samaech! L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem

Joyous festivals! May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!

*Photo Credit: Nehemiah Gordon in Jerusalem*

Elul: A Season of Forgiveness and Repentance

During this time of Elul, we ask YHVH to search us and reveal ANY wrongs that we have not yet made right, any areas of our lives we still need healing in, and any issues we have not yet resolved in order to make them right. Most often, teshuvah, is translated as “repentance;” however, this doesn’t accurately capture the fullness of this word’s meaning. Teshuvah means to return – to God, to His ways, to our original state of purity as intended by God.

Inevitably, hurt and pain enter our lives. We become broken and parts of our original-self are strewn about, seemingly beyond repair. We do what we can to try getting past the pain; we “forgive” the person who hurt us and we allow God to heal us. We ask for forgiveness and repent for what we’ve done. So why, then, does it seem that there are some people and circumstances we can’t seem to get away from? Why does it seem like we keep going around the mountain again and again over the same issue?

The only way we can truly be mended is to make teshuvah or return to YHVH. Even when others hurt us and we feel we aren’t at fault, the hurt and brokenness we experience creates a disconnect between us and that person, which in turn creates a disconnect with YHVH. It is only through turning to God and allowing Him to walk us through the process of forgiveness/repentance can the necessary healing take place.

One of the most difficult parts of Elul is realizing there are still hurts and wounds in our life we thought had been addressed years ago – hurts that have both been inflicted on us and that we have inflicted on others. Often times we allow for surface level healing or forgiveness to take place without ever addressing the root of the issue. We pick the flower off the dandelion but never pull the root out of the ground. As a result, the weed keeps popping back up. It can be hard to revisit these old wounds but by facing them, and not avoiding them, true healing and forgiveness can occur.

In the Hebrew tradition, there are three levels of forgiveness/repentance. While the levels are connected, they each offer their own unique challenges. The cycle of forgiveness is a living process that is completely dependent on our actions, so you may find yourself going back and forth through these phases as you forgive/repent.

Slichah
The first stage in the process of forgiveness/repentance is slichah. In Hebrew, this means to pardon. In fact, if you ever spend time in Israel and need to say “excuse me,” you will actually say “slichah.” It is the most basic level of forgiveness/repentance. Its primary focus is on man; specifically the other person involved in the situation. When in this initial phase, it can often feel chaotic and difficult to make sense of things. Before we can deal with the root of the matter, we must forgive/ask forgiveness of the other person in the situation.

When we look at the gematria* for the word slichah, the picture we get is that through faith, grace, mercy and our confidence in YHVH, covenants of new beginnings are established between men. Furthermore, the Shepherd teaches the man who surrenders how to build a wall that divides him from the outside chaos.

This is a beautiful picture describing how pardoning someone/asking for pardoning can bring healing and new beginnings in a relationship. More so, through the process of slichah, God can also teach us how to build walls that keep us from outside chaos. However, these are not the emotional walls that we put up to keep people and relationships out but, rather, these are the walls that keep us in the Father’s House and stop us from returning to the hurt we have experienced or inflicted.

These walls are comparable to being in the Father’s House. There is a wall that divides us from those on the outside of His house. This is similar to the parable of the wedding feast. Inside are the honored guests who accepted the invitation to the marriage feast; outside the wall are those who rejected the invitation where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If You, LORD should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness (slichah) with You, that You may be feared. Psalm 130:1–4

Mechilah
The second level of forgiveness/repentance is mechilah, from the root word mochul meaning circle or cycle. In Hebrew, this word means to abolish or wipe away. In this phase, God teaches us how to let go; to be free from the power that others hold over you. The focus of mechilah is on you. In my opinion, this is the hardest level of forgiveness because for most of us it is very difficult to get over the obstacle of one’s own self.

Many times we hold on to the hurts and justify why shouldn’t let them go. Or we hold on to the guilt of what we did and refuse to believe that we could be given forgiveness. When we let go of this hurt and guilt, we are finally able to receive a vital piece of healing within ourselves. We are letting go of the power that others hold over us and instead returning that power back to YHVH.

The gematria* for the word mechilah gives us this picture: The coming plan of YHVH for new beginnings brought through confidence in YHVH’s covenants of faith, grace, and mercy. Further, the Shepherd becomes the wall that divides the man who surrenders from the outside chaos.

By allowing the hurt and guilt to be wiped away, YHVH can then bring about His new beginnings through faith, grace, and mercy. By completely surrendering to His healing, we also see that YHVH becomes the wall that divides us from the outside chaos. Notice that in this level, there is no mention of others like in the first stage. In this stage, you let go of everything else and come face-to-face with YHVH alone.

Show me favour, O Elohim, according to Your kindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash me completely from my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You alone, have I sinned, and done evil in Your eyes; that You might be proven right in Your words; be clear when You judge. See, I was brought forth in crookedness, and in sin my mother conceived me. See, You have desired truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You make me know wisdom. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I am clean; wash me, and I am whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness, let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my crookedness. Create in me a clean heart, O Elohim, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:1-10

Kapparah
The third and final stage of forgiveness/repentance is kapparah, which means to make atonement. After doing the hard work in the first two stages, it is in this final stage that we can be made whole again. While we certainly need YHVH’s help in every stage, it is this stage where He takes center stage and where only He can do the necessary work. In this stage, we must let go of the broken pieces of our lives — other people, ourselves, guilt, shame, and hurt — and let YHVH take over and make us whole again.

The gematria* shows us that kapparah is the faith, grace, and mercy that will restore the balance between us and others and us and God through new beginnings. And also that the man who completely surrenders and allows his mouth to be tamed by YHVH will be raised up as the head.

This tells me that when we allow ourselves to forgive and be forgiven, we are made whole again, we have balance restored in our relationships, and we are given a new beginning! That is true freedom! We can also see that the person who completely surrenders to the process of forgiveness/repentance and allows their mouth to be tamed, will be raised up by YHVH.

The Word tells us, “out of the mouth, the heart speaks.” For this reason, YHVH tames and softens the heart of the one who forgives/repents. This means that once you have truly forgiven/been forgiven, you cannot bring up the matter anymore. It is over and done with. You cannot make snide remarks or hold it against people in any way. You cannot allow the enemy to use it to bring guilt and shame on you any longer. By surrendering to forgiveness and the softening our hearts, we let our hurt, anger, guilt, and shame go. It is as far as the east is from the west. Only then can YHVH make us “the head and not the tail.”

On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you. Leviticus 25: 9b-10a

Coming Full Circle
The process of forgiveness/repentance is not easy – it takes a healthy dose of courage to make it through. But once you do, the end result is a beautiful, spotless, whole Bride – purified through the refiner’s fire.

Did you notice some common themes for the different levels of forgiveness/repentance? Faith, grace, and mercy are concepts we can see throughout the process. It took me a while to see the connection, but now I understand that it takes an incredible amount of faith, grace, and mercy to forgive someone for what they’ve done or to forgive yourself for what you’ve done. But just as Yeshua extended faith, grace, and mercy to us, so we must now extend it to others and ourselves. It’s no wonder that all along the way YHVH reminds us to never lose sight of these.

New beginnings also had a prominent role in the forgiveness/repentance process. I believe this is because YHVH doesn’t want us to remain stuck where we are. He wants us to move forward – always growing stronger through the purification and refining process.

I think this also shows us that YHVH has a different perspective than us on what forgiveness/repentance truly means. We tend to view our hurt or guilt as something that sticks with us and never really leaves us. We pick up the pieces and try to move on, albeit a little worse for wear.

But YHVH wants us to completely move forward! To never look back, to never be that person again, and to never let anyone but Him have power over us. In His infinite mercy and grace, He gives us a completely new beginning! It’s up to us to take hold of it by making teshuvah and returning to Him.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:22-24

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:18-19

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24

*In Hebrew, there is a depth to each word that is missing when translated to English. Each Hebrew letter has a word picture and a numerical value attached to it. The gematria, as this is called, allows us to see a deeper level full of rich meaning for Hebrew words and the Scriptures. If you would like to learn more about gematria or are curious how I arrived at my conclusions, please email me or comment below.*

Elul: The Month of the Bride and Emotional Healing

The sixth Biblical month of Elul is often considered “the month of the Bride.” It is a special time of tenderness between the King and His Bride; a time where Bridegroom and Bride can connect in a very intimate and different way than in the rest of the year. In fact, Elul is considered to be an acronym for Song of Solomon 6:3, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine. Ani L‘dodi V‘dodi Li (אלול).”

Before her wedding day, a bride goes through a time of preparation. She must make sure everything is ready and in place; that the food is prepared for her guests and that her dress is perfect to meet her husband. But there are inward preparations she must make as well. Is she ready to be a wife? Is she prepared to be joined to another person for the rest of her life? Is she prepared to be her husband’s helpmate? For us, as the Bride of Yeshua, we too go through a time of preparation during the month of Elul which includes a time of emotional healing.

Kidneys
Biblically, emotions are closely connected to the kidneys. Often times, the word for kidney is inaccurately translated as “heart,” “mind,” or “soul” in the Bible. Certainly there is some overlap between the kidneys and the heart, but it seems that the kidneys are more restricted to the emotional center of man, while the heart is more concerned with the thoughts and attitudes of man. Consider the first use of “heart” in Genesis 6:5: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Other verses seem to confirm this idea.  Genesis 8:21 “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”; Genesis 27:41 “…and Esau said in his heart,”; Psalms 14:1 “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.”; “out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders….”

In Hebrew, the word for “kidney” is kilyah. It is the feminine form of the word kelîy – which means tool, vessel, or weapon. In a literal sense, kilyah is the kidney organ. Figuratively, it is the seat of man’s emotions. In Hebrew psychology, the kidneys are viewed as the seat of man’s emotions, the innermost being, the soul, the central location of the passions, the seat of human joy and grief, as well as the seat of moral & ethical character. As the Creator of this moral and ethical capacity in each of us, YHVH examines the kidneys to determine each individual’s attitudes and motives, and to determine the appropriate reward or punishment. Appropriately, the kidneys figured prominently in the offering of sacrifices upon YHVH’s altar.

Because of the important connection to man’s emotions, it’s important to examine the function and role of the kidneys not only in our physical health but our emotional health as well. Keep in mind that what happens in the physical is often a mirror of what happens in the spiritual — so be thinking about the spiritual application of the physical ailments and the kidneys as our emotional center as we go on.

Kidney Damage and Emotional Health
Physically, the kidneys filter out waste from the body, so when the kidneys’ functioning is impaired it quickly becomes a dangerous situation. Some kidney problems happen quickly, such as when an accident injures the kidneys. Losing a lot of blood can cause sudden kidney failure. Some drugs or poisons can make the kidneys stop working. Acute Kidney Injury may lead to permanent loss of kidney function. But if the kidneys are not seriously damaged, acute kidney disease may be reversed.

Most kidney problems, however, happen slowly and over time. A person may have “silent” kidney disease for years and never know. People with Chronic Kidney Disease may go on to develop permanent kidney failure. They also have a high risk of death from a stroke or heart attack. Think about it…a person with long-lasting kidney/emotional damage is at a high risk for stroke or heart attack. A stroke kills the brain/mind and a heart attack kills the heart.

There are two major causes of kidney failure: diabetes and high blood pressure. Diabetes can be caused by poor diet, being overweight and emotional stress, among other things. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body and it contributes to hardening of the arteries and the development of heart failure. While diabetes is the result of not being able to properly process and high blood pressure is the result of excessive amounts of pressure, both can be caused by factors related to emotional stress.

So let’s think about this in a spiritual sense. If we experience emotional trauma, whether in a specific situation or over a long period of time, we are at risk for shutting down emotionally and becoming emotionally unhealthy. When our emotions fail, our mind and heart fail as well. However, if we maintain a healthy lifestyle of being in the Word, drinking the living waters of life, and strengthening our spiritual muscles, then our kidneys will work as designed: to flush out the toxins and poisons that inevitably enter our bodies.

Kilyah and Emotional Healing
In Hebrew, there is a depth to each word that is missing when translated to English. Each Hebrew letter has a word picture and a numerical value attached to it. The gematria, as this is called, allows us to see a deeper level full of rich meaning for Hebrew words and the Scriptures. Below are the word pictures and numerical values for the letters that make up the word kilyah or kidneys.

כליה

כ (Kaph): open palm; to bend, open, allow or tame

ל (Lamed): shepherd’s staff; teach, yoke, bind, toward

י (Yod): arm/closed hand; work, throw

ה (He): man with arms raised; look, reveal, breath

 *To bend and allow to be tamed by the shepherd’s staff which teaches, yokes and binds us to the work revealed to the man with raised arms.*


 כ (Kaph) 20: – balance between YHVH/man and man/man ten times over

ל (Lamed) 30: covenant ten times over

י (Yod) 10 – confidence in YHVH

ה (He) 5 – faith, grace and mercy

*Kidneys restore a balance between YHVH & man and man & man ten times over and establish a covenant of confidence in YHVH of faith, grace and mercy.*

What we see from the gematria is that our kidneys/emotional health determines if we will yield ourselves in complete surrender to the Shepherd and the work that must be done. When we completely surrender to the work of emotional healing during Elul, our kidneys then restore balance in our relationship with God and others. When our kidneys/emotional being is healthy, we can then filter out waste and allow the purification process to take place.

Kilyah and the Month of the Bride
So what do the kidneys and emotional health have to do with the month of the bride? In order for the Bride to be prepared for Judgment Day she must be found to be without spot or blemish. She must also wash herself clean and be clothed in white for her Bridegroom at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. This requires her to remove any spot or blemish from her life.

The month of Elul is a gift from YHVH in which He gives us the time, opportunity, and circumstances to accomplish this cleaning and repentance. Our Bridegroom is not only concerned with our physical and spiritual health, but with our emotional health too!

Our mind-body-soul connection is undeniably important. However, as believers, too often we get so focused on our spiritual health that we neglect our physical or emotional health. While they are all connected, they are also uniquely individual. Emotional healing is just one aspect of our health that YHVH may choose to address during Elul — but emotional wounds are often the most neglected because they are the most difficult to uproot. Whatever area of your life YHVH chooses to shine His spotlight on, I encourage you to fight the urge to downplay the issue as “not that big of a deal” or to dismiss the way God chooses to get your attention as merely a coincidence. But as Gibbs from NCIS would say, “Rule #39: There’s no such thing as a coincidence.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer Latest Democrat to Announce Opposition to Iranian Nuclear Deal

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, is the latest top Democrat to announce his opposition to the nuclear deal negotiated by the U.S., Iran, and five world powers in an extremely well-thought out essay published tonight. In his essay, he lays out very clearly his concerns with the nuclear deal and ultimately why he chose to oppose the deal.

With all these high-ranking Democrats jumping ship on Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, one can’t help but come to the realization that this is NOT the partisan issue the President was making it out to be. President Obama has gone to great lengths to demonize Republicans who oppose the deal as war-mongers and accusing those who oppose him of doing so simply because he is a Democrat. But with high-ranking Democrats, such as Sen. Schumer and Sen. Israel both from New York, also opposing the deal its clear to see that there are some very real concerns with this deal. It’s not a matter of Democrats vs. Republicans; its common sense vs. a last-ditch, desperate attempt to leave a positive legacy — yeah…good luck with that one, Mr. President.

Below is the essay Sen. Schumer posted tonight. It perfectly lays out the issues with lifting sanctions on Iran, tackles the extremely short timeline this deal would span, addresses the “anywhere, anytime” inspections Obama promised (remind anyone of another Obama promise: “If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor”???) and expresses the doubts that Iran will ever change it murderous ideology.

While not only being extremely informative, Sen. Schumer’s essay should also be proof that our prayers for our nation’s leaders are being heard and answered. While we can’t all travel to Capitol Hill and tell our representatives in person that we want them to oppose the nuclear deal with Iran, we can all pray. Whether Democrat or Republican our representatives are facing a tough decision — especially the Democrats. They have party lines to consider and ties within and outside the party that often drive these types of decisions. So keep praying that the truth of God will outweigh any other cost in this decision. Pray for wisdom, and guidance, and courage to make the right decision. And lastly, contact your representatives’ offices and tell them you want them to vote NO on a nuclear deal with Iran. Together, we can and are making a difference.

Every several years or so a legislator is called upon to cast a momentous vote in which the stakes are high and both sides of the issue are vociferous in their views.

Over the years, I have learned that the best way to treat such decisions is to study the issue carefully, hear the full, unfiltered explanation of those for and against, and then, without regard to pressure, politics or party, make a decision solely based on the merits.

I have spent the last three weeks doing just that: carefully studying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, reading and re-reading the agreement and its annexes, questioning dozens of proponents and opponents, and seeking answers to questions that go beyond the text of the agreement but will have real consequences that must be considered.

Advocates on both sides have strong cases for their point of view that cannot simply be dismissed. This has made evaluating the agreement a difficult and deliberate endeavor, and after deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval.

While we have come to different conclusions, I give tremendous credit to President Obama for his work on this issue. The President, Secretary Kerry and their team have spent painstaking months and years pushing Iran to come to an agreement. Iran would not have come to the table without the President’s persistent efforts to convince the Europeans, the Russians, and the Chinese to join in the sanctions. In addition, it was the President’s far-sighted focus that led our nation to accelerate development of the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), the best military deterrent and antidote to a nuclear Iran. So whichever side one comes down on in this agreement, all fair-minded Americans should acknowledge the President’s strong achievements in combatting and containing Iran.

In making my decision, I examined this deal in three parts: nuclear restrictions on Iran in the first ten years, nuclear restrictions on Iran after ten years, and non-nuclear components and consequences of a deal. In each case I have asked: are we better off with the agreement or without it?

In the first ten years of the deal, there are serious weaknesses in the agreement. First, inspections are not “anywhere, anytime”; the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling. While inspectors would likely be able to detect radioactive isotopes at a site after 24 days, that delay would enable Iran to escape detection of any illicit building and improving of possible military dimensions (PMD) – the tools that go into building a bomb but don’t emit radioactivity.

Furthermore, even when we detect radioactivity at a site where Iran is illicitly advancing its bomb-making capability, the 24-day delay would hinder our ability to determine precisely what was being done at that site.
Even more troubling is the fact that the U.S. cannot demand inspections unilaterally. By requiring the majority of the 8-member Joint Commission, and assuming that China, Russia, and Iran will not cooperate, inspections would require the votes of all three European members of the P5+1 as well as the EU representative. It is reasonable to fear that, once the Europeans become entangled in lucrative economic relations with Iran, they may well be inclined not to rock the boat by voting to allow inspections.

Additionally, the “snapback” provisions in the agreement seem cumbersome and difficult to use. While the U.S. could unilaterally cause snapback of all sanctions, there will be instances where it would be more appropriate to snapback some but not all of the sanctions, because the violation is significant but not severe. A partial snapback of multilateral sanctions could be difficult to obtain, because the U.S. would require the cooperation of other nations. If the U.S. insists on snapback of all the provisions, which it can do unilaterally, and the Europeans, Russians, or Chinese feel that is too severe a punishment, they may not comply.

Those who argue for the agreement say it is better to have an imperfect deal than to have nothing; that without the agreement, there would be no inspections, no snapback. When you consider only this portion of the deal – nuclear restrictions for the first ten years – that line of thinking is plausible, but even for this part of the agreement, the weaknesses mentioned above make this argument less compelling.

Second, we must evaluate how this deal would restrict Iran’s nuclear development after ten years.

Supporters argue that after ten years, a future President would be in no weaker a position than we are today to prevent Iran from racing to the bomb. That argument discounts the current sanctions regime. After fifteen years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program. Even more importantly, the agreement would allow Iran, after ten to fifteen years, to be a nuclear threshold state with the blessing of the world community. Iran would have a green light to be as close, if not closer to possessing a nuclear weapon than it is today. And the ability to thwart Iran if it is intent on becoming a nuclear power would have less moral and economic force.

If Iran’s true intent is to get a nuclear weapon, under this agreement, it must simply exercise patience. After ten years, it can be very close to achieving that goal, and, unlike its current unsanctioned pursuit of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear program will be codified in an agreement signed by the United States and other nations. To me, after ten years, if Iran is the same nation as it is today, we will be worse off with this agreement than without it.

In addition, we must consider the non-nuclear elements of the agreement. This aspect of the deal gives me the most pause. For years, Iran has used military force and terrorism to expand its influence in the Middle East, actively supporting military or terrorist actions in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza. That is why the U.S. has labeled Iran as one of only three nations in the world who are “state sponsors of terrorism.” Under this agreement, Iran would receive at least $50 billion dollars in the near future and would undoubtedly use some of that money to redouble its efforts to create even more trouble in the Middle East, and, perhaps, beyond.

To reduce the pain of sanctions, the Supreme Leader had to lean left and bend to the moderates in his country. It seems logical that to counterbalance, he will lean right and give the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and the hardliners resources so that they can pursue their number one goal: strengthening Iran’s armed forces and pursuing even more harmful military and terrorist actions.

Finally, the hardliners can use the freed-up funds to build an ICBM on their own as soon as sanctions are lifted (and then augment their ICBM capabilities in 8 years after the ban on importing ballistic weaponry is lifted), threatening the United States. Restrictions should have been put in place limiting how Iran could use its new resources.

When it comes to the non-nuclear aspects of the deal, I think there is a strong case that we are better off without an agreement than with one.

Using the proponents’ overall standard – which is not whether the agreement is ideal, but whether we are better with or without it – it seems to me, when it comes to the nuclear aspects of the agreement within ten years, we might be slightly better off with it. However, when it comes to the nuclear aspects after ten years and the non-nuclear aspects, we would be better off without it.

Ultimately, in my view, whether one supports or opposes the resolution of disapproval depends on how one thinks Iran will behave under this agreement.

If one thinks Iran will moderate, that contact with the West and a decrease in economic and political isolation will soften Iran’s hardline positions, one should approve the agreement.  After all, a moderate Iran is less likely to exploit holes in the inspection and sanctions regime, is less likely to seek to become a threshold nuclear power after ten years, and is more likely to use its newfound resources for domestic growth, not international adventurism.

But if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.

Admittedly, no one can tell with certainty which way Iran will go. It is true that Iran has a large number of people who want their government to decrease its isolation from the world and focus on economic advancement at home. But it is also true that this desire has been evident in Iran for thirty-five years, yet the Iranian leaders have held a tight and undiminished grip on Iran, successfully maintaining their brutal, theocratic dictatorship with little threat. Who’s to say this dictatorship will not prevail for another ten, twenty, or thirty years?

To me, the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great.

Therefore, I will vote to disapprove the agreement, not because I believe war is a viable or desirable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy. It is because I believe Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power. Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.

For all of these reasons, I believe the vote to disapprove is the right one.

Hineni. “Here Am I. Send Me.”

Note Before You Read: I know I’m a little late in publishing this, but what can I say…sometimes life gets in the way and some things fall off the plate.

I originally began writing this right after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris and continued working on it for a few days…until “life” happened. Even though I put it off and it might seem a little late to post this, I think there is still an important lesson for each of us to hear from these events.

So as you read this, keep in mind that the timetable may seem off from where we are currently. Enjoy!


By now I think most people have heard about the terrorist attack in Paris, France this week. It all started when two terrorists with links to Al Qaeda in Yemen stormed the office of a controversial magazine in Paris killing 12 people, including the magazine’s editor, and wounding many others.

The terrorists were on the run for several days, hiding out in a massive forest outside Paris and in a small nearby town. Then early this morning (Friday, January 9, 2015) we received word that the terrorists were hiding in a small printing office where they had one hostage and that not far away two more Islamic terrorists, believed to be part of the same terror cell in France, were holding hostages at a Jewish Kosher deli.

At the time of this writing on Friday, January 09, 2015, the media is reporting that three of the suspects were killed and that the fourth suspect (the only female) had escaped and that all hostages from both locations were freed, except for two hostages who were reportedly shot and killed. UPDATE: As it turns out, authorities now believe the female suspect may not have been with the other suspects as originally thought and may have left for Syria immediately following the attack at Charlie Hebdo.

This senseless violence is all very sad and heartbreaking. Initial reports say the motive of the attack against the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Monday was the magazine’s repeated irreverent depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. The magazine has also caricaturized prominent figures of other religions and, yet, I can’t recall the last time I saw a Buddhist monk wearing a suicide vest and taking hostages…but hey, that’s beside the point, right?

As I read accounts and reports of the ongoing manhunt for the two radical Islamist brothers, I came across several reports that other European countries were also bumping up their terror threat levels in light of the attacks in Paris. Spain, Britain, and Germany were among these countries to bolster their security. In addition, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned that extremists could attack Europe and the U.S. if there is not a strong international response against terrorism in Iraq and Syria.

But where were these countries when Israel was warning of the terrorist threat in the world? The people now sporting #jesuischarlie, where were they when Hamas was launching hundreds and hundreds of rockets into Israel this summer? Why is it that the world always waits to act against the threat of evil in the world until it touches their own lives? Why not stop it before it takes the lives of so many innocent people? Before families lose sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, and beloved friends? Why do we think we won’t be touched by the evil in the world?

Why do we believe that somehow this evil will be stopped before it reaches our doorstep?

And how do we think it will be stopped if no one stands up to fight it?

Why didn’t France do something before now? Before this heinous attack took the lives of 16 and forever changed the lives of countless others? France has long been the European Mecca for Muslim immigrants and has had to face new concerns in dealing with this influx of Muslim immigration. Several years ago I read an article detailing the legal battle over outlawing the burqa (the head-to-toe covering Muslim women wear) in parts of Europe. With the surge of Muslim immigrants coming into France and the dozens of security alerts that French citizens are returning from fighting in Syria and Iraq with ISIS, could the government not see this threat coming?In fact, the two brothers who carried out the attack at Charlie Hebdo and the man who held hostages at the Kosher deli were all French citizens who had recently returned from fighting alongside terrorists.

I have even read of France’s “no-go zones,” as they are called, in predominantly Muslim areas. They are areas in France that tourists, locals, and even police do not go into because of the violence and criminal activity that takes place in these areas. And even though the city of Paris is trying to sue Fox News for their report, there are indeed European no-go zones.

And now Spain sees the looming threat on its borders. But what will be done to stop it?

Today there was a Unity March in Paris that was led by dozens of world leaders in a stand against terrorism (it should be noted that the highest ranking person to represent the U.S. was the ambassador to France and not the President or Vice President, but hey, who has time to stand against terrorism, right?). But why did it take so long for the world to unite against terrorism? Why did it take so long for the leaders of the world to unite in this type of stand? Why didn’t world leaders unite when Hamas, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood were united against Israel? Where was the unity march when ISIS invaded Iraq and Syria? Where was the outcry and hashtags when dozens and dozens of Christians were beheaded, impaled, burned alive, or kidnapped by ISIS?

What makes the terrorist attack in Paris so different? Why did the attack on journalists affect so many more people than the deaths of Jews and Christians?

The response to the attack at Charlie Hebdo reminds me of the words spoken in 1946 by concentration camp survivor Pastor Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

The words of Pastor Niemöller should serve as a reminder to us that we are not invincible. None of us should think that we are somehow immune to the evils of this world. Yes, it is true that God is our strong tower, but does that give us license to hide our heads in the sand? Does that give us reason to look away from the wrong happening in the world; to not speak out against the injustice?

Since I began writing this two weeks ago, another terrorist attack has been carried out. This time in Tel Aviv. Once again, terror was brought to the streets of Israel. It was a stabbing attack on a city bus during the morning rush hour. At least a dozen people were stabbed in this horrific attack.

Immediately following the attack, stories of heroism and bravery emerged. The bus driver remained in control of the bus even after he was stabbed, possibly saving lives from not crashing into cars or pedestrians on the sidewalk. Then he wrestled the attacker and tried to fight him off before he could attack the other passengers. When the attacker moved toward the passengers, the bus driver slammed on the brakes of the bus causing the attacker to lose his balance, allowing the passengers precious seconds to run for their lives, possibly saving dozens more. When the bus driver could no longer fight, he called a friend and co-worker, told him about the attack and asked him to take care of his children. This man is a hero. He put thoughts of others before himself during this entire attack. If only we could all be this selfless.

Then there was a 13-year old boy on his way to school. He saw the attacker leave the bus driver and start walking toward him and the other passengers in the back of the bus. He threw his backpack at the attacker and bought himself a few more precious seconds. Then, in order to help the other passengers escape, this young boy broke the window with his elbow and helped others crawl out as well. This alerted the bus driver who then opened the doors allowing more passengers to escape. Would I be this brave and selfless in a situation like this? To risk my life for others? For strangers?

If we could save just one life from our actions, is that not the same as saving the entire world? Each life is precious and valuable. It doesn’t mean that we have to go to Syria or Iraq and fight ISIS ourselves or that we should pick up guns and fight in the war. But are guns the only way to fight?

Ideas, thoughts, words…aren’t these weapons in war as well? After all, aren’t battles won or lost in the hearts and minds of men? We have a responsibility to speak out against injustice; to do what we can for those in need. It will look different for everyone, but each of us has something to offer. Each of us has a part to play.

Then I heard YHVH asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?”

I said, “Here I am. Send me.” Isaiah 6:8

The word hineni in Hebrew is translated as “here I am.” But, as with most Hebrew words, the meaning goes so much deeper than that. Hineni carries the connotation of urgency. It reflects a completely open and willing heart to the urgent call of YHVH. When you use the word hineni, what you’re essentially saying is, “Here I am…with all of my heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit ready and willing to do all that You have called me to do.” It’s the response you give when you are fully present in the moment and you aren’t holding anything back from Him. It’s the response you give when you are fully prepared to do all that He has asked of you; even if it means sacrificing of yourself and putting your desires on hold.

The question is, will you be willing to go where He sends? Will you be willing to speak the words He puts in your heart? Will you be willing to go where He sends? Will you be able to stand up when He says, “Arise! The time has come.”

YHVH has a purpose and a calling for each one of us. There is a part in His plan that we each can play. But it won’t just happen or fall into our laps. We must have ears to hear His call and a heart that is willing to take that first step into the battle. It won’t be easy. We can’t hold anything back. It will require everything we have; it will require all of us.

So…how will you answer His call?

Election Day!

So in case you haven’t heard, tomorrow (November 4, 2014) is election day! And while you all can take a wild guess as to how I vote, I think that our right to vote is something very important…no matter what your political affiliation. You might be surprised to learn that I do not hate people who vote Democrat or politicians who affiliate with the Democrat party (I may disagree, make fun of, or heckle a bit but never hate.)

Believe it or not, I don’t get upset simply because someone chooses to vote Democrat (although I do typically disagree with them). I get most upset when I see someone voting who is uninformed. And this isn’t just for Democrats. I also don’t like when people vote Republican and are uniformed. I don’t agree with Christians who vote straight Republican simply because they feel they ought to or because they think it’s their moral obligation to vote a certain way.

We are all busy, I get that. I don’t have nearly as much time as I would like to research the entire ballot before I vote, but I can logically explain why I voted the way I did. All of this “I was born (insert chosen party affiliation here) and I will die (insert chosen party affiliation here)” is crap to me. What good is having a voice in the political goings on of your nation if you’re just going to throw it away?

The truth is, I don’t care how you vote…just as long as you vote informed.

In our world, voting is a privilege that we too often take for granted. Even in other nations where citizens can vote, the election process is usually just a corrupted façade. If you need examples, look at Iran, North Korea, Egypt, the West Bank and Gaza, and a myriad of other nations around the world where the voting process is merely a formality in an already rigged election.

But here, in America, our voices are heard. Our opinions matter. That’s one reason so many people are adamant about voter IDs and get worked up over any hint of voter fraud. It’s not that people are racist or mean or that we hate illegal immigrants, it’s that our right to vote is something so crucial to the way our government operates, we don’t want anything to impede justice…or our voice for that matter.

But too often, I see that we don’t fully appreciate our right to vote. Nothing upsets me more than when someone votes a particular way because they feel they have to and not because they truly believe in the candidate. I get so peeved when people throw away their vote on bad reasoning. I’ve heard, “Well they’re both bad, so I’m just not voting.”

Or this jewel of an argument: “Well if we need evil to bring about God’s plan then I’m going to vote for the candidate I disagree with the most to help bring it about.”

Both of these arguments are some of the stupidest arguments I have ever heard. For one thing, God doesn’t need your help! His plan will come about whether you vote or not; whether you side with good or evil; or whether you were Republican or Democrat. But He definitely doesn’t need your help.

But secondly, let me clarify something for you: you will NEVER agree 100% with any one candidate. I don’t care what their party affiliation or what they stand for, you will never agree on every single issue. And that’s ok.

Think about it this way, you won’t ever agree with ANYONE all of the time. Not your spouse, best friend, church pastor, co-worker, your identical twin, your beloved dog, or favorite TV character. You just won’t. Ok, maybe I went a little overboard there, but you get my point.

You wouldn’t divorce your spouse (or not marry them in the first place) simply because you disagreed on one issue. You wouldn’t stop being friends with someone because they didn’t see eye-to-eye with you on what really is THE best episode of 24. If you did, you would never get married, or have friends, and wind up alone and eating Ramen noodles with your 32 cats.

My point is that you can’t just bury your head in the sand and not vote at all simply because you don’t completely agree with one candidate. You also can’t just vote a particular way because you feel you have to or that’s the way you’ve always voted or because you were told that’s how you should vote. Take a step back, evaluate your decision, and if you choose to continue voting the same way, fine. But at least you’ve given it real thought.

You have to do your research, learn which candidates stand for what issues, and then decide which issues are most important to you. THEN, go vote!

Don’t let your family, friends, pastor, traditions, obligations, or favorite news anchor (especially the ones from CNN or MSNBC) tell you how to vote. The way you vote is something only you can decide. Pray about it and let the Holy Spirit guide you on how to vote.

But don’t be so quick to give up your right to vote. When we give up this right, we allow our voice to be silenced. And our job is to be a Voice in the Desert preparing the way of the LORD!

So let’s get to the polls and VOTE!

Shelach Lecha – “You Send”

In this week’s Torah portion (Numbers 13:1-15:41), we read about YHVH sending out the 12 spies in order to spy out the land for the children of Israel. These men were chosen by YHVH because they were leaders among the tribes of Israel. They were the men filled with wisdom and understanding. They had seen the miracles of YHVH and how He had led them out of Egypt. They had also, presumably, lived as slaves in Egypt and fully understood the harsh life they had left behind when YHVH “delivered them on wings of eagles to Himself.”

However, despite all these things, 10 of these 12 men brought back an evil report. Most of us have heard this report described as a “bad” report. However, it was much more than that. It was truly an “evil” report because it directly went against YHVH’s promises and YHVH Himself!

This evil report not only questioned the promises YHVH had made to them, it cast into doubt YHVH Himself and His ability to accomplish these promises. They had seen the waters of the Red Sea part. They had seen Pharaoh and his army destroyed in the waters. They had seen the plagues that had devastated the Egyptians. And they had also experienced the miraculous covering and shield that protected them from these plagues. How then, could they doubt?

What shocked me this year as I read this portion, was how the 10 evil spies reported back to the people.

And they reported to Moses and said, “We went to the land where you sent us. And truly, it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. But the people who dwell in the land are strong and the cities are walled, and very great. And we saw the descendants of Anak there too. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negev. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” Numbers 13:27-29

They are affirming the promises of YHVH as they report that the land does indeed flow with milk and honey and as they hold up the plentiful fruit of the land! Yet, the next words that come out of their mouths are “BUT the people that live there are too great for us to overcome.”

There were two men, however, who stood firmly against this evil report and instead proclaimed YHVH’s faithfulness to His people and to His promises! Joshua and Kaleb were those men. In the face of opposition from man, they clung fast to YHVH.

Kaleb silenced the people before Moses and said “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are certainly able to overcome it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel an evil report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” Numbers 13:30-33

There is a lesson here for us. Sometimes YHVH gives us promises, but out of fear or uncertainty we can choose to not see them…even when they are staring us straight in the face. The 10 evil spies spoke their fear when they declared “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

No two people see things exactly the same way. Put more than one person into a situation and you’ll never hear the exact same retelling of the story. However, one person’s perspective of the situation should never sway us from the things YHVH has shown to us. The evil report can come in many different forms. It can come in the form of an ungodly person trying to sway us away from God. It can come in the form of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or it can even come in the form of one of YHVH’s chosen leaders – as in the case of the 10 evil spies.

No person, no matter how “godly” or “anointed,” should ever trump the voice of YHVH in our lives. It’s up to us whose voice we listen to; the voice of man or the voice of YHVH.

So the choice is up to you. Will you choose to believe and hold fast to the promises of YHVH or will you choose to hear the evil report?

Shabbat Shalom!