Weekly Torah (30-31 July 2021)

Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25) So That … So That … So That!

This week’s Torah Portion provides one with a very important lesson on parenting, specifically chapter 11. Under the inspiration of God, Moses in 11:2 informs the people that he is speaking to the parents. Obviously, the fathers regarding the instruction of the children; however, but I think that room can be made for mom in this passage as well.

The parents of the Israelites who are now about to cross over into the Promised Land were all under the age of 20 at Kadesh-Barnea when the people rejected the promise and were driven back into the wilderness for 38 years. They are the ones who saw the discipline of the Lord (v. 2, 7) and it is now their job to instruct their children on the way they should live as the Chosen People of God.

In providing this direction to the parents, Moses then proceeds to give three “so that’s” as motivation. The first one in verse 8 provides the “so that” the people might be strong when they go into possess the land. The second in verse 9 is “so that” they might have long life. The third “so that” is in verse 21 and is tied together with the instruction (first found in Deut. 6:4-9) to teach their children. The reason for this tying together of the “so that’s” is “so that” the possession of the land might be multiplied. This multiplication of “so that” is then connected to a secondary and probably a conditional promise – if they will obey, the land they receive will extend from the Mediterranean on the West to the Euphrates in the East and from Lebanon in the North to the wilderness in the South.            

This last “so that” is filled with possibilities and promise and perhaps even prophecies. But let’s be careful how far we take verses 18-25 for it is difficult to know how to come to a final interpretation of this “so that.”  However, it is something to think about and even more to dream about, especially in these days of wars and rumors of wars. Shalom. God bless.

Is True Communication Missing in Jewish and All Mission Efforts?

What the Heptapods from Arrival (2016) Could Teach Us?

I realize that I am a little late in watching Arrival (2016) but the movie is wonderful. And since the movie is five years old, any spoilers from this blog is not my fault!

I was fascinated by the 85% of the movie (FYI — the movie in my opinion fell a little apart in the last 20 minutes). The effort to communicate of humanity — especially Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner — to communicate with the alien pod that landed in Montana of all places along with the other 11 other pods that landed in other parts of the world.

Naturally, fear and distrust took over most of the world, especially China and Russia, as the “otherness” of the heptapod aliens (they looked somewhat like octopi to me). Their tendency to communicate in symbols and not sound was foreign to what we anticipated and only heightened the fear for the world. The world powers did not help the situation by our inability and lack of desire to communicate with each other.

Can you tell that the issue of communication is key and central to this blog post today? Well … if not I am not communicating well very — because we are going to talk about communication today.

Communication is key to missions and evangelism and I would propose to you that this is one of the major issues that we are failing in today. We often talk about our people group. We often talk at our people group; however, when was the last time we talk to our people group?

And an even better question is do we understand the language of our people group … today?

To do this we as missiologists and evangelists have to be constantly evolving our own understanding and study of the people group to whom God has called us to reach. We cannot rest on our laurels. We cannot assume that we know just because we knew yesterday. We cannot and must not grow lazy.

Communication in mission and evangelism is ever evolving (yes — it is okay to use that word in evangelical circles). Are we today? Will we tomorrow? This is what the Heptapods tried to teach Amy Adams and need to teach us today.

Weekly Torah (23-24 July 2021)

Va’Etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) God Cares About the Least of These … Meaning Us!

The focus for this week’s Torah Portion will be the first eleven verses of chapter 7. This section of the Torah is important for several reasons. First, it brings to a summation point the focus of the first six chapters – God was the one in charge of bringing the Israelites to the threshold of the Promise Land. Second, it provides specific instructions on how and what the Hebrew children are supposed to do when they enter the land – destroy the inhabitants or the culture and worship of false gods will destroy you. Third, and perhaps most important, God takes a few verses to explain why they are the Chosen People of God.

Now for most of us, this explanation of chosenness might create the desire to become as my mother described it as becoming “too big for your britches.”  However, God does not allow them this opportunity because while He tells them in verse 6 that they are holy and chosen, He reminds them in verse 7 that it was not because they were anything special. In fact, the Lord tells them that they were the smallest (e.g., weakest) among all the nations of the world. However, and despite their shortcomings, God chose them to be His people and to receive the blessings of His covenant and lovingkindness.

In other words, their blessings are because of and through God Almighty. Now this should not have caused an inferiority complex for the Hebrew children but instead an awareness of the vastness of God’s love for them. We can take this same lesson home with us. We are nothing in the vast schema of the universe. I once stood at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and uttered the words of David, “What is man that you are mindful of him? (Psalm 8:4). And while on vacation at the foothills of the Davis Mountains in Texas, I did the same thing. However, in our nothingness and despair, we were loved and chosen by the hands of God for a special purpose and calling.            

So just as once the Jewish people were preparing to claim the land that was (and still is!) given to them, let’s remember as children of God that we have also been called and bought with a price that is truly far above rubies. Shalom. God bless.

Weekly Torah (9-10 July 2021)

Matot-Masei (Numbers 30:2-36:16) — Lessons Learned from the Wilderness of Sin

This week’s Torah Portion will feature two unusual attributes. First, the portion will focus on chapter 33 which appears on the surface to be a travelogue recount of the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness. Second, the analysis of the portion will attempt to balance the tenuous line of allegory and reality.

Please note that any student of Scripture should be very cautious before doing so because Scripture is the Holy Word of God and allegory should never be your first choice of interpretation!

First, chapter 33 begins with these words, “These are the journeys of the sons of Israel, …”  Moses then proceeds to list every stop and pause the Hebrew children experienced in their almost 40 years of wilderness traveling. On the surface this can appear to be one of those chapters (like the “begat” chapters) that you ask yourself, what is God trying to teach me?  That might be a question you ask yourself until you reach verses 50 to 56. This section deals with what the Israelites are to do in claiming the land of the promise. They are to destroy and drive out all the Canaanite inhabitants. The purpose of this was to ensure that the Chosen People would not be tempted to fall into the sin their parents and grandparents had participated in the entire journey from Egypt to Jericho. Can you imagine the not-so-good memories that probably went through their mind as one location after another was mentioned by Moses? 

The memory of sin and disobedience during their time in the Wilderness of Sin had to serve as a constant reminder of the judgment of God, especially when they looked around and saw who was not there because of sin’s judgment. In other words, verses 1-49 were to serve as a reminder of what not to do as they approached verses 50-56. Verse 55 relates specifically to this truth when God tells them that if they disobey, the Canaanites will become as pricks and thorns to them, perhaps like many of the people they encountered on their journey to the Promised Land.

We can learn a similar lesson, even if we must be careful not to over allegorize, from this chapter. We are on a journey and there will be times when we will fall into our own Wilderness of Sin. However, we must continue on in this life’s journey and remember to fight against, drive out, and annihilate the temptations we encounter along the way. For if not, they will become constant burdens in our lives. By the way does anyone besides this writer feel as if they need to read and/or re-read Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress and Lewis’ Pilgrim Regress? Shalom. God bless.

Weekly Torah (2-3 July 2021)

Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) … Sacrifices Are Worthless Without Forgiveness of Sins

Chapters 28 and 29 of this week’s Torah Portion provide us with exact specifications as to the type and number of animals that were to be sacrificed at specific times of the year (specifically Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur).  The exactness of God’s command is a first indication of how holy and solemn these occasions were to be perceived and understood by the people of God.

What was especially intriguing to me as I read these chapters was the command and specifications regarding the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (29:13-38).  For each day of these feasts, the command was given to sacrifice bulls, rams, lambs, and a goat.  On the first day, it was 13 bulls, 2 rams, 14 male lambs, and a goat for the sin offering (29:13, 16).  The second was the same except the number of bulls decreased by one.  This pattern continued over the remainder of the “Days of Awe.”  One constant was that there was to be a goat sacrificed and it was to be for a sin offering.  This is a very important notation, and this sacrificial command was noted in a separate verse than the command for the sacrifice of the bulls, rams, and lambs.  Makes one wonder why?

I believe it is because of the fact that without the forgiveness of sin, the other sacrifices are pointless.  The sacrificing of the goat for the sins of the people took priority over the need to bring a sacrifice that is a soothing aroma to the Lord (v. 13).  For without the forgiveness of sin by God, the other sacrifices are nothing more than dead carcasses.  Sin must be forgiven before anything else can be accomplished.            

Today we do not sacrifice goats before the Lord because our High Priest (Jesus) became the perfect, eternal, once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world.  Any other efforts to “make God happy” without the sacrificial blood of His Son on our lives is in reality nothing more than the smell of dead carcasses before God.  Therefore, I must ask have you received this ultimate and final sacrifice given to us by Jesus of Nazareth?  If not, can you imagine a better time than right now?  Shalom.  God bless.

Weekly Torah Portion (25-26 June 2021)

Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9) — BE the People of God ALREADY

This week’s Torah Portion is replete with moments and illustrations worthy of being discussed.  The passage begins with the account of Balaam and Balak and this is always a fun to discuss how a donkey is smarter than people … and you could make the same argument today. However, this week’s portion will focus on the utterly uncomfortable 25:1-9 because it is so apropos to what is going on in the world today.

In this section of Scripture, the people of God were as the King James bluntly states were committing “whoredom” (i.e., play the harlot) with the daughters of Moab. This act was especially heinous on so many levels – not only because they were worshipping other gods but also because they were doing so with the people of Moab. Why was it that Moab so heinous to God – they were the descendants of Lot and his daughter? They were engaging in sexual acts and idol worship with people who condoned and descended from pedophilia and incest. This was so disgusting to God that in we find in verse 3 that Moses describes the anger of God as how our nostrils flare and eyes burn and teeth clench (do you understand?).

However, this anger of God was not enough to frighten the people of God. They openly challenged Moses (and God) when one of the men brought one of these pagan women into the camp until one of the grandsons of Aaron took a spear and stabbed the pregnant women and the man until they were dead.

It took 24,000 beheaded people of God and two speared individuals to calm God’s wrath, but I want you to note that I have repeatedly used the term PEOPLE OF GOD in this Torah Portion. It was not the Moabites or the Midianites that stirred God’s anger. It was the PEOPLE OF GOD who were sinning. It was the PEOPLE OF GOD who angered God. It was the PEOPLE OF GOD who willfully challenged the commands of the Torah and lived how they wanted – regardless.

We are living in the same world today in the church and as Christians. We who are believers in Messiah Jesus are not the Chosen People as the Israelites were/are but we are PEOPLE OF GOD in that we have been adopted into the family of God and we as a collective whole are living lives of open rebellion. We have false idols (i.e., politics and other things) and we choose to bring in or hide sexual practices that often shame the Pagans from attending church.

Yet, we expect God to turn the other cheek and tell others to judge not lest… and completely misinterpret Matthew 7 for our own devices. We will even challenge the salvation of others for not being “forgiving” while we hide sins in our camp that are beyond reprehensible

Ultimately, and this is my last word for today, we cannot expect God to bless us if we resemble the world and not the PEOPLE OF GOD. For if not, we better watch out because the spear could be coming.

Jewish Missions … The “Chuck Cunningham” of World Missions

Have you ever heard of “Chuck Cunningham? Don’t worry … most people haven’t even though he is the oldest child of Howard and Marion Cunningham. He was also the older brother of Richie and Joanie Cunningham. He seemingly disappeared from the surface of the earth and there was never a search for him in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he lived. He never was on a milk carton. His parents or siblings actually never even seemed concerned about his absence even though they were on ABC-TV every Tuesday night in the 1970s and early 1980s.

In fact, the television show “Happy Days” wiped the existence of Chuck Cunningham from the face of earth. It is as if he never was even born or was even important. Tom Bosley, who played the father Howard Cunningham, gave this explanation for Chuck’s absence before his death.

This “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome” (used to describe TV characters who just disappear without explanation), I would argue also seemingly exists in the world of missions and evangelism. In fact, I would propose that the first child of missions, the Jewish people, have disappeared from the focus of missions and evangelism for many Christian denominations and many churches since the earliest days of the Church Age. The Jewish people have been cast out to the University of Mongolia (watch the Tom Bosley video) never to be seen again and they don’t even merit a mention on a mission’s milk carton for lost and missing unreached people groups for the most part. Even though, they are an unreached people group as between 97-99% of the Jewish people living in the world today are without Messiah Jesus.

Yet … the Jewish people are to be “first” in the order of outreach according to Romans 1:16. So … why are they forgotten? Is it because like Chuck they are not as cute and cuddly as Richie and Joanie from the TV show “Happy Days”? Are they harder to reach and more difficult to understand?

Is it because the modes we are so comfortable using today do not work with them and the ROI (return on investment) is not as successful? Ergo, we turn to other people groups like “The Fonzie’s” of the world who make better videos for church groups to support.

Yes, I am asking difficult questions but these are the questions we need to ask because the oldest child of the Gospel are the brothers and sisters of Jesus the Jewish Messiah and they need Messiah Jesus as well. So … when are going to remember the Chuck Cunningham of World Missions and bring him back to the dinner table and sit him down beside Mr. Cunningham where he belongs? He is the oldest after all.

Weekly Torah Portion (18-19 June 2021)

Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1) — Look and Live!

This week’s Torah Portion is replete with moments and illustrations worthy of being discussed for a number of portions. However, this week’s portion will focus on 21:4-9 for two primary reasons. The first is strictly sentimental but utterly poignant. This passage was one of my dad’s favorites and he passed away on July 4, 2000. He preached from this passage whenever he went to a new church, and I cannot tell you the number of people who became truly a believer in Messiah Jesus as a result of this sermon. The second is due to its prophetic significance to the life of Christ (John 3:14-15). And so, I will borrow from my dad’s sermon to illustrate this Messianic significance.

Jesus referenced this account in his night encounter with Nicodemus. He noted that as Moses lifted up the serpent, the Son of Man would be lifted up as well. Jesus drew Nicodemus’ attention to the reality that Moses’ act of placing the brass serpent on the pole was to draw the people to the fact that they were incapable of saving themselves.

Jesus wanted Nicodemus to realize that some other action must be done because a person’s good works could not do it … Nicodemus was a very good man! The command to look upon the brass serpent symbolizes the reality that while many people love Jesus’ teachings it takes more than that for eternal life (John 3:15). As the people in the wilderness had to look to (at) the serpent, we must look to only one person for our salvation, Jesus of Nazareth. And in modern times, playing church (i.e., playing around the reality of the cross) will not do it. Looking to our hope (Messiah Jesus) is the only way we can receive our hope of life.

Thank you for this opportunity to remember one of my dad’s most favorite of sermons. But most of all, remember the words of the old hymn – look to Jesus and live. Shalom. God bless.

Weekly Torah Portion (11-12 June 2021)

Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32) … High Cost of Rebellion

FYI — The picture in this blog is truly a family picture of your’s truly. I was about six years old at the time and it was the 1970s. And every one of us hated this picture!

As a former pastor’s child (until my dad’s death in July 2000), this week’s Torah Portion conveyed a certain amount of “delicious” irony for me, especially chapter 16. Chapter 16 opens with three members of the tribe of Levi (Korah, Dathan, and Abiram) confronting Moses regarding his leadership abilities and the direction he is taking the Hebrew people. Moses reacts (v. 4-7), not by forming a sub-committee or by having a congregational meeting/vote on the charges made against him, but by calling on God to decide who is correct and who is in the wrong. Moses asks God to show through the burning of incense who should be the leader of the people.

Korah brings all the people (v. 19) to the tabernacle the next day in anticipation of a “vote to get rid of the ‘preacher’” and ends up being cast into Sheol, along with all his family and the families of Dathan and Abiram (v. 20-35). This is a story of individuals struggling for power and for control but discover that the only person truly in control is God Almighty.

I think the lesson from this portion is fairly obvious – God picks his people for His intentions for their lives. The Israelites assumed and presumed but ultimately God had selected Moses to lead His people and that decision should have been respected. Korah was obviously a voice in his community and could draw the attention of the people; however, Korah was not God’s choice for prophet and leader of the Jewish people.

Too often today we are guilty of the sins of assumption and presumption. This is sometimes evident in the choices churches make for pastors and leaders. We choose by appearance or style (much as Samuel tried to do when he would have picked anyone but David to be the future king) and forget the heart. The best looking, smartest and most capable are not always the ones God chooses for the spiritual mission; but He does know who is best and His lead is the one to follow. Incidentally, my wonderful dad was not tall and did not have a deep, resonant voice, but he was a wonderful pastor. In fact, and at his funeral, several of his former churches either attended or sent messages to my mama to let her know that they discovered what a wonderful pastor Jack Downey was after he left because they never were able to have someone of his high pastoral quality again.

Anyway, and back to the Torah portion, the Israelites discovered the high cost of rebellion – 14,700 lives (v. 49) – but there is no reason we cannot learn from their experience. Follow God, follow God’s leaders (but make sure they are His), and go in His direction and not your own. Shalom and blessings!

Does Christianity Need a Johari window?

In the last few years, I seriously have considered a lesson from one of my seminary professors Dr. Winona Elder and her course on Interpersonal Communication. This is the Johari Window Model and it reflects our (my) personality.

OPEN SELF – I know that I am Type-A, stubborn, opinionated, determined, loyal, and driven just to name a few qualities. These select qualities reflect both the best and worst of me. I love unconditionally but I am too honest with those I love at times. I need an edit button at times.

HIDDEN SELF – I am insecure and have a threshold of insecurity that exceeds 100%. I doubt myself constantly and take criticism to heart whether it is deserved or not. I can be hurt easily and I am more fragile than you might imagine. I cry easily but privately.

BLIND SELF – ???

HIDDEN SELF – I am asking God to reveal what he wants me to know. Some of it has been painful and uncomfortable but necessary. He has been taking the rough spots of my life, which are ugly(!!!), and buffering them for His purposes but there are still areas of my life still hidden to me.

Yet … We all have “Blind Spots.” We all have areas of ourselves that we cannot see about ourselves – both good and negative. And when these blind spots are pointed out, we ALL have a tendency to respond with … “Hey pot check yourself before calling me a kettle.”

This resistance to accountability and vulnerability is why many Christians refuse to grow and mature. This is why churches love to point out the sins of the world but won’t confront the sin monster in their own midst. Dare I say it … This is why we have no impact in the world today?

For we do have a Blind Self/Spot that we won’t clean up and it is really dirty… I know I do. I am trying to confront mine. What about you all?