Faith

Hear and Obey: Vayyakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20)

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The word sh’ma in Hebrew is such a beautiful and instructive word, speaking to the very heart and nature that God desires from His children. For the people of Israel are to be characterized not only by their attentiveness to God’s instruction, but also by their steadfast obedience to those very instructions. Sh’ma is a double command to “hear”—with attention, interest, and understanding—and to obey. In living the divine life, both aspects of the command are not only necessary, but without exception. In other words, to have one without the other leaves the follower susceptible to either irreparable negligence or inaction. In this week’s Torah portion, we bear witness to the fullness and reality of this command, carried out by Moses and the people… Continue Reading            Vayyakhel PDF

Take Heed, Lest We Fall

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The portion for this week is a lengthy one and includes the infamous construction of the golden calf. This reading is always a tough pill to swallow and for obvious reasons. To begin with, God’s people made a hasty choice in turning from God, especially after basking in all of the signs and wonders in the days and weeks prior to this event. How quickly they lost faith, especially in the wake of seeing God provide manna, water, deliverance, protection, and shelter. On another level, it was difficult to see such a respectable, godly figure like Aaron buckle under the pressure of the people, allowing and even encouraging their infidelity. This year, though, what really increased the burden of this story is when I took into consideration the conversation that was happening in the previous chapters of Exodus, the conversation and planning that was unfolding upon the mountain. God was laying the groundwork for His tabernacle, the place where He would dwell—that He desired to dwell—with His people, the ones who were, in that moment, dancing and reveling and lifting their worship to an inanimate chunk of metal. How disheartening is this? God is making preparations to build the “love nest,” the very place where He would commune with His bride, and all the while His supposed bride is fornicating unfaithfully in the next room.

Think about this: As God and Moses are pouring over the details of the holy of holies, adorned with the purest of gold and the finest wood and tapestries, the people are freely and willingly handing their gold to Aaron, demanding and cajoling him to fashion a golden replica of the Most High. As God shares, piece by piece, the details of the priests’ clothing—the onyx stones engraved with the tribes of Israel and the breastplate mounted with precious stones, one for each of the tribes—the very people these stones represented were simultaneously celebrating their return back to the chains and shackles from whence they came. As Moses was receiving from God the layout for the golden plate, on which was engraved the phrase “Holy to the Lord,” the very priest on whose head that crown would rest was proclaiming as he pointed out the golden calf, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Yes, and as God was writing the marriage vows, the terms of the covenant, the people were already hastily violating them.

This thought of the people turning against God and throwing their trust onto the graven image is, no doubt, disturbing; but when juxtaposed with the intimate plans that were being written on the mountain, the treachery is elevated to a whole new level. It’s nauseating when we consider the irony of this story because little did the people know that the very groom they were abandoning was up on the mountain unveiling His desire to draw closer to them. In their feeble minds they assumed that He had abandoned them, sweeping Moses with Him. Guided by this grave assumption, they took matters into their own hands, created their own deliverer, and with little resistance, shifted their loyalty.

Every time I read this story, I cannot help but think about how easy it is to scoff at the so-called harlotry of the Israelites. In fact, I am guilty of detaching and elevating myself in judgment of these people… our forefathers. We all are. After all, we would never stoop to this level of insolence, now would we? Before we are quick to answer, we who are confident in our own so-called “stability” and quick to judge ought to, in the words of Paul, “take heed lest he (we) fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). The warning from Paul is very clear and imperative because he knows that we possess within ourselves the very same nature as those who exalted the calf. In fact, Paul sternly warns,

1 Corinthians 10:6, 11

“Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved… Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come.”

The words recorded in the scriptures were written for our preservation, that we would not fall into the same impulsive error as those who stumbled before us. In his second epistle, Peter echoes this warning, commanding us to be careful because in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? Forever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues as it was from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4). Do these words sound familiar? They are words that carry the same tone of impatience and rebellion as those spoken by the very people whom we are quick to condemn for turning on Moses and casting their allegiance to the golden calf. In their impatience, these people succumbed to their own understanding and devices, which—if we are honest with ourselves—seems to also be our fatal flaw as well. Therefore, in light of their fall, Peter charges us to “be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17).

The fact of the matter is this: As we diligently wait for the return of Christ, He is preparing, preparing to return and do what He initially intended to do in the desert: dwell in intimacy with His bride (John 14:1-4). Yes, He will again betroth His bride, and this time it will be an everlasting betrothal. Yet, until that hour comes, we must do what Israel failed to do: patiently wait, expectantly watch, faithfully prepare, and diligently persevere until He descends. Let us not acquiesce to temptation, trial, or doubt, for we have seen that these only have one end: destruction. Therefore, it is imperative that we hold fast to the admonition of Peter,

2 Peter 3:13-14

“But according to His promise we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.”

Called To Be Israel Pt. 1

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By Brandy Goodnow

Who are we? Israeli? Jewish?

Gentile, Greek, Roman, Mexican, African, Chinese, Native American, etc.? We know people by their fleshly, physical origin but do we know who we are called to be spiritually? What’s more important our physical origin or our spiritual destiny?

We are called to be ONE people, CHOSEN, a holy nation, a royal priesthood… We are called to be Israel.

“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.”

Deuteronomy 7:6 NKJV

“Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant, And Israel whom I have chosen.”

Isaiah 44:1 NKJV

“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”

I Peter 2:9 NKJV

How are we Israel if we are not technically physical descendants or if we are uncertain if our bloodline is that of Israeli lineage? What does it mean to be Israel? Israel is more than 12 physical tribes. The very name Israel in Hebrew is so meaningful and prophetic:

Genesis 32:28 NKJV

And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Wow! Did you catch that? One who struggles with God and men and yet overcomes. The name is incredibly significant to all of us and indicates our destiny. Let’s break the name Israel apart. First, what does it mean to struggle with God and men?

The word struggle means to contend, make every effort, plug away, dig, go all out, toil, try one’s hardest, pursue, ask, and seek. If we are called to be Israel we need to be constantly striving towards God (John 4:24). Many of us desire to seek God and grow deeper, but how many of us really struggle with God daily? We have to ask ourselves how deep do we want to go, how much are we willing to surrender, and what price are we willing to pay? The deeper we descend the more accountable we are.

Here’s my question and challenge to all of us: how are we able to really dig in, toil, and go all out if we do not read and grapple with the very Word He provided? I spent so much of my life and time reading a few ounces of NT Scripture (through a daily devotional), adding a verse or two to my notes while listening to a quick “drive by sermon” every Sunday. I attended many conferences, bought countless books written by men and women trying to find depth with God, but I wasn’t really striving, toiling, or struggling. I filled my book case with said books, studies, etc., but ironically I didn’t study His Book. When friends asked me to participate in a Bible study, it was always through another book outside of the Bible. The Bible was just a reference here and there, giving me exactly what I thought was sufficient: a tiny slice of God. Thankfully, God didn’t let me stay there… He was calling me to something deeper and greater— a depth I now know He is calling all of us to. He was calling me to my spiritual destiny, a destiny to be Israel.

When we arrived at this realization, my husband and I started shopping churches thinking this was the problem, that we were lacking depth. We didn’t want to be at a “seeker sensitive” church anymore. After visiting a few different churches over a 2 year period of time, I began to get frustrated and the same question would reverberate through my mind and heart: Is this all there is to God? He has to be deeper than this! Although I grew up in a faith based home and went to church all my life, I realized my relationship with God was superficial and shallow. Why? Because I didn’t dig in, toil, and struggle with the very Word He gave me.

In my shallow pursuit, I spent most of my life skimming the NT Scripture, and rarely did I venture into the Old. I finally went back to the beginning of the book where God laid the foundation, the Rock. It was here  He used the physical aspects of His Torah to teach us how to love Him and treat others, but that was only the beginning. As we continued through His Word, He continued (and is continuing) to unveil more, so that what we see we may perceive, and what we hear is understood; the physical directed and continues to point our attention to the Spiritual, to show us “… on Earth as it is in Heaven” (Mathew 6:10). The things that are given to us on earth (physical) are a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5). I believe THIS is the struggle: to not only understand that we, even though born of flesh in a physical world, are destined to be spiritual just like Elohim, but that this requires a knowledge, an understanding of His heart, mind, and nature. To do so means that we must spend our lives on this earth wrestling and toiling as Israel did–both the man and the nation–to ascend the physical into the spiritual.

To refuse or avoid this struggle is to accept a struggle opposite in nature than the one God calls us to: it is a toiling of laziness, idleness, and compromise.

If we don’t struggle with God we let idleness creep in, we become lackadaisical, and we avoid really asking for or seeking depth. Once this happens compromise follows. We forget who we are and who we are meant to be in the end. We will become status quo, numb or frustrated, neither hot or cold, but in the middle somewhere. To pursue our identity as Israel, though, we must struggle with men and ultimately with out Maker. We must struggle with every Word that comes forth form His mouth, tossing us to and fro until we, with unveiled faces, are born into our spiritual destiny: Israel.

God Gives, But Are We Ready To Receive?

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2 Peter 1:3

“Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”

God has given us all that we need… everything for life and godliness. If we do not have it, it’s not because God is lacking, but it’s because there is a breakdown in faith. Somewhere we are not trusting, not approaching, not surrendering, or not obeying. It’s there. The question is, do we believe it’s sufficient enough to bring life? Are we willing to trust God completely and depend on what He is asking of us? God is always ready to give, but are we truly ready to receive? This is the very reason why He brought Israel out into the desert:

Deuteronomy 8:16

“In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.”

There are three important things to pull from this:

a. God pulled them into the wilderness to humble them and test them.

b. He did all of this to do good for them in the end, not to destroy them (though they thought this many times).

c. He did this so that they would know that the process of salvation and godliness had nothing to to do with their power or strength, but it was completely of Him. It did require their trustful obedience. This one is huge for us, because we want to “get through all of this on our own power.” In fact, we see ourselves as “weak” if we ask for help or depend on anyone else. God sees it differently. Our inability to surrender to God in faith, trust, and obedience proves “the weakness” of our faith in His promises. I say “our” because this is a lesson I have learned recently, and that I am continuing to learn every week. Let me explain (take this however you will):

Many people have questioned and criticized me and my family for our observance of sabbath. They say that we have taken up the law and legalism (which in most churches is a no-no). They have voiced their concerns that I have either gone backwards or off the tracks completely. What they fail to understand  is that it has been completely the opposite. Now, more than ever, I see why God commanded the sabbath and requires His people to observe it (Exodus 20:8-11). I also know more now than I did in the past what it means to trust and depend on God, to have faith, and to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

We do not observe it because it is some ancient rule that God put in place to take away all of the fun in life, nor do we observe it to gain salvation or because it makes me holier than everyone else. These thoughts have never even crossed my mind. Here lies the reason why I observe sabbath:

Exodus 16:23-30

“Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’ So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul, nor was there any worm in it. And Moses said, ‘Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in a field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.’ And it came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none.”

 Did you catch what is happening here? When God promised to provide them with enough for both days, there was enough for both days. They had enough because God keeps His word. Unfortunately, some went out on the seventh day, the sabbath, and tried to gather more. No big deal, right? Honest mistake? Well, let’s see how God responded to this:

Exodus 16:28-29

“Then the Lord said to Moses,’How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? See, the Lord has given you the sabbath; therefore, He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.”

When we look at this from only a physical standpoint and through the lenses of our culture, God seems to be an uptight dictator. This is why so many people reject the sabbath along with so many of God’s other commandments, they see them as unnecessary rules. But when we look at this from a spiritual standpoint, then we see why it was and still is so important to God. God asks His people to work six days but rest on the seventh. Why? There are many reasons, but remember, this is a test. He wants to see if they truly depend on Him. Will they trust Him enough to take care of their needs? Will they trust that He will feed them? Based on the fact that many of them went out to gather, the answer is no.

He stands ready to give, yet they lack the faith to receive.

There are many reasons and purposes for the sabbath, but one key one is that it is a day designed to teach us to press into and depend upon our Creator. For me, and for God’s people, sabbath is a day that we put down our own pursuits and attempt to pursue God wholeheartedly, the way He asks us to. It is a day we cease from providing for our own well-being and we turn to the God who provides for all of our needs (spiritual, mental, emotional, and so forth). It is a day when we realize that all of these things we pursue and chase after all week do not sustain us, nor do they truly bring life, but it is God who brings life and gives us the bread we need. For six days we work, we gather, we pursue, we entertain and depend on ourselves; we take care of our needs emotionally, physically, perhaps even spiritually. Sabbath is our reality check, a return to the Source. It’s our day to remember that there is only one who sustains and gives life: God.

With this said, we put things down and say no to many things not because God is going to strike us down if we don’t. We willingly and gladly choose not to work or pursue our own pleasure because it’s our way of acknowledging the fact that none of the things we chase after will fulfill, and that these things often get in the way of our pursuit of God. We do this in faith, believing that God’s Word–all of it– is true, and that His promises are designed to bring life. This day is difficult because it teaches us to trust, and it teaches us to have the type of faith God is looking for—the faith and the trust that I do not need to gather on this day, I do not need to work on this day, I do not need to entertain myself on this day, I do not need to care for my own needs, because this is the day that God will do these things with us. This is the day God WANTS to do these things with us. This is the day that He will do what He said He would do: refresh and sanctify us! He will provide us with what we need, if we are willing to be still and trust. Observing sabbath has truly been a step of faith for me and my family because we had to stop. We have had to surrender many things, “important” things, but we all know now that these things pale in comparison to what we have gained as individuals and as a family. God is truly transforming us.

In doing so, I realize how much I do not depend on God, and how much I truly depend on myself. Through this process, I have learned that it is one thing to read God’s Word, it’s another to understand it, and still another thing to have faith it will come true in my life. God wants our faith, because when He has this, then everything else will follow. Many people refuse the sabbath, oppose it, or render it unnecessary because they do not have the faith that it will draw us near to God; they do not have the faith that it can refresh, heal, and sanctify us (make us holy). Above all they lack the faith that He stands ready to give if only they make themselves ready to receive.

God wants to heal you, as He does all of us, but we have to come to Him in faith… faith that His Word is true and is enough for us. This is not a push so much to start sabbath. It is more a push to faith, faith in what God says and instructs, and sabbath just happens to be one of the central aspects of His Word where He infuses this type of faith. I am only speaking from my experience, and from the experience of those that have gone before us. Besides, like anything else, to jump into sabbath without the understanding of what it is and without the faith that it can heal is useless and even dangerous. Everything hinges on faith, and once we step in faith, that’s when we begin to see the truth in His Word: He stands ready to give us everything we need for life and godliness, if only we stand ready to receive.