Fox Bytes 5774 (2013-2014)

These short pieces started as Facebook posts for the youth group at Ohev Yisrael Messianic Jewish Congregation.  The intent behind them is to present a running monologue of sequential thoughts based on themes from the Bible, starting with the question of creation.  Each post builds on the previous one.  If it leads the reader to deeper thought and investigation, then it is a success.

BFB140113 Beresheet

Fox Byte #1:  In the Beginning

The very first words in the Bible are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  (Genesis 1:1).  If you believe that, then you shouldn’t have any trouble believing the rest of the book.  But do you believe it?  Let’s break it down a bit and see:

−  “In the beginning” means this happened at the very start of something, but we don’t exactly know what yet.

−  “God”.  Now we know who the actor is.  It’s some being identified as “God”.  But what exactly did this God do?

−  “Created”.  Looks like this God made something.  Specifically, God made something out of nothing, because that’s what “created” means.  But what did God create?

−  “The heavens and the earth”.  Whoever this God is, he/she/it apparently made the universe – all of space, the earth and its atmosphere, and everything on or in them.  Because of that we can conclude that “In the beginning” means at the very start of life, the universe, and everything, or at least at the start of life, the universe, and everything as human beings have been able to perceive it.

Do you really believe that some super-powerful being called “God” made everything we know?  Or do you believe that everything we know just happened to come into existence all by itself at some point in time?  You can’t have it both ways.  Either there was nothing one day and then the next day space and the earth just appeared, or there was some great Entity who designed it all and made it happen.

Perhaps you don’t believe this God person made everything, but if so, why do you not believe it?  Maybe you should look into that question and see if there is any good reason why you shouldn’t believe.  Be careful!  If you decide not to believe in some kind of Supreme Being, then you may spend the rest of your life wondering why you’re on this planet.

Perhaps you do believe God made everything, but if so, why?  Maybe you should look into that question and see if there’s enough evidence to support your belief.  But be careful!  If you decide you can believe in this God, then you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that He has a purpose for your existence.

By the way, there is a fascinating Hebrew teaching on this first verse of the Bible, starting with the first word, Beresheet.  That word means “In the beginning”, and it is the beginning of the explanation of God’s plan for all of human history.[1]

 

"The Garden of Eden" Erastus Salisbury Field

“The Garden of Eden”
Erastus Salisbury Field

Fox Byte #2:  A Commission

Let’s assume that you decide you do believe this Supreme Being made the universe and everything in it.  Now what?  Why did God make all this?  Why did God make you?  We get close to the answer when we realize that God put humans in charge of all the earth (Genesis 1:28-30).  But what does that mean?  Maybe there’s an answer in these words:

“Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.”  (Genesis 2:15)

Oh, so we have a job?  Yes!  God made human beings to set this earth in order and make it productive.

Does the earth look very orderly right now?  Many of us don’t have to look any further than our living rooms to know that we have a serious problem with disorder!  Try browsing through the news on any media web page on any given day and you will see that we humans apparently haven’t done a very good job at what God made us to do.  So then the next question is, how did it get this way?  If God really made the earth and handed it off to us, how did we fumble the ball and make such a mess of it?

Maybe the answer starts with another question:  How does God define order?  If God made the earth and that beautiful garden of Eden, then God must have had some definition of order that the first humans understood.  How else would they be able to tend the earth and keep it?

This brings up the BIG QUESTIONS of the day:  What is your part in setting the earth in order and keeping it that way?  Do you have a purpose other than going to work or school, living for free time when you can do as you please, or eating things that taste good?  What do you think is God’s definition of order, and how does your own definition of order relate to it?

 

"Mother and Daughter in the Kitchen" Viggo Pedersen

“Mother and Daughter in the Kitchen”
Viggo Pedersen

Fox Byte #3:  Kicked Out of the Kitchen

How do we learn what God’s definition of order is?  How do we learn anything?  Reading is a good way to learn, but most people I know are not really interested in reading more than they have to.  The truth is, the way we learn best is from other people – hanging out with them, watching them, listening to them, trying to imitate them.  Do you suppose God designed us to learn that way?

The Bible tells us that God gave human beings a list of rules so we would understand how to relate to Him and how to treat each other (see Matthew 22:34-40, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, and Leviticus 19:18).  We call them mitzvot, or commandments.  Good things happen when we keep God’s commandments.  We call those good things blessings.  However, learning about the commandments takes some effort, and living by them takes even more effort.  After all, they are not written like a novel.  Most of them are in the first five books of the Bible, which Christians call the Pentateuch and Jews call the Torah.  Reading them is sometimes like reading a legal document, and sometimes it’s hard to see how these commandments apply to people today.

Do you think God intended it that way?  Maybe not.  In the beginning God gave human beings only one commandment.  Genesis 2:16-17 says:

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Do you believe that eating a plant can make someone smart?  That’s what the fruit of this tree apparently did (see Genesis 3:4-5).  I have no problem believing such a thing.  If one cup of coffee early in the morning can turn zombies back into real people, then surely a plant in God’s perfect garden could have an even greater effect on the intellect!

Yet the Bible says the fruit of that tree causes death.  Why?  Maybe it’s because the humans who wanted to eat the fruit had to make a choice.  If they didn’t eat it, they could hang around with God and learn directly from Him.  If they did eat, they would become their own little gods and have the responsibility of figuring out stuff on their own.

Before they ate the fruit they followed God around the garden and shared His special secrets.  It was something like what little children do when they follow their mothers around the kitchen.  Those who stay close to their mothers learn their mothers’ special secrets.  Eventually learn everything they need to know about how to prepare delicious and nutritious things that will bless the whole family.  But what happens if the children want to start cooking Beef Stroganoff before learning the basic safety procedures?  What if the children decide the mother is keeping secrets from them because she doesn’t want them to grow up?  What if they try to throw the mother out of the kitchen and take over?  I can tell you what my mother would have done:  she would have thrown us out of the kitchen after giving us a hefty dose of severe punishment, and then she would have turned us over to our father for a timely (and painful) reminder about the importance of respecting our parents.

Perhaps it was not so different for our ancestors in God’s garden.  After they ate the fruit, they were like little kids who decided to be all grown up before they were ready.  Since they didn’t want to follow God around the kitchen anymore, they were no longer in a position to learn from Him directly.  So God did the next best thing:  He threw them out and gave them a list of rules to read and follow.

When you think about it, what did our ancestors really gain?

 

BFB140207 Cars in TrafficFox Byte #4:  Not Ready To Drive

What did our ancestors gain from eating fruit that made them super smart?

If Adam and Eve were made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27), then God made them super smart in the first place.  After all, God made them to be in charge of the whole earth and keep it in order.  They would have to be really smart to do that.  But if they were so smart, what was the point of that tree in the garden?

In every culture there is a certain point at which young people are considered adults.  In America that point is a person’s eighteenth birthday, at least according to the law.  Do you ever wonder why it takes 18 years before people legally become adults?  Are we any smarter at age 18 than at age 5?  We have a lot more education at 18, but our potential to learn and think and do things is already built into us when we are born.  Our whole life is the story of how we fulfill that potential (or not).

Think about this:  the law says young people can’t start learning to drive until age 15, and can’t have a driver’s license until after their 16th birthday.  That is because our society understands that at 15 most people are physically, emotionally, and mentally ready to start driving.  We can’t let someone drive at age 10 because they are by no means ready.

God made Adam and Eve with amazing mental, physical, and emotional abilities already built in, but they needed to grow and develop to be ready for the responsibility of running the world.  A huge part of their development was the test of that very strange tree:  God had to give them the choice of sticking with His program or going off on their own.  Satan was right when he said, “God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5).

God intended that they learn about good and evil, and a whole lot more.  He wasn’t keeping that from them any more than we would keep a young person from learning to drive.  He was training them up so they would be ready for the responsibility of that knowledge.  What our ancestors did was to short-circuit God’s training plan and grab the knowledge on their own terms.

And ever since then the human race has been like a 10-year-old driving his father’s Escalade through heavy traffic on the freeway.

 

Cain and Abel

“Cain and Abel”
Josep Vergera

Fox Byte #5:  Momentary Right vs. Eternal Good

Our ancestors in the Garden of Eden chose to educate themselves on the knowledge of good and evil rather than get that knowledge in the way God intended.  How big of a problem was it that Adam and Eve decided to cut short God’s training program and grab the “godlike” status of knowing good and evil?  Even if they were not quite ready to handle all the truth at the moment they acquired it, would they have grown into it eventually?

Well, maybe not.

Here’s the problem:  knowing the difference between good and evil is not just an intellectual exercise.  Once you have that knowledge, you are responsible for it.  That means not only that you must recognize what is good and what is evil, but you also must make a judgment on which to choose.

God has no problem making that judgment.  We know God will always choose good because God is good (Psalm 118:1; Luke 18:19).  In fact, since God sets the standard for good, anything which is not of God is evil (3 John 1:11).  God intended that human beings would understand His standard, see that it is always better than evil, and freely choose good all the time.  That way all of humanity would be operating from the same standard.

Our ancestors chose to bypass that understanding of God’s standard and instead went straight to the knowledge.  When they did that they set up their own standards of what is right and wrong.  At first there were two sets of standards:  Adam’s and Eve’s.  The two of them had set their individual standards to uphold what each of them saw as right for himself or herself.  That’s what their argument in Genesis 3 was all about.  They should have acknowledged that they were wrong according to God’s standard, but instead each of them explained to God what they saw was right.  They passed that tendency on to their children, Cain and Abel.  Since each of them followed his own standard, both of them were in conflict not only with God, but also with each other.  In time their argument produced a huge tragedy:

Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.  (Genesis 4:8 NKJV)

I think you know what’s happened since then.  Now we have 7 billion people on this earth, and 7 billion standards of right and wrong.  Every single one of them has a decent idea what is good and what is evil, but unless they know the God Who made them, they will tend to choose what is right for them at the moment rather than what is really good.

Which standard do you tend to choose:  what’s right for you at the moment, or what’s good according to your Maker for all eternity?

 

BFB140221 Parental DisciplineFox Byte #6:  Why Are We Still Here?

Let’s see what we have so far:

  • Some super-powerful being named God made the universe and everything in it.
  • Every human being has a choice to believe this or not, but whichever way you choose, make sure you understand why you made the choice.
  • If you believe it, you should not have any trouble believing what’s in the rest of the Bible.
  • God put human beings in charge of the earth for the purpose of making it orderly and productive, and every one of us still has that same purpose.
  • God intended to train our ancestors Himself so that they could handle the responsibility of knowing the difference between good and evil and use that knowledge properly.
  • Our ancestors chose to cut God’s training plan short and grab knowledge for themselves by eating from the tree that made them super smart, knowing good and evil.
  • Since our ancestors disobeyed God, all of us humans after them have followed their example by choosing to set up our own standards of right and wrong rather than follow God’s standards.

If you were God and the beings you had made decided to set themselves up as their own little gods, what would you do?  Think about what parents do when their children rebel.  Loving parents would give the rebellious children a severe punishment, intending it not only as a payment for the rebellion, but also as a corrective function to teach the rebels not to rebel any more.  That is exactly what God did.  Sadly, instead of paying attention and learning from God, people just got worse and worse until, as the Bible says:

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”  (Genesis 6:5-7 NKJV)

That sounds quite harsh until we consider two things.  First, how productive can people be if each of them wants to get his or her own way?  If Cain and Abel, the first brothers in history, ended up in a fight to the death, imagine how bad it was after several centuries.

Second, if God said He was going to destroy all people because of their rebellion (or wickedness), why are we still here?  Did something happen to change God’s mind?  Or did God somehow find a way to let people live, and maybe even get back into His good graces?

 

"Entering the Ark" Kaspar Memberger the Elder

“Entering the Ark”
Kaspar Memberger the Elder

Fox Byte #7:  A Boatload of Grace

So why are we still here?  If God said He would destroy all of humanity because we couldn’t be reformed, why didn’t He?

Actually, God did destroy all of humanity.  That’s what Noah’s flood was all about.  But if we stop with God destroying everyone and everything, we only get half the story.  And this is where we hit a brick wall:  according to the rules God set up for His creation, He has no choice but to eliminate every form of rebellion (which is what we usually call “sin” or “wickedness”).  However, if He does that, then Satan, the ultimate rebel, wins.  It was Satan’s idea to bring sin into the world, thinking that if the world was corrupted God would abandon it.  But God can’t let Satan have control of the earth because then He would allow rebellion to continue and grow.  Satan already took one third of all the angels with him when he rebelled (see Revelation 12:3-9), so if he wins the earth there’s no telling where his rebellion will end!

Given this dilemma, the only way God can win is to bring us human rebels back over to His side.  And that’s where we get the other half of the story.  The Bible says:

“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”  (Genesis 6:8).

Grace is favor or kindness God gives even though we don’t deserve it.  It’s more than just mercy, forgiveness, or suspension of punishment.  Grace is the action of God that makes everything come out OK in spite of the odds.  He had every right to take every single life on earth, including Noah and his family.  But God extended mercy to Noah, and through Noah to the entire human race.  That’s why He gave Noah a plan to build a big ship and save enough people and animals to repopulate the earth after the flood.

Whether you want to believe the account of the flood is not important right now.  The important thing is that God’s Grace still works for us today.  Every one of us remains under sentence of death because of the rebellion in our DNA.  God has no choice but to carry out that sentence unless we take hold of the Grace He offers.

And now we get to the biggest question yet:  How do we grab that Grace?

 

BFB140312 Pooh and HoneyFox Byte #8:  When Life Happens 

What is this grace?  Isn’t that one of those Bible words no one really understands anymore?  Why do I need to worry about it anyway?  It’s not going to make any difference on my tax return this year, or on my job next week, or on the exam I have to take tomorrow.

Maybe that is what you are thinking about grace and this whole God thing.  Why does it matter to you?  You have enough to eat, you have electronic devices to keep you busy, you have friends who make life fun, and you’re not sick (most of the time).  Why should you worry about anything?

If you don’t know yet, you will learn eventually that life has a way of interfering with your priorities.  All you want to do is get by each day with a minimum of trouble, but things happen.  You run out of Fruit Loops.  The cell phone dies.  Friends misunderstand what really happened and start saying mean things about you.  Spouses and parents get mad.  You come down with the flu.  The list goes on and on.

What do you do when these things happen?  Do you get mad?  Do you yell at God and anyone else in range?  Or do you look for another answer – maybe for the cause of it all?

The fact is, life happens, and it’s not always pretty.  Sometimes the ugly things are our own fault – we didn’t study; we tried to manipulate a situation; we lied to our significant other; we stayed up too late playing Call of Duty.  But sometimes we do the right things and still get slammed.  Why?

There are many answers, but I’ll just give you one:  ugly things happen because God wants us to look beyond ourselves.  There is a bigger world out there that He wants us to impact, and we can’t do it if we stay in our little self-absorbed cocoons.  Instead of getting mad, understand that God provides a way out of the situation, and then ask Him what that way is.

You will find that the way out has a lot to do with grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  (Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV)

 

"Abraham's Journey from Ur to Canaan" József Molnár

“Abraham’s Journey from Ur to Canaan”
József Molnár

Fox Byte #9:  The Works of Grace

One of the big things people miss about grace is its connection with good works.  God made us for good works, but because each of us wants to be our own little gods in our own little cocoons we have a big problem doing those good works.  It’s actually worse than that.  Because we all inherited this tendency toward rebellion against God, we usually end up doing exactly the things that God doesn’t want.  In other words, like Satan we tend to kill, steal, and destroy rather than help God provide life to His Creation (John 10:10Luke 11:23).

And that’s why God has this dilemma:  does He let us survive and continue destroying His Creation, or destroy us and start all over?  What is an All-Powerful Deity to do?  Either way His Creation gets irreparably harmed because we are the greatest part of His Creation (Genesis 1:27Psalm 8:1-9).

This is where grace comes in.  With grace God found a way both to keep us from destroying His Creation and to save us from destruction.  As Ephesians 2:8-10 says, all we need is to have faith and we’ll be saved from destruction.  It’s all God’s doing.  If we did it on our own we could brag that we saved ourselves, and then we’d be right back in that same old place of being our own little gods.

But wait!  Didn’t I just use another one of those Bible words no one really understands?  Yes, I did.  The word is faith.  It means trust, or belief.  It’s the only way we get anywhere with God.  As the Bible explains, all the way from Adam through Noah and beyond, people kept trying to live up to their own standards of right and wrong, but always failed to meet God’s standards.  It’s not until we get to Abraham that we find someone who cracked the code:

And he [Abraham] believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.  (Genesis 15:6Romans 4:3)

So that’s it?  Just believe (have faith or trust in) God and He will consider us righteous?  And what is righteous?  Another big Bible word?  Yes; righteous means “right standing with God” – that we meet His standards and He accepts us.  And yes, it’s that simple.  He does all the hard work, and all we do is trust Him to do it, and then do as He says.

But what exactly is this work God does for us?  And why is trusting Him so hard?

 

"Alice with the March Hare, Hatter and Dormouse at the Mad Tea Party" John Tenniel

“Alice with the March Hare, Hatter and Dormouse at the Mad Tea Party”
John Tenniel

Fox Byte #10: Avoiding Unpleasant Places

The work God does for us is to make us able to be around Him again.  Remember what that incident in the Garden of Eden was all about:  God gave our ancestors the choice to keep Him as God, or to eat that super-smart fruit and make little gods out of themselves.  They chose to be their own little gods, and we have suffered the consequences ever since.

What are the consequences?  Death, of course (Genesis 2:16-17Romans 6:23).  It means just what you think – the end of your life.  It also means something worse – your separation from God forever.  You see, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, He had no choice but to throw them out of His Garden.  There can never be any more than one God anywhere, but they had decided to set themselves up as rival gods.  To keep from destroying them, He had to get them out of His presence (away from Him).

It’s the same with us; we inherited that “God complex” (or “sin nature”) from our ancestors, and therefore we can’t ever come close to God either in this world or in the next.  Eventually our bodies wear out and die, and then our spirits move on to a place often called hell, which is a very unpleasant collecting point for every being that can’t come into the presence of God (Revelation 20:14-1521:8).

But this is where the story gets happy again:  even at that moment when our ancestors disobeyed God the first time and brought this awful consequence (“curse”) on us all, God promised to defeat Satan, the one who started the rebellion in the first place (Genesis 3:15).  God Himself promised to become one of us, suffer the death penalty of our rebellion, and return to life just to show that Satan, death, and hell had no power over Him, and no longer had power over us.  That’s why the Bible says this:

For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Messiah all shall be made alive.  (I Corinthians 15:21-22)

And that is the work God does for us.  Messiah Yeshua, also known as Christ Jesus, is God’s answer to our dilemma.  And all you have to do to benefit from His answer is believe it.

 

BFB140404 Robin Hood FoxFox Byte #11: Getting to the Point

Do you believe God really wants us to be reconciled with Him – to be friends with Him again?  And do you really believe that Messiah Yeshua is the provision God made for us to be reconciled?

It may help to have a reminder about what it means to believe Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah.  Here’s what He claimed to be:

–       The Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16John 6:69)

–       The Son of Man (Matthew 16:13John 8:28)

–       The only Way to approach God (John 14:6)

–       Absolute Truth (John 14:6)

–       Life (John 14:6)

–       The Resurrection from the dead (John 11:25-26)

–       Salvation from sin (John 3:14-21John 4:22)

Now this is where you have to do some thinking on your own.  You need to decide whether all this God talk is really for you.  Do you believe there’s something fundamentally wrong with yourself that you can’t fix on your own?  If so, then you have recognized your own sin problem.  (Remember, sin is rebellion against your Maker; it’s the tendency to be your own little god over whatever your life means to you.)

If you have recognized your sin problem, are you going to do anything about it?  This is where you have to make a decision.  You can try to try to fix it on your own, or you can to take God at His word and accept His promise to fix that sin problem for you.  If you choose to fix it on your own, you should know right now that it’s not going to work.  In 40 years of looking at this problem I haven’t found any way around God’s offer.  No one else has found a way around it either.  People claim to have found other ways, but in the end they come up missing the mark and landing in a world of regret.

Taking God up on His offer is what we mean when we say people need to be “saved”.  It means to be rescued from the certain destruction that will happen to their bodies, souls, and spirits if they continue in the rebellion of sin.  (We’ll talk about souls and spirits another time; for now just understand that you are far more than just your physical body.)  If you choose to be “saved”, you take up God’s offer of Life, both in this world and in the next.

So do you want to be saved?  If so, here’s how:

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Yeshua [Jesus] and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  (Romans 10:9 NKJV)

 

BFB140411 Daffy DuckFox Byte #12:  It’s All About Me . . . Right? 

If you think that’s too simple, don’t worry.  God has plenty for you to do, but you won’t be able to do the works He has for you until you first believe Him and let Him bring you into the place where you can be reconciled to Him.

One big problem people have with this being saved thing is that it just seems too easy.  They think, “You mean that’s all I have to do?  Just tell people I believe Yeshua is the Messiah, and believe God brought Him back from the dead, and then I’ll be saved?”

YES!  That’s all you have to do.  It’s simple, but “simple” doesn’t mean “easy”.  It’s actually very hard for two reasons.

First, it was hard for God.  Even though all the people He created rejected Him, He still made His own Son take the death penalty just so He could win the world back.  It was so bad that God even turned His back on His own Son.  That’s why Yeshua’s last words were, “My God!  My God!  Why have You forsaken [turned your back on] Me!”  (Matthew 27:46)

Second, it’s hard for us.  It’s bad enough that we have to admit there’s something so wrong with us that we can’t fix it on our own, but then we have to come crawling back to the God we rejected and ask Him to fix the problem.

How hard is it if you hurt someone who trusted you?  Suppose when you were young you took money from your Mom’s purse, and she knew you did it, and she knew you spent it all.  What do you do?  If you do nothing, she will have to punish you, and it will hurt terribly for a long, long time.  The only thing you can do is confess to her what you did, tell her honestly you are sorry about it, and leave the consequences up to her.

It’s the same with God.  Like your Mom, God is ready to forgive you and set you on the right track.  Yet He will not do anything until you take that first, hard step and talk to Him.

This is where we have to bring in another Bible word:  humble.  It means thinking of others as more important than yourself.  It means swallowing your pride when everything in you says, “Pay attention to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

You can’t be reconciled with God unless you humble yourself first.  But don’t worry; He gave us an example:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Messiah Yeshua, who . . . humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 NKJV)

 

Fox Byte #13:  Living in Enemy Territory

What’s the point of Yeshua giving us this example of how to die?  Why would He teach the world how to be humble by letting Himself get killed?

The point is that getting “saved” is not a one-time deal.  It takes only a moment to decide to believe in Yeshua, but it takes a whole lifetime to learn what that means.  In fact, Yeshua told us to count the cost before deciding to follow Him (Luke 14:26-33).  He knew we would want to stay in our own little comfortable worlds and serve ourselves rather than serve God, so He explained from the beginning that following Him would take everything we have – including our lives.

The truth is, the two most powerful beings in the universe both want to kill you.  Satan wants to kill you because he exists to destroy everything God has made.  But God wants to kill you, too.  He wants to kill that old sin nature in you, the thing that makes you want to serve yourself rather than God (Romans 8:10-13).  That’s the only way He can build the nature of Messiah in you (II Peter 2:2-9) so you can become what He designed you to be.  And that’s why Yeshua said this:

“And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”  (Matthew 10:38-39)

Hopefully by now you realize that following Yeshua, or calling yourself a Christian, is not something you put on like an old sweater when it is convenient, but take off whenever it becomes uncomfortable.  This is a life-and-death proposition.  Either way you are in danger.  If you don’t believe in Yeshua, you will stay in rebellion against God and face His punishment for all eternity.  If you do believe in Yeshua, then you find yourself in enemy territory because Satan is still ruling this earth, and he does not tolerate disloyalty.

Think carefully before you choose.  There is pain involved with each choice, but the amount of pain is up to you.  If you go with God, the pain ends when your life on this earth ends.  If you go with Satan, you may be comfortable in this life, but the pain will come, and it will stay with you forever.

 

Fox Byte #14:  The Trouble With Divided Loyalties

Let’s look some more into this question of God wanting to kill you.  Am I serious about that?  Yes, deadly serious.  God Himself is deadly serious about it.  He does not want anyone who is in only halfway.  Yeshua put it like this:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.  (Matthew 5:24 NKJV)

And here we get another of those strange words:  mammon.  It doesn’t mean a big wooly extinct animal that looks like an elephant!  It means material wealth – money and everything it can buy.

What Yeshua is saying is very important for us Americans.  Quite honestly, our priorities are on stuff that makes us happy – cars, houses, iPads, flat screen TVs, food loaded with sugar and saturated fat, games, movies, and anything else that will fill up those empty minutes of the day so we don’t get bored.  That’s the stuff that fills our comfort zone.  We would much rather stick with that than venture out and do something uncomfortable or, dare I say it, hard!

I think that’s what Yeshua was telling us.  Think of it this way:  how can a baseball player be on two teams at the same time?  He may get along for a while, as long the teams play on different days and don’t play each other.  But inevitably the time will come when a conflict pops up and he will have to make a choice.

Is that really the attitude or the priority that a follower of Yeshua should have?  Does He really save us from certain destruction just so we can get comfortable and ignore a dying world?  Is it even reasonable to think that our wealthy American comfort zone is a sign of God’s blessing on us?

Or is it a sign of something else?  After all, God’s people become more godly by going through trials and troubles (James 1:2-8Proverbs 3:11-12), just like baseball players become better by enduring hard practice and conditioning.  If we are not going through trials, then maybe we’re more interested in our own pleasures than in pleasing the One Who made us.  And maybe because of that God is just leaving us to our own devices.  Whatever the reason, the result is the same:  we spend our time and energy trying to be as comfortable as possible until we cease breathing, and while we’re doing that we miss out on all the things God wants us to do to make a difference for good.

When your God went to all that trouble to bring you out of sinful rebellion, He did it so you would play for His team.  It makes him sad and angry when you try to play both on his team and your own.  As long as you’re doing that you will never play up to your full potential.

 

Ossuary of Douaumont Verdun, France

Ossuary of Douaumont
Verdun, France

Fox Byte #15:  The Trouble with Death

Why exactly does God want to kill us?  Sure, He wants us totally committed to His team, but where does death come into it – especially since His promise is to give us eternal life?

The death comes in losing our lives for Yeshua’s sake (Matthew 10:38-39).  What God has to kill in us is our sin nature – that old selfish programming that steers us away from His perfect way.  Even though we believe in Yeshua and are saved, our sin nature keeps on fighting.  No one is immune to this.  Even the apostle Paul said he often did the things he hated rather than the good things he knew he should do because of the sin still hanging on inside him (Romans 7:13-24).

But there is another way to look at this death thing.  If we are already dead to self then we do not fear the death of our bodies, or anything else really.  That’s what an Iraqi friend taught me.  He loves Yeshua and was a witness for Him in Baghdad, a place where there is real persecution.  I met him soon after he had escaped a second assassination attempt by leaving his wife and two of their children in Baghdad and fleeing to Jordan with his oldest son.  Eventually the family was reunited, but it was clear that they could not stay in Iraq.  It was not safe for any of them.  That was why they fled as a family and lived for nearly two years as refugees before they received permission to settle in a new country.  And that is not the end of their story.  My friend yearns for the day he can return to Iraq and be a witness for Yeshua.  He risks permanent separation from his family and physical death just so he can have a chance to save others from eternal death.

That is the point of this death talk.  We comfortable Americans usually don’t want to look at it that way, but maybe we should.  It seems that Yeshua was serious after all when He said:

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”  (Matthew 19:29 NKJV)

 

Aftermath of the March 2011 Tsunami in Japan National Geographic Daily News

Aftermath of the March 2011 Tsunami in Japan
National Geographic Daily News

Fox Byte #16:  When The World Shakes Apart 

This talk about life and death should mean something to anyone who has paid even a tiny bit of attention to the great upheavals in our world.  Whether it is civil war in Syria, drought and fires in California, Russian encroachment on Ukraine, the end of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, or any of the recurring tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, typhoons, famines, and pandemics, disasters seem to abound and to be getting worse.  There is something about disasters that focus our attention very quickly onto what is really important in life.

Remember the great earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011?  When the ground shakes under your feet and you have to run from a three-story-high wall of water, things become very clear!  I was in an earthquake in Japan.  It was a little thing compared to what happened in 2011, but it was scary enough.  I was in a tall hotel in Tokyo when a tremor hit.  Many of us ran into the hall and for some reason gathered in front of the elevators.  That’s when we heard this terrible clanging sound as the elevators banged around in the shafts.  When the earthquake ended, one of the elevators opened and several American college students from our tour group tumbled out.  Among them were some real men – big, strong, confident athletes.  Yet all of them were crying like babies.  Never have I seen any group of people so utterly terrified.

That was a small earthquake.  There was no damage, no interruption of power, no danger of nuclear meltdown, and no loss of life.  The disaster of 2011 left 15,885 dead, 6,148 injured, and 2,623 missing, and turned a million people into refugees without food, clothing, and shelter.

This kind of thing should make us wonder what it all means.  A year before the Japan earthquake and tsunami, an earthquake had killed 222,000 people in Haiti, and a magnitude 8.8 earthquake had devastated Chile.  In February 2011 an earthquake destroyed the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, and then two weeks later the magnitude 9.0 quake hit Japan with its worst disaster since World War II.

That was 2011.  We have had many big earthquakes and volcanoes since then.  It makes one wonder if we are at the end of the world.

Yeshua had this to say about that:

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.”  (Matthew 24:6-8 NKJV)

The fact that we are experiencing more earthquakes now than ever in history does not mean the world is about to end, but we are certainly in the ballpark.  But does knowing that make any difference on how you live your life every day?

 

BFB140523 Don't PanicFox Byte #17:  Don’t Panic!

Seriously, how does the possibility that we may be at the end of this age affect the way you live each day?

Notice I said “end of this age”, not “end of the world”.  The world really will end one day (II Peter 3:10Revelation 21:1-5), but we’re not there yet.  Before that happens King Yeshua has to come back and rule the earth from Jerusalem for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-6).  As far as I can tell that hasn’t happened yet.  Therefore what we expecting is the end of this age:  the transition between the time in which we now live and the return of Yeshua.

And what is this transition?  Some call it the Great Tribulation.  It’s the time when God’s government smashes all the governments of human beings (the kingdoms of men, according to Daniel 2).  That’s a time of great hope for all believers in Yeshua, but a time of great dread for those who do not believe in Him.  The whole book of Revelation tells about how bad it will get.  In fact, in Revelation the Apostle John was just providing details on events God had already explained to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Zechariah, Joel, and other prophets in ages past.

Are we there yet?  Maybe, and maybe not.  For centuries people have expected Messiah’s return whenever great events happened.  The Black Death in medieval Europe, the wars of the French Revolution, the great earthquakes in the Mississippi Valley in 1811, World War I, World War II, the independence of Israel, and many other events have caused Christians around the world to think that the end of this age has come.  We are not wrong to join them in expecting the end.

The signs today are all there:  wars and rumors of war, earthquakes, famine, economic distress, lawlessness, immorality, and more.  We don’t know if we are about to enter the Great Tribulation, but we can be certain there are very, very rough times ahead.

And thus we get back to the question:  How does this affect the way you live your life?  God’s simple answer is this:

DON’T PANIC!

If we belong to Messiah, we know we’re going to get through it OK whether we live or die.  As Paul explained:

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.  Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.  (I Thessalonians 5:9-11)

 

BFB140607 Wizard of Oz Trees

Good fruit from a bad tree? Maybe in The Wizard of Oz, but not in real life.

Fox Byte #18:  A Tree of Good Fruit

Would it make any difference in how we live our lives if we are about to go through the end of the world?  Some people would call the end of the world the Great Tribulation.  In truth, the Tribulation is not really the “end of the world”, but it is the end of this particular time period.  The Bible explains that the world continues after that, but with Yeshua ruling it directly from Jerusalem.  (If you would like to know a little more about that, check out the post, “Give Me A Place Where I May Dwell”.)

Whether we are about to enter the Great Tribulation or not, believers in Yeshua should be doing certain things that set us apart from nonbelievers.  Think of it this way:  how do we act around someone we love?  If there is someone in our life we respect and admire a lot, we want to please them.  We want them to like us, and therefore we want to do things they like.  We do those things because we are seeking their admiration and respect and approval.  Whether it’s a spouse, a parent, an employer, a favorite teacher, a brother or sister, or someone with whom we have a special relationship, we do what we can to make that person proud of us.

That is how we should be with Yeshua.  As we get to know Him He becomes that special friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).  Our love for Yeshua grows as we spend time with Him by reading His Word (the Bible), by praying to Him, and by hanging around other people who love Him.  We don’t do these things to be saved from the consequences of our rebellion against God; salvation comes only by faith in Yeshua (Ephesians 2:8-10).  But once we are saved and in a relationship with our God, we do these things as acts of love and obedience to the One Who saved us.

This is important.  Many people have no interest in church or synagogue or the Bible because they think it means they have to keep a lot of rules and give up anything fun.  If that were all that this life in Yeshua meant then I would not want to have any part of it either.  But the truth is, once we discover that Yeshua gives meaning to our lives, we want to get close to Him so He can make us all we are supposed to be.  That is more than fun; it is REAL LIVING.

We can expect some things about ourselves to change as we grow closer to Yeshua.  The changes happen as we gradually step out of our rebellious, sinful habits and step into the good, righteous things God created us to do.  It’s actually a process of moving from death to life.  Remember that there were two trees in the Garden of Eden.  One brought life, and one brought death.  Those results did not come from the bark or the root or the leaves, but from the fruit.  That’s why Yeshua said this about trees and their fruit:

Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore by their fruits you will know them.  (Matthew 7:17-20 NKJV)

What kind of tree are you?

 

Tevye the Milkman Chaim Topol in Norman Jewison's 1971 film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof

Chaim Topol as Tevye in Norman Jewison’s 1971 film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof

Fox Byte #19:  Rusty Priorities

What kind of good fruit does Yeshua expect His followers to produce?  The kind that produces lasting change for good.  That’s what He meant when He said we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16).

But does it really work that way in the lives of Yeshua’s followers?  When we get right down to it, the uncomfortable answer is no.  We have other priorities that crowd out our good intentions to follow God.  Many of those priorities are necessities, such as providing food, clothing, and shelter for ourselves and those we love.  Yeshua said something about that:  He told us God knows we need these things, and that He would provide them for us (Matthew 6:25-34).  We do need to take action and gather the provision God has made for us, and that is why a responsible person looks for work, learns to cook, buys or makes clothes, and other things that translate God’s provision into meeting our daily needs.

Satisfying these needs is not the problem.  The problem arises when going after these necessities becomes our obsession.  It gets worse when we go after more than just necessities and start making comfort and pleasure our goal.  Where does that leave God on our priority list?  There’s a Jewish example that helps us with this question.

In Fiddler on the Roof, a milkman named Tevye leads us through the story of his community in the Russian village of Anatevka.  Early in the play Tevye sings If I Were A Rich Man, describing what he would do if God allowed him to have a little money to provide a better life for his family.  Near the end of the song Tevye sings this:

If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack

To sit in the synagogue and pray.

And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.

And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.

That would be the sweetest thing of all.

Obviously Tevye loves God and wants to get more connected to Him.  However, he voices this desire only after singing about using his fortune to build a big house that people will admire, get servants so his wife will not have to do any work, and gain status as an important man.  Tevye’s priority is in satisfying the desires of his flesh rather than the desires of his God.  If he were really serious about living for God, he would make time for Him in his daily life.  And that means a lot of quality time, not five minutes of routine devotional and prayer according to tradition or habit.  Throughout the play it’s clear that that’s about all Tevye does.  Even though he carries on a continuous dialogue with God, his references to “the Good Book” are often mixed up, misquoted, and misapplied.  He doesn’t really let the Word of God penetrate his heart and change his life.  He is still living according to his own strength and wisdom.  That’s why we can be sure that even though Tevye may one day find his fortune, he will probably never find the time he lacks to sit in the synagogue and pray.

Are we any better than Tevye?  Does God get more than routine and lip service from us?  If He were our priority we would be making time for Him now instead of going about our daily lives in hope of finding time for Him later.  Unless we make Him a priority, we will never be any different from the people in this world who know nothing of the Bible, care nothing of God’s commandments, and profess nothing more about Yeshua than that He was a good teacher.  That’s what Yeshua meant when He said:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV)

 

"Quandary" Michael Belk, Journeys with the Messiah via Pinterest

Quandary
Michael Belk, Journeys with the Messiah (obtained through Pinterest)

Fox Byte #20:  About Those Heavenly Treasures

If we are to take Yeshua at His word, then his expectations of us to produce “good fruit” means that somehow we are to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.  But what does that mean?  Obviously it means making God our priority in life, or at least starting by placing Him higher on our priority list.  That’s what relationship with Him is all about.  Yeshua can help us understand this.  Once a young man came to ask Him about that very subject.  He wanted to know how he could “inherit eternal life”.  Here is what Yeshua told him:

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack:  Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”  But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.  (Mark 10:21-22 NKJV)

There are some very important things in this answer and in the young man’s reaction to it.  Yeshua gave him the secret to treasure in heaven:  sell all he had (that is, get rid of everything he valued), give it to the poor (that is, to the people who would have no way to pay him back), take up the cross (get ready for extreme suffering), and follow Yeshua (become His disciple and do exactly what Yeshua says for the rest of his life).  No wonder the young man went away sorrowful!  Yeshua was telling him he had to give up everything that defined him – his identity, his likes, his possessions, his preferences, his dreams, his ambitions, and even his comfort.  Sadly, the young man was not willing to go that far.

But how far are we willing to go?  Notice that this was not just any young man.  This was a good guy; one who said he loved God, and probably lived as godly a life as he knew how.  That, by the way, is the first part of this story.  Let’s go back a few verses and see:

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”  So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”  And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”  (Mark 10:17-20 NKJV)

Notice that Yeshua did not tell this young man to do anything different than what any good Jewish man would do:  keep the commandments of God.  Those are the very commandments God had given to His people through Moses.  Apparently the man was doing rather well at keeping the commandments, at least from all outward appearances.  But then Yeshua asked him to do something more.  He asked the man to obey the commandments not just with his lips and his hands, but with his heart and his mind.

It’s not enough to keep the rules if you’re not doing it with your whole heart.  First get your heart right, and then you will keep God’s rules as a natural outgrowth of your love for Him.  We don’t keep the commandments to get into God’s kingdom; we keep the commandments because we are in His kingdom.  He explained these things in great detail starting with Moses and going all the way through the Prophets and the Apostles.  If we really want to store up treasure in heaven, then we’ll start paying attention to what they said.

 

Three warriors who bent the rules to fight for their countries in time of war:  Calvin Graham, 12-year-old US Navy veteran of World War II; Frances Clalin Clayton, aka Jack Williams, who enlisted as a man in the US Army during the American Civil War; and Hua Mulan, who served in the army of ancient China in place of her aged father.

Three warriors who bent the rules to fight for their countries in time of war: Calvin Graham, 12-year-old US Navy veteran of World War II; Frances Clalin Clayton, aka Jack Williams, who enlisted as a man in the US Army during the American Civil War; and Hua Mulan, who served in the army of ancient China in place of her aged father.

Fox Byte #21:  Pretend Soldiers

Now we come to something very important.  We should want to produce “good fruit” and store up treasure in heaven, but just doing good things is not enough.  Going through the motions to do good things because they seem right, or because someone told us to do them, or to impress someone, or for any reason other than what God explained really does no good at all.  And what did God say?  That is another question someone asked Yeshua.  He answered it this way:

But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the first and great commandment,  And the second is like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matthew 22:34-40 NKJV)

Love, then, should be our motivation – love of God, and love of other people.  The Apostle Paul said as much when he wrote, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even this:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  (Galatians 5:14 NKJV)  But then we come to another question:  What is love?

There is only one definition of love that matters, and that is God’s definition.  After all, He is the One Who loved us first, He is the One we are supposed to love, He is the One Who makes it possible for us to love, and He is the One Who decides how He wants to be loved.  We cannot love others until we first understand how to love Him.  So did He tell us how to do that?  Yes, He did:

If you love me, keep My commandments.  (John 14:15 NKJV; see also Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10; John 14:21; John 15:10; and I John 5:3.)

But wait!  The rich young man who asked Yeshua how to inherit eternal life kept the commandments, and Yeshua told him it wasn’t enough!  How can it be enough for us?

In truth it can’t, if we are keeping His commandments for the wrong reasons.  If we are trying to win His favor and work our way into the Kingdom of Heaven, no amount of rule-keeping will do it.  Consider this.  What would happen if a young person who wants to be a soldier sets out to do all the things a soldier is supposed to do?  Let’s say he reads all the training manuals and practices marksmanship, first aid, leadership skills, physical fitness, and everything else he can think of to make himself acceptable to the Army.  He may even do things better than many soldiers do them.  But what if he never enlisted in the Army?  What if he was just doing it on his own, hoping the Army would notice him and take him in?  If that were the case, he would have been doing things on his own terms, not as the Army required.  Since he had signed no papers and taken no oath of service, he was not even committed at the most basic level to the Army.  Of course, that would be very foolish; his hard work would count for nothing at all.

That is how it is in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Our hard work means nothing unless we first “enlist” by putting our faith in Yeshua and signing up to obey His commands.  Only then will our heart be in it, because only then will He be able to change our hearts so that we can know what real love is and follow Him with the right motive.

 

Andy Griffith and Nick Adams as two good-hearted, but intellectually challenged, recruits in the 1958 Warner Brothers comedy "No Time For Sergeants".

Andy Griffith and Nick Adams as two young recruits who have good hearts, but lack understanding.  From the the 1958 Warner Brothers comedy “No Time For Sergeants”.

Fox Byte #22:  Obeying Without Understanding

Following Yeshua really is a matter of the heart.  No matter what we say we believe, we will only do what is in our hearts.  Look at what Yeshua said about that:

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil.  For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.  (Luke 6:45 NKJV)

But how do we know what is good and what is evil?  That was God’s whole point in giving His commandments (Torah).  That was why Yeshua lived His sinless life in obedience to His Father’s commandments – not only to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, but also to show us how to live.  We are supposed to imitate Messiah Yeshua; He is to be our example in everything.

And now we get to another hard point.  We know what to do because that’s in the Bible, but how do we do it when we don’t want to, or when we don’t understand what God says, or when we don’t understand the reason God says what He says?

The simple answer is this:  do it anyway.

This is where the heart becomes important.  God was aware of our heart problem from the beginning.  That’s why He had Moses explain this to our ancestors:

Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!  (Deuteronomy 5:29 NKJV)

Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day.  (Deuteronomy 29:4 NKJV)

Wait a minute.  That doesn’t sound fair.  God wants His people to love Him and obey Him with all their hearts, but doesn’t give them the heart to do it?  Actually He does, but first we have to go through an intense training period to see if we really do want to follow God or not.  We have to obey without really understanding, but with trust (faith) that God is true to His Word and can fulfill His promises.

It’s not that different from what happens to a soldier.  When a young person joins the army, he or she will not know exactly why things are the way they are.  All they know is that there are people in authority above them and that those people have rules that must be obeyed.  If they obey the rules, then things go well for them.  If they disobey or ignore the rules, then things go badly.  If they do not learn to obey then they could find themselves kicked out of the ranks.  Eventually they begin to obey out of habit, and over time they begin to understand why the rules are there.  They gain rank and authority and have responsibility to train others and lead them.  Then they see what the rules are all about.  They see the army as one big, living organism made of very human parts, all of which must function in unity or the army fails to do what it’s designed to do.  The commander understands this very well, and he does his best to communicate it to those under him, but he cannot communicate everything to every person.  That’s why there is a structure of rank and authority, with rules to keep that structure in place.  The soldiers and officers each see different parts of that structure, but they all have the same rules to obey.  When they signed up to be part of the army, they signed up to obey those rules.

And so it is with us in the Army of the Lord.  In time we will understand, but until then we do the best we can to obey our Commander with all that is in us.  That, too, is something God explained to two of His greatest teachers, Moses and Paul:

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.  (Deuteronomy 30:6 NKJV)

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.  And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  (I Corinthians 13:12-13 NKJV)

 

Fox Byte #23:  Scary Things Beneath the Surface

You may be thinking by now that this decision to follow Yeshua seems to come with obligations that weren’t in the original advertising.  It looks like there’s more to it than a simple agreement that we need Jesus, followed by peace and happiness for the rest of our lives.  In fact, there is far more to this life than we normally hear about in church.  We don’t really start to see the bigger picture until we decide to stop going through the motions of cultural Christianity and start really studying the Bible and living it out as the instruction manual for our lives.

It’s one thing to act like a follower of Yeshua when you’re in a crowd of people who say they follow Him; it’s quite another thing to act like a Yeshua follower when you’re in a hostile crowd, or when you’re all alone and no one is looking.  That’s when your true heart condition is revealed.  And, quite sadly, unless you’re open to the continual work of the Holy Spirit to change your heart, you’ll never be anything more than a surface dweller – a person who says they follow Yeshua, but never really digs deep to find out what that really means.

Yeshua Himself had to dig deep just to get ready for His ministry.  By the time He was 30 years old, He knew the instruction manual backwards and forwards.  (After all, He not only wrote the manual, He was that manual in the flesh!)  At the start of His ministry Yeshua had to go through a severe test:  40 days without food, after which Satan came to ask Him some questions.  Here’s how that started out:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.  Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”  (Matthew 4:1-4 NKJV)

What exactly did Yeshua mean when He said we don’t live by bread alone?  Where did He get that quote?  This may be a surprise to you:  Yeshua got it from Moses.  Here it is in context:

Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers.  And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.  Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.  You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.  Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.  (Deuteronomy 8:1-6 NKJV, emphasis added)

Moses was talking about the 40-year-long test of the people of Israel to see if they would obey God’s commandments or not, and that test involved a lot of hardship and suffering.  Then Yeshua quotes Moses after He has just finished a 40-day-long test that involved a lot of hardship and suffering, followed by temptation from the devil to see if He would remain true to His Father’s commandments.  So maybe by quoting Moses Yeshua is telling us we should expect something similar, and for the same reason.

This is beginning to sound a lot more complicated – and painful – than your typical Sunday School lesson.

 

When working in a hazardous area it is wise to be properly equipped.  (Source:  The OSHA Advisor)

When working in a hazardous area it is wise to be properly equipped. (Source: The OSHA Advisor)

Fox Byte #24:  Working Without Tools

If we want to follow Yeshua, should we expect trouble?  Yes.  He said so Himself:

Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master.”  If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  (John 15:20 NKJV)

The question is not whether we suffer trials and tribulations, but how we get through them.  To do that we need deep roots, and to get those roots we have to dig deep with the right tools.  This is one big point of Yeshua’s lesson about the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15).  The good seed of the Word of God was sown in three types of soil, but only one produced good fruit.  The other three got eaten up, withered away, or choked out because they did not have any depth in the soil.  Somehow or other their roots just could not go down deep enough to make sure the plants grew to maturity and produced good fruit.

What does that have to do with following Yeshua every day?  It has everything to do with it.  Too often we are our own worst enemy, and usually because we do not care to investigate what we truly believe.  Sure, we say we believe that Jesus died for our sins, and we put our faith in Him to get our eternal salvation.  But what does that really mean?  How do we live it out?

Would you like to know what Jews think about that?  Recently a research project in Israel asked Jewish Israelis what they thought of Jesus.  The answers were very interesting, but the most important answer for our purposes came from a café owner.  He said this:

Café Owner:  In principle, Jesus was a Jew who preached for love and peace and for him, that what was important.  If you ask my opinion he led a following that today is a huge group, but he didn’t give them many tools like the Torah.  He told them to love thy neighbor and preached love and peace, which is excellent.  I don’t want to minimize it.

Interviewer:  So what tools do you think they are missing?

Café Owner:  The Torah, the secrets, how to work it.  Terrific, you love that guy, you make peace with him, but you need to know how to work within that.

This is the key point:  how do we know how to live once we become believers in Yeshua?  The answer is in the Bible, of course, but where?  Perhaps there is a clue in the fact that Paul, Peter, John, Jude, James, Stephen the first martyr, and Yeshua Himself all quoted from Moses and the Prophets.  In other words, they were building their case for how to live as believers in Yeshua on what the Old Testament (Tanakh) taught.  That being the case, how should we relate to the Old Testament?  Maybe the answer is in something else Moses said:

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.  (Deuteronomy 29:29 NKJV)

 

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, one of Hollywood's most peculiar (and successful) comedy teams.  From the 1937 movie Way Out West (source:  TimeOut.com)

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, one of Hollywood’s most peculiar (and successful) comedy teams. From the 1937 movie Way Out West (source: TimeOut.com)

Fox Byte #25:  When Peculiar Is A Good Thing

At this point someone might say, “Wait a minute!  That old Law of Moses doesn’t apply to Christians!”

Are we really sure about that?  How can we even know that Yeshua is Messiah if we don’t study the Law of Moses?  After all, Yeshua Himself said:

Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust.  For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”  (John 5:45-47 NKJV)

If what Yeshua says is true, then Moses is a very important person in God’s eyes.  Maybe we should pay more attention to him.  At least we should pay attention to those parts of his writings that have to do with Yeshua.  Or maybe we could start with what Yeshua taught and see where Moses taught it first.  That might give us a clue as to what Yeshua meant.

Let’s start with Yeshua’s most famous teaching.  It’s called the Sermon on the Mount, because He gave this sermon to people gathered on a mountainside in Galilee (Matthew 4:23-5:1).  Yeshua started His sermon by telling people the character traits that would bring them blessing in this life and the next – things like being humble and pure in heart and peacemakers and earnest seekers after righteousness.  Now to be completely honest, Yeshua said this ideal disciple of His would suffer a lot of trouble and persecution.  And yet He said the suffering itself is a sign that His followers are doing things right, and that they would receive great rewards in the Kingdom of Heaven because of their faithfulness through it all.  So already we know that He is identifying His true followers as something different from the rest of the world, something really unique and special.  Did Moses ever say anything about that?  Why yes, more than once.  Take a look at what God told him to tell the people at the beginning of their journey out of Egypt, and then at that end of that journey:

And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:  ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’  These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”  (Exodus 19:3-6 NKJV, emphasis added)

This day the Lord your God commands you to observe these statutes and judgments; therefore you shall be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.  Today you have proclaimed the Lord to be your God, and that you will walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments, and His judgments, and that you will obey His voice.  Also today the Lord has proclaimed you to be His special people, just as He promised you, that you should keep all His commandments, and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor, and that you may be a holy people to the Lord your God, just as He has spoken.  (Deuteronomy 26:16-19 NKJV, emphasis added)

The King James translation uses the word “peculiar” instead of “special”.  It means the same thing – that God chose this people as something unique for Himself alone.  Yeshua’s best friend, the Apostle Peter, used that same word when he wrote this:

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.  (I Peter 2:9-10 NKJV, emphasis added)

It seems like these two witnesses, Moses and Peter, are saying the same thing about what God is doing with the people He chose as His own. Maybe there really is a connection between Christians and ancient Israel.  Maybe we should look closer to find out.

 

A Chinese way of making salt.  (cultural-china.com)

A Chinese way of making salt. (cultural-china.com)

Fox Byte #26:  Where Salt Gets Its Flavor

Where would we look to find a connection between Christians and ancient Israel?  We need look no further than Messiah Himself.  That’s what God told Moses:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren.  Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.”  And the Lord said to me:  “What they have spoken is good.  I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.   And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.  (Deuteronomy 18:15-19 NKJV, emphasis added)

This is a major prophecy quoted by both the Apostle Peter (Acts 3:22) and Stephen the Martyr (Acts 7:37) in their explanations about Yeshua’s identity as Messiah.  He is like Moses in that He speaks the Word of God directly to the people, but He is greater than Moses because He is God Himself.  This is something Christians should have no problem understanding.  But why is it that Jews have a problem with it?

Remember that Israeli café owner?  He said he thought Jesus (Yeshua) was a good Jew who preached love and peace, but He didn’t give His followers the tools to practice those things.  What were the missing tools?  The Torah, also known as the Law of Moses, or Law of God.  This Jewish café owner stated a common belief among both Jews and Christians that Yeshua did not intend His followers to follow Torah.  And that is precisely the issue that Judaism has with Christianity.  For centuries Jews have believed that Jesus was a false prophet because his followers rejected the commandments of God.  And, in fact, they have good reason to think that.  The standard God gave His people for recognizing false prophets is another thing Moses taught:

If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods”—which you have not known—“and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.  But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk.  So you shall put away the evil from your midst.  (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NKJV, emphasis added)

In other words, any prophet who tells people to disregard Torah is a false prophet because they are telling people to follow something other than the Lord God.  It doesn’t matter if he or she has exciting miracles and other signs that come true.  If they disregard God’s commandments, then they are false prophets.

And now we know one of the root causes of the division between Jews and Christians.  Observant Jews think that Christians don’t worship on Sabbath or keep the Feasts of the Lord or obey the other commandments of Torah because Jesus told them so.  That’s why they don’t accept the testimony of Christians that Jesus is Messiah because He did all kinds of wonderful signs and miracles.  But what did Yeshua Himself say?  Let’s go back to that Sermon on the Mount.  Right after He opens the sermon with the list of character traits that bring blessing, and after He explains the persecution they will have, Yeshua tells the people they are to be the “salt of the earth and light of the world”.  They are to bring the good things of the Kingdom of Heaven to the whole world by how they live their lives.  And how are they to live?  By the old standards God explained to Moses, and which Yeshua will give them the ability to live out in a new way.  That’s the very next thing Yeshua says:

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:17-19 NKJV, emphasis added)

 

The Tin Man's new "heart" was really a symbol of the change that had already happened in him.  Perhaps that is not too different from what happens in the heart transplant God accomplishes in His people.

The Tin Man’s new “heart” was really a symbol of the change that had already happened in him. Perhaps that is not too different from what happens in the heart transplant God accomplishes in His people.

Fox Byte #27:  About That New Heart

What did Yeshua mean when He said He had come to fulfill the Law (Torah)?  Some people would say that He came to complete the Law so that it no longer applied to His followers.  But is that really what He meant?  Look again at what He said:

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  (Matthew 5:17-18 NKJV, emphasis added)

The English word “fulfill” appears twice in these verses.  The first time it’s the Greek word plāro’ō (Strong’s G4137, πληρóω), which means to fill up full of meaning.  Concerning the Law it means, “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfilment.”  There’s nothing in that definition about bringing anything to an end.  It’s the second use of “fulfill” that carries that meaning, but it’s a completely different Greek word.  The word is gē’nomī (Strong’s G1096, γíνομαι), which means to become, to come to pass, to happen.  To restate what Yeshua said, the Law will be “fulfilled” or “completed”, but if heaven and earth are still here then that fulfillment or completion has not yet happened.  It’s no coincidence that, way back when the Torah was given, Moses called on heaven and earth to witness the fact that the people of Israel had entered into covenant with God (Deuteronomy 4:25-31, 30:15-20).  As long as heaven and earth are here, that covenant and the Law which governs it are still in effect.[2]

So if Yeshua were to “fill up the Law full of meaning”, how would He do it?  That’s what the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is all about.  His next step is to point to the best example of godly living that His audience would understand.  He says this:

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:20 NKJV)

Now that would have gotten their attention.  To the Jews of Yeshua’s time the Pharisees were like Billy Graham and Mother Theresa in our day.  If anyone knew about living a godly life, it would be them.  They studied the Law and the Prophets constantly and taught the people how to obey God’s commandments.  And yet, although they knew every jot and tittle of the Law, they didn’t understand the deeper meaning.  What they taught and expected was basically behavior modification:  getting people to act according to the letter of the Law, at least as the Pharisees interpreted it.  But they missed what God really wants to do, which is to change people from the inside out so that they live according to the Spirit of the Law.

In all honesty, the Pharisees were working at a disadvantage.  Up to the time that Yeshua arrived, the people of Israel had the same limitation that had been with them since God gave His Torah:  they did not have a heart to understand it.  The only way they could obey God’s commandments was to live by the rules as an act of will, and often that translated into trying to earn salvation and righteousness.  However, God promised that He would change things for His people.  Here’s how He explained it through the prophet Ezekiel:

Therefore say, “Thus says the Lord God:  ‘I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’”  And they will go there, and they will take away all its detestable things and all its abominations from there.  Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.  (Ezekiel 11:17-20 NKJV, emphasis added)

That “heart of flesh” is what Yeshua came to earth to give us.  He is the One Who makes it possible not just to obey God’s commandments, but to understand them and live them out as God intended all along.

 

When Abel and Cain offered sacrifices, both had meaning, but only one was acceptable.  (Bible Card illustration, "The Story of Cain and Abel")

When Abel and Cain offered sacrifices, both had meaning, but only one was acceptable. (Bible Card illustration, “The Story of Cain and Abel”)

Fox Byte #28:  An Acceptable Sacrifice

If Yeshua really did make it possible to understand and live out God’s commandments (Torah) as our Creator originally intended, then we would expect Him to give us a few examples.  And in fact He did.  It’s all a matter of going beyond the “letter of the Law” and getting to the Spirit behind it.  Consider what Yeshua said right after He told His audience that their righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.”  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.  And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council.  But whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire.  Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.  Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.  (Matthew 5:21-26 NKJV)

Notice that Yeshua referred directly to what God commanded in the Torah about murder, both at Mount Sinai and in Moses’ farewell speech to Israel.  He did not say that the commandment no longer applies, but rather went to the root of the commandment to explain what God meant by it.  This should be easy enough to understand:  murder is the logical outcome of anger without cause.  Anger in itself is not sin, as the Apostle Paul explains, but it is interesting to note that when Paul said, “Be angry, and do not sin”, he was quoting from Psalm 4, which says:

Be angry, and do not sin.  Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.  Selah.  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.  (Psalm 4:4-5 NKJV)

The Apostle John also commented on this, saying

Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (I John 3:15 NKJV)

We have plenty of examples to show the truth of this connection between hate and murder.  In fact, we can take it back even further than hate.  How about dislike and distrust?  How about idle words on the playground when we were children?  It may seem innocent enough when children say things like, “I wish you would go away and die”, but those words reflect attitudes of the heart that spring from the bad seed of our sin.  If that seed is allowed to grow, it turns into all kinds of wicked things, including murder.

So the connection Yeshua draws between thought and action is easy enough to understand, but there is something else He says that is not clear at first hearing – or at least not to a Jewish listener.  When He talks about bringing our gift to the altar, He is talking about bringing a sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem.  Why would He say such a thing if Temple sacrifices were no longer something God wanted to happen?  Sure, there is no Temple now, but there will be one day, and Yeshua Himself will lead the sacrificial worship.  Which means that the so-called “ceremonial law” of the Torah really is something we should learn about, if for no other reason than to learn what kind of gifts God expects us to bring Him.  And that, too, is exactly what Yeshua is saying here.  In this case, He refers to things that David and Micah told us:

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; my ears You have opened.  Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.  Then I said, “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.  I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.”  (Psalm 40:6-8 NKJV)

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart— these, O God, You will not despise.  Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem.  Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.  (Psalm 51:16-19 NKJV)

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:7-8 NKJV)

It’s not that the Lord doesn’t want sacrificial offerings.  It’s that He wants our offerings presented with pure hearts.  If we don’t have pure hearts before Him, then our gifts and offerings are worse than meaningless.  All we are doing is going through the motions to please God, while in reality we are just waiting for the chance to act on the evil desires inside of us.

Haven’t we heard something like this before?  Yes indeed.  What Yeshua tells us in the Sermon on the Mount is exactly what the Lord God told Cain:

So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry?  And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door.  And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”  (Genesis 4:6-7 NKJV)

We know what happened next:  Cain acted on the hate in his heart and murdered his brother.

Come to think of it, that Cain and Abel story was also about sacrifices and offerings.  Maybe all this time without a Temple and an altar is meant to show us what exactly God wants so that we get it right when His Temple is rebuilt.

For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim.  Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king.  They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.  (Hosea 3:4-5 NKJV)

 

BFB141008 Three MonkeysFox Byte #29:  An Eye For. . . .

From what we have seen so far in the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua is indeed correcting our understanding of what His Father really meant when He gave His Law (Torah) to Moses.  The attitude of our heart is the most important thing.  Specific commandments like, ”You shall not murder”, and “Bring your gift to the altar”, help us measure how far our heart has come toward operating the way God designed.  After all, that’s really what the Law is:  God’s operating instructions.  If we operate within the parameters of the Law (choose life), we get all kinds of good things (blessings); but if we operate outside His design parameters (choose death), we suffer all manner of consequences (curses). (Deuteronomy 30:11-20James 1:22-2:13).  If our heart is right with our Creator, then we will do His commandments naturally, as an act of love for Him.  And that is the exactly what the Apostle John, the Apostle Paul, and Yeshua Himself told us.

Yeshua continues his teaching by addressing another sticky point of human nature:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ”You shall not commit adultery.”  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  Furthermore it has been said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.”  But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.  (Matthew 5:27-32 NKJV)

This passage seems simple enough to understand.  It’s an easy progression from seeing someone attractive, to thinking about how desirable that person would be, and then imagining having sex with that person.  The scary thing is that Yeshua says the wrong kinds of thoughts are enough to break the commandments about improper sexual relations.  That’s much more difficult than simply avoiding the physical act of sex.  As with murder, Yeshua gets straight to the heart of the matter – meaning it’s only by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit that our hearts can be remade to keep the commandments in the way God intended (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 12:1-2).  But Yeshua was not the first to teach this principle.  The oldest book in the Bible explains it:

I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?  For what is the allotment of God from above, and the inheritance of the Almighty from on high?  Is it not destruction for the wicked, and disaster for the workers of iniquity?  Does He not see my ways, and count all my steps?  (Job 31:1-4 NKJV)

We also have a great example of what happens when a man looks on a woman with lust:  King David did it, lusting after the beautiful (and married) Bathsheba.  Before long, David’s lust caused him to covet, commit adultery, lie, murder, and conspire to cover up his sin.  All of that brought God’s judgment through the death of his innocent infant son, and continual strife in David’s family line.

Such things are far from God’s ideal.  In fact, the marriage covenant speaks to God’s ideal, which is why Yeshua discusses it here.  Before a young man and woman marry, their priorities are all about themselves – his favorite foods, her activities with her friends, his sports teams, her dream job, and so on.  Then one day they meet and capture one another’s hearts, and then their priorities begin to change.  Instead of thinking about themselves, he begins to think about her and she begins to think about him.  In time they are married, and then the transformation of their thinking really takes off.  They live together, so they must find a way to get along or all the good feelings that happened during their courtship will quickly disappear.  As the years go by, these two very different people learn to do more than just live together.  They actually become a unit, thinking, talking, playing, working, raising children, and doing all kinds of other things almost as one person.  Why is this so?  Because they made a commitment to one another that was much higher on their priority list than their commitment to themselves.

Do you see the picture here?  That is exactly what happens to Creator God and His people.  He wants a beautiful bride to share the glory of Himself and His Kingdom.  That’s the whole reason He made human beings in the first place.  And then our ancestors turned from Him, wanting to create their own reality and follow their own ways.  And yet the Lord pursued them, always seeking a way to break through their hard hearts and win them for Himself.  And yet it is our hard hearts that caused Him to set up this provision for divorce.  He never intended it that way.  He wanted a bride who was always faithful, keeping His commandments because in them He provides life and love and blessing, and in them she can remain pure and clean and set apart for Him alone.

But His bride did not remain faithful.  That’s the picture God gave through the prophets Hosea and Ezekiel, among others.  Even now, after His own Son laid down His life for the bride, we still rush off after our own desires.  We still commit adultery in our hearts, lusting after what looks good, what feels good, what tastes good, and what we think makes us happy.  And that’s why Yeshua said something that doesn’t seem to fit with adultery and marriage relationships.  He said if our right eye causes us to sin, we should pluck it out, and if our right hand causes us to sin, we should cut it off, because it’s better to enter into life with pieces of our bodies missing rather than to go into hell fully intact.  Why would He say such a thing?  And why, later on in His ministry, would He say it again in the context of protecting innocent children (Matthew 18:6-9)?

Because the shame and pain and reproach of physical disabilities are only temporary, but there are eternal consequences for violating the things our Creator considers precious.  If we are connected to the Maker of all life, we can be sure He will restore us completely, even if we lose everything we have on this planet.

 

Transformers in the movies can change in an instant, but with God's people the process takes much more time and effort.

Transformers in the movies can change in an instant, but with God’s people the process takes much more time and effort.

Fox Byte #30:  The Truth About Transformation

What is Yeshua really teaching us through the Sermon on the Mount?  Yes, He explains that it’s good to be connected to the Maker of all life, but is His sermon an explanation of how to do that, or is it a picture of what happens when we really connect with our God?

As with so many things about our relationship with our Creator, the answer is “Yes”.

By now it should be clear that the basic details about how to live a godly life are not in Yeshua’s teaching.  The details are in the Torah.  In the Sermon on the Mount Yeshua takes the principles of Torah, which His audience knew very well, and clarifies them.  It’s not that He is teaching something entirely new, but that He is looking in a new way at what His Father originally delivered through Moses.  That is why He uses the format, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you”.  Consider these next points:

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.”  But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.  But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No.”  For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  But I tell you not to resist an evil person.  But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:33-48 NKJV)

In each of these statements Yeshua starts with the provisions of Torah.  There are some clear instructions about oaths in Leviticus 19:12, Deuteronomy 23:21-23, and Numbers 30.  The commandment about compensation for injury (“eye for an eye”) is in Exodus 21:22-27.  Torah’s instructions for loving one’s brothers and dealing with enemies are in Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 23:3-8, and Deuteronomy 25:17-19.

One way to tie together these three statements is by considering Torah from a legal context.  That does not mean “legalistic”.  God’s commandments are not legalistic; legalism is the product of the traditions of men, which add to or take away from God’s Law.  The way to look at Torah is as God’s provision for organizing society and each individual’s personal lives so that we learn to act in love.  That means acting according to the principles of justice, mercy, and faith, which are the three things Yeshua said are the “weightier matters of the Law”.  Think of Torah as providing due process of law – setting out the ideal for human interaction, but providing a way to regulate our interaction when we fall short of the ideal.  For example, the principle behind “an eye for an eye” is that the one who has caused injury should pay an appropriate compensation to the injured party.  It does not mean that one who knocks out the eye of another should lose his own eye, but rather that he must pay the amount set by the judges to compensate the injured party.  The Torah is not a barbaric set of laws that calls for shedding of blood, but an orderly way of regulating society based upon justice and mercy.

As for loving our enemies, we all know that there are certain people we don’t like, or perhaps even hate.  In an ideal world we would get along with everyone, but in the meantime Torah provides ways to handle disagreements, and even how to handle warfare.  That’s where oaths and vows come in.  Where there is a trust issue, someone will be required to swear to the truth.  And when someone has a strong desire to do something, they may take a vow or an oath as notice that they intend to do it regardless how difficult this thing may be.  However, biblical examples show us the problems with improper use of oaths, as with Jephthah, a judge of Israel, and with a certain group of men who wanted to murder the Apostle Paul.  Then there is that other kind of oath:  cursing and profane speech.  As the Apostle James tells us, such a thing is not good for one who professes to be a disciple of Yeshua.

When we look at these things, a pattern begins to take shape.  That pattern is our transformation into the image of God Himself, just as He intended in the beginning.  Many Jews of Yeshua’s day kept Torah only as a list of rules to keep them out of trouble, or help them be respected in their society, not out of a desire to be obedient to God on His terms.  In that sense, they had no heart to understand and enter into the relationship God intended all along.  Yeshua opened the way to enter that relationship, and then He showed us the higher standard that that relationship requires.  It is in Yeshua that we gain the heart to understand, and the desire to reflect our Creator’s glory.  As the Holy Spirit works on our heart, and as we study the standards God established for loving Him and loving others, we reflect His glory more and more.  That happens when we look after the welfare of people who could be considered our enemies, and when we show mercy instead of vengeance, and when we refrain from swearing.  In fact, that is how we keep the Third Commandment:

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.  (Exodus 20:7 NKJV)

It’s simple really:  if we have the Name of the Lord God on us, then we should walk in His ways and think His thoughts.  Anything less is taking His Name in vain.  And how do we know His ways and His thoughts?  By studying His Commandments.

Now you know something of how Yeshua fulfilled the Law (Torah) by explaining it more completely.  And yet we have only covered the first part of the Sermon on the Mount.  Why not take a look at the rest of it in Matthew 6 and 7 and see if you can find the Torah in those chapters also?

This brings us to the end of this series of Fox Bytes.  Beginning October 18, 2014, Fox Bytes will become a commentary on the weekly Torah portion.


[1] For more on the meaning of Beresheet, especially how it introduces Messiah Yeshua, see Edible Rubies, Liquid Diamonds, and an Ox and Five Loaves, Two Fish, One Messiah.

[2] For a deeper study into what Yeshua meant when He said He had come to fulfill the Law check out the teaching “Pleroo the Law” by 119 Ministries.


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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