Monthly Archives: October 2015

Reflections

beholding as in a mirror

Evil is increasing and many are falling away from YHVH’s commands.  Corruption, violence and immorality are becoming more the norm than the exception.  The time for judgment is fast approaching for this world.   What is our attitude towards the evil and the sinful people around us? What should our response be as we await YHVH’s impending judgment?

In Genesis 19:16:33, YHVH reveals to Abraham His concerns about two particularly sinful cities.  Abraham’s response was not to become self-righteous because he did not live in either of those cities, nor did he point an accusing finger and judge the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He does not ask YHVH to change His commandments.  Abraham instead pleads for mercy on behalf of those who are righteous in the midst of so much evil.  YHVH agrees that if ten men can be found who are righteous, then He will reconsider His course of action towards Sodom and Gomorrah.

What is our attitude toward those who engage in corruption, violence or immorality today?  Do we recall that from YHVH’s perspective all sin is an abomination?  Does that include us?  “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We should never condone or excuse sin.  However, our first priority is to check ourselves for sin (Matt 7:5).  We may not be engaged in violent acts or dishonest dealings with others, but do we fail to forgive others?  Do we reach out to others to warn them in love to turn back to YHVH or do we shun those who might be saved?  Do we reach out to the poor and needy around us or do we shut ourselves away from their misery?

Yeshua came to the earth the first time to pay the debt for our sinfulness and restore us to relationship to YHVH.  He has given us His Holy Spirit and the means to be freed from bondage to Satan.  He is restoring us to the dignity that humans once had before Adam and Eve sinned.  Adam and Eve were given dominion over the earth and were to be subject only to YHVH. Humans were created in YHVH’s image and are intended to reflect His glory.   If we are now free from the bonds of Satan and are restored to our former position as managers over the earth, then are we not to some degree accountable for its present condition?  It is true that other people have just as much right as we do to make their own decisions.  Nevertheless, it is our duty to reach out to others in love just as Yeshua reached out to us in our sinfulness.  In Matthew 28:18-19, Yeshua states, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…”  These are the marching orders and first priority of those who have been accepted into YHVH’s kingdom.”  Where does this command fall in our personal list of priorities?

Some of us sin by making excuses about being a lowly sinner.  Many of us grew up or are currently in congregations that fostered this attitude of helplessness.  We are worms or larvae who never develop into butterflies, but are doomed to remain worms while we are on this earth.  We never seem to throw off our own sinfulness and allow ourselves to be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit just as a butterfly is formed in its chrysalis.  How can we expect to help others to throw off their mantles of sin and corruption if we won’t even help ourselves?

In Ezekiel 3:17-18, YHVH appoints Ezekiel as watchman over Israel.  If Ezekiel failed to warn others of their sins and the impending consequences, then he would be just as liable for their sins as they are.  Likewise, we are appointed to the same task today.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.  Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh (Jude 1:20-23).

On Judgment Day, will we be rewarded or punished for our attitude and behavior towards others?  Are we living up to Yeshua’s standards and expectations?  Are we a true reflection of YHVH’s glory?

Is Your Brain Wired for Worship?

renewing of your mind“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7).

The part of this Scripture I want to focus on today is that God has given us a sound mind. He is not a God who wants us to suffer in mind or body, so He has created us with the tools to repair ourselves. It is well-known that certain types of creatures can regenerate parts of their bodies when they are wounded: deer grow new antlers, lizards grow new legs and tails, starfish grow new arms, and worms can grow entire new bodies. While it is true that humans cannot grow new arms or legs (except by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit), we can regenerate our minds. Let me explain what I mean.

Believers in Yeshua understand the concept of renewing our minds (Rom 12:2) but that seems like a fairly obscure process to most of us, and it is hard to explain to someone how they can go about renewing their minds so they can line up with YHVH’s perfect will. However, when we look at the deeper meaning of the Hebrew word for renewal in this verse (hitchadshut), we see that it actually means regeneration, which is the same word used to describe creatures that grow new body parts. Over the last 30 years, brain research has greatly increased our understanding of how the brain functions physically, but it has also helped scientists’ understanding of the forces outside the physical brain (referred to as quantum mechanics) that trigger the conscious thought processes within the brain.

From a spiritual and Biblical perspective, we would call these external forces the mind or soul, as the mind is what enables our thoughts to be world-centered, self-centered or God-centered. The mind/soul encompasses the intellect, free will, and emotions. From God’s word, we know that we have power over our mind, to be able to renew it to be more God-centered, or to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Messiah Yeshua (2 Cor 10:5). New scientific findings indicate that when we are actively thinking in our minds, we are actually changing our DNA, switching genes on and off, and causing cells to function differently. These actions do not happen merely by physical functions of the brain – they must be enabled by the mind, or conscious thought processes (see Dr. Caroline Leaf’s “Switch on Your Brain” study for more details on this research: https://drleaf.com/store/switch-on-your-brain/).

Psychologists and therapists have known for many years that the way we think affects our mental, physical, and emotional health. You may be familiar with a famous teaching about the power of our thoughts: “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. James 1:21 tells us (paraphrased) that if we lay aside all sinfulness in our lives and embrace God’s implanted word, this will “…save our souls”. Once again, though, we have a concept for renewing our souls which is easy to discuss but hard to implement in our lives.

So how do we go about regenerating our minds to bring healing and wholeness to our bodies and souls? The Holy Spirit is our helper and healer and leads us into all of YHVH’s truth and wisdom. So how do we tap into the Holy Spirit’s healing and restoring power?   We can only learn the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and truth and experience His healing power if we spend time with Him!   It says in James 1:27 that true worship is keeping yourself unspotted by the world. In order to resist the wiles of the devil and the temptations of the world, we must separate ourselves from the world – Isa 52:11 and II Cor 6:17-18: “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the LORD [YHVH], and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you…”.

We understand from these Scriptures and others that true worship means setting yourself apart from the world and spending time with the Holy Spirit, praying and meditating on YHVH’s word. You do not have to be in a corporate sanctuary to “do worship”, and you do not have to be alone in your closet. You can be worshipping everywhere you go. What we really need to do is to renew our minds so that we live in a constant state of worship, meaning that we keep YHVH’s presence with us wherever we are, listening to His guidance and constantly interacting with Him through internal dialogue. This will keep our minds stayed on Him, because we are trusting in Him (Isa 26:3). And when we keep our minds focused on Him, then we will be sending positive impulses into all the organs and cells of our body, healing us of all infirmities, anxieties and fears (2 Timothy 1:7).

Heart to Heart

that they may be one

There are many reasons why YHVH established Shabbat and the Feasts.  These are His set-apart times for teaching us, preparing us, celebrating with us, and bringing order to His Kingdom.  The end result is that YHVH desires is to be intimate with us individually and corporately.  One of my favorite verses in Scripture is from Deuteronomy 30:19 and the first part of verse 20, in the Complete Jewish Bible translation..

I call on heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have presented you with life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life, so that you will live, you and your descendants, loving [YHVH] your God, paying attention to what he says and clinging to him – for that is the purpose of your life!

Shabbats are very important to YHVH and, whether or not we know it, they are important to us.  The 23rd chapter of Leviticus designates clearly all the days that are Shabbats, whether weekly or during the Feasts.  Later in Leviticus, YHVH points out the consequences for working during a Shabbat.

For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death (Lev. 31:15).

The consequences for disobedience are harsh and hardly seem an invitation for intimacy, but it is most likely a necessary starting place. In the Exodus account of the Israelites in Egypt, we see a people that are unruly and often wayward. They had been immersed in idolatry and enslaved to cruel taskmasters.   To win their trust, YHVH demonstrated through signs and wonders that He is to be both feared and respected and also that He is able to protect and provide for His people. YHVH was formidable to their enemies, while protecting and providing for the Israelites..

When they were in the wilderness, YHVH gave them new commands and imposed strict consequences for disobedience, so that He would be taken seriously. Despite all the signs and wonders people still complained that He wouldn’t provide for them and tried to return to their idols. There was at least one person who ignored YHVH’s commands concerning Shabbat. YHVH had to follow through with the consequences He had established and the man was put to death (Num 15:30-36).  Were such harsh consequences necessary?

As a former teacher, I quickly learned that at the beginning of a new school year, teachers must be stricter than normal. The more unruly the students the more critical it becomes to establish authority and order. Once the students are settled, a proper atmosphere is established where students can learn and a healthy relationship with the teacher can be fostered.  If teachers are extra strict at the start, the focus can more quickly shift from the rules to learning.

Once each of us comprehends that YHVH is sovereign and is to be obeyed, then we are in a position to learn what He has to teach us. As we progress with our learning and interact more with YHVH, we grow closer to our sovereign King. Over time, we set aside our old ways and take on His ways. We experience His concern for our hearts. Eventually, we are ready to hear what is on His heart.

We make the transition from obeying the “no work” command simply because it is a command to refraining from work because we are eager to spend time with our Teacher.  We value what is important to YHVH.  Sometimes it is necessary to do His work even on ShabbatYeshua demonstrated this when He healed on Shabbat.  He was showing us that the purpose of Shabbat is to be in tune with our Father’s heart. It is not to become fascinated with rules and regulations.

Even as we grow closer to YHVH, we must be mindful that we are dealing with our Creator and our Sovereign. We are not to take His words lightly or take Him for granted. We must maintain a balance between healthy respect and intimacy with YHVH. Otherwise, we will find ourselves slipping from following His heart on Shabbat to following our own concerns. If that happens, our relationship with YHVH will quickly deteriorate as we move away from Him.

Yeshua spent time on Shabbat teaching, being taught, and healing. He was closely aligned with Abba’s heart and could easily transition to whatever His Father desired for Him to do at any given moment. Such intimacy is our Father’s desire for us and the reason He created us.

If we keep in mind the real purpose for our existence, we will remain focused on our Father’s heart and not fall into legalistic traps.  We will reap all the rewards that YHVH intends for us.

Our Strength in Battle

be strong

“…Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

This verse from Joshua along with Deuteronomy 20:1-4 are well-known battle verses, meant to encourage troops before they head off into conflict. However, what about the daily battles we face, which are not usually against flesh and blood but rather against spiritual enemies and people who are influenced by spiritual forces (demons) from the kingdom of darkness?

Psalm 144:1 contains an even stronger verse relating to preparation for battle: – “Blessed be the Lord [YHVH] my Rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle—“. When we look further down in this passage, though, we see that David is talking about spiritual warfare as much as physical combat. In Verses 7-8 he says: “Rescue me and deliver me out of great waters, from the hand of foreigners, whose mouth speaks lying words, and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” We see from these verses that David is not getting training in face-to-face physical combat techniques so much as he is learning to trust YHVH his Rock in all situations, knowing that Yehovah will be fighting alongside him and rescuing him from the enemy’s attacks.

Where then do David and other warriors get their courage and strength? Looking back at the Joshua 1 passage once again, we see that Joshua is told to be strong and courageous, but not because of his own prowess or battle-worn experience. He is told that Yehovah will be with him in the battles, and because of that he does not need to fear. In 2 Chronicles 32:7-8 King Hezekiah says: “Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that is with him; for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord [YHVH] our God, to help us and to fight our battles…” Verse 8 clearly states that their army is greater than the army of Assyria, but not because of physical numbers. Rather, their strength and numbers are bolstered by having God Himself with them. In fact, God is not only with them, but He is fighting the battles for them!

If we need YHVH to be with us when we fight the physical and spiritual battles of life, then how do we ensure that YHVH is with us? The answer is in a single word, trust. It sounds simple, but it requires us to trust YHVH with our life, which is not simple. We learn this deep level of trust day-by-day by experiencing YHVH’s Hand of victory throughout the trials and conflicts of our lives. One of the clearest testimonies to trusting YHVH is in 2 Chronicles 14:11 when Asa cried out to YHVH and said, “LORD [YHVH], it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; do not let people prevail against You!”

Another example of this type of unquestioning trust is in Exodus 33:15-16 when Moses says to YHVH: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us?” In this statement to YHVH, Moses is saying that he knows they will not be successful if YHVH does not go with them, and the Israelites will not have the testimony that they cannot succeed without YHVH.

So, where did these leaders find the strength to go out before their enemies, knowing their armies were physically inferior and that they did not have the courage and strength in themselves to be victorious? They found their strength in YHVH. There are many verses in the Torah, Psalms and Prophets that talk about people putting all their trust in YHVH’s strength. In fact they say that YHVH is their strength (Ex 15:2, Ps 18:2; 19:4; 118:14, Isa 12:2, etc.). I believe David sums this up in Psalm 27:1: “…The LORD [YHVH] is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1) Even Sh’aul came to this conclusion in all his struggles when YHVH said to him: “…‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in [your] weakness’.” (2 Cor 12:9)

I aspire to have this kind of trust, where I have no anxiety or fear when I am going through the severe trials of life; only believing that YHVH will get me through those trials and that He will give me the victory over whatever enemy I am facing, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. My desire is that you will also learn to have this type of unwavering trust in YHVH, the Creator of the universe, and in His Son, Yeshua our Redeemer.

Authentic Preparation

be anxious for nothing

If you are alive and conscious on this planet, you have to work hard to avoid the glaring headlines that accost us each day.  Wars and rumors of wars, severe weather and other natural disasters, famine, persecution, terrorism, and the list goes on.  For many countries, the danger is not merely headlines, but everyday harsh reality.  How do people stand strong at such times?  Those of us in the United States are challenged to comprehend such evils.  In my own life, I have endured poverty, abuse, injustice and oppression, but my trials were trifling compared to the suffering that many people are enduring today.  Sometimes my trials made me fearful and anxious, but at other times, my character and perseverance were strengthened, especially when I learned to trust Yeshua.

What is going on in the world?  Natural disasters such as floods, landslides, and forest fires, to name a few,  have killed thousands and left countless others homeless.  Economies and governments are faltering and even collapsing.  Terrorists are seeking out and gaining strong footholds in many countries.  Genocide is becoming more rampant as terrorist and extremist groups take control, torturing and murdering countless people as hundreds of thousands flee in desperation.*

What do we do?  How do we prepare ourselves for what may befall us?  Many have taken to storing and hoarding gold, food, weapons.  Others are formulating emergency plans of survival and/or escape.  Escape to where?  What is a safe place?  Will it be safe tomorrow?  No matter how diligent and excellent our planning, how can we possibly be prepared for every possible disaster?  Consider Yeshua‘s parable of the man who built extra buildings to store his excess (Luke 12:13-21).  Yeshua warns us that to build up earthly treasures does not make us rich towards YHVH.  Contrast this with the young fellow who selflessly shared his loaves and fishes.  He was perhaps facing immediate starvation, not some future unforeseen disaster, yet he shared the little he had and was richly rewarded (John 6:1-14).

Our culture values self-sufficiency, so it is not intuitive for us to prepare ourselves as Scripture teaches us.  Yeshua tells us not to be anxious for physical provisions and security (Luke 12:22-32).  We are to build up treasures, but they are spiritual, not physical, treasures.   Also, it is natural in our flesh to fight for protection and survival, but there is a greater survival at stake and we must learn to value it above our fleshly well-being.   Yeshua teaches us that we are not to rely on weapons (Matt 26:51-52).

These are difficult lessons that take much prayer and effort.  Peter and I have struggled over the years and continue to struggle to take on the mind of Yeshua and not allow our flesh to dictate our attitudes and actions.   We are learning to let go of our earthly treasures, for they are not our security.  YHVH is our provider (Ps 104:27-28).  We are realizing that our true battles are not physical, but spiritual (Eph 6:12) and that YHVH is our only true refuge (Ps 46-:1-3).   Our severest trials are ahead of us.  Yet, we are discovering that if we can be faithful in little matters or trials, we will be more fully prepared as the severity of our trials increases (Luke 16:10).

All of us face trials of some sort at the present.  How are we reacting?  Are we fearful and anxious, perhaps indulging in self-pity?  Or are we learning to let go and trust our Father?  How are we preparing ourselves for the severe trials that seem inevitable?  Are we strengthening our relationship with our Father and Yeshua?  Are we yielding ourselves ever more to the gifts and empowerment of the Holy Spirit?  We have plenty of opportunities to practice as we support our brothers and sisters who are currently facing severe trials.  We can begin to share not only our surplus, but even our loaves and fishes.  When others treat us hatefully, we can respond with love.  We can stop accusing errant leaders and pray for them instead.  When the severe trials come, then we will not falter or collapse, but we will be strong and able to continue the work our Master has assigned to us, even to the end (Luke 12:35-40).

*A  list of the top 50 countries that are under severe trial can be found at https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/.  Please pray for them.