Tree of Life Messianic Congregation

A Fellowship of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in Yeshua

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The Hovering Spirit of God

Here we are at the beginning of a new Torah Reading cycle.  We celebrated Simchat Torah last Tuesday evening, and I hope you all got a new appreciation for the Torah.  The Torah portion for today is B’reisheet, and in Hebrew means “in the beginning”.

The English name Genesis comes from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.  Genesis means “origins”.  Therefore, the Greek name for the first book of the Bible means “The Book of Origins.”

Genesis describes the origins of everything.  It begins with the origins of the universe, focuses on the origins of man, and then explores the origins of the nation of Israel.

As we study the first reading from the book of Genesis, we will learn a great deal about God, but even more about ourselves.  After all, this is the story of our origins.  When properly understood, the story of our origin helps us find our destination.

Genesis 1:1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

“In the beginning,” is talking about the beginning of what we know as our universe.  God has always existed because He is outside of time and space.  We cannot really even begin to understand all the dimensions of God because He is multidimensional.

Can I give you a simple show and tell object lesson that perhaps will give you a better understanding of what I was describing as the multidimensional aspect of God?  I’m holding in my hand a cube.  You can see it and feel it.  It has substance, and weight.  If I throw it at you and hit you in the head you would definitely know it.  You can see it now in three dimensions.

But if I turn it like this.  You would see only a square.  But the cube is still there, you just can’t see it all.

If I hold it like this, all you see is a line.  But the cube is still there, you just can’t see it all.

If I hold it like this, all you can see is a single point in space.  The cube is still there, you just can’t see all of it.

This, of course, begs the question… If a line is 1D, then what is the point?

(0D, The 4D Cube is called the Tesseract.)

God is all that and more because he exists outside time and space.  He has always existed.  There is a Jewish concept called Tsimtsum, which comes from the fringe study of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism and magic that originated in the Middle Ages,.  It explains proposes that God is so encompassing of everything that He had to voluntarily reduce His existence a tiny bit so that He would have room for the universe that He created. This is an important concept because it raises the question of free will vs. predetermination. In contracting His presence from the cosmos, God leaves room for human beings to express their faith and independence. But His infinitesimal departure also opens the space for human beings to sin and to give in to temptation. This metaphysical contraction of God leaves the world broken, with the responsibility of mankind to repair the broken space. As Messianic Jews, we know that this theory is dismally flawed because we know we need the Messiah, but the idea of ADONAI contracting Himself to make room for humanity is interesting.

NOW, I would really like to delve into the fact that the earth was tohu and bohu.  Without form and void or chaos and waste.

The first phrase of verse two sounds like this.

וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ

Genesis 1:2  Now the earth was chaos and waste, darkness was on the surface of the deep, and the Ruach Elohim was hovering upon the surface of the water.

The word translated “was” is the Hebrew word hayah. It is also translated as “became”, so that we could say the earth became without form and void.  God didn’t create a world of chaos and waste.  He is not the God of chaos.  He doesn’t create junk.  Keep that in mind as we go on.

So what we see here is a world that was a total mess.  Nothing was as it was created.  But I want you to look at the last phrase in the verse.  The Ruach Elohim was hovering upon the surface of the water.  The Spirit of God was looking at the chaos that was the earth and things started to happen.

When the Spirit of God shows up there is no room for chaos or disorder.  From this point on we start to see the creation as we know it today.

The word for hover used in verse two is “rachefet”.  The only other place where this verb is used is in Deuteronomy 32:11, where it describes a mother bird beating her wings over her little ones, encouraging them to fly.

Unlike the Babylonian myth of creation, in which the chaos is an enemy to be conquered, this formless mess is to be loved and fostered into being. One of the earliest Jewish commentaries on this text, dating from New Testament times, interpreted it this way: “A spirit of love before the Lord was blowing (hovering) over the face of the waters.” This holy wind is not a part of the chaos, it is God’s motherly love conveying the promise of life, order, and beauty to what was of itself a mess. Because God’s spirit was hovering over it, chaos became promise.

Yeshua used this same imagery to describe his love for Jerusalem.

Luke 13:34  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

He was lamenting the future of Jerusalem because he knew what the future held and the desolation that was to come.  He longed for them to be saved because we know that God is not willing for anyone to be lost but that all would come to repentance.

While discussing my thoughts on this drash, my daughter, Cynthia, related that when she thinks of the Spirit of God hovering over the earth she sees a new husband hovering over his precious bride.  I think that is a great example of what Yeshua was saying.  A husband should be there to protect his wife, see to her needs and support her in the difficulties that she may face.

Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul charged husbands in his letter to the congregation at Ephesus.

(Ephesians 5:25-33) Husbands, love your wives just as Messiah also loved His community and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, having cleansed her by immersion in the word. Messiah did this so that He might present to Himself His glorious community—not having stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but in order that she might be holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it—just as Messiah also does His community, because we are members of His body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is great—but I am talking about Messiah and His community. In any case, let each of you love his own wife as himself, and let the wife respect her husband.

What a beautiful picture of the Spirit of God hovering over us.

And so we recognize the relevance of this image for our own lives. At times we feel like our lives are a mess. There is no light, and we are floating about like a cork lost at sea. We try to fight it, to no avail. We try to flee, but there is no exit. What do we do? We lift up our petition to the Lord and ask the Holy Spirit to hover over our mess, to embrace it lovingly and prepare it for the light of God’s word. If any of our chaotic depths surface, we then turn them over to the Lord.

As the powerful but wordless Spirit of God prepared for God’s cosmic word, the Holy Spirit lovingly prepares our chaos for the word that will give shape and meaning to what made no sense before.

Remember that God is not the author of confusion and chaos.  He didn’t create junk when He created you.  Yes our lives oftentimes fall apart.  We get sick.  We fail God, we fail our friends and families.  And we even fail ourselves.  But Spirit of God is hovering over our chaotic lives and is there to bring order and beauty from our messy past.  Bring your problems to the Lord and He will hear you.  And when you bring your problems to Him leave them with Him.  Don’t pack them back up and carry them home with you.



Dealing With Failure

20210116 Parsha Vaera – Dealing with Failure

Last week we talked about being a leader.  One of the aspects of being a leader is how we react when things don’t go as planned.

At first, Moses’ mission seemed to be successful. He had feared that the people would not believe in him, but God had given him signs to perform, and his brother Aaron to speak on his behalf. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.” (Ex. 4:30-31)

But then things start to go wrong, and continue going wrong. Moses’ first appearance before Pharaoh is disastrous. Pharaoh refuses to recognize God. He rejects Moses’ request to let the people travel into the wilderness. He makes life worse for the Israelites. They must still make the same quota of bricks, but now they must also gather their own straw. The people turn against Moses and Aaron: “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Ex. 5:21).

Moses and Aaron return to Pharaoh to renew their request. They perform a sign – they turn a staff into a snake – but Pharaoh is unimpressed. His own magicians can do likewise. Next they bring the first of the plagues, but again Pharaoh is unmoved. He will not let the Israelites go. And so it goes, nine times. Moses does everything in his power and finds that nothing makes a difference. The Israelites are still slaves.

We sense the pressure Moses is under. After his first setback, at the end of last week’s parsha, he turns to God and bitterly complains: “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (Ex. 5:22-23).

In this week’s parsha, even though God has reassured him that he will eventually succeed, he replies, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” (Ex. 6:12).

There is an enduring message here. Leadership, even of the very highest order, is often marked by failure. The first Impressionists had to arrange their own exhibition because their work was rejected by the Paris salons. The first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring caused a riot, with the audience booing throughout. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime despite the fact that his brother Theo was an art dealer.

So it is with leaders. Lincoln faced countless setbacks during the civil war. He was a deeply divisive figure, hated by many in his lifetime. Gandhi failed in his dream of uniting Muslims and Hindus together in a single nation. Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison, accused of treason and regarded as a violent agitator. Churchill was regarded as a spent force in politics by the 1930s, and even after his heroic leadership during the Second World War was voted out of office at the first General Election after the war was over. Only in retrospect do heroes seem heroic and the many setbacks they faced reveal themselves as stepping stones on the road to victory.

In every field, high, low, sacred or secular, leaders are tested not by their successes but by their failures. It can sometimes be easy to succeed. The conditions may be favorable. The economic, political or personal climate is good. When there is an economic boom, most businesses flourish. In the first months after a general election, the successful leader carries with him or her the charisma of victory. In the first year, most marriages are happy. It takes no special skill to succeed in good times.

But then the climate changes. Eventually it always does. That is when many businesses, and politicians, and marriages fail. There are times when even the greatest people stumble. At such moments, character is tested. The great human beings are not those who never fail. They are those who survive failure, who keep on going, who refuse to be defeated, who never give up or give in. They keep trying. They learn from every mistake. They treat failure as a learning experience. And from every refusal to be defeated, they become stronger, wiser and more determined. I used to tell junior officers on my ships that it was ok to make mistakes if you learn from them. What was not ok was not doing anything for fear of failure. That is the story of Moses’ life in last week’s parsha and in this.

Jim Collins, one of the great writers on leadership, puts it well:

The signature of the truly great versus the merely successful is not the absence of difficulty, but the ability to come back from setbacks, even cataclysmic catastrophes, stronger than before …The path out of darkness begins with those exasperatingly persistent individuals who are constitutionally incapable of capitulation. It’s one thing to suffer a staggering defeat…and entirely another to give up on the values and aspirations that make the protracted struggle worthwhile. Failure is not so much a physical state as a state of mind; success is falling down, and getting up one more time, without end.

Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner once wrote a powerful letter to a disciple who had become discouraged by his repeated failure to master Talmudic learning:

A failing many of us suffer is that when we focus on the high attainments of great people, we discuss how they are complete in this or that area, while omitting mention of the inner struggles that had previously raged within them. A listener would get the impression that these individuals sprang from the hand of their creator in a state of perfection . . .

The result of this feeling is that when an ambitious young man of spirit and enthusiasm meets obstacles, falls and slumps, he imagines himself as unworthy of being “planted in the house of God” . . .

Know, however, my dear friend, that your soul is rooted not in the tranquility of the good inclination, but in the battle of the good inclination…The English expression, “Lose a battle and win the war,” applies. Certainly, all of you, including myself, have stumbled and we will stumble again, and in many battles, we will fall lame. I promise you, though, that after those losing campaigns you will emerge from the war with laurels of victory on your head…The wisest of men said, “A righteous man falls seven times, but rises again” (Proverbs 24:16). Fools believe the intent of the verse is to teach us that the righteous man falls seven times and, despite this, he rises. But the knowledgeable are aware that the essence of the righteous man’s rising again is because of his seven falls.

Rabbi Hutner’s point is that greatness cannot be achieved without failure. There are heights you cannot climb without first having fallen.

Thomas Edison has a couple of quotes regarding failure. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.” And “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”.

Calvin Coolidge had a good thought about not giving up. “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” I would only add, “And seyata diShmaya, the help of Heaven.” God never loses faith in us even if we sometimes lose faith in ourselves.

The supreme role model is Moses who, despite all the setbacks chronicled in last week’s parsha and this, eventually became the man of whom it was said that he was “a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his energy unabated” (Deut. 34:7).

Defeats, delays and disappointments hurt. They hurt even for Moses. So if there are times when we too feel discouraged and demoralized, it is important to remember that even the greatest people failed. What made them great is that they kept going. The road to success passes through many valleys of failure. There is no other way.

An example of learning from failure that all of us know is the life of Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul.

After Yeshua rose from the grave and was resurrected, his followers were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to share the good news about Yeshua, and many people became believers.

The Jewish leaders were extremely upset about this. They thought they had dealt with Yeshua by having him crucified. A young man named Saul was especially upset.

Rav Shaul was an accomplice to murder.

The first time we read about Rav Shaul, he was an accomplice to murder. He was guarding the clothes of a mob that was stoning Stephen to death. Stephen’s “crime” was preaching about Yeshua.

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, Acts 7 59-60 “Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit!”Then he fell on his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” After he said this, he died.

We read that Rav Shaul was there, giving approval of Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1).

Rav Shaul captured Believers in Jerusalem and put them in jail.

Rav Shaul continued to persecute Yeshua’s followers in Jerusalem, going house to house and dragging people off to prison.

Acts 8:1-4  Now Saul was in agreement with Stephen’s execution. On that day a great persecution arose against Messiah’s community in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria, except the emissaries. (2)  Some devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  (3)  But Saul was destroying Messiah’s community, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he was throwing them into prison.  (4)  Now those who had been scattered went around proclaiming the Word.

Rav Shaul persecuted more Believers and voted for many to be killed.

Not only did Rav Shaul persecute Believers in Jerusalem, he also traveled to foreign cities to persecute them (Acts 26:11). He tried to get them to blaspheme, and he voted for many to be put to death.

Acts 26:9-11“In fact, I myself thought it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Yeshua ha-Natzrati.(10)And that is what I did in Jerusalem. Not only did I lock up many of the kedoshim in prisons by the authority I received from the ruling kohanim, but I cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death.(11)I tried to cause them to blaspheme by punishing them often in the synagogues. In furious rage against them, I persecuted them even in foreign cities.

Rav Shaul planned a trip to look for Believers in Damascus. Before he left, he asked the high priest for letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus.

Acts 9:1-2  Now Saul, still breathing out threats and murder against the Lord’s disciples, went to the kohen gadol.  (2)  He requested letters of introduction from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women belonging to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

While Rav Shaul was on the road to Damascus, he had an amazing encounter with Yeshua and became a believer. (Read Acts 9:3-19.)

Rav Shaul learned from his failures.

When Yeshua confronted Rav Shaul on the road to Damascus, Rav Shaul learned that he had failed in his efforts to serve God. He had been persecuting God, not serving him (Acts 9:4-5).

Rav Shaul did much more than learn from his failures. His life turned around completely. Instead of persecuting Believers, he started to tell people about Yeshua.

Acts 9:20  Immediately he began proclaiming Yeshua in the synagogues, saying, “He is Ben-Elohim.”

In the following years, Rav Shaul started congregations over much of the Roman empire. He was often beaten and imprisoned for his faith, yet he wrote:

Philippians 1:21For to me, life is the Messiah, and death is gain.

Rav Shaul became humble.

Rav Shaul was a Jewish leader before his Damascus road experience. However, as a result of that vision, he was changed, he was deeply regretful and humbled by his sins. He learned from his failures.

Rav Shaul referred to himself as the worst of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Also, although he recognized that he was an apostle, he described himself as “the least of the apostles.”

1 Corinthians 15:9-10For I am the least of the emissaries, unworthy to be called a emissary because I persecuted God’s community.(10)But by the grace of God I am what I am. His grace toward me was not in vain. No, I worked harder than them all—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Rav Shaul did not think God saved him because he was a good person. Rav Shaul realized that the opposite was true. God saved him as an example of his unlimited patience for those who believe in the Messiah.

1 Timothy 1:16 But this is precisely why I received mercy—so that in me, as the number one sinner, Yeshua the Messiah might demonstrate how very patient he is, as an example to those who would later come to trust in him and thereby have eternal life.

God brought unexpected (good) consequences.

Although Rav Shaul had been an active enemy of Yeshua and approved of killing Believers , God forgave him and used him to make a tremendous difference for the Kingdom of God.

God used Rav Shaul to bring many people to faith in Yeshua, to establish kehilot (churches), and to strengthen the body of Messiah

.God used Rav Shaul to write many letters that became part of the New Testament.

Lessons we can learn from Rav Shaul

Don’t give up because of your failures.

Learn from your failures, then dedicate your life to serving Yeshua.

Be humbled by your failures. Thank God for his forgiveness. Never consider yourself a “big shot,” regardless of your position.

Never give up on anybody. If Rav Shaul could learn from his failures, anyone can learn from his or her failures. If Rav Shaul could be saved, anyone could be saved.

Between Moses and Rav Shaul, we have some very good examples.


Who Am I?

20210109 Parsha Shemot – Who Am I

Exodus 1:1-6:1

Isaiah 27:6-28

Hebrews 11:23-27

Today we find ourselves still in the Land of Egypt but change is in the air.  Today we begin the story of the Exodus.  This Parsha begins with a list of Jacob’s sons who entered into Egypt and died in Egypt.  It continues by setting the stage for why Bnei Israel wants to leave Egypt.  We are introduced to Moses who escaped infanticide and eventually led God’s people to freedom.

Moses led a life of luxury but after identifying with his own people, he killed an Egyptian and had to flee to Midian.  He met and married Zipporah and they lived a decent life in Midian.  One day Moses was herding sheep and encountered the famous burning bush.  God spoke to Moses that day, but Moses also asked a couple of questions.

Moses’ second question to God at the burning bush was, Who are you? “So I will go to the Israelites and say, ‘Your fathers’ God sent me to you.’ They will immediately ask me what His name is. What shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3: 13). God’s reply, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh,” wrongly translated in almost every Christian Bible as something like “I am that I am.”

His first question, though, was, Mi anochi, “Who am I?” (Ex. 3: 11).

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” said Moses to God. “And how can I possibly get the Israelites out of Egypt?” On the surface the meaning is clear. Moses is asking two things. The first: who I am to be worthy of so great a mission? The second: how can I possibly succeed?

God answers the second. “Because I will be with you.” You will succeed because I am not asking you to do it alone. I am not really asking you to do it at all. I will be doing it for you. I want you to be My representative, My mouthpiece, My emissary and My voice.

God never answered the first question. Perhaps in a strange way Moses answered himself. In Tanakh as a whole, the people who turn out to be the most worthy are the ones who deny they are worthy at all.

The prophet Isaiah, when charged with his mission, said, ‘I am a man of unclean lips’ (Is. 6:5). Jeremiah said, ‘I cannot speak, for I am a child’ (Jer. 1: 6). David, Israel’s greatest king, echoed Moses’ words, ‘Who am I?’ (2 Samuel 7: 18). Jonah, sent on a mission by God, tried to run away. According to Rashbam, Jacob was about to run away when he found his way blocked by the man/angel with whom he wrestled at night (Rashbam to Gen. 32: 23).

The heroes of the Bible are not figures from Greek or any other kind of myth. They are not people possessed of a sense of destiny, determined from an early age to achieve fame. They do not have what the Greeks called megalopsychia, a proper sense of their own worth, a gracious and lightly worn superiority. They did not go to Eton or Oxford. They were not born to rule. They were people who doubted their own abilities. There were times when they felt like giving up. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah and Jonah reached points of such despair that they prayed to die. They became heroes of the moral life against their will. There was work to be done – God told them so – and they did it. It is almost as if a sense of smallness is a sign of greatness. Rav Shaul, (the apostle Paul) spoke of this concept.

2 Corinthians 12:10  For Messiah’s sake, then, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So, God never answered Moses’ question, “Why me?”

But there is another question within the question. “Who am I?” can be not just a question about worthiness. It can also be a question about identity. Moses, alone on Mount Horeb/Sinai, summoned by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, is not just speaking to God when he says those words. He is also speaking to himself. “Who am I?”

There are two possible answers. The first: Moses is a prince of Egypt. He had been adopted as a baby by Pharaoh’s daughter. He had grown up in the royal palace. He dressed like an Egyptian, looked and spoke like an Egyptian. When he rescued Jethro’s daughters from some rough shepherds, they go back and tell their father, “An Egyptian saved us” (2: 19). His very name, Moses, was given to him by Pharaoh’s daughter (Ex. 2: 10). It was, presumably, an Egyptian name (in fact, Mses, as in Ramses, is the ancient Egyptian word for “child”. The etymology given in the Torah, that Moses means “I drew him from the water,” tells us what the word suggested to Hebrew speakers). So the first answer is that Moses was an Egyptian prince.

The second Mosaic identity was that he was a Midianite. For, although he was Egyptian by upbringing, he had been forced to leave. He had made his home in Midian, married a Midianite woman Zipporah, daughter of a Midianite priest and was “content to live” there, quietly as a shepherd. We tend to forget that he spent many years there. He left Egypt as a young man and was already eighty years old at the start of his mission when he first stood before Pharaoh (Ex. 7: 7). He must have spent the overwhelming majority of his adult life in Midian, far away from the Israelites on the one hand and the Egyptians on the other. Moses was a Midianite.

So when Moses asks, “Who am I?” it is not just that he feels himself unworthy. He feels himself uninvolved. He may have been one of God’s Chosen People by birth, but he had not suffered the fate of his people. He had not grown up as a Hebrew. He had not lived among Hebrews. He had good reason to doubt that the Israelites would even recognize him as one of them. How, then, could he become their leader? More penetratingly, why should he even think of becoming their leader? Their fate was not his. He was not part of it. He was not responsible for it. He did not suffer from it. He was not implicated in it.

What is more, the one time he had actually tried to intervene in their affairs – he killed an Egyptian taskmaster who had killed an Israelite slave, and the next day tried to stop two Israelites from fighting one another – his intervention was not welcomed. “Who made you ruler and judge over us?” they said to him. These are the first recorded words of an Israelite to Moses. He had not yet dreamed of being a leader and already his leadership was being challenged.

Consider, now, the choices Moses faced in his life. On the one hand he could have lived as a prince of Egypt, in luxury and at ease. That might have been his fate had he not intervened. Even afterward, having been forced to flee, he could have lived out his days quietly as a shepherd, at peace with the Midianite family into which he had married. It is not surprising that when God invited him to lead the Israelites to freedom, he resisted.

Why then did he accept? Why did God know that he was the man for the task? One hint is contained in the name he gave his first son. He called him Gershom because, he said, “I am a stranger in a foreign land” (2: 22). He did not feel at home in Midian. That was where he was but not who he was.

But the real clue is contained in an earlier verse, the prelude to his first intervention. “When Moses was grown, he began to go out to his own people, and he saw their hard labor” (2: 11). These people were his people. He may have looked like an Egyptian but he knew that ultimately he was not. It was a transforming moment, not unlike when the Moabite Ruth said to her Israelite mother in law Naomi, “Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1: 16). Ruth was un-Jewish by birth. Moses was un-Jewish by upbringing. But both knew that they, when they saw suffering and identified with the sufferer, they could not walk away.

Who am I? asked Moses, but in his heart he knew the answer. I am not Moses the Egyptian or Moses the Midianite. When I see my people suffer I am, and cannot be other than, Moses the Jew. And if that imposes responsibilities on me, then I must shoulder them. For I am who I am because my people are who they are.

Who are you today?  I believe that to be an important question that each of us should be prepared to answer.  In the days, weeks, months to come life will become increasingly difficult for those who believe in Yeshua HaMashiach.  We are beginning to see signs of persecution against God’s people.  In other parts of the world, it is much worse.  In France they have recently outlawed the ritual slaughter of animals.  That means no more kosher meat for Jews in France.  China has started identifying Christian churches and destroying their buildings.  Believers in Nigeria are in an existential struggle with the Muslim extremist group Boco Haram.  I could go on with examples from around the globe, but you get the picture.

We need to be prepared to defend our faith with our lives if need be.  I believe it will come to that in this country.  We need to know deep down inside us “Who Am I”?  We need to be prepared to give an account as to Who we serve.

God called Moses to be a leader.  Then in the course of the Exodus he delegated authority and leadership down to leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  The tens being basically a family unit.  We are all called to be leaders.  In whatever capacity we find ourselves we need to be leaders, in our jobs, schools, communities, and families.  It is imperative that we step up and be leaders, not simple-minded followers who blindly follow every foolish whim of government, media, Hollywood, and professional sports.  They are not our leaders. We should be following the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We should be keeping the commandments of God.

Yeshua said in John 14:15  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. Yeshua is our leader.  In Him we find our identity.  That’s where we should begin and end in our search for who we are.

I end with returning to the title of this sermon.  Who Am I?  Only you can answer that. We can be more than what we are.  We need to take up the mantle of leadership wherever we are and in whatever capacity we find ourselves.  Leaders lead.

The Word Became Flesh

20201017 Parsha Bereshit – The Word Became Flesh

This morning we begin a new Torah Cycle wherein we start reading in Genesis 1:1 and each week progress through the first five books of the Bible.  In every Jewish Synagogue in the world we are reading from the same Torah Portion each week.  As a Messianic Congregation we also read from the Brit Chadashah, the New Testament.  The reading from the Apostolic writings can vary from congregation to congregation and from all the various organizations that publish a reading plan.

We all know the main theme of Bereshit and that being creation of our world and the worlds that surround us.  The imagery of creation can easily overwhelm even the most imaginative mind.  And yet there is an aspect of creation that we can and should grasp and understand.  Who was the creator?  It was Yeshua and He was deity.  How do we know?

1) Scripture Reveals It…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We looked upon His glory, the glory of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1,14

Philippians 2:7-8  But He emptied Himself—taking on the form of a slave, becoming the likeness of men and being found in appearance as a man.  (8)  He humbled Himself—becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Hebrews 2:14, 17  Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared the same humanity— (17)  Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in all things, so He might become a merciful and faithful Kohen Gadol in matters relating to God…

The Word was with God and Word was God.

Scripture reveals that Yeshua was God and also…

Yeshua is deity, and yet He willingly became human, flesh and blood like you and me.

Fully God… and – fully man….

That was a hard concept even in the first century.  John addressed it again in…

1 John 1:1  What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life—

When you look at the life of Yeshua, you see that he lived it as a man.

2) His Life Demonstrates It…

  • Yeshua was conceived in a womb
  • He was born just like you & me
  • And he came out of the womb bloody and slimy just like you and I did
  • Yeshua had to depend on His parents, to fed Him, Bath Him and change His dirty diapers
  • Yeshua had to learn to walk and no doubt took many falls on that journey
  • He had to learn to talk… I wonder what His first word was?
  • Yeshua got tired and he slept
  • He got hungry and he ate
  • He got thirsty and he drank
  • If you hit Him – He bruised
  • If you cut Him he bled
  • If you killed Him – he died.

To think of Yeshua in such a light is uncomfortable to some.  But personally, I like to think of him like that.  It gives me a sense of knowing Him better.

I like the Yeshua who danced at weddings.  Turned water into the finest wine ever made….or the finest Welches grape juice if you are a Baptist or Pentecostal.

I like the Yeshua who played with children, laughed and told them stories.  I can imagine him walking with His disciples and saying “hold up guys, I got a rock in my sandal”.

Yeshua being a man, makes all the difference in the world…

Why? Because:

  1. A) Yeshua The Man, Allows You To See God…

John 1:18  No one has ever seen God; but the one and only God, in the Father’s embrace, has made Him known.

He has shown us what God is like.

Before Yeshua no one had ever seen God.  Even Moses, who spoke with God as a man speaks face to face could not see Him in all his glory.  He would have died.

It is really hard for finite creatures (like us) to wrap our brains around an infinite God.  He is too big, well beyond our comprehension.

But I can relate to Yeshua.  That’s why He became a human being.

Yeshua as a human helps us to know that God cares for us, loves us, is concerned about every aspect of our lives.

  1. B) Yeshua The Man, Allows You To See Yourself


QUESTION – how do you see yourself this morning?

My guess is that the way you see yourself today is closely connected to the way that you think the world sees you. So, this morning, do see yourself as;

Important? Valuable? Desirable? Acceptable? Significant?

Do you see yourself as someone who is worth being with? Maybe so. But I suspect that the opposite might be true. You don’t see yourself in a positive light.  You don’t feel important, valuable, or desirable.

Yeshua the man, allows you and me to see ourselves. To see ourselves not as the world sees, not as other people see us and not as we see ourselves (because of past sin and failure)…but as God sees us… awesome, loved by God, precious, valuable and significant to Him.

Look at yourself like Yeshua looks at you, someone worthy to die for.

  1. C) Yeshua The Man, Shows You Who You Can Become

 Tired of that old life? Don’t fret.  Yeshua the man shows you who you can become…

One of the best words in the English language is ”New”.

It’s great to start a new year;

  • get a new car,
  • move into to new house,
  • learn new things
  • read new books
  • hear new songs
  • start a new relationship,
  • get a new beginning

AND – do you know what…? GOD – seems to be pretty fired up about the word new too.

Throughout the bible we see God talking about; New names… New songs… A new covenant, New wine & new wineskins… A new heavens & new earth, Behold I am making all things new

Those who become Believers in Yeshua become new persons.

2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

  1. D) Yeshua The Man, Destroyed Death and the devil…

Hebrews 2:14-17    Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared the same humanity—so that through death He might break the power of the one who had the power of death (that is, the devil)  and free those who by fear of death were in bondage all their lives.  For surely He is not concerned about angels, but about the seed of Abraham.  (17)  Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in all things, so He might become a merciful and faithful Kohen Gadol in matters relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.


This is a big deal

  • Because God the Son, became a man
  • Because He was like us in every respect
  • Because He was flesh and blood
  • Because He lived a sinless life
  • Because he offered that life and as payment, as a sacrifice for our sins…

The devil has been defeated

Death has been destroyed!

Mercy has been given

AND – His amazing grace has been unleashed in the world…

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:55-58

Resisting the pressure of socio-political culture, Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic stood for the national anthem on July 31, the lone player or coach in that game who did not kneel. Isaac stood with his hands behind his back, and it was no surprise to his teammates, who know that he is an ordained minister. According to, In a post game interview, he stated…

“…I’m standing and not wearing a (BLM) T-shirt to get something done… to get out of the realm of skin color… to see all the things that we all do each and every day that aren’t right, and come to an understanding that at the end of the day, the answer to it all, to all of our problems, to all of everything that goes on in our world is Jesus.” – Jonathan Isaacs

YES – because of Yeshua the man… WE – are free!

Free from sin

Free from guilt

Free from shame

Free from popular opinion

Free from condemnation

Free from the fear of dying

Free from the fear of living

Free from a life of wishful thinking

Our hope is not wishful thinking, instead it is an confidently expected outcome.

Yeshua the man destroyed death and the devil..

  1. E) Yeshua The Man, Understands Everything That You Will Ever Experience …

QUESTION – have you ever felt like no one really understood what you were going through?

You have a problem, you’re being tempted, you’re in a struggle, you’re facing a crisis…AND – you feel like you’re all alone…

Sure – you try to talk to people, but most of the time all you get back is blank stares. either people don’t get it, don’t WANT to get it, or they can’t do anything about it!  And sometimes you get the “I’ll be praying for you” line that is just a dismissal.

Hebrews 4:14-16

Therefore, since we have a great Kohen Gadol who has passed through the heavens, Yeshua Ben-Elohim, let us hold firmly to our confessed allegiance.

(15)  For we do not have a kohen gadol who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all the same ways—yet without sin.

(16)  Therefore let us draw near to the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help in time of need.


ABOUT – sixty years ago C. S. Lewis imagined someone objecting here:


“Hey, if Yeshua never sinned, then he doesn’t know what temptation is like. He lived a sheltered life and is out of touch with how strong temptation can be.”

Here is what Lewis wrote in response to that objection:

“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. . . .

A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. . . .

Jesus, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.”


If Yeshua had not become a man, we would not have a God who really, fully and experientially understood us.  Although God, would have knowledge of human life (because he created it), we might still be able to hurl the accusation,

“God you just don’t understand what it’s like to be me. You can’t possibly understand the temptations I struggle with.

AND – besides that I am handicapped by all kinds of weaknesses, problems and pain that you’ve never faced, because you’re all-powerful.

AND GOD – if you can’t understand me you can’t really help me. AND – you certainly have no right to judge me.”

BUT – the fact is that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” AND THEREFORE – no matter what we face, whether it’s temptation, weaknesses, or suffering Yeshua can and does say “Been there… Dealt with that…Wore out the T-shirt…I can help! ”


  • Who feel alone
  • Who had a friend betray them
  • Who are tempted by (lust, money, popularity, power)
  • Who are weeping over the death of a loved one
  • Who had best intentions misunderstood and twisted
  • Who are stressed by the demands of life
  • Who experience disappointments and setbacks or had everyone walk away when they needed them the most
  • Who are in physical pain
  • Who have had family members think they are crazy
  • Who have had loved ones who actually WENT crazy.
  • Who have had their name and reputation slandered by other people
  • Whose lives seemed to be filled with sorrow and grief
  • Who don’t have a lot of money or material things
  • Who find it so hard to do the right thing and to follow God’s will

Yeshua the man says; “Been there… Dealt with that…I can help! ”

Let me read Hebrews again.


Hebrews 4:14-16

Therefore, since we have a great Kohen Gadol who has passed through the heavens, Yeshua Ben-Elohim, let us hold firmly to our confessed allegiance.

(15)  For we do not have a kohen gadol who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all the same ways—yet without sin.

(16)  Therefore let us draw near to the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help in time of need.


Let’s Pray


Here we are, now what? Returning to God’s Normal

20200912 Parsha Nitzavim-Vayelech – Here we are, Now what?

Getting back to God’s Normal




This week’s Parsha is a double Parsha because we are not in a leap year.  It encompasses Deuteronomy 29:9 to 31:30. The most significant aspect of this portion is the renewal of the Mosaic Covenant with Israel.  We have to remember that the vast majority of Bnei Israel standing on the East side of the Jordan River were not present at Mt Sinai.  All the people above the age of 20 had died out in the wilderness due to their lack of faith.


Therefore, at Hashem’s direction, Moses gathered the people together to renew the covenant that their fathers heard at Mount Sinai and to which they agreed wholeheartedly.


Deuteronomy 29:9-14  “You are standing today, all of you, before Adonai your God—the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officials, all the men of Israel,  (10)  your children, your wives, and the outsider within your camp (from your woodchopper to your water carrier).  (11)  Each of you is to cross over into the covenant of Adonai your God that He is cutting with you today, and into His oath.  (12)  “This is in order to confirm you today as His people. So He will be your God, just as He promised you and just as He swore to your fathers—to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.  (13)  Not with you alone am I cutting this covenant and this oath,  (14)  but with whomever is standing here with us today before Adonai our God and with whomever is not here with us today.


So what were they renewing?  Which Covenant?  Certainly, they were renewing the Mosaic Covenant because that would be the laws and regulations for their daily lives. These laws and regulations also made them distinct from the peoples and nations around them.


But Genesis 22 tells us of another covenant.  That was the Covenant God made with Abraham.  The Mosaic Covenant was a reaffirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant that promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations.  Even more importantly, it promised that all the families of the earth would be blessed through his seed.


That is the promise of the Messiah, who would come and be a savior to anyone who would believe in him.  All the world is blessed by the Messiah Yeshua IF they will just lay hold of that promise.


Verse 14 has some strange language in it.  God was cutting the covenant for all who were standing there at that moment.  But then He says it was for whomever was NOT standing there on that day.  In other words, God’s promise to Abraham and the Children of Israel was not for a moment in time.  It was for ALL generations.  When God makes a promise, it is a forever kind of thing.


On this occasion of getting ready for the crossing over into Canaan what did Moses do?  He recited the Law that God had given them at Sinai.  He had a copy written for each tribe.  He gave a commandment that every 7 years, the people would get together hear the Law read out to them.  In the intervening years the Law was retold by memory and we know that sometimes memory can fail us, so that 7 year requirement was important to bring us all back to the center of the road.


There was another 7 year requirement that was important to God, that was outlined in Exodus 23:10-12. It pertained to giving the land an opportunity to rest, and it also provided the poor among B’nei Israel an opportunity to gather and be fed. It was an issue of social justice and provision for the poor, and also a prescribed Sabbath for the land, for animals, and for the servants among them.

10 “For six years you are to sow your land and gather the increase. 11 But during the seventh year you are to let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor among your people may eat. Whatever they leave behind, the animals of the field may eat. You are to deal with your vineyard and your olive grove in the same way.12 “You are to do your work for six days, but on the seventh day you will rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and also the son of your handmaid and the outsider may be refreshed.

Let’s fast forward a thousand years to the end of the Babylonian exile.  The Children of Israel were coming back into the land after 70 years of exile in Babylon.  You can read about it in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.


Did you ever wonder why they were exiled for 70 years?  It was because Israel did not keep the 7 year sabbath for the land and for the poor beginning with the reign of King Saul.  There was 490 years from the time of Saul to the destruction of the first temple.  490 divided by 7 equals what?  That’s right, 70 years.  The land got its prescribed years of rest, and Israel was reprimanded for her social injustices.


2 Chronicles 36:20-21  He exiled to Babylon those who had escaped the sword and they became slaves to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia—  (21)  in fulfillment of the word of Adonai by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had paid back her Shabbat rests—for as long as it lay desolate—the Shabbat rest was kept till 70 years were complete.


Israel had not let the land rest, or her people rest.  They had not observed the commandments concerning the shmitah such as returning land back to the original clans, freeing slaves, and perhaps, most important, they did not gather together and read aloud the Torah.  They had abandoned God’s standard of holiness and pursued their own path.  The reading of Torah may very well have avoided the exile if they and read it and heeded its words.


But God left a remnant.  It seems as though He always has a remnant.  And God’s remnant is enough for a majority. We can read about it in Ezra.


Ezra 9:8  But now for a brief moment Adonai our God has shown us favor in leaving us a remnant and giving us as a peg in His holy place. Thus our God has enlightened our eyes and has given us a little relief in our bondage.


I like the imagery in this verse.  He has given us a peg in the Temple.  Some translations say a nail in the Temple.  For all of our transgressions, Hashem still grants us his grace and a place in the temple.  Through a lot of difficulty, danger and delay, the Temple was finally rebuilt along with the wall around Jerusalem.  There were divisions among the people.  They had different opinions about how things should be done.


Ezra 3:12  But many of the kohanim, Levites and patriarchal leaders, older men who had seen the former House, wept loudly at the sight of the founding of this House, while many shouted for joy.


It was the glass half full or the glass half empty conundrum.  Some Levites wept at past glories lost and others rejoiced that there was still a foundation and a place to start the rebuilding.


I’ll mention just in passing another odd parallel between the Exodus from Egypt and the return to Israel from Babylon.  Only about 20% of all the Hebrew people in Egypt left to go to the promised land.  And only about 20% of all the Jews left the lives they had carved out for themselves in the land of Babylon. In fact, Nehemiah 3:12 says that “Shallum son of Hallohesh, the ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, and his daughters repaired the next section.” I think it would be wise for us to acknowledge and honor the efforts of ADONAI’s daughters, who rise up to the occasion and readily accept the labor intensive efforts that are required to build the Temple. We could not move forward as a congregation were it not for the significant contributions of our ladies here at Tree of Life. It is clearly significant to ADONAI also, as it was recorded in scripture that certain women worked side by side with the men, in dangerous circumstances, to do God’s work.


I think though that one of the most important things that B’nei Israel did in the building of the walls and the Temple was what happened at the rededication of the Temple. Let’s read together some more excerpts from Nehemiah.


Nehemiah 9:5 5The Levites… said: “Stand up! Bless Adonai your God, from everlasting to everlasting! May Your glorious Name be blessed; may it be exalted above all blessing and praise…


Nehemiah 9:7 7“You are Adonai, the God who chose… Abraham… and made the covenant with him to give the land… to his seed. You have fulfilled Your words, for You are righteous… 13“You descended on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven. You gave them just judgments, reliable laws, and good statutes and mitzvot. 14You made known to them Your holy Shabbat and ordained for them mitzvot, statutes and Torah by the hand of Your servant Moses…


Nehemiah 9:16 16“But they, our ancestors, became arrogant. They stiffened their neck and did not obey Your mitzvot.


Nehemiah 13:1  On that day, the scroll of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people.


As they were trying to get back to a normal, pre-exilic existence, Israel began the right way.


  1. They stood up together as a unified body.
  2. They worshipped ADONAI together
  3. They remembered the covenants together
  4. They confessed their sin together
  5. And then they read the Law of Moses out loud to the people. They redirected the people to God’s standard of holiness.


Today we are also beginning again. The world would have us believe that we are “Stronger Together” and use it as a campaign for wearing protective masks and following the same handwashing hygiene protocols that ADONAI prescribed for B’nei Israel thousands of years ago.  I don’t know why we went through all of this.  Perhaps We have been exiled for 6 months due to the actions of misguided government officials and aided by a corrupt media.  In some parts of the country, their local governments are suing congregations and fining them $5,000 per day because they to the courageous stand to meet together to worship God.  Fortunately, we don’t have those kinds of extremes here in Texas.  So instead of wailing and crying about the government abuses, let’s be like those that rejoiced that at least the Temple foundations still stood.  We have our beautiful facility back and we can once again gather to worship God.


So here we are.  Now what?  We are one week away from the High Holy Days.  Next week we will all gather back here with our shofarot and we will celebrate Rosh Hashanah.  This is a perfect opportunity to reassess our lives and our relationship to our Creator. How can we best “Get back God’s Normal?”




Instead of having someone read God’s word to us, we all have Bibles available to us.  I encourage each of you to make a concerted effort to get into the Word, study it, meditate on it and follow it.  It is our roadmap.  It is what keeps us on the right path.


For our part at Tree of Life, we will continue to teach directly from God’s word and not from the latest thing that is trending on social media.  If you want to get a head start on what I will be teaching each week, look up what Parsha is for that week. A great resource for the weekly portion is the website at First Fruits of Zion.  You can see their website up there on the screen.  Unless I get a special direction from the Lord, I will be teaching somewhere in the Parsha.




David said in Psalms 119:11

Psalms 119:11  I have treasured Your word in my heart, so I might not sin against You.


David used an analogy of eating God’s word, taking it into your body so that it becomes part of you.


Psalms 34:9  Taste and see how good Adonai is. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.




Finally, don’t be the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea is dead because it doesn’t have an outlet.  The Jordan river and other streams flow into it but nothing comes out.  One of the requirements for a mikveh is that it must be living water, not stagnated water that doesn’t flow.  It’s the same with our lives as Believers.  We can take in all the teaching and preaching, but if we don’t do something with it, then what good is it.  One of the last things Yeshua said to his disciples did not include sitting on a bench doing nothing.


Matthew 28:19-20  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh,  (20)  teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”


Some will ask why did all this COVID stuff happen.  I’m not going to go into global geopolitics and economies and all that stuff.  But I have been thinking on something that Moses said.


Deuteronomy 8:15-16  He led you through the great and terrible wilderness—fiery serpents and scorpions, and thirsty ground where there was no water. He brought forth water for you from the flinty rock.  (16)  He fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, in order to afflict you and test you, to do you good in the end.


I don’t know why, but I do know that it is all for our good in the end.  Let’s pick up, and go forward in the Lord’s grace and strength, letting the world know that greater is He that is in me and he that is in the world.


STAND with me, and let’s pray TOGETHER:


Father, we acknowledge together, as a unified body of Believers, that You are Almighty, the maker of the heavens and earth, the King of the Universe. Teach us how to worship You in the way that You deserve, instead of with vapid empty praise. We remember Your covenant with Abraham, that all the earth would be blessed through the promised Messiah. We remember Your covenant with Moses, that if we listen AND obey Your commandments, You would be faithful to hear our prayers. We confess our sin, and our need for Yeshua HaMashiach, our promised Messiah, and His sacrifice by which we are reconciled to You. And we ask that You create in us the craving to consume Your Living Word, that Your Word would be the guiding light within us, that leads us during this season and those times yet to come…


20200606 Parsha Naso – Trust


Torah Portion Numbers 4:21-7:89
Haftarah Judges 13:2-25
Brit Chadashah John 8:3-11

Our Torah Portion this week is Naso. It is not a recipe for a Japanese soup but means “take” as in take a census. The last couple of Parashot have included instructions for taking a census of the Israelites for various reasons. There was the one for military eligibility that didn’t include the Levites and then there was one for the Levites. In this Parsha Moses is directed to take a census of the Levites between 30 and 50. These would be the men who would be involved in active service in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.

Parsha Naso is the largest of all the Parashot at 176 verses. It is in my opinion, one of the strangest due to one particular instruction. We see this one in Numbers 5:11-31. It is the instruction about what to do when a wife is unfaithful, or if her husband suspects her of being unfaithful. It is a very curious ritual in which a man who suspects his wife of committing adultery (and there are no witnesses) brings his wife to the Kohayn. The minutia of this ritual is spelled out in the Torah itself, as well as Sifrei Bamidbar. Not only that, but an entire tractate of Talmud is dedicated to this curious ritual, Tractate Sotah.

Torah gives us a very specific situation. A man believes his wife has committed adultery, and she denies it. There are no witnesses. So a “spirit of jealousy” comes upon the man so that he brings his wife to the Kohen to enact this ritual. The ending of the ritual is that she drinks the “bitter waters”, and if she has committed adultery, she becomes sick and dies. If she has not committed adultery, she is fine.

Sifrei explains that the water she is forced to drink does not actually taste bitter. Rather, it embitters her body so that she becomes sick and dies. The Halacha of the ritual is spelled out and can be easily found. But the reasons for the ritual itself is why Torah imparts to us the Sotah ritual.

Realistically, if the ritual of the Sotah is ever invoked by a man, that marriage is over. Either the woman has committed adultery, in which case she’s going to die drinking the bitter water, or the woman has not committed adultery and her husband has wrongly suspected her, to the point where he would force her to go through the ritual of Sotah. Either way, the marriage is over. So, truly, the ritual of the Sotah is designed to never be invoked.

Why would a ritual appear in the Torah if it is designed to never be invoked? The answer lies in discovering the trap of “the spirit of jealousy”. This is a destructive force which Torah makes us confront. In the situation of the Sotah, the jealousy has gotten so out of control that the husband wishes to punish his wife with death, not by an impromptu active passion, but by a premeditated calculating method. To get to the point of wishing to invoke the Sotah, the husband must be completely consumed with rage and hate. If the husband was willing to forgive his wife, he would never bring her to the Kohen for the ritual of Sotah.

If the wife has not committed adultery, she is trapped. Her husband does not believe her, and is so filled with jealousy and rage that he wants to see her die. If she goes through the ritual of Sotah and survives the bitter water, then what? Will the husband’s rage dissipate? It seems unlikely. If she has committed adultery, and she confesses to her husband, is he going to forgive her? This too seems unlikely.

So the real lesson Torah is teaching in the ritual of Sotah is about the husband’s jealous rage. The husband needs counseling. He is out of control. He needs to be reminded about his love for his wife. If he cannot conquer his own jealousy, he will ultimately destroy himself. It is the Kohen’s duty to talk the husband out of invoking the ritual of Sotah by pointing out that in the end nothing good can come of it. If he cannot overcome his own jealous rage, he should give his wife a Get and divorce her. If he can conquer himself, perhaps he can forgive her if she has committed adultery, or reconcile with her if she has not. Therefore, the key is in the husband conquering himself.

But there is another aspect to this that is important too. It is called trust. In the above Biblical illustration, there is definitely a breakdown in trust or perhaps a breakdown in faithfulness. The result of the husband not trusting his wife was the horrible humiliation of the Sotah. But there is also the possibility of the lack of faithfulness on the part of the wife. Either way a relationship was probably irrevocably severed. Never again could there be a marriage of two people sharing life together in peace.

There is an application that we can draw from the Sotah. It takes faithfulness, trust, and forgiveness for a relationship to work. I am not speaking exclusively about the marriage relationship. I am speaking about any kind of situation where there are two or more people engaged in activities that involve commitment to each other. That could be a work related environment, a sports team, a school homework project, or even a committee in the synagogue trying to develop a children’s education program. Basically, any serious social engagement could benefit from studying the Sotah.

Let’s assume the marriage started off happily with a man and woman in love with each other and looking forward to a long life together. But somewhere on this path of marital bliss they run off the road. Something happens and pride, emotions, stubbornness, anger, jealousy, you name it hits them from both sides. Instead of putting on the brakes and slowing down, they accelerate off the cliff. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Is your marriage going to be perfect with never an argument or harsh word? Probably not. How about those work groups that we all have suffered though? Is your family like Leave it to Beaver, or more like Dallas? Who shot JR anyway? No we all live in the real world and the real world is imperfect. My dad had a saying, It may not be right, but that’s life, so you have to do the right thing.

Let’s look at Yeshua doing the right thing.

John 8:3-11
(3) The Torah scholars and Pharisees bring in a woman who had been caught in adultery. After putting her in the middle,
(4) they say to Yeshua, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of committing adultery.
(5) In the Torah, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?”
(6) Now they were saying this to trap Him, so that they would have grounds to accuse Him. But Yeshua knelt down and started writing in the dirt with His finger.
(7) When they kept asking Him, He stood up and said, “The sinless one among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
(8) Then He knelt down again and continued writing on the ground.
(9) Now when they heard, they began to leave, one by one, the oldest ones first, until Yeshua was left alone with the woman in the middle.
(10) Straightening up, Yeshua said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”
(11) “No one, Sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Yeshua said. “Go, and sin no more.”

When Yeshua was confronted with the woman caught in adultery He realized this was a trap set for him by the religious leaders. According to the Law she should be stoned, but so should her paramour. But he was nowhere to be found. Witnesses were not named. A capital crime had to have at least two witnesses. There were a lot of things wrong with this confrontation.

But Yeshua just bent down and started writing in the dust. We don’t know what he wrote. Maybe names of the accusers and some of their hidden sins. We don’t know. But finally, Yeshua seems to agree with the religious leaders and says for the sinless ones to cast the first stone. Each of the accusers left without a further word.

There are some in today’s world that would condemn the woman and berate her in front of the crowd so as to humiliate her or perhaps contrast her lifestyle with their own. But Yeshua didn’t do that. He asked her where are your accusers, those who would condemn you. She replied that they were all gone.

Yeshua then said, I don’t condemn you. He certainly didn’t condone her conduct. I’m sure he knew all the circumstances surrounding her behavior. But He told her not to sin any more. Stop that conduct, that lifestyle and change.

What a contrast to the religious leaders. They were exercising the adrenaline rush of the power to condemn. Yeshua was exercising the power to forgive. Yeshua was the model here for what we read in Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua..

We are not told what became of the woman. After this public humiliation in the Temple complex her life would have been a disaster. Divorce if she was married, social shunning if she was not.

However, through the love and example of Yeshua, she had hope. She was perhaps at the end of the rope, but not the end of her hope.

There is always a place of forgiveness at the feet of Yeshua. No matter what we have done, we can come to Him for forgiveness and a new start.

2 Corinthians 5:17
(17) Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past, there is forgiveness, hope and a future in Yeshua.

Be Holy

20200418 Parsha Sh’mini Be Holy

The Parsha this week is Sh’mini which means the eighth as in the eighth day and describes the culmination of the consecration of Aaron and his sons. The account is very detailed regarding the offerings. The remainder of the Parsha has two major stories that really don’t seem related, but perhaps they are.

Chapter 10 tells the story of Aaron’s two oldest sons who took it upon themselves to offer sacrifices in an unauthorized manor. Their punishment was swift and final. Fire came from heaven and killed them both. They did not regard the instructions of Adonai.

Chapter 11 gives us a description of the kinds of animals that we are permitted to eat. Most of us follow the rules laid down in Chapter 11 to a certain degree. Some are very careful to follow God’s instructions to a Tee while others are more relaxed.

This morning I want to bring your attention to verses 44 and 45.

Leviticus 11:44-45 “For I am Adonai your God. Therefore, sanctify yourselves, and be holy, for I am holy. You are not to defile yourselves with any kind of creeping thing that moves on the earth. (45) For I am Adonai who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. Therefore, you should be holy, for I am holy.

We are coming out of a very strange period in the life of the United States. There has never been a national shutdown order. There really wasn’t a national shutdown order in this case, but the effect was still the same. Millions of Americans shuttered at home, suddenly found themselves out of job with no means of supporting their families. Tragically, the invisible monster originating from China called Covid-19 has infected millions around the world and as of this writing, almost 150,000 lives have been lost.

As a result of this virus we have been asked, and in some states, ordered to stay home except to go to work if you still have a job, or to buy groceries. We have been separated from much of what was considered normal American life.

We have been separated, set apart. How does that apply to our text?

Most of you know that I have taught for a long time about holiness and what it means. For those of you who are new, I used to think God was being cruel and unfair when he told us to be holy, because He was holy. The Holiness of God was too far above me, it was unattainable. How could I ever achieve such a level of righteousness so as to be like God?

Baruch Hashem, I have learned that when Adonai says we can be holy like He is holy, it doesn’t mean we have to be totally sinless. It means to be separated out from the world and its ways.
For the last few weeks, we have been separated out away from jobs, friends, family, activities that we enjoy. So, as some of the restrictions of our personal liberties are slowly being restored in the next few weeks I was wondering if there could be a holy purpose in all that has occurred with this Chinese virus?

What are some of the things we have lost?
1. Loved ones have died. This is the main thing we have lost.
2. 1 in 4 Americans have lost the jobs or had wages cut.
3. Many are in danger of losing their homes or vehicles.

But are there some things that we have gained or benefited from during this crisis?
1. Some of us have gained weight, but we are not going there this morning.
2. We have gained a greater appreciation for the teachers of our nation that sacrifice so much to teach our children.
3. Hopefully, we have used this down time to get reacquainted with our spouses, parents, children and others we hold dear.
4. I have seen people stepping out of their comfort zone to help other people.
5. Industries have re-tooled to provide masks, respirators and other needed medical supplies.
6. We have learned that Hollywood and sports are not essential. But healthcare workers, truckers, farmers, and the guys that re-stock the grocery shelves, they are essential.

What about in your own personal lives? This is not exactly the easiest format for discussion, but you can comment and we can see how others may have been blessed through this shutdown. Of course, it won’t be private, but perhaps there is something you might want to share.

For me, this has been a learning experience.

1. I hope I have become more sensitive to the hurts of others around me.
2. I have been blessed with good friends who will take the time to rebuke me in love when I am wrong.
3. Trusting God to meet needs can be a challenge in times like this.
4. Our ministry outreach online has more than tripled.

We are not out of the woods yet and perhaps we will have a few more weeks before we get back to some semblance of normality. But I thought that this might be a great opportunity for each one of us to reach out to someone who might need an encouraging word. While I fuss about technology, it has great potential and it makes reaching out to others very easy. So, turn off Netflix, put down the remote, and call or write to your brother or sister, aunts or uncles, maybe you are estranged from someone. Now would be a great time to let them know you care about them.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with someone on my mind. That’s an opportunity to pray for that person. They might need the prayer and I certainly could benefit from the practice.

Make this time of separation a time of Holy Separation. Let people you know and love that you care about them. You could even call someone you don’t particularly like and tell them God loves them. I promise, you will be blessed.

And when we do come out of this and we return to work, school, or wherever, be kind. You don’t know what all people went through during this time.

Ask yourself, when we see the Chinese Virus in the rear view mirror, am I a bitter person or am I a better person? Am I closer to friends and family or have I closed them out?

The governor of New York said this week “we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that.” He obviously does not know that God that I know. The one that can heal and restore during these times of isolation.

A few years ago the US Army had a recruiting slogan “Be all you can be”.

In our text it says to “be holy”. That verb “be” or “to be” is powerful. If you look it up in your webster dictionary, the definitions ramble on for a couple of pages. A couple of things struck me. “To be” can mean to exist, or equality, so when God says to be holy like He is holy, tells me there is equality. I can be separated out to and for God. And, I can have right standing before God because He had a son who really did exist and because of the sacrificial death of Yeshua we actually can BE holy.

Sacrifices of Praise



Our Torah Portion this morning is from the first five chapters of the book of Leviticus. It is called Vayikra or “He called”. In fact, the name of the book of Leviticus in Hebrew is Vayikra. It is sometimes referred to as the Torah of the Kohanim. You could say it was the instruction text for the priests because Leviticus largely is about how to conduct the sacrificial system and the form of worship that God was setting up for the Israelites.

Parashat Vayikra specifically outlines the types of sacrifices that are required at what time and for what purpose with what kind of animal or produce.

TEXT: Heb. 13:15-16; Rom. 12:1-2
INTRO: Mention the word “Worship” to someone and see how they respond! To most people the idea of “Worship” is something that happens on a Saturday or Sunday morning in a building somewhere called a Synagogue or Church. For some, the conditions have to be just perfect in order for them to worship…too often people don’t enjoy worship unless things are just right, thus we are good at finding all kinds of reasons to avoid coming to synagogue or church…imagine the world acting like this!

ILLUS: What if we gave up sports: football in the fall, baseball in the summer, basketball in the winter, based on the following 12 excuses:

1. Every time I went, they asked for money.
2. The people I sat next to didn’t seem friendly.
3. The seats were too hard and not comfortable at all.
4. The air conditioning is always too hot or too cold.
5. I went to many games but the coach never came to call on me.
6. The referees made decisions that I couldn’t agree with.
7. The game went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played songs I’d never heard before and it wasn’t my style of music.
9. It seems the games are always scheduled when I want to do other things.
10. I suspect that I was sitting next to some hypocrites. They came to see their friends and they talked during the whole game.
11. I was taken to too many games by my parents when I was growing up.
12. I hate to wait in the traffic jam in the parking lot after the game.

Worship and praise are not something that comes just from the right conditions
around us, it comes from the heart and from our life….we are always worshipping…it is not just what happens on Saturday or Sunday morning!

The Bible will teach us that both our LIPS and our LIFE should be offering up praise to God continuously.

I. PRAISE FROM OUR LIPS! Heb. 13:15; Rom. 12:2
A. A New Communication Heb. 13:15

1. Notice in the text the link that makes this new communication possible:
“Through Yeshua…..”
a. Praise and worship is possible before coming to faith in Yeshua. We see it in thousands of synagogues throughout the world every day as they read from their siddurim. But praise and worship is enhanced because we have Yeshua!
b. Praise is not just something we do, it is what we are and who we are
connected to….connected to the Messiah makes praise even more possible!

2. Notice here also the sense of praise being “continual”!
a. It is not just at the synagogue where praise from our lips is supposed to happen!
b. The reason it is called a “sacrifice of praise” is because it won’t always
be convenient or when we simply feel like it!
c. There is a real sense here that how we communicate all the time is a
part of worship, every word from our lips should be “praise” in some
form or fashion to God reflecting Yeshua in our lives.
3. Our lips should confess praise and gratitude at all times reflecting Yeshua’s
reality in our lives!

ILLUS: Alexander Whyte, the Scottish preacher, always began his prayers with an expression of gratitude. One cold, miserable day his people wondered what he would say. He prayed, “We thank Thee, O Lord, that it is not always like this.”

4. It is our language at home, work, and shul that is in view in the passage, that our lips are offering up to God ’CONTINUALLY’ a sacrifice of praise!

a. How should this impact that way we talk about others?
b. How should this impact that jokes we tell co-workers on the job?
c. How should this impact our speech around home and family?
d. As well as how we enter into the service at Tree of Life!

5. Too often it is far easier to express praise in a worship service than it is in
day to day routines…yet the sense of “continuously” and “sacrifice” here indicates the daily routine as well as the Worship service.

B. A New Communion

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

1. It is clear that what we say comes from how we think…hence how this passage fits well with the “fruit of lips” issue in Heb. 13:15!

a. We speak how we think!

Luke 6:45 “Out of the good treasure of his heart the good man brings forth good, and out of evil the evil man brings forth evil. For from the overflow of the heart his mouth speaks.”

b. If we are to offer up a sacrifice of praise as the “fruit of our lips” on a
ongoing basis, it will have to spring from the way we think in our hearts
and minds!

2. Paul writes here to express the importance of “conformity”….but to be
cautious not to conform any longer to the thinking of this world!

a. The world has little concern for worship and praise of God…and if we
allow the world’s influence to infiltrate our entire thinking processes we
will find our sense of worship distorted as well!
b. The world puts little value on verbal expressions to God…it is a low priority if one at all!
c. We must be careful that the emphasis of the world does not become ours!
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any virtue and if there is anything worthy of praise—dwell on these things. (9) What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—put these things into practice, and the God of shalom will be with you.

ILLUS: Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play and to play at their worship. As a result, their meanings and values are distorted. Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.

3. The problem for many Believers today is that we have too compartmentalized our lives into chunks… we think of worship as only this “chunk” of time spent in Synagogue on Shabbat morning, and don’t see how worship is a part of the rest of our week or our activities!
a. We should develop a “worship” mentality in everything!
b. We would be completely different as people if we really had a “KINGDOM OF GOD” mentality over everything in our daily lives and not just when we are in a synagogue!

4. In the strictest sense…everything we do is a part of worshiping God, and all our daily mundane things in life are a part of that expression!
a. Think about how the emphasis in our lives would be changed if we really thought this way?
b. Everything we say and everything we do tests and approves the will of
God … hopefully our lips and our actions will show “His good, pleasing
and perfect will!”

5. The idea here is to have our minds transformed by God’s Word so that we
are no longer conformed to this world and its way of thinking
a. The Greek word translated here “transform” is “metamorpho” from which we get our English word “metamorphosis” from. The idea is that we change from the way the world thinks to the way God thinks, a process of becoming something new and different!
b. This is no doubt a process…worship always is!
c. The renewing of our minds will enable us to think very different from
this world, and by thinking different we will speak different!
d. This will enable us to have the fruit of our lips worship God continuously!


Hebrews 13:16 Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Romans 12:1 I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy, acceptable to God—which is your spiritual service.

A. A New Compassion Heb. 13:16

1. As soon as the writer of Hebrews talks about the “fruit of lips” as a sacrifice of praise he moves to his next thought tying this together with “do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
a. The “fruit of lips” results in the “fruit of living” & vice versa!
b. What we SPEAK we tend to SHOW! (remember in school “SHOW & TELL”) and what we SHOW we tend to SPEAK!

2. What we do as good to others is also a part of our worship of God, it will bear fruit at some point in our lives as well as theirs!

ILLUS: Many years ago two young men were working their way through Stanford University. At one point their money was almost gone, so they decided to engage the great pianist Paderewski for a concert and use the profits for board and tuition. Paderewski’s manager asked for a guarantee of $2,000. The students worked hard to promote the concert, but they came up $400 short. After the performance, they went to the musician, gave him all the money they had raised, and promised to pay the $400 as soon as they could. It appeared that their college days were over. “No, boys, that won’t do,” said the pianist. “take out of this $1,600 all your expenses, and keep for each of you 10 percent of the balance for your work. Let me have the rest.”

Years passed. Paderewski became premier of Poland following World War I. Thousands of his countrymen were starving. Only one man could help, the head of the U.S. Food and Relief Bureau. Paderewski’s appeal to him brought thousands of tons of food. Later he met the American statesman to thank him. “That’s all right,” replied Herbert Hoover. “Besides, you don’t remember, but you helped me once when I was a student in college.”

3. The world does not just look at what we “say” but also what we “do” in determining what kind of “worshiper” we are!
a. The world will rarely criticize our worship style if they know our lifestyle is also godly!
b. We show people what a “sacrifice of praise” is not just by the way we verbally worship on Saturday mornings, but how we live throughout the rest of the week.

4. God is pleased with our “sacrifices of praise” when they come from both our LIPS and our LIVES!
a. The idea from God’s standpoint is that our LIPS match our LIVES!
b. Since this “sacrifice of praise” is supposed to be “continuous” it is supposed to be a constant flow from both our lips in a “worship” service, and from our lives in “willful” service!

B. A New Commitment

Romans 12:1 I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy, acceptable to God—which is your spiritual service.

1. Here Paul picks up this very theme…
a. to worship means to give up more than a couple of hours on Shabbat morning to offer worship as LIP SERVICE, it means to offer up our own bodies as a LIVING SACRIFICE!
b. To offer up our bodies as a “living sacrifice” is “pleasing” to God!
c. The only problem with a “living sacrifice” is that it has a tendency to
“crawl off the altar when the fire gets hot under it!”
2. This really means that God should get the best of us!
a. For too many Believers, our faith is like a weekend thing you do, and so it is treated like “going to the movies” or going somewhere else, it doesn’t have the commitment of the best from us all the time.
b. Only western belief system has this concept of compartmentalizing our relationship to God….many other religions see their commitment to their gods as all embracing, their gods always get their best, not their leftover time and resources!

ILLUS: A missionary tells of a woman in India holding in her arms a weak, whining infant, while at her side stood a beautiful, healthy child. The man of God saw her walk to the banks of the Ganges River and throw the robust youngster to the crocodiles as an offering, and then turn toward home again still clutching the sickly child to her bosom. Tears were running down her cheeks when he stopped to question her concerning her shocking actions; however, she proudly replied in defense of her conduct, “O sir, we always give our gods the best!”
c. Can we say that God gets our very best, or just whatever we have leftover in time, resources, and priorities?

3. It is always too easy to see a sacrifice as something we give, or even something we do, but we need to see the sacrifice as OURSELVES!… a
living one!

4. Paul says that such a living sacrifice in view of God’s mercy is a “SPIRITUAL ACT OF WORSHIP”!
a. The word “spiritual” here in Greek is “LOGIKOS” from where we get our word “LOGICAL” from!
b. In view of God’s mercy it is only LOGICAL that we offer up our bodies as a living sacrifice for God to use!
c. This is both “reasonable” (KJV) and “logical”!
d. Why would God want just the worship of our lips without the worship from our lives?
5. If we are to offer up “sacrifices of praise” we must be willing to offer up our lives as living sacrifices, this will then include what comes from our lips!
a. When done out of love, this sacrifice will not be viewed as a LOSS, but as GAIN!

ILLUS: It is told that in the First World War there was a young French soldier who was seriously wounded. His arm was so badly smashed that it had to be amputated. He was a magnificent specimen of young manhood, and the surgeon was grieved that he must go through life maimed. So he waited beside his bedside to tell him the bad news when he recovered consciousness. When the lad’s eyes opened, the surgeon said to him: “I am sorry to tell you that you have lost your arm.” “Sir,” said the lad, “I did not lose it; I gave it — for France.”

William Barclay, in his commentary on the Gospel of John said “Yeshua was not helplessly caught up in a mesh of circumstances from which he could not break free. Apart from any divine power he might have called in, it is quite clear that to the end he could have turned back and saved his life. He did not lose his life; he gave it. The Cross was not thrust upon him; he willingly accepted it — for us.”

b. too often we think of “sacrifice” as a painful loss, but in reality it is a joyous thing… “holy and pleasing to God” …
c. to God, the content of our worship is wrapped up in the character of the
6. The real life of “worship” then is both what comes from our “LIPS” and from our “LIVES” !
a. So did you come this morning “to worship” or as “a worshiper” ?
b. Are you “continuously offering up to God a sacrifice of praise” or just when you are in the “service” ?
c. Are both your LIPS and your LIFE engaged in praising God?


CONCLUSION: The concept of “praising God” is far more reaching than just what happens on a Shabbat morning worship service! It is also far more reaching than a song of praise or two! The crowds on Palm Sunday were quick to praise Yeshua with their lips, but not with their lives! Praise is a lifestyle of glorifying our Messiah and not just lips that gush “Glory to God in the highest”! Did you come TO worship, or did you come AS a worshiper!? Let us offer up sacrifices of praise through our lips and our lives!

The Finger of God

20200314 Parsha Ki Tisa – The Finger of God


The Parsha this week begins with a census where all the men over 20 were counted and taxed one half shekel as atonement for their souls. There are further instructions regarding the Mishkan and its furnishings.

Chapter 31 relates the commissioning of Oholiab and Bezalel who were to be in charge of everything concerning the construction of the Mishkan. The chapter conclude with Moses coming down off Mount Sinai with two tablets of stone. Verse 18 says that the tablets of stone were written by the finger of God.

Chapter 32 tells the story of the Golden calf, an extraordinary episode of failure. First, on the part of Aaron for his lack of leadership. And second, on the part of some of the Israelites who abandoned their moral compass to follow their baser instincts which devolved into idol worship and debauchery. Punishment quickly follows with the elimination of those who led and participated in this sad escapade.

Moses intervened to avoid the destruction of the entire nation of Israel. Even though they sinned greatly, God did not abandon His people Israel.

Israel was told to leave the region of Sinai. They had been there a year. It was time to move on. Moses was instructed to carve out new stone tablets upon which he, Moses wrote down the Ten Commandments. God renewed His covenant with Israel and declared their future victory in Canaan.

The Parsha ends with Moses coming down off the mountain after a miraculous time of fasting of both food and water for 40 days. His close encounter with God was evident, in that his face literally glowed so that he had to wear a veil over his face.

This morning, I want to jump back up to Chapter 31

Exodus 31:18 When He had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave the two tablets of the Testimony to Moses—tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

The tablets of the Testimony were what we call the Ten Commandments or the Ten Words. Contrary to today’s interpretation, these were the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions.

What I would like to focus on is that these were written “by the finger of God”. His instructions to His people were so important that God felt that He, personally, should write them.

There are several other places in the Bible that speak of the finger of God, but this morning I want to discuss only three aspects of what is the finger of God.
I. The Finger of God – His Instruction

God is not the author of confusion. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:33 for God is not a God of confusion, but shalom.

He does not like chaos. He spoke into existence a world of order, where even the smallest particles, smaller than atoms behave in a predictable pattern. Ocean shores are generally fairly constant. We don’t have the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston beach one day and on 29th street in Lubbock the next only to retreat a hundred miles southeast of Corpus Christi. In a macro sense, the earth and all of God creation is neat and orderly. I know the sun will shine tomorrow and I can predict the next blood moon. God is a God of order.

For that reason, He gave us His instructions called Torah, so that we may know what His standard of holiness is. We know what He considers sin. Torah is an act of grace, because we are not judged by some nebulous concept that changes with the seasons. His word is constant, just as He is. We can know how we should act because God wrote it down for in with His own finger.

II. The Finger of God – Judgment

Another time we see directly the hand of God operating directly is found in the Book of Daniel. The grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar had ascended to the throne of Babylon and was hosting a party. He had ordered golden vessels stolen from the Temple to be brought so his guests could toast their gods and goddesses. In the middle of all the revelry a hand appeared.

Daniel 5:5 At that very moment, the fingers of a human hand emerged and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace opposite the lampstand, so that the king could see the back of the hand that was writing.

This passage does not say that it was the hand of God, but Belshazzar certainly reacted as if it was something terrifying. His legs gave out on him and he couldn’t stand.

Daniel was summoned and in his interpretation, he said that what Belshazzar saw was the hand of God.

Daniel 5:22-24 “But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this. (23) Instead you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven. You had the vessels of His House brought before you, and you and your nobles, your consorts and your concubines have been drinking wine in them. You have praised the gods made of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. Yet you did not honor the God who holds in His hand your very breath and all your ways. (24) Therefore, the hand was sent from Him that wrote this inscription.

In this case the hand or finger of God was sent in judgment. We know that Belshazzar was killed that very night and his kingdom conquered by the Medes and Persians. This was an extraordinary display of God’s judgment. It is not seen very often but is devastating in its depth of destruction. If we look back at Exodus Chapter 8 when God sent lice to inflict Egypt, the Egyptian magicians marveled at the plague and acknowledged that it was the finger of God. It was something they could not create, augment or mitigate.

Some prognosticators and commentators are expressing the belief that this Coronavirus is some kind of judgment of mankind or it’s a sign of the end times. I don’t know if it is or not, but I believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a healing God who can protect His people from this virus.

To see a third time God’s finger in man’s affairs we have to go forward 500 years.

III. The Finger of God – His Mercy

John 8:2-11 At dawn, He came again into the Temple. All the people were coming to Him, and He sat down and began to teach them. (3) The Torah scholars and Pharisees bring in a woman who had been caught in adultery. After putting her in the middle, (4) they say to Yeshua, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of committing adultery. (5) In the Torah, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” (6) Now they were saying this to trap Him, so that they would have grounds to accuse Him. But Yeshua knelt down and started writing in the dirt with His finger. (7) When they kept asking Him, He stood up and said, “The sinless one among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (8) Then He knelt down again and continued writing on the ground. (9) Now when they heard, they began to leave, one by one, the oldest ones first, until Yeshua was left alone with the woman in the middle. (10) Straightening up, Yeshua said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” (11) “No one, Sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Yeshua said. “Go, and sin no more.”

A group of religious leaders opposed to the message and person of Yeshua attempted to set a theological trap for him. They brought to him a woman caught in the very act of adultery. They rightfully said that the penalty for adultery was death by stoning, but they didn’t get all of the elements of the trial correct. They didn’t bring the partner to her sin to Yeshua as was required by Torah. They didn’t hold a proper trial before the Beit Din. They wanted to see if Yeshua would say something that would contradict the law.

Instead, Yeshua, the Son of God bent down and with his finger started to write in the dust. We don’t know what he wrote. Was he writing out the law that addressed this situation, or as some have suggested, did he write the names of the woman’s accusers in one column and the sin of that accuser in another column? We can only speculate, but when Yeshua rose up he said, let him who is without sin cast the first stone. The law required the accuser to throw the first stone. But Yeshua turned it around on his antagonists. How could any of them cast the first stone? They would have had to declare that they had never sinned and that would be blaspheme. Perhaps they saw their name in the dust and horrified and shamed before their colleagues who could now see their own sins. We don’t know.

But we saw here the hand of God through Yeshua create the framework for mercy.

In the three examples I’ve given you this morning we saw God’s hand instructing us. His word is there for all to see if we would just follow it. The choice is ours. We can meet the finger of God in judgment telling us to depart I never knew you. Or we can see the finger of God beckoning to us.

Matthew 11:28-30 Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (29) Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and ‘you will find rest for your souls.’ (30) For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Are you burdened this morning? Does it feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulder? God’s hand of mercy is extended to you. He is inviting you to give Him your hurts, your fears, your failures. He will give you rest.

Worship Without Walls

20200201 Parsha Bo – Worship without Walls

The Parsha today is one of the most important we have to study. It sets up the Passover and describes the events that led up to Israel’s freedom. At the end of the Parsha we see a stark contrast. The firstborn of Egypt were killed but the firstborn of Israel were set apart and dedicated to Hashem.

“Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, from every womb of Bnei-Yisrael, both men and animals—this is Mine.”

Many of you know the significance of being the firstborn in the ancient middle eastern culture. It was a big deal. The first born received a double portion of inheritance as well as other benefits. Rather than stay in the Exodus story, I’m going to jump ahead a few hundred years to the book of Micah.

With what shall I come before Adonai? With what shall I bow myself before God on high? Shall I present Him with burnt offerings, with year-old calves? (7) Will Adonai be pleased with thousands of rams, with hordes of rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my belly for the sin of my soul? (8) He has told you, humanity, what is good, and what Adonai is seeking from you: Only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
What would you do in this situation?

Mike Breaux, the pastor of the Heartland Community Church in Rockford, Illinois tells the story of a man and his wife who go to a restaurant that features steak and a salad bar. As they dine, a girl comes out with a 5-gallon bucket of Thousand Island dressing to fill up the salad bar. But she catches her heel and launches the 5-gallon container of dressing all over this one guy. He’s got Thousand Island dressing from the top of his head to the bottom of his shoes; dripping off his forehead, off his chin, on the lapels of his suit, all over his tie, all over his pants, all over his shoes. He is a mess. Now if you were the one covered by Thousand Island dressing, what would you do? How would you respond?

This guy, he goes ballistic. He starts calling this poor girl every name a marine drill sergeant ever used. And he says, “I can’t believe just how stupid you are. Look at this! This is the first chance I’ve had to wear this suit. It cost me $350 and you have completely ruined it.” She’s going, “Sir…” and she’s trying to clean up. “Get away from me! You caused enough damage already.” His wife chimes in. “That’s right. It’s a $350 suit…blah … blah … blah.”

Everybody in the whole restaurant is watching, and he demands, “I want to see the manager.” The manager comes out and says, “Is there a problem?” “Yes there’s a problem. This stupid girl has ruined my suit. It’s the first chance I’ve had to wear it. It costs $350.”

“Sir, we’ll clean your suit for you. No problem. We’ll take care of that.” The guy says, “I don’t want my suit cleaned. I want a new suit. It’s completely ruined. I want a new suit. I want a check right now for $350.” The manager disappeared, and the guy with him. I imagine he wrote him a check and justice was served.

Now the interesting part of this story is that this happened on a Sunday afternoon. So why in the world would a guy be in a suit on a Sunday afternoon? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe he just came from hearing a great sermon on loving your neighbor as yourself or about turning the other cheek. People who work in food service will tell you that the very worst people to wait on are the people who just got out of church on a Sunday morning. Don’t believe it, just ask Cynthia. That’s tragic, because, friends, we’re called to worship not only inside the walls of a church or synagogue, but to worship without walls.

We’re called to worship in restaurants. We are called to worship at the ball field. We are called to worship at the golf course. We’re called to worship in the classroom. We’re called to worship in the office cubicle. But how do you worship without walls? And what does God expect of such a life of worship outside of Sunday morning? Micah explains 3 requirements of Worship without Walls.

Micah says in Micah 6:8 He has told you, humanity, what is good, and what Adonai is seeking from you: Only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah shares 3 requirements that are easy to memorize. Repeat them with me,
1. To act justly and
2. To love mercy and
3. To walk humbly with your God.”

Today let’s take a closer look at those 3 requirements and how God calls us to live them out in worship without walls.

Slide: “To act justly
REQUIREMENT 1: “To act justly”: Live by God’s standards. I am male; therefore, I am gift buying challenged. When Pat’s birthday comes along or our anniversary, I need help. I need a list. Give me a list, I can do okay. Don’t give me a list, well, it’s just not pretty what happens. These 3 requirements that Micah gives are God’s list. Want to express love to God, this is what you do.

That’s why Paul says in Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, (12) training us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live in a manner that is self-controlled and righteous and godly in the present age.

The Message Bible says it this way “God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone! 12We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now. – “

God welcomes us into the family, and then He gives us a list of how to show our love to Him. Yet some of the items on His list, go against the general culture or standards of our world.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have an attitude that says “I can do it myself”. I am all for God’s agenda as long as it matches what I want. That’s how Israel was living in Micah’s day, and how America lives in our day. To act justly is to live by God’s standards. So Micah lets Israel and you and me know what’s involved.

Letting Israel know what was on God’s list was not original with Micah either. Moses told Israel in

“So now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God require of you, but to fear Adonai your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Worship without walls begins when I act justly, when I live by God’s standards.

REQUIREMENT 2: “To love mercy”: Love others with God’s heart. God’s cry for action continues from Moses throughout the Old Testament. To love mercy is an interesting term. The word love refers to the loyal love of a married couple. The word mercy refers to God’s love to those in His family. To love mercy is to love others with God’s heart. God says in Hosea 6:6 For I delight in loyalty and not sacrifice, knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Pastor John Ortberg tells the story of a young man named John Gilbert who lived in a California town called Paradise. When he was 5 years old, John was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. He was told it would eventually destroy every muscle and finally, in a space of 10 years or so, take his life. John Gilbert passed away a few yeas ago at the age of 25. While alive John experienced a lot of exclusion and cruelty from his peers growing up. But at one point he was named the representative for everyone with his condition in the state of California. He was flown to Sacramento and was ushered with mother into the governor’s office for a private meeting.

That night the National Football League sponsored a fund-raising auction and dinner at which John was a guest. The players let him hold their huge Super Bowl rings, which almost extended to John’s wrist. When the auction began, one particular item caught John’s attention: a basketball signed by the players of the Sacramento Kings. John got a little carried away, because when the ball was up for bids, he raised his hand. As soon as his hand went up,

John’s mother pulled it down. In John’s words, “Astronauts never felt as many G’s as my wrist did that night.”

The bidding for the basketball rose to an astounding amount for an item that was not the most valuable treasure on the docket. Eventually, one man named a figure that shocked the room and the no one else could match. The man went to the front and collected his prize. But instead of returning to his seat, the man walked across the room and placed it in the thin, small hands of the boy who had admired it so intently. The man placed the ball in hands that would never dribble it down a court, never throw it to a teammate on a fast break, never fire it from 3-point range. But those hands would cherish it.

Have you bought a basketball for anybody lately? To love mercy is to love others with God’s heart. And to love others that’s a nice way of saying, “love everybody with the heart of God”

Yeshua says in Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.”

Hold a door open for someone. Let that other car go first. Phone a friend, not because you need a lifeline, but because you might be the lifeline God wants to use to touch him or her with His love.

REQUIREMENT 3: “To walk humbly with your God”: Learn to follow constantly God’s direction. The people of Israel ask in

Micah 6:6-7 With what shall I come before Adonai? With what shall I bow myself before God on high? Shall I present Him with burnt offerings, with year-old calves? (7) Will Adonai be pleased with thousands of rams, with hordes of rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my belly for the sin of my soul?

How many first born children here today? Non-first born? First-born children tend to answer “No” to Micah’s suggestion. Non-first born tend to say, “What do we have to lose?” Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? The answer is no, and not just because I am first born. It wouldn’t do any good. It wouldn’t pay the price. Only one could and only one did. He was a first-born by the way. First-born Son of God gave His life that we might have life.

Yeshua says in Matthew 5:3, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” — (The Message)

When we reach the point where our only option is God, then we have reached the point we walk humbly with our God. When we reach the point that we recognize God as the source of our success, then we have reached the point we walk humbly with our God.

We walk humbly with God, when we come to him in prayer. I’m sure you’ve heard the prayer that goes, “Dear Lord, so far today I’m doing alright. I’ve not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or self-indulgent. I’ve not whined, …cursed, or eaten any chocolate. I’ve not charged on my credit card. However, I am about to get out of bed in a few minutes, and I will need a lot more help after that.”

Time in prayer and God’s Word daily sets the focus for the day, Take such time to say, “God, this is the day you have made. It’s your gift. Help me to use it wisely for your glory.” Or, “Lord, it’s going to be a long, long day, I need your help and direction.”

CONCLUSION: The answer to the ultimate question.

For most people, the ultimate question in life is “What should I do with my life?” People search for meaning and purpose, and the answer to the ultimate question. The prophet Micah is a kindred spirit to those pursuing The Ultimate Question. As he spoke to the people of Israel, Micah’s focus was to remind people of their purpose. For Micah, the answer to The Ultimate Question is found in the larger purposes of God. “What does the Lord require of you?” asks the prophet with his own ultimate question. God’s answer is “to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”.

As those words echoed in my mind and heart this week, I found myself waiting to hold a door open for people who were beyond the 5 second behind rule for door holding. I realized this week that as these words permeated my soul, I was cutting people off in traffic, but letting them merge. I became aware of God’s presence in the holy and in the ordinary. I found myself worshipping God without walls. Want to experience a great week this week? Here’s what you do. Answer Micah’s call “to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”. Amen.

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