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Torah Portion (9-10 April 2021)

Sh’Mini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47) — The Kosher Discussion

This week’s Torah Portion opens with a continuation of instruction for Aaron and his sons who serve as priests. We also see in this chapter the repercussions of taking the responsibilities of the priesthood lightly as Nadab and Abihu are killed for offering “strange fire” to the Lord. The Torah Portion then closes with a recitation of food that is to be eaten and food that is to be avoided – in other words this is the beginning of the Kosher food discussion.

I am often asked about the eating of non-Kosher food … in other words bacon and pork chops. Other questions are also often asked of me. Are Kosher rules still to be followed today?  Are we still to observe laws which seem to have served their purpose?  Can I eat a cheeseburger and still be alright with God?

The answer to almost all of these questions, in my opinion (which I do respect), is it depends. Should I eat a BLT while trying to witness to a Jewish person, especially an Orthodox Jewish individual? Of course not! Not because the act of putting bacon and tomato on a sandwich is the unpardonable sin but because it could become a stumbling block to the hearing of the Gospel message. Could I eat a pork chop with my mama when she was still living because she decided it was high time that I ate a good meal? Of course. For it is not the action of eating pork that is the sin but the motivation behind it.

God himself stated this truth in 11:44-45 when he declared that they needed to be holy because HE is holy. The act of sinning if one ate an owl (11:17) or a gecko (11:30) is not the point of this chapter. The point that I believe that God was trying to make is to be stand out and be different. They were heading to a land filled with Promise but also with sinners (Canaanites, Moabites, etc.). They were to act the part of being Chosen as they were Chosen so that they might be a light to the nations. Part of this light-bearing involved not partaking of the actions and even the food of the pagans – in other words “don’t eat the pig!”

It is easier to become bogged down in the details and miss the big picture and this has often been the case with Leviticus 11. We must strive for holiness because this is what God demands and this is reflected in the theme of Leviticus (i.e., 11:46-47).            

By the way, my bacon is turkey and I do not eat or like cheeseburgers. However, it is not because I must but because I choose to do so. But am I strictly kosher … no. I don’t have to be, because I am not Jewish for one reason, but that is a discussion for another day.

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Listening and “Never Again” (Yom HaShoah Thoughts)

One of the most profound classes offered at ETBU was simply entitled – Listening. I attempted to incorporate aspects of what I learned in the course into the Speech class I taught at ABC for the act of listening is a lost art today. If you doubt me, look at the world today.

We no longer listen to each other. We no longer even talk to each other. We talk past each other, around each other, but never to each other and surely never listen. This is why we are angry and confused and belligerent towards everyone who does not agree lockstep with us. This is why we are so acrimonious anymore. We have forgotten to sit down, to talk, and to listen.

What might happen if we exposed ourselves to different ideas? It might not change our views but it could help us strengthen our understanding of the other. It could help us care more for the other. It should help us know why someone thinks differently. It will help us think better. And as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “”Listening is a profound affirmation of the humanity of the other.”

And on this Yom HaShoah Day … if we listen to the other person and remember that we ALL are made in the Imago Dei, the words “Never Again” truly will be listen and heard.

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Passover Lamb Selection Sunday

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Every March, except in 2020 when COVID gripped the country, the United States is suddenly struck with a disease that seemingly grips the nation only on the weekends. People at work sneak peeks at charts that are called brackets. People fill out these brackets and wonder who will come of the East or Midwest and who will wear Cinderella sneakers by men who are 7 feet tall. Yes, I am talking about the disease known as “March Madness” where 64/68 college basketball teams strive to have that one shining moment on a Monday night in April and it all begins on a Sunday known as “Selection Sunday.”

However, there was a more important “Selection Sunday” that occurred about AD/CE 29 or 30 but it has been obscured for over 2,000 years by another name – Palm Sunday. In fact, many Christians around the world will gather in churches and wave palm fronds and celebrate the day that Jesus entered the streets of Jerusalem the Sunday before He died on the cross which is fine. Christians will even wave their palm fronds and remember the verse from Mark 11:9 – (“Hosanna, Baruch haba bashem Adonai.”) “Hosanna, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.”

However, they will miss the real and important message of what Jesus was doing on that fateful Sunday. They will miss the truth that was the 10th of Nisan – the selection day of the Passover Lamb and that Jesus was presenting Himself to be Passover Lamb for the sins of the world.

What? You never heard this thought before? Well … let us go back to the very first Passover instructions in Exodus 12. In verses 3-6, the people are told to take a lamb on the 10th of Nisan and then on the 14th of Nisan they are to sacrifice the Passover lamb. Why were they to select the lamb on the 10th but not to sacrifice until the 14th? Verse 5 gives us an insight as to why – the Passover lamb was to be without any blemish, and it was to be taken out for inspection from the other sheep and goats.  

Jesus presented himself for selection on the 10th of Nisan (i.e., what we call today Palm Sunday) and allowed to be inspected until he was crucified/sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan. However, there is more to the story. We can now go to Zechariah 9:9 for this is a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah which was fulfilled in Matthew 21:1-1; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-38:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

Now there might be some that this verse cannot possibly be referring to Jesus; however, even the ultra-Orthodox (Lubavitch) struggle with this Zechariah 9:9 and try to say that it means that the Messiah will be humble and self-effacing. They are right but it also was realized when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on that 10th of Nisan in AD/CE 29/30 on a donkey and said inspect me because I am your Passover Lamb. It was realized when Jesus was sacrificed on Golgotha on the 14th of Nisan at the time of the Passover Lamb (3 pm) for the sins of the world. Yes, Resurrection Week begins with what is today is called Palm Sunday but would it not be better known as Passover Lamb Selection Sunday? What do you think? Also … a little catchier.

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Torah Portion (26-27 March 2021)

Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36) — Are We a Holy Priesthood Today?

            This week’s Torah Portion (which coincides in 2021 with Passover) primarily concerns itself with the ordination of Aaron and his sons for the Levitical priesthood, in conjunction with priestly sacrifices.  I recognize that this subject was mentioned in Exodus but it is worthy of further consideration.

            The priests of Leviticus were held to a high standard, especially regarding their own observance of the Law and in lifestyle choices.  They were to be the spiritual leaders of the people and while throughout Jewish history many priests failed (Eli, Anias, Caiphas just to name a few), others stood strong in the faith even at risk to themselves (Azariah – 2 Chron. 27).

            The calling of the priest or someone who serves as a spiritual leader (in the past and today) is a higher calling than we can imagine.  I remember my father held strongly to the admonition of Heb. 13:17 that he would one day give an account for the actions of his church members.  He lived and died with this responsibility on his heart and he was an excellent example.

            And while most believers in Jesus do not have a classical shepherding responsibility (i.e., pastoring), all of us are priests in our own ways.  Therefore, it might be a wise practice to read this Torah Portion more than once a year and glean it from what is expected from us as believers in Jesus.

            The demands placed upon the lives of Aaron and his sons were a calling and a responsibility that most of us would find oppressive.  However, we as Christians are often the only “priest” that the lost world ever sees.  Are we living a holy life that would draw them to Messiah Jesus?  If not, why not?

            I remember one day that I told my mother that one of my greatest personal burdens is how the lost seem to expect more from Christians than we expect from ourselves. They know we are supposed to live our lives differently; but yet, we often live no differently or actually even worse than they do. If you doubt me … check out the posts from so-called Christians on social media.  Incidentally, this is why I seek to be the friendliest person the wait staff in a restaurant ever encounters and why I always seek to know the name of every person who works at my hometown Whataburger. They need to know that if I claim to be a believer in Jesus that I live by the name I claim to follow as my Messiah. By the way, I am also an excellent tipper in restaurants.

            Therefore, ask yourself – “have you lived the life of an Aaron today?  If not, why not?  Shalom and God bless.

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3rd Verses of Hymns & Introductions to Psalms

Key Spiritual Thoughts that are missing from our lives

Growing up as the daughter of a small church Baptist pastor, I was called on more than once to “lead the singing” when someone did not show up on Sunday morning or if someone was angry at someone else. The reason the task of “leading the singing” fell to me was because I am even to this day a decent singer for a non-professional. I even went to college (Jacksonville College) for the first two years on a choir scholarship (2nd soprano/1st alto).

Anyway, one of the things I loved to do when it fell to me to “lead the singing” was to ask the people to sing the 3rd verse of those wonderful hymns we often have forgotten in this day and age of singing from a screen. For I had read the hymnals when I was growing up and come to realize that some of the greatest lyrics and deepest theology were imbedded in those third verses that had been so often ignored. For example, and one of my favorites, is the following:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

I also have a habit of reading the introductions to each of the psalms that most people overlook and a few days ago one of them caught my eye — the introduction to Psalm 56. It reads, “To the chief Musician upon Jonathelemrechokim, Michtam of David, when the Philistines took him in Gath.”

There are two unusual expressions in this introductions. Let’s go backward shall we — a Michtam (or Miktam) is usually understood as a “Golden Psalm” in that it is engraved or considered precious or engraved by the author. Ergo, this particular song/psalm was special to David who composed it when he was hiding from Saul with the Philistines (see 1 Samuel 21). However, we all know that the unusual expression in this introduction is Jonathelemrechokim. Some Biblical versions will do us the favor of translating it as “the silent dove far away” or “according to the dove on far-off terebinths.” However, this translation still does not help us modern readers … much.

So … I did some reading about terebinth trees. They can understood as either an oak or a pistachio trees in Biblical times. These types of trees would have been plentiful during the days when David was a shepherd and you can still find them today in Israel. One almost can imagine David the sheepherder looking up at these majestic oaks/pistachio trees with his harp or lyre and enjoying the simple life of watching the sheep for his father Jesse.

One can also almost imagine David as a man running from Saul and now reduced to hiding with the loathsome Philistines remembering back to the “easier days” when life seemed to be simpler before Samuel came knocking on his father’s door looking for the next king to anoint. A time when the “dove was on the far-off terebinths” and the only thing he had to consider was when a sheep was being dumber than usual. A time when men were not seeking to kill him.

Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me. Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High. — Psalm 56:1-2

If you continue to read the rest of Psalm 56, you will find a man who longed for the days of the doves and the far-off terebinths. A man who longed to return to when expectations were nothing more than sheep and more sheep.

And I am sure that we have all been there more than once but as David knew we can never return to the days of doves and pistachio trees. We must continue the fight because we in our own ways have all been anointed to the calling that God has given us … whatever that may be. Even if verses 1-2 are true in their own ways as well. We must find our pathway to verse 3 and trust in God alone. We must place our tears in the bottle that God alone can hold (verse 8). We must praise God and Jehovah (verse 10) because when the day is done … He truly is only our dove and terebinth.

Photo by Serge Baeyens on Pexels.com
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Torah Portion (19-20 March 2021)

Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:19) … The Holy but Merciful God

NOTE: Tzedakah Ministries does not believe it is wrong to utilize the word YHWH and so you will find YHWH in this and other Torah portions. If you would like to understand why, please contact us at info@tzedakahministries.org.

            Leviticus is often the point in which many Christians who have set for themselves a New Year’s resolution to read through the Bible often give up because of confusion and frustration because the regulations often seem foreign to them in this day and age of grace and freedom.  This act of throwing in the towel is a tragedy and they have missed the true point of the book.  Leviticus is a book rich in the holiness and majesty of God.  For while there are regulations and ordinances found in the book of Leviticus, the focus of our reading should not necessarily be on the what but on the who – and the who is all about YHWH God.

            Leviticus opens with regulations regarding five types of offerings – burnt, grain, peace, sin, and guilt.  The commands for how to conduct these offerings are given in a very precise description.  These descriptors are not meant to confuse or even “bore” the reader but to provide insight about how one must approach YHWH God.  He is perfection and cannot look upon anything presented to Him that is less than perfect … and this is the ultimate reason for why Jesus had to come to earth in incarnate form – to become the perfect offering for our sins.

            However, even in His perfection God shows mercy.  He understands that many are not wealthy and cannot afford the expense of a bull or a lamb for an offering.  In His compassion, He allowed the Israelites to substitute the offering of a lamb for something that they could afford (5:7).  What he wanted was a willing and contrite heart and the effort of restitution.  Jesus himself understood this fact because His own earthly parents were poor and could only afford the least of the offerings (Luke 2:24) as commanded for the birth of the firstborn son.             We should use Leviticus to understand that God is holy and perfect but also shows mercy and compassion to those who need it most.  God requires all of this not because He is egotistical but because He wanted an awareness of our own sinfulness that will become as a soothing aroma before Him (Lev. 2:2, 9; 3:16).  God is demanding but also merciful.  He is so merciful, in fact, that He became our sacrifice for sins through Jesus who is God the Son.  What an awesome and perfect God we serve!  Shalom!

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Prayer for a Missionary (Oscar Romero)

Below is a prayer written in memory of Oscar Romero (look up his remarkable story). Mama knew I struggle with wanting to accomplish EVERYTHING. She would love this prayer and want me to read it daily.

It is so hard as a missionary to watch the people of your heart who need Jesus so desperately yet heading to Hell so relentlessly to not throw your literally before the Gates of Hell. To not beg as Paul did in Romans 9:1-5, even with the ink of 8:35-39 still drying on the parchment behind him, that he was willing to go to Hell for them if they would only believe. And, yes, I have been there as well with the names and faces in my heart, soul, and mind.

Yet, I have to trust on God’s grand picture and plan. I have to know that I cannot see tomorrow but I can trust in Him who knows what is in store. I have to rely on God’s future because today I have to admit I am fearful.

“Prayer for a Missionary”
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
— Ken Untener —

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If Only I May Finish My Course…

I have to confess that I am stuck this this morning I simply do not know what to entitle this blog post. I know that a catchy title will or is supposed to attract more readers but I do not know how how to entitle what I am feeling or what I am thinking at the moment.

I have been reading for several days now through Psalm 39 and Psalm 40 for my Bible time. By the way, why do we call it “Quiet Time” for my mind is always racing with loud thoughts as God always seems to be speaking to my heart and mind. Is the same true with you or is just me?

Anyway … these psalms have been exactly what I have need lately (and I am not even finished with Psalm 40). For leading a Jewish evangelistic ministry is draining and difficult even in the best of times. In these COVID times, it has been spiritually exhausting to say the least.

I have and still do experience the dark days of Psalm 39, especially as my beloved mama passed away last year and there is not a day that I do not miss her. I also go through “the dark nights of the soul” where I just wonder if and when will we ever get past this horrible virus and return to “normal” missionary work. And then there are the obstacles of those who oppose Jewish evangelism… the most personal for me coming from those being who profess to be Christians.

This is why I cling to my life verse … without it I would fall apart. It comes from Paul’s parting words to the church at Ephesus before returning to Jerusalem and his eventual arrest. Irony?

Little did I realize until today in my Bible Time there is an almost parallel passage in Psalm 40. It is in verses 9-10.

Today, I focused solely on verse 10 but the context is both verses. David proclaims in the phrases with the “not” with the idea of emphatic intentionality (Piel Imperfect). And the words the “great congregation” is speaking specifically of Israel. Verse 10 is in essence the parallel life verse for me of Acts 20:24 and God knew I needed it today.

For if you continue to read the rest of Psalm 40 … there are struggles ahead. There are battles to fight. There are obstacles to overcome but I have God on my side! If only I may finish my course!

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The REAL Christian Conspiracy…

But … DON’T KEEP IT A SECRET!

Did you know that in the earliest days of Christianity, 1st and 2nd centuries, that we were accused of the conspiracy of … atheism? It is true! In the days of Nero, Caligula and the Roman Emperors, Christians (Jews and Gentiles) were accused of being atheists because we were worshipped only the one true God. The rest of the world could not imagine worshipping only one God that could not be seen (i.e., we refused to worship the Roman emperors and/or gods of stone). We were accused of being a part of a grand conspiracy to destroy the world and everything that was good and holy and right about the Roman world. Can you even imagine?

This idea of conspiracy continued into the Middle Ages with the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church was convinced that the Reformation was nothing but a conspiracy to destroy the church while many of the Reformers simply wanted to just … “reform” the church. Thousands upon thousands of Christians were killed by other so-called Christians because the Reformers wanted to give Scripture back to the people. By the way, the entire story of the Reformation does not involve just the story of one man, Martin Luther, even though he is greatly involved in the period. Men such as John Hus, Ulrich Zwingli, Count Zinzendorf, William Tyndale, John Calvin, and others deserve to have their stories told as well.

The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a part of an actual conspiracy to murder Adolf Hitler during World War II. Bonhoeffer struggled with his role of Operation Valkyrie as he knew murder was a sin but he rationalized that the murder of Adolf Hitler was a greater good as his brother-in-law Hans Dohnanyi informed the pastor of what was occurring to the Jewish people in the Death Camps in Poland. Operation Valkyrie failed and ultimately Bonhoeffer was killed at Flossenberg in April 1945 because of his involvement in this conspiracy.

So … what is my point for this blog post? We, especially in the United States, have become obsessed/fanatical with conspiracies over the last few years. QAnon and other conspiracy groups convinced a large number of Americans that President Trump did not lose the 2020 election (and quite a number of people still believe this conspiracy). This and other conspiracies have negatively impacted so many people. These conspiracies have created a lack of trust about everything that we see and hear today. Many people do not trust anything they do not see on the news – except the news they want or choose to believe which is so often easily disproved. Many people do not trust anything anymore.

Sadly, this creates a problem with spiritual issues as well and I do not realize if those individuals who profess to be Christians but believe QAnon and other conspiracy theories recognize it. You profess to believe in Jesus but doubt everything else. So … why should young people believe you about Jesus? Think about it and, by the way, I am talking to some of my relatives right now.

There is an adage of trust and verify and I actually do hold to it as a Christian and a research scholar. My faith in Jesus is not built on blind faith but on one that is built on solid evidence and not on conspiracies. The only Christian conspiracy that I believe in is the truth of the first century and the one of the Reformers. We need to renounce those who hold to QAnon and other false theories of today. I love my relatives but I will not allow them to continue this false narrative that destroys the faith of young people who recognize that modern conspiracy theories are nothing but bunk. Who will join me in this REAL Christian Conspiracy that believes in the first century truth of one God and that the Scripture needs to be given to all?

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Torah Portion (12-13 March 2021)

Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-40:38) … The First “Faith Promise” Offering Ever

Almost the entirety of this week’s Torah Portion is filled with the description of how the Tabernacle was built.  Some people might become bogged down in what appears to be minutiae; however, I would encourage everyone to continue reading because there is a lot to be discovered in these chapters.

The verses which most intrigued me revolved around what appears to be a “free-will offering” in chapter 35.  For those readers who grew up in Baptist, especially Independent Baptist circles, the idea of “free-will offering” is not a new concept.  Every year during a mission’s conference the pastor or chair of the Mission’s Committee will encourage the members to make a pledge of what they will give to missions during the coming year.  This offering often called a “Faith Promise Giving” offering (which is beyond that of the tithe) will supplement the work of missions for the church.  I love this concept of “free-will” giving to God because it provides a perfect illustration of both God’s expectation for His people and His ability to understand our shortcomings.

In 35:5, Moses directs the people who have a willing heart to give a contribution to build the Lord’s tabernacle.  In verses 20-29, we find that the people left the assembly and returned home to consider Moses’ words.  Then in verses 21, 22, 24, 26, and 29 we read about how the people, whose hearts were stirred, returned with gifts to assist in the building in the tabernacle.

I could be wrong, and please correct me if you believe I am in error, but I sense that this passage (chapter) indicates that not everyone gave for the tabernacle and that those who did not give were not “punished” for their lack of willingness.  In this chapter and the following ones, we do not see where anyone was pulled aside and confronted about their lack of willingness.  We only read about those who gave and not about those who did not.  Assuredly, those who did not give missed out on the blessing; but, God was not looking for “dollar amounts” (besides He does not need our gifts to accomplish His work) but willing hearts.  For while the tithe is commanded in Scripture, one cannot force someone who is not ready to give out what he/she does not wish to give.  The missed blessing is their choosing and while it is sad, it should not be condemned. God wants willing hearts … not for His sake but for ours.  Shalom.