Sunday, January 31, 2010

TorahBytes: There Is Reason to Fear God (Yitro)

Moses said to the people, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin." (Shemot / Exodus 20:20; ESV)

Some time ago I did a TorahBytes message on this same verse. At that time I explained how there was a difference between being scared of God and having what we might call a healthy fear of him. When we respect him for who he is, then we don't have to be afraid of him. While that is true, I see now that I downplayed what an appropriate fear of God actually is.

In this week's Torah portion, which includes the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, we read how the people were warned not to get too close to God lest they perish. A serious warning indeed! Not following God's directive would result in death. The consolation of Moses that I quoted at the beginning in no way contradicts this dire warning. Stepping out of bounds regarding God is perilous. Understanding the balance of not being afraid with the need to fear God includes gaining a real grasp on the magnitude of God's power.

This is in contrast to how God is often depicted today. Somehow the master of the universe and judge of the whole world has become the sugar daddy of the religion of extreme tolerance. To say "God loves you" has come to mean that God accepts you regardless of your behavior - a very different thing from the one who commanded strict lifestyle standards through Moses.

There are people who claim to believe the Bible, who say that God has changed since Mt. Sinai. Those were his angry days, but not now. Under the New Covenant they say, he has calmed down. Now he is a kinder, gentler, and accepting god. Strange though that Yeshua said some things that sound very similar to what Moses said in our Torah portion:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:28-33; ESV)
"Don't fear, but fear" - just like Moses. The fact is that God is very scary. He is the greatest power in the universe. The power of a nuclear bomb is nothing compared to the infinite power of God. Yet we tend to treat him so lightly. That we can call God, "Father" should overwhelm us. But instead we treat him like someone whom we can manipulate to suit our fancies. The Creator of the Universe is not to be trifled with. Rather, as he demonstrated through Moses, he is to be obeyed, and obeyed on his terms alone.

The real difference between the Old and New Covenants is that God has provided the way to be fully restored to right relationship with him. Through faith in the Messiah's sacrifice we are made fit to draw near to this awesome God. We should not be afraid to approach him, but never on our terms. Just like at Sinai, God still requires that we approach him on his terms alone. To neglect that is to put ourselves at risk of eternal consequences. As both the Old and New Covenant writings attest, "our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29; ESV, compare Devarim / Deuteronomy 4:24).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

TorahBytes: Troubles (Be-Shallah)

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness (Shemot / Exodus 16:2; ESV)

When we think of the exodus, I wonder if we think of it more as a fairy tale than the historical event it really was - as if after living under oppressive bondage for hundreds of years, God delivered the people of Israel, and then they lived happily ever after. I can think of at least one Hollywood rendition of the exodus story that gives this impression. Once the people got to the other side of the Red Sea, they were trouble free as they headed off to the Promised Land to enjoy their new life.

But that is not what really happened. Even though they truly were a free people, no longer under the bond of slavery, they had a whole new set of challenges to face. In fact between the Red Sea and their arrival at Mt. Sinai alone, they faced dehydration twice, starvation once, and war once. Far from being trouble free, the people went from one set of troubles to another. The difference was that previously they had been facing troubles as slaves to the Egyptians, and now they were facing troubles as servants of God.

Servants of God face ongoing trouble. The source of trouble can be quite varied. Sometimes troubles are of our own making, sometimes they come from the hand of others. At times we find ourselves in hostile natural environments, such as epidemics and disasters. The troubles we face can be of various degrees, from simple dilemmas to nuisances to life-threatening situations.

The trouble faced by the people of Israel during their time in the wilderness had a clear intended purpose. Later in the Torah we read these words:

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 8:2,3; ESV)
The troubles encountered by Israel in the wilderness were designed to train them to rely on God in everything. While troubles can come from many sources and for many reasons, in the case of Israel at this time, the challenges they faced were clearly intended by God. I don't know if we can say that is how it works for every instance of trouble we face. But certainly every instance of trouble is an opportunity for us to learn to rely on God rather than upon ourselves.

I don't know about you, but I find myself offended by trouble. I really don't like it. I want my days to go smoothly, I want to get along with everyone, and I want to be successful in everything I do upon my first attempt at doing it. The problem is life is not like that. And at least for now, God doesn't seem to be interested in making it any other way. Far from it! He wants us to learn to face our troubles in him. That means trusting him to make things right in his time in his own way and, for the time being, living life according to his directives no matter what.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

TorahBytes: Disaster Relief (Bo)

Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, "How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?" (Shemot / Exodus 10:7; ESV)

The world has yet again experienced a great disaster - this time it is the devastating earthquake in Haiti. As it turns out, one of our adult daughters is actually there, and last we heard, she is fine. She is working with a small private school on a Youth with a Mission (YWAM) base in the city of St. Marc. The latest reports from the base director say that it looks as if they were able to open that city's port, and it may become an essential life line to the country.

About 75 years ago, British writer and philosopher G.K. Chesterton wrote, "It isn't that they can't see the solution. It's that they can't see the problem." Chesterton's quote is crucially important for effective disaster relief. In order to help people in need, we must first understand what their needs really are. Otherwise we will find ourselves spending immeasurable time, energy, and money for nothing. Good intentions will accomplish nothing, if they are not based on an accurate assessment of the actual situation.

This week's Torah portion includes the story of another horrible disaster: the ten plagues of Egypt. Due to Pharaoh's obstinacy, his country experienced devastating judgment from the hand of God. Pharaoh's servants understood Chesterton's word centuries before he ever lived. They knew why their country was suffering and they urged Pharaoh to take action accordingly. But it would take two more plagues, including the deaths of the firstborn sons, before Pharaoh would accept the problem for what it was and take appropriate action.

Please note that I am not drawing a parallel between the ten plagues and Haiti, except to say that in order for Haiti to emerge well from this disaster, its leaders and people need to look at their problems with open eyes and honest hearts. That's in addition to the wisdom needed in providing effective and immediate disaster relief.

The need to first discern the problem in order to provide the correct solution is a lesson for us all. I have been struck lately how the Scriptures dedicate far more space dealing with the problem of our alienation from God than it does on God's solution for that problem. It seems that we don't easily accept our need for God. We don't easily understand the depths of human depravity and don't readily accept responsibility for our wrongs. And so the Bible addresses this problem over and over again in so many ways.

Once we accept our problem for what it is, then we are in a place to discover the solution. Once we accept that like Pharaoh we are under God's displeasure due to our wickedness, then we are in a place where we can receive God's disaster relief: the forgiveness for our sins through the sacrificial death of the Messiah.

The human problem is not just a state of mind. Thinking better about ourselves will not automatically cause us to attain a greater standard of existence and behavior. The human problem is our alienation from God due to our rebellion against him. This is our disaster for which repentance and faith in Yeshua is the only relief.

If you wish to know more on how to receive God's solution for your life, please contact me at

For regular updates about the relief work through the YWAM mission base in St Marc, Haiti, go to:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

TorahBytes: God's Timing (Va-Era)

I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. (Shemot / Exodus 6:4,5; ESV)

I have heard it said that there are two ways that people relate to time. Some people are time oriented. They are the ones who structure their lives by the clock. Their existence seems to thrive on a mission control-type countdown: lunch will be ready in T minus 12 seconds. The starting bell and the ending buzzer are music in the ears of such people. And they just can't understand why others don't love to keep in sync with time as they do. The other group is event oriented. For these people things get done when they get done and then they move onto the next thing. The terms "soon" and "later" appear to have no real meaning to them. "We'll get there when we get there" describes how they relate to just about everything.

Entire cultures have been described as either time oriented or event oriented. That doesn't mean that all individuals in one type or the other relate to time in exactly the same way. But generally speaking various people groups, societies, and countries are more prone to one approach or the other. When two people of these two orientations clash with each other, what often happens is that the time-oriented person confronts the event-oriented person for always being late, while the event-oriented person chides the time-oriented one for caring more about the clock than about people.

The Bible tells us that God relates to time very differently than we do. This is well expressed in the New Covenant writings, with a likely allusion to what Moses wrote in Tehillim / Psalms 90, verse 4:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:8,9; ESV)
God doesn't relate to time the way we do. This may sound that God is more event oriented than time oriented, but that is not really the point, because whatever type of person you are, whenever we go through hard times, waiting is difficult.

At the start we read that God was aware of the suffering of his people - a suffering that had gone on for hundreds of years. He tells Moses that he remembered his covenant to them. This use of the word "remember" doesn't mean that he had forgotten his covenant and that it just then came to mind. It means that the time had come in which he would take action.

Imagine living through all those years of oppressive slavery, praying to God and seeing no result - generation after generation with the situation going from bad to worse. Had God forgotten? Did God care? Does God exist?

We need to come to grips with the fact that God doesn't conduct his affairs according to our time schedule. God's timing is perfect. While he loves us and cares about us, he doesn’t put the same value on comfort and convenience as we do. He has plans and purposes for us that may include very painful circumstances. He may call us to endure difficulty for long periods of time - longer than what we may prefer, but he does what he does when he does it for reasons far beyond our own understanding and personal sense of time.

Whether we are time oriented or event oriented, if our desire is to walk closely with God, then we would do well to be a lot more God oriented.