We are living in a very strange time. We are shut down, shut in and shut out. People are hoarding things that 6 months ago we would have laughed at. Food is going of the shelves; we are out of work, out of community and out of reasoning. We are told to practice ‘social distancing’. This is a strange thing for a generation used to community, friends, and places to congregate. It might not originally be a strange thing for this generation that lives from their social media sight, but I see a shift; I see a longing for community, for fellowship and direct social contact. I see it in all ages. And we have just begun the months of social distancing.
This will forever change us, but I am encouraged that it will change us for the good. We will appreciate the locally owned restaurant that maybe once was down the street. We will appreciate churches, and synagogues with music and prayer and fellowship. We will appreciate the days we had that now are vivid memories.
For Passover and Easter services we will cling to our families. We will suddenly be ever so grateful for the things that matter at hand. And when this passes, and it will, we will once again slowly rebuild. But in the meantime, let’s not allow this ‘social distancing’ to take away friendships and fellowships. Let’s call someone, everyone, let’s talk to them, pray with them, and just be.
I don’t like social distancing; I already miss the synagogue and the family that has grown into it. I miss the people, the music and the fellowship, and we just shut the doors, temporarily, I add.
This is a strange time for sure, but we will weather it and move on.
Be blessed and be still.
There are feelings and emotions and there are actions. Loving kindness has to be an action, an action that opens the heart. It is easy to say nice things, or think good thoughts and then just continue in the same pattern. But the action of loving kindness moves us from one season of self into the season of mercy.
In the Torah portion Ki Tisa, Moses encounters God and as He passed over Moses God Himself proclaimed: “Lord, Lord, benevolent God, Who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, truth, preserving lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, rebellion and sin, and He pardons." Micah 7:18-29 also contains the attributes of a merciful God: ‘Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.’
Mercy, loving kindness, forgiveness, compassion, gracious…do we emulate these things? Do we show mercy/chesed/ even in the darkest of times? Do we forgive the pain? Do we love the unlovable?
I was given an opportunity the other day to show kindness to someone. I was expecting humility and thankfulness. I wanted them to show me how kind I was being to them. God revealed to me with great clarity that this was a twisted way to look at the situation. I was kind to them because He is kind to me. I am to expect nothing in return, no kudos, to letters of praise, no gushing thankfulness. Nothing. I was to show loving kindness because that is what He shows to me.
When I processed that, it became easy to just be, to move on, to go in peace and to operate in peace. There is no pain, no wounds, just peace. I did the action of loving kindness and that’s that.
The Calmness of Yeshua
‘ Stop The World-I Want To Get Off’ was an early 1960’s Broadway musical set against a circus backdrop.
Do you ever feel that way? Whatever your age, sometimes life is a whirlwind and we get caught up in the twister. That’s when it is absolutely necessary to reach out and immerse in the calming of Yeshua.
Mark 4:35-41 is such a classic example of the peace and calmness of Yeshua: ‘ On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”
The sentence ‘Teacher do You not care that we are perishing?’ is such a typical attitude that we have. A storm is wreaking havoc in our lives and we instantly lash out as Yeshua - ‘don’t You care?’
That’s our first response. Our panic is followed by Yeshua calmly rising and stating to the storm: ‘Peace – be still!’ This will be followed by a great calm, and then He will ask us, how is it that you have no faith?
There is no information regarding how long the storm was swirling about them. Storms on the sea can be seen approaching. Did the disciples see the storm approaching? Were they caught off guard? Did they down play it and not prepare? Whatever the storm in your life and however long it has been swirling around you: stop and remember the sea and the wind, how they obeyed Yeshua . Remember the sentence: ‘And there was a great calm.’
‘Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
29 He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still.
30 Then they are glad because they are quiet;
So He guides them to their desired haven.
31 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
32 Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of the people,
And praise Him in the company of the elders.’
Everyone, everywhere at all times probably has an agenda. Whether corporate, universal or personal, we all live by an agenda at some point in time. Whether it is to finish school, get a good job, be a good spouse and parent, be self-sufficient, get healthy, move or stay put. We come to meetings with agendas to keep on focus. We go to the market with agendas to buy the products we need. Agendas are in our lives and agendas can run our lives.
But what about friendships and places of worship?
The Torah portion during the week that I write this column is Terumah/Offering. God calls the people of Israel to come together with a ‘willing heart’ to offer a contribution, no agenda, just do it if you have a willing heart.
Do we cherish our friendships as such? Or do we place agendas on the people we have befriended, or the people that have befriended us. Do we walk into a place of worship with an attitude of ‘what’s in it for me?’ Or do we say, ‘how can I help?’
Agendas on a commercial level seem to be necessary: ‘my agenda is to sell the most donuts.’ But agendas concerning people of God and places of worship are wrong and soon to surface. Let us befriend one another with no expectations and let us enter into a house of worship with an agenda of: how can I help.
The Power of Influences...
Influence: ‘The capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.’|
What is an influence? In Jewish mindset there is the Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination and the Yetzer Hatov, the good inclination. We are surrounded by influences every second of every day. Some are obvious while others are hidden, and still others are so obscure we never even realize the influences that impact us.
We like to blame our behavior on ‘the devil’, which is a popular mindset. Or we can blame our poor behavior on the environment, or the behavior of another person. We often blame our actions on what happened to us, or what did not happen to us. Instead we should own it and take responsibility for our actions. But influences do play a pivotal role in our lives.
Influences can be linked to people:
1 Corinthians 15:3-34: ‘Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.’
Proverbs 22:24-25: ‘Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go,
25 Lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul’
Proverbs 12:26: ‘The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.’
James 4:4 ‘You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.’
Influences are idols of our heart:
Pride ~ Isaiah 2:11 ‘The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.’
Lust ~ Matthew 5:27-28 ‘You have heard that it was said by them of old time, you shalt not commit adultery: But I say to you, whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.’
The flesh ~Galatians 5:19-21 ‘he acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.’
Earthly desires ~ Colossians 3:5 ‘Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.’
Toxic people, actions, places and food can render us immobile, stagnant and be a snare to sin. We can lose our perspective on life and the way to walk. We can be swallowed up by negativity and apathy. Our ‘self’ and ‘ego’ can take on a substance of their own, ruling us in ways that are unhealthy and not pleasing to The Lord.
Yeshua calls us to be a light, the salt and walk with Him. We are called to be joyful in the Word and in Him. We are called…
The Good Eye
The Torah portion, Yitro contains the Ten Words. The last of the 10Words is the direct commandment to not covet. To covet something we have to see it, feel it or hear it. We see our neighbors’ house and want it. We see the brand new car and want it. We feel the fur and desire it. We hear about the promotion and covet it. We covet, we become envious and we are jealous.
But there is a teaching regarding the Good Eye or the Positive Eye.
A positive or good eye has a charitable and healthy attitude towards others. It is based on deep-rooted faith where one actually delights in the success of others. This correlates with someone who is content with himself and his life and is therefore not envious of others. If we are happy and joyful of our current situations, we neither desire nor covet what someone else might have. This is different from wanting to change our circumstances toward a more correct life with God. In doing that we not only better our spiritual life but we connect to a deeper relationship with God.
But it’s the everyday things in life that seem to catch our attention, or trigger our ‘want’ button, which can lead to envy, jealousy and coveting.
I am a blessed grandmother. I have granddaughters and grandsons and they are the love of my life. I have been able in this season to be more observant to dynamics amongst toddlers than when I was raising my own children, being a very busy mom. It’s amazing to me how each toddler really wants what the other has. They can hit, push, punch, plot and simply take the toy. The coveting reaches mammoth proportions until they succeed in their mission only to have major melt downs and temper tantrums when Mommy rebukes their behavior. What is amazing is that this behavior was not taught to them. The parents teach them: please and thank you and brush your teeth and eat all of your dinner and share, share, share. This wild coveting behavior must come from deep within. I believe it is called ‘self’.
We all live with ‘self’. It came with us, we acquired it, and it was a packaged deal. The key to living a glorious life in the basking rays of The Lord is to control ‘self’. Guide it and direct it away from the envy monster, be truly grateful for what we have and what we can do with what we have.
Keep that positive eye!
God, The Lord, the Strength of My Salvation...
We often do not connect strength with salvation. Unaware of what has morphed through the centuries, have we made salvation into something submissive, maybe even passive? But is salvation weak? On the contrary, salvation is pure strength.
Psalm 118:14 makes an interesting comparison: ‘The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation.” The Psalmist connects the strength with a song and states that God has become his salvation. Psalm 140:7 states that God is the strength of salvation.
Psalm 27:1 ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’
Psalm 118:14 is repeated in Isaiah 12:2 ‘Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’ ”
Philippians 4:13 states: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’
Our salvation is our strength from God. Salvation and strength seem to be synonymous, the words connected and intertwined. We are strong in God, through God and because of Him. Yeshua, which actually means ‘Salvation from Yah’ is our complete strength, giving us a spirit of power: 2 Timothy 1:7 ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’
Considering the amount of strength that comes from God, what then would make us feel weak, or fragile, almost anemic? It would be the doubt coming from the enemy, whispering words of incompleteness and failure into our thoughts. The same whispers that caused Eve to doubt the very word of God. But we have solid proof those are lies. For God Himself states and unequivocally tells us that He is our strength and that the salvation that He freely gives us is strong, powerful, and indestructible.
So the next time you feel puny, remember how strong you really are.
Thank you God for the strength that you have given us!
Psalm 46:1 ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’
Take a Moment...
What is a moment? It is defined as a space in time, a second, a little while, a memory, a noun as in a short piece of time.
There are songs written about moments; in time, in love, in space, in memory and just as is. It is a physical act.
My son-in-law says the phrase and often; ‘Just give it a moment’. Meaning to relax, think, process and reflect. It’s good advice, and something I think we all could do more of.
When we wake; just take a moment to thank God that we are even awake to embrace another day that He is allowing us to partake in.
When a spouse is disgruntled; just take a moment to process his or her day and try to understand, being empathetic.
When a child is having a fit; take a moment to see things clearly. Are they frustrated and lack the language skills to let us know?
When a teen lacks enthusiasm and motivation; take a moment to listen to their stories and really stop and hear them.
When a car speeds by you; take a moment and actually pray for them. Are they hurrying to the hospital? Are they late for an interview? Or are they just a short tempered person?
When we cook dinner, take a moment to thank the God we serve for the bounty He gives us.
When confusion or doubt or worry settles in our lives; take a moment…
When we close our eyes after a long hard day, take a moment to realize the precious present.
When we lose a loved one; and in our tears of loss, just take a moment…
There is no doubt and not a question among us regarding the omnipresence of God. He is everywhere. Therefore this verse needs to be implanted upon our hearts:
Habakkuk 2:20 “The LORD is in His holy Temple. All the earth—be quiet in His presence.”
Psalm 107:28-29 “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.”
Psalm 37:7 “Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for Him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.”
Psalm 62:5-6 “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.”
So whatever you are experiencing; joy, love, calmness, sorrow, fear, anguish, doubt, worry; take a moment and thank God. Just breathe.
The Hardened Heart
The Torah portion Va’era contains the first plagues in the great Exodus. We have all read the Scriptures and know the story of the hard heart of Pharaoh. What is a hard heart and why does The Lord cause it and allow it?
The heart is not ‘born’ hard. We are not given a heart of stone, or a cold heart. It morphs or grows into an uncircumcised and narrow and bitter heart, if allowed. Bitterness, abuse, hatred, jealousy, rage, anger, pride, and ego; all the emotions and character traits that are not pure; feed the hard heart.
What causes these emotions and character traits – what promotes the hard heart?
In Jewish thought, we ‘open’ gates. Cain allowed the gate of jealousy to open, which led to opening the gate of bitterness, which prompted the gate of hate and then the gate of rage to open. These open gates led right to the gate of murder. He allowed his soul to open those gates.
Bitterness is the clue, the emotion that catapults us into the hard heart. Bitterness is an obsession with an offense. Think about it. Without an offense, we would have nothing to be bitter about. So, what do we do? We nurse the offense, we nurse the wound, wearing it on our shoulder and then we justify our offense, feeding the bitterness.
Job tells us exactly where bitterness is birthed: ‘"Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.’ Job 7:11.
Esau explained his bitterness in Genesis 2:34 ‘When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, "Bless me, even me also, O my father!"
Hebrews 12:15 tells us that bitterness keeps us from God’s grace: ‘See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…’
Ephesians 4:31 implores: ‘Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.’
If we rephrase those two verses and put them together it reveals the plan of the enemy and how bitterness will have us fall spiritually. Rephrased: ‘When the root of bitterness takes over you, it will cause trouble, you will be defiled and it will keep you from the grace of God. So, be sure to keep all bitterness and deception away from you. ‘
John 8:44 clearly references Satan as the great liar. And if this evil influence can get us to swim in our offense, we will fall spiritually.
When harboring bitterness we will also self-destruct for bitterness causes our immune system to deteriorate.
Bitterness means bitter-gall or extreme wickedness and is referenced as wormwood in the Scriptures. Gall is the chemical in the gallbladder which is bile, which is proverbial for bitterness.
So, how do we overcome? First we acknowledge that we are already called overcomers in the Scriptures. And we are overcomers because we are given a spirit of strength and the will of the Father. We overcome through Yeshua and His love for us.
John 16:33 ‘"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."
1 John 5:4-5 ‘For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?’
1 Corinthians 13:4-6 is our antidote: ‘"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth."
The Midwives of Exodus
In Exodus 1:15 Pharaoh summons 2 women. Some translate the text as ‘The Hebrew Midwives’. Other sages and scholars translate the Hebrew into ‘The Midwives of the Hebrews’. Either way, these women whether Egyptian or Hebrew, stood against a mighty man.
If the women were Hebrews, they would have surely known the God of the Hebrews. Thus, the reason for their defiance. If the women were Egyptians, how even greater that they chose to not kill the male children upon birth. If they were Israelites, why would Pharaoh trust them at all and not suspect their loyalty to their own people? If they were Egyptian, why would they betray the ruler and risk their lives? Did they fear the God of the Hebrews or did they actually know the God of the Hebrews? Either way, these two women, Shifra and Puah demonstrated courage and strength in a time of severe bondage and oppression, and what we do know is that they feared God, ‘The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” Exodus 1:17.
During the age of Pharaoh, the women did and stood for what was morally right. They did not cave.
In this age of defining morals as what one sees fit, we must remember that morals have to originate from somewhere. What is the beginning and the end of morals? It has to be God, otherwise people can and so often do, write their own morals. Case in point: ‘It is allowed to abort a baby at 24 weeks but not at nine months’. At one point, what is the difference? Do we uphold the morals that a baby is a baby?
If we align our morals with God’s; if we entrust that He is the authority on morals, and that He is Holy, then we will follow His will. We can only find His will in the Scriptures, the Torah, the 10 Commandments and if we negate the words of God, we negate His morals.
Can we be as strong as these two women? Will we stand for what is right? Will we stand for God?