It seems that these days, with technology and connectivity, we are all very busy people. We are more connected than ever in the history of the world. We can be reached anytime and at anyplace we are. I’m not so sure it’s a good thing either.
I recently read a post on social media that inspired this blog post. I am probably not quoting it properly or accurately, but I have the gist of it down. It said something like this, “When you are gone from your job, they will miss you for a day or so and then they will move on. However, when you are gone from this world, your family will cry over you and miss you every day for the rest of their lives. To your job, you are a means to an end in the world, but to your family you are their world.”
What it was getting at is that we should not make work a priority over spending time with our family. Yes, we have to work and make money to pay the bills. Yes, we should put our all into our job and do it as unto the Messiah. However, we should not let our job be our reason for being. We should not let it take away valuable time with our loved ones.
Life is short. It is. When I was little, time seemed to drag on and from time to time I could have promised you that time stood still. However, as life beats on, time seems to fly by. Each tick of the clock seems to go faster and faster. Life really is very short. All that to say, what we fill each second with is extremely important.
“My heart was hot within me, while I was musing, the fire burned. Then I spoke with my tongue: ‘Let me know, Adonai, my end and what the number of my days is. Let me know how short-lived I am.’” – Psalm 39:4 & 5 TLV
“So pay close attention to how you walk – not as unwise people but as wise. Make the most of your time because the days are evil. For this reason do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” – Ephesians 15-17 TLV
We have often heard the phrase, “God doesn’t promise you tomorrow.” However, this phrase is not found in the Bible. The idea of it is there for sure. There are multiple places where Scripture tells us that life is short and we should make the most of each day because we don’t know when our last day will be. So, what are you doing with your “today”?
We are all very busy. From time to time, might I suggest that we all stop for a moment and ask ourselves if what we’re currently doing lines up with God’s will? Make the most of today, not just for a paycheck, but make the most of today for the Kingdom of God and for those who will cry when you’re gone.
“The LORD requires of you only to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 (MKJV)
I like the Modern King James Version the best for this verse. Maybe that is because of how it first was glued into my brain. The first time this verse stuck and I couldn’t get rid of it was when I heard it in a song. Songs have a way of clinging to your memories and never letting go. They are like the preverbal gum on the bottom of your shoe.
In a good way though.
This verse changes me. It does so every time I hear it; every time I remember it. I think God knows that and that’s why He has glued it to me.
I’m the type of person who can forget to show mercy to others. I can forget to do justly. I can forget to walk humbly and forget that it was only by God’s grace and mercy that I am even alive. It is easy to pat yourself on the back and say, “Look what I’ve done! Look what I’ve accomplished!” In reality, none of us get anywhere or do anything alone. God continuously puts others in our paths to help us, to show us a better way, to inspire us, to change our path, to make us slow down and see the bigger picture; you name it.
The poet, John Donne said this: “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent…”
Paul put it another way: “For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of the body – though many – are one body, so also is Messiah….For the body is not one part, but many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12 & 14 TLV).
When we understand that we need each other (and sometimes we don’t know why we have difficult people in our lives, but they are usually there for a reason), it changes how we treat others and how we think of others. The body of Messiah is huge. We each play a part in the Kingdom.
So if every part of the body is important and we are part of the same body, it changes how we view each other and how we treat each other; and how we treat even ourselves.
“But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever shall exalt himself shall be abased (brought low), and he who shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11 & 12 MKJV)
In context, Yeshua is telling the leaders of Israel that they were putting themselves up on a pedestal. They did all kinds of things for their own glory. They were doing everything for themselves. They were self-serving, not God serving. They were looking out for number one.
“Though the LORD [is] high, yet He has respect to the humble; but the proud He knows afar off.” (Psalm 138:6 MKJV)
In other words, God will have a relationship with those who humble themselves. He resists the proud (self-serving). For me, Psalm 37 is a perfect picture of being humble; of walking humbly. Go read it. I’ll wait while you do so. I promise.
What does that Psalm get at? It gets at several things actually. But one is that being holy is setting yourself aside for God and His purposes. It’s living His way and not your way. It’s NOT saying “my Will” but saying “Your Will.” It’s letting yourself die and letting Messiah’s Will live through you. It’s thinking more of God than yourself. It’s thinking more of others than yourself. To me, this sounds like walking humbly, loving mercy and doing justly doesn’t it?
“And He said to him, ‘You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39 TLV)
For me, it comes down to that. I have to remember to love others as I would myself. When I do that, it is easy to show mercy and it is easy to treat people justly. It’s the reminding myself that is hard. My flesh doesn’t want me to remember.
“I have been crucified with Messiah, and it is no longer I who live, but Messiah lives in me. And the life I now live in the body, I live by trusting in Ben-Elohim (the Son of God) – who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:19,20 TLV)
So I have to die to my flesh. That’s hard and I can’t do that alone. It takes the power of God and remembering that I am not an island. I am part of the Body. When Paul says, “…the life I now live in the body…”, he is talking about our flesh. However, you can also read it to understand it as the Body of Messiah. “…the life I now live in the Body of Messiah…”
When we realize that we are part of the Body and we are not the only solider on the battlefield, it changes everything. Let that stick. Let it be the gum on the bottom of your shoe.
As I was driving to work this morning, one of my past ghosts crept up into view. My heart immediately sunk and this caused a haunting of more than one ghost to come flooding in. It is easy to say that it is just an attack from the Enemy. Maybe it was. Maybe not. I’m not a fan of blaming everything on “the devil.” I personally feel we give him more credit than he deserves. Sometimes bad things just happen. In cases like this, in my morning drive, I think the issue was me. It wasn’t the enemy; not unless the enemy was me, myself and I.
C.S. Lewis once said, “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” Another way to look at it is from a child-like perspective. When my daughter goes out to play or ride her bike, she almost always comes back with a scratch or a scrape. She plays rough. For the next few days she will constantly look at the scrape, pick at it, peel the scab off and of course it takes longer to heal. My mother used to tell me, “That’s never going to heal if you don’t stop picking at it!” Same goes for us and our past.
If we keep letting our past get us down and beating ourselves up over past mistakes, past relationships, past sins it makes it harder to move forward and grow into whom God has for us to be. It is easy to say “let it go” or to sing the song (now it’s stuck in your head isn’t it?), but actually doing it is rather rough.
I work in a ministry for a job. So when I arrived to work this morning, I told a friend of mine about my drive in and we prayed. He mentioned the Armor of God that Paul speaks about in Ephesians 6 and specifically the breastplate. When you look at the armor that Paul lays out, there is nothing to cover your back (or your past; where you’ve been). My friend mentioned, “That’s because God has your back, He has taken care of your past.” Now, I know it sounds cheesy and there’s not much hermeneutical ground there for that; but it’s still true. What my friend was getting at is the fact that you can’t change your past; it’s done. You can only change your future and where you are going.
“Let your eyes look directly ahead, and fix your gaze straight in front of you. Clear a level path for your feet, so all your ways will be firm. Do not turn to the right or to the left. Divert your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 25-27 TLV)
Speaking of Paul, he was a guy with a past that would haunt you late into the night! Yet, he said this: “But this one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the reward of the upward calling of God in Messiah Yeshua.” (Philippians 3:13 & 14 TLV).
So we can’t change the past, but God can take care of it. He can put us on the right path so that our future is different. With our sights focused on Him and the goal of whom He wants us to be driving us, we can let go of the past. I like C.S. Lewis’ way of putting it and comparing it to monkey bars. Every time we let go of one bar, we reach for a new one. Each day we live, we have to let that day go and reach for a new day. What we do with it is up to each of us, but in order to move forward toward the goal of the Kingdom, we have to let go of the past and grab hold of the future.
By Jonathan Lane
There are times when I pray in which it feels like everything I say hits the ceiling and bounces back down to my feet. It is probably safe to say that everyone has been there at one time or another. It feels like your soul is fast asleep and it needs an alarm clock to wake it up. Music is an extremely effective tool in our lives. It is a tool that we cannot only use in our congregations, but in our everyday prayer time. Song can open windows to a deeper “kavanna” (intention) as we pour our hearts out to God. In those times when we feel like we are just not getting through and our prayers are falling flat, music can cut through the layers of weariness that life can place upon us.
Music is a game changer; it brings us to a place of repentance and to a level of joy so we can reach out to God and just be His children. We have to be willing to approach Him with a childlike heart.
I personally find that the Hasidic practice of using the “niggun” (Hebrew for “tune” or “melody”) is quite useful in my daily prayer life. The niggun is mostly a vocal music without the use of instruments, singing repetitive nonsense words like “lai lai lai!” or “ai-ai-ai!” instead of formal lyrics. There are times when instruments and actual word phrases are used (i.e. Bible verses or quotes, Liturgy quotes, Jewish texts) and sung repetitively. The niggun can be sung as a joyous festive tune or as a prayerful lament or contemplation. For the most part, it is pretty much like a child singing a melody that they can’t quite remember the words for. However, the emotions and attitude is still expressed.
The thought behind the niggun is that words can get in the way of what the deepest dimension of our soul wants to say to our Creator. How can words truly say and express what our feelings are crying out? Can words really capture our emotions when we are overwhelming with joy or in the depths of grief? The Hasidic Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz said this, “By way of the niggun one can indeed open all the gates of heaven.”
There are many ways we can use the niggun. We can use them in our congregational gatherings, we can use them in our personal prayers when we’re alone, or we can use them at just about any other time. The most important part of a niggun is to let your emotions out (no matter if you’re feeling awesome or if you’re feeling less than great).
Over the past year, in my Synagogue, I have begun to use a niggun to open the music portion of our Sabbath services. I have found that by doing this, it helps the congregation enter into a time of singing to God. It opens up the heart and soul by providing an outlet to pour our emotions out. We are able to approach God with the heart of a child. It allows each person to cry out to the Master of the Universe using the same nonsense words and same melody, but each person’s heart is pouring out their own personal emotions and baggage from the week. With all of our different struggles and issues, we come to the Father as His children; crying out for His embrace. Sometimes we run to Him joyfully. Sometimes we are crawling on our knees in grief. However, every time we come, it is always by not allowing words to limit our emotions. It is by expressing the deepest cry of our soul. The niggun awakens the soul.
I’ll leave you with an example of a niggun. Try it! Awaken your soul to the power of nonsense! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K8BGHryrYA
We can be certain to learn a few things. Jacob was changed both physically and spiritually in his encounter. He physically walked away (limped away actually) with a hurt hip. Spiritually, he was changed also. His name was changed from Jacob (holder of the heel/follower) to Israel (Prince of God). He finally had God’s blessing and authority to take the place in the covenant that was made with Abraham years before.
In the past, Jacob had always run away from his problems with his brother Esau. He dealt with them in deceitful ways. Now he learns that it is through our struggles that we are changed. It is through our struggles that we are made stronger, and we grow into the people God has for us to be.
“As iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17 TLV
We often think we know who we’re fighting against, but later we find out we are mistaken. Our opponent was someone or something else all along. Sometimes it is ourselves we are contending with. Sometimes, but not always, the struggles we face are there because of barriers or obstacles we put in our own paths.
In a way Jacob’s struggle with Esau was there because of how Jacob handled his situation with his brother. Instead of waiting on God to work things out the way He wanted them to be, Jacob took matters into his own hands. He tried to “help God out”. This is a continuing lesson we see repeated over and over in Scripture. We all do it in our own lives as well! It always causes a mess. If we would only wait on God, things would be much easier. But that is easier said than done.
The story of creation that preceded Jacob’s story teaches us that each human is created in the image of God. So to struggle or fight with another human being is in a sense a struggle with the Almighty. Even so, when we struggle with ourselves, it’s a struggle with God. Our flesh often tells us to do one thing and the Holy Spirit tells us to do another.
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15 ESV
Yet it is the struggle and the fight within that makes us who we are. It is the process of shaping and molding us into the image of God…into His people, called by His name, to be a light to the nations.
The Jewish people were forced by the Greeks into renouncing their faith and to take up pagan practices and worship false gods. Daniel spoke about this in Daniel chapter 11.
“With smooth words he will seduce those who act wickedly against the covenant, but the people who know their God will stand strong and prevail.” (Daniel 11:32 TLV)
When the Maccabees miraculously drove the Greeks out of Jerusalem and took the Holy Temple back, it was in ruins. It was a time of darkness. There were many who turned away from the true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was a time of Spiritual darkness. The menorah in the Temple was put out. According to Leviticus 24 the menorah was to be lighted from evening till morning continually. They found one jar of olive oil that could be used to light the menorah, and it would only last one day. A great miracle happened there, and the menorah stayed lighted for eight days (until more oil could be made and obtained). Apparently, the light of the menorah was important to God. So we should understand it shouldn’t we? What was the purpose of the menorah in the Temple?
“Yeshua spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. The one who follows Me will no longer walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12 TLV)
“As light I have come into the world, so that everyone who trusts I Me should not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46 TLV)
Also, who can look over this passage?
“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105 TLV)
It’s pretty clear that Yeshua is the Word of God made flesh. Yeshua is saying that He is the embodiment of the Word of God; He’s following it perfectly. He’s saying that we should follow Him (do as He does), and we will have light. We will know how to live and follow Him. During the time of the Maccabees, the ones who turned their back on God and did what the Greeks told them to do (on penalty of death) were turning their backs on the Light. They chose to walk in darkness and forsake God’s commandments.
The Master calls us to walk in the Light. I love His teaching from the “Sermon on the Mount” most of all:
“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on a lampstand so it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15, 16 TLV)
There are several important points here. One, we are the light of the world; which means that we are followers of God, and we shouldn’t be secretive about it (hiding it under a basket). We are to let everyone know about it. Two, we are not to let them know about it with words. It’s our actions that let them know. When we follow God and His ways at home and out in the world, everyone takes notice. Especially in today’s world that is so full of darkness. When someone steps out and is a lighted menorah, people take notice.
Don’t believe me? One simple flame can be a huge impact to a darkened world. Find one single candle and turn out all the lights in the room you are in. Do this at night time so there is absolutely no light. When it’s pitch black, light the candle. The darkness doesn’t overtake the candle’s light. Instead, the light takes over the darkness; it pushes it back. As it is in the physical world, so it is in the spiritual. When we follow God and become a light to the world around us, we are pushing the darkness back. However, we do this by action and not by words alone.
We can learn many things from Hanukkah this year, but one of the most important things we should remember is the lesson of the Maccabees and set the world on fire.
“…but the people who know their God will stand strong and prevail.” (Daniel 11:32 TLV)
“…when you see the ark of the covenant of Adonai your God and the Levitical kohanim (preists)carrying it, then you must set out from your place and follow it.” – Joshua 3:3 (TLV)
In this season of change for our country, this raised an eyebrow. Change is a tricky thing. When we want change, we have to first ask ourselves if the change is from God or is it from ourselves. We must be cautious of change that comes from ourselves and that change is not prompted by God.
The story of the Israelites from their deliverance in Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land is a picture. It is a picture of our own deliverance and salvation from sin and our journey through life as we head toward the ultimate Promised Land. As the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness, they followed a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of cloud by night. If that pillar did not move, they did not move. If the pillar moved, they moved. It was a symbol to them that God went before them; He prepared the way (see Numbers 14:14). It’s the same idea here in Joshua. God has to prepare the way before His people move.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to make any changes in my life without God first preparing the way for me. Not ultimately. I continuously fight Him on this. If I have a bad day and get frustrated, the first thought in my mind is “I’m done.” I want to change my circumstance and move. However, that reaction is self-centered and not God centered.
We do that don’t we? We get bored, tired or fed up with people at our job and we look for something new and fresh. However, have we sought out God on it? Has he moved to prepare a way for us in a new job? We get an idea and want to act on it, but has God moved? Has God prepared the way for that idea to come to reality? It’s like we are a game piece on a chess board. We can see the square we are in and maybe even the squares touching our square. However, we don’t see the bigger picture. We just want out of the square we’re in. God sees the bigger picture and is thinking seven or eight moves ahead. He knows the end game while we don’t. We have to learn to see past ourselves.
I think Joshua offers some wisdom. In Joshua 3, where the children of Israel are told to move when the ark and the priests move, Joshua also says this:
“Consecrate yourselves…” – Joshua 3:5 (TLV)
What is he really saying? What is he telling the children of Israel to do? He’s telling them (and I’m over simplifying this on purpose) to get right with God. Set yourselves apart for God. Make yourself one hundred percent sold out to Him. Deny yourself.
Joshua is telling the children of Israel that they need to follow God; when God moves they move. It’s just like us as followers of Messiah. We follow Him. When He moves we move. Yeshua said this:
“Then Yeshua said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wants to follow after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” – Matthew 16:24 (TLV)
We must consecrate ourselves in order to be able to move when the Master moves. When the spiritual leaders He has placed over us move (because they are watching for Him to move) we move. We have to be ready and if we are not ready our foot may stumble and we won’t be as useful as we can be for Him.
If we’re not consecrated to Him and ready, our focus will be on our own desires and wants. However, if we’re consecrated to Him and ready, our focus will be on His desires and wants. We’ll be able to see the way He has prepared. Then if we need to move jobs, the path will be clear and for the right reason; Him.
So, the world is full of change. The United States has a new President-elect. That change alone will bring additional change. As His people we’re looking to our Messiah and waiting for Him to move, so we can then move with Him. If we do that, then we’ll be right were we need to be in the sea of change.
However, as we enter into this special time, the world around us seems like it is spinning out of control. The distress our nation is in is very serious. We are facing one of the most divisive elections in our recent history, there is more divisiveness in our society, and we would just like Rodney King to stand up and shout “can we all get along?”
So how do we rejoice in such times? For me, it makes perfect sense to have trials during this season. For us as believers in Yeshua, the Feast of Tabernacles is a time to not only remember the birth of our Master (when He tabernacled among us); it is also a time to look forward to when He will return and once again live on the Earth with us. It will be a time of great rejoicing because our King has returned, and He will reign over the entire world from Jerusalem. All of this sounds great and is something to rejoice about, but when the rubber meets the road, it’s tough; it’s tough to rejoice when things are not going great.
The Apostle Paul tells us this:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)
It hinges on our hope. Hope is a powerful thing. Without hope in our lives, things seem a bit pointless and a bit gray. However, with hope there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel; a reason to put your foot out and take one more step. This is because our hope is in what we know will happen, we know that one day all of this mess the world is in will be made right. One day everything will be fixed. And that day is when the Master returns to sit on His throne, and He again tabernacles among us.
“Behold, the dwelling of God is among men, and He shall tabernacle among them. They shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them and be their God.” (Revelations 21:3 TLV)
In Jewish tradition, the sukkah (tabernacle), like the sanctuary, symbolized the Shekinah glory of God. In the Psalms, the sukkah is used to symbolize God’s protective presence (see Psalm 23, 27, 57, 91 for examples). So the Festival of Tabernacles is a reminder of God’s presence and protection. In troubles times like these, a reminder of God’s protection and a reminder that God is present (He is with us) is something that causes us to rejoice! How could we not?
So as the days to the presidential election get closer and closer, and the world seems to spin more and more out of control, remember that our hope lies in Him and the fact that He is with us; He is protecting us. If bad things happen to us and we walk through some days of trial, we can keep our eyes on the hope we have that one day He will return. One day He will tabernacle among us once again, and this time it will be forever. At the same time, we can let our hope rest in the fact that He is right there walking through the trial with us; He will not forsake us. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
It is an old custom to read the Book of Psalms during the month of Elul. I, for one, have found myself drawn to the Psalms more and more as of late. It seems that when my life is in some kind of change or crisis, my soul is drawn to the Psalms like the thirsty are drawn to streams of water. Elul is a time of change is it not? It is supposed to be at any rate.
During this season we are searching our souls, our very lives, for leaven or sin so we can repent and change. The picture of Passover is played out in reality. Our Bridegroom is coming, and we must make ourselves ready; we must be clean. Time is short. If we find a spot on our garments (sin in our lives), we must change. And we always find something to change in our lives, don’t we? We do if we are honest with ourselves.
Ecclesiastes says, “Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil.” (Ecclesiastes 9:8)
The rabbis teach that the whiteness of the garment is a metaphor for cleanliness of the soul through repentance, and the oil is one’s good deeds and reputation. We are in this season where we examine our garments and make sure our heads are full of oil. The Psalms, if we draw close to them in this season, will guide us in that. They will be like a cup of cool water on a hot summer day.
Most things in life change. Not everything changes, but most things do change and change is hardly ever easy or fun. However, we can rest assured that God’s love and goodness don’t change. The Psalms teach us this. When we believe that, then we can run to repentance and dive into the waters of change.
“Your love, Adonai, is in the heavens, Your faithfulness up to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God. Your judgments are like the great deep. You preserve man and beast, Adonai. How precious is Your love, O God! The children of men find refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They drink their fill from the abundance of Your House. You give them drink from the river of Your delights. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light, we see the light. Continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You, and Your justice to the upright in heart.” (Psalm 36 TLV)
Now, how can we resist an opportunity like that?
The book takes one through the letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet and gives short “teachings” on different names for Messiah that start with the Hebrew letter of the section. Today I read the names for Messiah that start with the Hebrew letter “phey”. The word or name for Messiah was “Penei Aryeh” which translates to “lion’s face” or “face of a lion”.
The short teaching that followed took a passage from the first chapter of Ezekiel that describes the four creatures around God’s throne:
“And from the midst of it (God’s throne) came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings…as for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, the four had a face of an eagle.” (Ezekiel 1:5 & 10 ESV)
Tsvi Sadan said in his teaching that the throne of God is made up of these four creatures and that each face is significant because each one corresponds to four great earthly creatures who possess royal characteristics. He also gave this little tid-bit from the Otzar Midrashim, Chuppat Eliyahu, 170:
“The lion’s face resembles Messiah Son of David from the tribe of Judah…and if Israel will sin, he will roar like a lion and God immediately will have mercy on them.”
Immediately what jumped into my head is this passage in the New Covenant:
“Who is the one who condemns? It is Messiah, who died, and moreover was raised, and is now at the right hand of God and who also intercedes for us.” (Romans 8:34 TLV)
Ezekiel tells us that the lion’s face is to the right of the human face. We know from various Scripture references that Messiah sits on the right hand of the Father. Also, Paul tells us that Messiah is there interceding for us with the Father. The Lion roars for Israel. The Lion roars for His people. The Lion roars for you and me. How awesome is that?