Monthly Archives: December 2015

Become an Overcomer

soar high on eagle's wingsThe one who overcomes, I will grant to them to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne (Rev 3:21).

Several passages in Scripture stress the importance of being overcomers, but exactly what does that mean?   At first glance, it seems a fairly simple thing to be an overcomer. For example, we read in 1 John 5:4,5:  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus [Yeshua] is the Son of God?

It might seem that all we need is faith that Yeshua is the Son of God. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that we have been delivered by grace through faith and that even our faith is a gift. This is all true (for Scripture does not lie). However, it is not the complete picture. Faith is more than a sentiment or a creed. Our faith must lead to action. Faith is a gift, but it matters greatly what we do with that gift.

Consider Yeshua’s words in Matthew 25:14-30. We believe that one of the “talents” we have been given is faith. We have also been given other gifts or “talents” corresponding with the purpose YHVH has for each of us in building His kingdom. It is not acceptable for us to bury our gift of faith or let it lay sleeping on a pew. Our faith must spur us into action.

Our faith begins inside, but it should at some point manifest outside as well. Are we becoming more like Yeshua in our attitudes and actions?  2 Corinthians 5:10 shows us that we are accountable: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ [Messiah], so that each one may be recompensed for their deeds in the body, according to what they have done, whether good or bad.”

So how do we become more like Yeshua? One clear statement is in Romans 12:1-2: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [soul]…”.  The concept of renewing our minds seems abstract and difficult to accomplish.  Several Scriptures help clarify this process: Ezra 10:11 – Honor the LORD [YHVH]…and do His will. Separate yourselves from the [worldly] people around you…; Ephesians 5:17 – Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is; I Peter 1:14 – As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance;  and          I John 2:15 – Do not love the world or anything in the world…

Psalm 103:5 tells us that: [YHVH] contents you with good as long as you live, so that your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

What does it mean that our youth will be renewed like an eagle’s? An eagle can live up to 70 years, but only if at age 40 the eagle makes a very difficult decision. The eagle has to subject itself to a painful transformation. By age 40, the eagles talons are overgrown and inflexible, the feathers weigh down its wings, and its beak is too bent to be useful. So, over a period of 150 days, the eagle must pluck out beak, talons, and feathers and wait for replacement parts to grow in. He cannot eat and he is completely defenseless. If at any time, the eagle decides that this process is too troublesome, it can give up, but it will die. However, if the eagle persists and “overcomes,” it can regain its youth and live for another 30 years.

What about us? We also must make tough decisions and endure sometimes painful transformations. We must turn our backs on much that might seem desirable in this world and focus on our future with Yeshua. We may be asked to give up everything, even our lives. “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11). However, if we overcome, we will have more than just an extra 30 years of life. We will have eternal life with YHVH. However, we will have much more than that, more than we can imagine.

He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels (Rev 3:5).

He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; (Rev 2:26)

Follow the World or YHVH?

do not worship their godsIn this second blog of our series on Chanukah and the Maccabbees, we show the distinction between the people of Israel who were staying faithful to YHVH’s appointed times and commandments, and those who were following the pagan ways of the Greeks and Romans. In our previous blog (The Mighty Power of YHVH), we saw that Onias, the high priest of the Jews, stayed faithful to YHVH’s Laws, even when Simon, an Israelite from the tribe of Benjamin plotted with the king to confiscate money from the Temple treasury that was designated for widows and orphans. When the Israelites prayed fervently, YHVH showed great signs and thwarted the intentions of the pagan government to keep the Temple from being defiled.

In II Maccabees 4, Onias’ brother Jason betrayed Onias by telling lies about him and even claiming that he had plotted against the government. He then became the High Priest deceitfully by offering large sums of silver and gold to the king.  He even offered additional silver to build a gymnasium beneath the Temple, and convinced the people to use this pagan facility for nude games in the style of the Greeks. He encouraged the people to follow Greek customs that were contrary to the Law [Torah] and even the priests lost interest in Temple services and sacrifices and would rush off to participate in the games that were forbidden by the Law (II Maccabees 4:14). The people stopped keeping the Feasts and Sabbaths and kept Greek celebrations instead.

Jason was so corrupt that he sent men to the “games” in Tyre with a large amount of silver for a sacrifice to the pagan god Hercules (II Maccabees 4:18-19). Once the Jews moved into actively participating in the ways of the world instead of YHVH’s ways, things went downhill for them very quickly. As recounted in Maccabees 6, There was dissension and jealously among the priests and Jewish leaders, and they killed and bore false testimony to the king about each other, until finally the king decided to become more vindictive about having the Jews abandon their Feasts and Sabbaths, and he defiled the Temple by dedicating it to their chief god, Zeus.

Jason had started the downward spiral of the Jews into the abominations that were committed in the following months. The verse in II Maccabees 4:17 gives the reason for the serious judgments against the Jews that followed their disobedience: “It is a serious thing to disregard God’s Law”. Persecution increased greatly from this time forward, and the Greeks defiled the Temple by holding drinking parties and conducting their immoral sexual rituals with prostitutes there. The altar was filed with unclean animal sacrifices. King Antiochus then prohibited the Jews from keeping their Sabbaths and Feasts, and forced them to eat unclean meats that were sacrificed to the false gods. “Then, during the festival in honor of the wine god Dionysus, they were required to wear ivy wreaths on their heads and march in procession” (II Maccabees 6:7). From this time on, as described in II Maccabees 6:9, the Greek leaders “were told to put to death every Jew who refused to adopt the Greek way of life”.

When Onias was high priest, the people kept the Torah. However, our suspicion is that they were more into following the leaders than they were truly seeking YHVH and His ways. When Jason unjustly replaced Onias, many of the Jews were all too ready to follow him into every type of evil and apostasy. When we look at our modern times, we see that most people (Christian, Messianic or otherwise) tend to follow the ways and customs of the world’s culture, rather than seeking to follow God’s ways and keep His appointed times.

Many today do not realize that they are fighting a battle. Even those who do often fail to recognize that the battle is spiritual. Many followers of Yeshua do not understand the spiritual realm and do not operate in the spirit. However, there is no excuse for ignorance since we have ready access to many versions of Scripture and study tools. We also have the Holy Spirit to guide us.   We must not blindly follow human leaders, but must realize that we as individuals are accountable to YHVH for our choices.

The most glaring examples of this relate to the holidays of Christmas and Easter. Our ancestors celebrated these holidays and many continue to follow suit. When we look at the ancient pagan celebrations, the birth of their chief gods was always celebrated on December 25th. These gods include Zeus/Jupiter, Dionysus/Bacchus, Hercules, Tammuz, Apollo, Mithras, Sol Invictus and others. Birthday celebrations for these pagan gods date back to the time of Nimrod, who was alleged to be Tammuz’ father. Note that Zeus, Dionysus, and Hercules were all being worshiped by the Greeks, and then were adopted by the Jews as part of their apostasy. YHVH established seven feasts to point to the work of His Son. We sin against YHVH when we seek to “honor” Him by celebrating holidays that have always been an abomination to Him. Many try to justify celebrating Yeshua during these pagan holidays, but to mix the pagan and the sacred is an even worse abomination to YHVH. We must not yield to the predominating culture any more than the Jews should have yielded to the predominating Greek culture of their day.

We know that HaSatan attracts followers by counterfeiting the true God. From pagan beliefs, we see a counterfeit parallel between the Greek god Dionysus (Roman god Bacchus) and Yeshua. Dionysus was purported to have been born of a virgin (Ishtar/Isis), son of the heavenly father (Zeus), performed miracles such as turning water into wine (he is the god of wine), died and was raised again on the 3rd day (on March 25th), was identified with the lamb, and given titles such as: “only begotten son“, “king of kings”, “god of gods”, “sin bearer”, “redeemer“,  “anointed one” and “the alpha and omega“.

We do not have space for full discussion here, but many of the other rituals and symbols of Christmas and Easter (whose name comes from Ishtar) originated from pagan rituals and symbols. The wreath comes from the wreath worn at pagan sports celebrations, the tree comes from a pagan ceremony at the time of Nimrod, which claimed that the resurrected Nimrod returned each year to leave gifts under a decorated tree. Read Jeremiah 10 if you want to find out what YHVH says about cutting down and decorating trees for pagan celebrations, and Jeremiah 44:17-19 to read God’s admonition against worshiping the Queen of Heaven (Ishtar in pagan lore).

Armed with this knowledge, how does this affect your view of the main Christian holidays, and more importantly, what does it say to your heart about keeping YHVH’s Feasts and Sabbaths and not the festival celebrations of the world? As we read the story of the Maccabees, it is easy to condemn the Jews who strayed from Yehovah’s commands. Are we guilty of the same thing?

”You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD [YHVH] hates they have done for their gods…” (Deut 12:31).

The Mighty Power of YHVH

horse and riderTo celebrate Chanukah, we decided to read a portion of the story of the Maccabees each night.   The second book of Maccabees, chapter three has enlightened our understanding of the events leading up to the celebration of Chanukah. It has also provided us with insight and direction in dealing with issues that are currently challenging us.

Here is a brief summary of the chapter. There was a high priest named Onias who strictly obeyed the laws of YHVH. While Onias was high priest, Jerusalem enjoyed peace and prosperity, and received respect and generous gifts from the kings of many nations.

A man named Simon lost an argument with Onias and sought revenge by lying to Apollonius, governor of Greater Syria, and offering to him the money from the Temple treasury. Apollonius passed this misinformation on to the king, who sent a man named Heliodorus to confiscate the money. A portion of this money had been designated for the widows and orphans and a portion of it belonged to a wealthy man. To take the money would be to break YHVH’s laws concerning money deposited in the Temple treasury and would betray the trust of those who depended on the integrity of the ones in charge of the treasury. Heliodorus decided to confiscate the money anyway.

The priests and the people joined together in begging YHVH to protect the treasury money, praying on their faces before His altar. YHVH responded in a dramatic way. Heliodorus returned to the king without the money, but with a strong testimony concerning the power and faithfulness of YHVH.

This story speaks volumes to us as we seek funds to build a refuge for some widows in India. Just as the people of Jerusalem were on their faces before YHVH, the widows in our sister congregations spend much of each day on their faces, praying for the salvation of others. And yet, these women are considered curses in their society and are much oppressed.

We are in the process of raising funds for the construction of the widows’ home. As we began this process, the Holy Spirit led us to create a faith covenant with YHVH. Each day we remind YHVH of His promises towards the widows, orphans and the oppressed by reading aloud pertinent Scripture verses. Several weeks after we began our faith covenant, YHVH gave us His response to our covenant, which is Proverbs 15:25: “YHVH will tear down the house of the proud, but will establish the boundary of the widow.”

As developments unfold, we comprehend at new levels the depth of YHVH’s promise in this verse. Persecution against non-Hindus is on the rise in India. It is becoming more difficult to get the funds safely delivered to the congregational leaders. Local authorities who have been bent on persecuting our sister congregations are gaining more power. Our sister congregations, especially the leaders, are watched very carefully. We would be tempted to think that this cause is hopeless, but the Holy Spirit reminds us that this home for the widows is YHVH’s response to the cries of the congregants after the widows were thrown out of a temporary shelter and had their lives threatened.

Therefore, we believe that 2 Maccabees, chapter 3 illustrates for us our next step.   We are asking that those who support us in this effort storm heaven and remind YHVH of His promise in Proverbs 15:25. We believe He will hear our cries and respond in a powerful way if we stand on faith in this matter.

We have provided a copy of chapter 3 below for you to read and prayerfully consider. Note how many times YHVH miraculously intervenes to answer the cries of those who seek diligently to keep His laws.

II Maccabbees 3

When Onias[a] was High Priest in Jerusalem, the holy city enjoyed peace and prosperity, and its laws were strictly obeyed, because he was devout and hated evil. The kings of Syria and Egypt honored the Temple and presented it with expensive gifts, and King Seleucus, ruler of all Asia, even paid the costs of the Temple sacrifices from the revenues he collected.

But a man by the name of Simon, of the tribe of Bilgah, the chief administrative official of the Temple, lost an argument he had with Onias over the regulations governing the city market. At this time Apollonius son of Thraseus was the governor of Greater Syria. Simon went to him and said that there was so much money in the Temple treasury that it could not be counted, and since the money was not needed for sacrifices, it might as well be placed under the king’s control.

When Apollonius met with the king, he told him about the money, and the king ordered Heliodorus, his chief minister, to get it for him. Heliodorus set out at once on his mission, but he claimed that he was only making a tour of inspection of the cities of Greater Syria. After he had arrived in Jerusalem and had been warmly received by the High Priest, he explained the real reason for his visit and asked if what he had been told was true. 10-11 The High Priest then stated that Simon, that devil of a man, had not been elling the truth. There was indeed some money in the Temple treasury, but part of it was set aside for widows and orphans and part of it belonged to Hyrcanus son of Tobias, a very important man. He also pointed out that the total amount was only 30,000 pounds of silver and 15,000 pounds of gold. 12 He added that it was absolutely impossible that anyone should be permitted to take the money of those people who had placed their trust in the sanctity and safety of this world-famous Temple.

13 But Heliodorus insisted that the money should be taken for the royal treasury, as the king had ordered. 14 So he set a day and went into the Temple to supervise the counting of the money. This caused an uproar throughout the entire city. 15 Priests, wearing their priestly robes, threw themselves face downward before the altar and begged God to keep the money safe, since he had given the laws designed to protect the money that people deposited in the Temple. 16 It was heartbreaking to see the High Priest. His face turned pale, revealing the agony of his soul, 17 and his body was trembling with fear, reflecting the pain in his heart. 18 People ran from their houses to join together in prayer that the Temple might not be defiled. 19 Women, wearing nothing but skirts of sackcloth, crowded the streets. Young girls whose parents had never allowed them to be seen in public ran to the gates or to the walls of the city, or just stared out of their windows. 20 But wherever they went, they lifted their hands to God in prayer. 21 What a pitiful sight it was to see the High Priest in such great agony and frustration and to see everyone in the city confused and lying face down on the ground.

22 While everyone was begging the Lord Almighty to protect the money that had been entrusted to his care, 23 Heliodorus went on with his plan. 24 But at the very moment that he and his bodyguards arrived at the treasury, the Lord of all supernatural powers caused such a vision to appear that everyone who had dared to enter with Heliodorus was panic-stricken and weak with fear at this display of the Lord’s power. 25 In the vision they saw a horse and a rider. The horse had a richly decorated bridle, and its rider, dressed in gold armor, was frightening. Suddenly the horse rushed at Heliodorus, then reared up and struck at him with its hoofs. 26 Heliodorus also saw two unusually strong and handsome young men, wearing very fine clothes. They stood on either side of him and beat him unmercifully. 27 He immediately fell to the ground unconscious, and his men put him on a stretcher 28 and carried him out. Only a moment earlier this man had entered the treasury with a large group of men, including all his bodyguards, but now he was being carried away helpless. So they all openly acknowledged the mighty power of God.

29Heliodorus lay there unable to speak and without hope of recovery from this demonstration of God’s power. 30But the Jews praised Almighty God because he had miraculously protected his Temple and had brought great happiness where only minutes before there had been fear and confusion. 31 Some of Heliodorus’ friends quickly asked Onias the High Priest to pray that the Most High would spare the life of this man who was at the point of death. 32 So the High Priest offered a sacrifice in the hope that God would save Heliodorus, for he did not want the king to think that the Jews had done this to the man he had sent. 33 While Onias was offering the sacrifice, the two young men, wearing the same clothes as before, again appeared to Heliodorus and said,

Be grateful to the High Priest; the Lord has spared your life because of him. 34 Remember that it was the Lord of heaven who punished you. Now go and tell everyone of his great power.  When they had said this, they disappeared.

35 So Heliodorus offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made many promises, because the Lord had spared his life. Then he said good-bye to Onias and returned with his army to the king. 36 There he told everyone what the Lord, the most powerful of all gods, had done.

37 When the king asked Heliodorus who would be the best man to send on the next mission to Jerusalem, Heliodorus replied, 38If you have an enemy or know of someone plotting against your government, send him. He will come back badly beaten, if he comes back at all, for some strange power from God is at work there. 39The God of heaven watches over the Temple; he strikes down and destroys anyone who comes to harm it.

40 That is the story of how the Temple treasury was protected from Heliodorus.

Call to Action

not everyoneOur role as followers of Yeshua is to be an active role. Even the Hebrew language is an active language with the emphasis on verbs rather than nouns.  Yeshua modeled the type of action He expects to see from each of us.  He taught, healed, encouraged, fed the hungry, and admonished wayward leaders, even at the cost of His life.

Many disciples of Yeshua in our culture have devoted themselves almost exclusively to improving themselves and studying Scripture. These things are undoubtedly important, but there must be a healthy balance between improving self and helping others. We are required to meditate on and study Scripture, but it is useless if we do not also live it (James 1:22).

In His Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua describes those who will be welcomed into His Kingdom.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’…   (Matt 25:34-36)

No mention is made in this passage concerning how well we know the Bible, although in other passages Scripture makes it clear that this is important ( Josh 1:8; 2 Tim 2:15, 3:16-17). In the past, I have been complacent with acquiring and storing knowledge of Scripture, but did not always put it into practice. It was only after I heard a missionary point out that Americans are great at acquiring knowledge, but we are deficient in actively building up the kingdom of YHVH, that I woke up. As I heard of new converts to Yeshua, with barely the rudiments of the Gospel, preaching, teaching and working miracles with the power of the Holy Spirit, I was truly convicted. They were doing so much with so little.

Secular news reports rarely discuss persecution and oppression of Yeshua’s followers, so pro-active research on our part is needed. Some of the things I have discovered: many of our brothers and sisters all over the globe are being persecuted for their faith, yet preach the gospel despite daily risk of imprisonment or death.  Political and/or religious leaders in numerous countries, seek to control all religious thought and activity and to eradicate any group that does not conform. North Korea is just one example.   In Iraq, Islamic extremists are beheading Christians. One tactic is to invade each home and demand that the children renounce Yeshua and embrace Allah. The children thus far have refused to give up Yeshua and were consequently beheaded in front of their parents. Leaders in India are routinely and consistently adding restrictions to hinder the spread of Christianity. Radical groups’ violence goes unchecked and police often “fail” to find sufficient evidence against the perpetrators. Christian refugees from Syria are being attacked by Muslims in some of the countries where they have sought refuge. The men are beaten and their wives and children are being raped and sodomized.   We must do more than shake our heads. Love is an action, not a feeling.

Martin Luther King, Jr. correctly stated that “It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.” (Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches)

Rather than randomly search out a worthy cause and plunge in, ask YHVH to direct you to the job He has appointed for you. There is much work to be done and windows of opportunity are closing rapidly. YHVH is still in control and is orchestrating His plan, so the best use of our time and effort is to yield ourselves to His assignment for us. Let us not be the generation who has to repent for keeping silent and doing nothing. Let us be the generation that accomplishes His will and is rewarded. Let us be the generation that is known by our love for one another, whatever the cost

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.  He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:46-69)