Monday, September 30, 2013

TorahBytes: Reboot (No'ah)

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." (Bereshit / Genesis 9:1; ESV) 

I am the main computer person at home. Most of the time my wife and kids have no issues with their various technical devices, but every now and then, they need my help. The screen is frozen, the mouse is stuck, the sound isn't working, the web browser is too slow, a program won't open, etc., etc. When the solution isn't obvious and before panic sets in, I most often suggest restarting, or as it's commonly called, rebooting. Rebooting clears out data that may get lodged in memory and restore the computer back to normal. There are times when this is not the answer. Loose cables may need tightening, programs may need to be reinstalled, a virus might be present, and so on. The solutions to most of these problems are also pretty simple, except for in some cases, viruses. Rebooting will also not repair physical damage, but before taking more drastic measures, it's always worth a try. But do remember before rebooting, save all open documents, if possible.

Our planet is a complex system within a larger complex system, the universe. This week's Torah portion is about a time when God rebooted Earth. After Adam and Eve rebelled against God's directions, human existence went from bad to worse. Near the end of last week's portion we read "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Bereshit / Genesis 6:5; ESV). That's pretty bad. The passage goes on to tell us "And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart" (Bereshit / Genesis 6:6; ESV). It is difficult for us to conceive how God could regret his original plan or experience grief, but he did. Time to reboot!

Hypothetically he could have completely destroyed the Earth, but he didn't. Having found one man, Noah, who was in right relationship with him, he restarted the human race through him and his family, blessing him to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." The same words God had said to Adam and Eve at the beginning (see Genesis / Bereshit 1:28), he repeated to Noah as part of the reboot process.

Rebooting rather than replacing Earth altogether demonstrates God's commitment to his designed system. The creation is essential to the plan of God. That might be hard for some people to understand or accept, for there is a tendency for spiritually minded people to view the material world as something of a mistake. They associate evil with the creation itself. But this is so contrary to how the Bible sees life whereby the material and the spiritual aspects are an integrated whole. We are called to love and to serve God within the material world as material beings. The New Covenant scriptures tell us that God's motivation for sending the Messiah was that he "loved the world" (John 3:16), the Greek word for "world" is "cosmos," thus referring to the universe, not just the people in the world. God loves his creation. Still today, he continues to work out his plans and purposes within the creation, the culmination of which include a new heavens and a new earth as referred to in this week's Haftarah portion (Isaiah 66:1-24; esp. v.22).

The new heavens and the new earth is not a simple reboot; it's a substantial upgrade. While there are aspects of the new creation that are carry-overs of the current system, there will be brand new features, some of which we have a taste of today through Yeshua the Messiah, including right relationship with God, forgiveness, and healing. The new version will feature the eradication of all evil, sickness, and death as well as God's personal presence on Earth forever.

For a limited time only, you can take advantage of this upgrade. By repenting and trusting in Yeshua's death and resurrection your sins will be forgiven, you will have an intimate relationship with God, and you will live forever in his new creation. Act now before it's too late. If you have any questions, contact me.

Monday, September 23, 2013

TorahBytes: Anything Is Possible (Bereshit)

God created the great sea creatures and every living and moving thing with which the water swarmed, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth." (Bereshit / Genesis 1:21-22; NET)

The concept of blessing is one of the most important ones in all of Scripture. It speaks of God endowing his creation with life. Not just life itself, but life resulting in more life, in other words, to reproduce. The verses I just read are the first occurrence of this concept in the Bible.

I recently happened upon a relatively new English translation, called the NET Bible ( "NET" is a play on words, because while the letters stand for "New English Translation," it is the first translation designed for the Internet. While also available in print, one of the most intriguing features of the online version is that it supports a virtual infinite amount of translation and study notes.

One of the study notes for verse 22 above caught my attention (Note #45 at time of writing). It claims that the similarity of sounds between "barakh," "to bless," and "bara," "to create" is intentional. I don't know if we can know that for sure, but it is possible. As I thought about it though, intentionality aside, I realized that there is more to the connection between these two concepts than simply that creating has to with the generating of life; while blessing with the impartation of life. It's that the origin and source of both creating and blessing is always God.

This first chapter of the Torah tells us that God created the universe from nothing. This sets God apart from the universe as its originator, designer, developer and owner. Life could not exist without him. We also learn here that the ability for his creatures to be channels of life to others, the ability to reproduce, also comes from God. Blessing, therefore, is not a natural consequence of created life; it is a special impartation of life from the creator God.

I have come to see that implied in the Bible's creation account is that just as the origins of life emanated directly from God alone out of nothing else, so do his blessings. God's blessings, small or large, are ongoing expressions of his being creator. He, who imparted life out of nothing at the beginning, continues to impart life out of nothing today.

This should change how we look at the challenges we face. If blessing is an act of the creator God, then his provision is never based on what we have. In fact, we have to stop thinking of God's provision being based on existing resources at all, because our God not only creates out of nothing, he also blesses out of nothing.

Around the time I first gave the relationship of bara to barakh serious thought, I went to a well-known big-box hardware store in the hope of finding a replacement hinge for a very old kitchen cabinet. I wasn't surprised when the customer service representative said he had never seen one like it or after searching diligently couldn't find anything close.

So, the next day, without much hope, I went to the other well-known big-box hardware store. Same reaction. The rep had never seen one and couldn't find one. But then, to my surprise and his, there it was, hanging on the wall along with the others. Half-jokingly I said (thinking of bara and barakh), "Maybe it wasn't there a couple of minutes ago!"

Whether or not this will go down in history as the "Miracle of the Door Hinge," it illustrates the point. God's blessings are not enhancements of existing things; they are expressions of creation, dependent on nothing but the Creator. It's time we are no longer put off by statements such as "They don't make those any more" or "It can't be done" or "That's never happened before." When you are in right relationship with the Creator, anything is possible.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

TorahBytes: Disarmed (Succoth)

Then I will strike your bow from your left hand, and will make your arrows drop out of your right hand. (Ezekiel 39:3; ESV)

When I was a child, I loved playing sports, ice hockey in particular (in case you weren't aware, I am from Canada). I wasn't very good, but that didn't stop me from being out on the ice as much as possible. For some reason, there's an incident that I remember as if it were yesterday. I don't recall most of the details, including where or when it happened or with whom I was playing, but it was the first time I encountered a very common tactic on the part of an opponent. I was in possession of the puck and the other player wanted to take it from me. Up to that time, in this kind of situation, I would have expected my opponent to focus on the puck and try to pry it out of my control. But instead he slid the blade of his stick under mine and knocked my stick in an upward motion, causing my blade to rise off the ice, easily allowing him to take away the puck. I felt so frustrated by the lack of control I sensed. It was as if I was disarmed. I was rendered helpless.

According to this week's Haftarah portion, this is how God sometimes handles his enemies. He renders them powerless by disarming them. I don't know about you, but I prefer it when God devastates them. In fact, I sometimes wish God would go back in time and prevent the bad things in my life from happening at all. Really! When I first experienced the hockey move above, I felt so ripped off, I wanted to curse the experience out of existence. The problem is life doesn't work like that. Instead God calls us to face challenges as we learn to trust him. Genuine faith only occurs when our circumstances suggest that God is not in control even though he is.

One reason why we lose touch with God's power and presence when facing difficulty is that we assume that if God is real, then he will deal with evil a certain way. But God isn't limited by our expectations. We can't predict how he will handle situations. But the more we are exposed to the whole breadth of Scripture and how it reveals God's various tactics, the less surprised we will be when facing difficulties.

As I think about God striking the bows and arrows out the hands of his enemies as described in this passage, I envision evil well-equipped and engaged in the battle. Remember, in those days military conflicts were far more intimate than what goes on today. Often you could smell your opponent's breath. The sound of swords clanging in your ears. The mighty on both sides are falling dead at your feet. At times God's people on their own don't have what it takes to defend themselves. In this case Israel's enemies, for good reason, are confident of victory. But then an unseen force knocks their weapons out of their hands, rendering them helpless. Victory then comes easily and quickly.

Sometimes God puts us in situations that look absolutely hopeless. Our problems are so big and so far reaching. We are powerless to make any difference at all. But then, at the last moment, God slips in, gives the problem a little knock and completely changes the situation.

It's so important not to lose heart when facing great difficulties. We need to entrust ourselves to God continually, allowing him to resolve our challenges in his way in his time.

However, in order to have confidence that God will come through for us, we need to make sure that we are on the right side of the battle. Perhaps you have been finding yourself in a situation like the one I was describing at the beginning. You think you are in control of your life, but your stick keeps getting knocked away. Could it be that you are on the wrong team?

Monday, September 09, 2013

TorahBytes: The Key to Forgiveness (Yom Kippur)

The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness (Vayikra / Leviticus 16:22; ESV)

The most solemn day of the Jewish calendar is Yom Kippur (English: The Day of Atonement), which this year occurs from sundown on Friday, September 13 until sunset the following day. One of the unique rituals of this day, when the Temple was still standing, was for the Cohen HaGadol (English: the Chief Priest) to take a live goat and "confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins" (Vayikra / Leviticus 16:21; ESV). Then a person especially appointed to the task took the goat, referred to as the "scapegoat," and set it to wander in the wilderness, thus symbolizing the removal of the nation's sins.

With the destruction of the Temple almost two thousand years ago, this ritual, along with so many other God-ordained rituals of those days, ceased. Over the next while Judaism underwent a complete overhaul as new traditions were introduced to replace the sacrificial system. As a result, powerful symbols of forgiveness such as the scapegoat were lost.

Last year for Yom Kippur, I wrote a TorahBytes message ( where I suggested that forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts God gave to the world through the Jewish people. Since then this topic has challenged me over and over again. I have realized how slow I am to forgive. But you might be thinking that the scapegoat ritual is about receiving forgiveness, not offering it to others. What we may not realize, however, is that the two are intimately connected.

One of the strongest statements the Messiah ever made was "If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:15: ESV). Unforgiveness is a prison. Not so much for those against whom we harbor bitterness, but for ourselves. There may be some people who delude themselves into thinking that they have nothing of which to be forgiven, but for those who know better, who are burdened by the guilt of the innumerable wrongs they have committed, they will never know the wonderful relief of God's forgiveness until they forgive those who have wronged them. Yeshua said so.

This is the same Yeshua who made the Temple rituals, including the scapegoat, redundant, by being the only true scapegoat. As the Hebrew prophet Isaiah foresaw over six hundred years earlier,

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - every one - to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53 4-6; ESV).

Even though we can't know God's forgiveness unless we forgive others, forgiveness still begins with God. Yeshua's suffering and death accomplished once and for all what the Yom Kippur scapegoat symbolized. He carried away our sins, thus creating the conditions for our forgiveness. But unless we forgive others, we cannot truly receive God's forgiveness.

Last year's message included a link to a song which so effectively captures the Scriptures' understanding of forgiveness. I encourage you to give it a listen, even if you heard it before. This might be a new day of freedom for you.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

TorahBytes: Where Did You Come From? (Ha'azinu)

Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you? (Devarim / Deuteronomy 32:6; ESV)

When our children were little, if you asked them, "Where did you come from?" they would have answered, "From God." Cute? Quaint, perhaps? Sentimental? But how about true? Even if God were the creator, people don't actually come from God, do they? He may have started the process, but after that, human beings, like all creatures, are the product of natural processes. But are we the product of natural processes alone?

In this week's Torah portion the people of Israel are reminded that God is their father. But what does that mean? Is it metaphor, symbol, myth, or something much more? Does it matter? I imagine if we were the random product of natural processes alone, then nothing matters. Existence, consciousness, desire, love, are nothing more than physical happenstances. Life has no meaning. Even human relationships would have no intended purpose. Values, standards, and morals have no actual basis beside preferences and desires. It's no wonder many societies are moving more and more towards moral anarchy.

Yet most people know the truth that there is meaning in life. We know intuitively that relationships, especially our most intimate ones are not the product of impersonal random chance. The reason why so many people are so very hurt by their fathers is because we carry in our hearts an ideal of what fathers should be. Where does that come from?

The father relationship is as crucial as it is because it is derived from The Father of us all (see Acts 17:28). The Torah's reminder to Israel at some level is a reminder to all people. God as the great original progenitor is personally everyone's Father. That he used secondary causes - our natural parents - to bring us into the world is beside the point. You exist because God birthed you.

Every human being has their origins in God. You were specifically designed on purpose and for a purpose. The sense of meaninglessness so pervading life today is primarily due to our being disconnected from this realization. We are not made to simply learn how to cope with life, but as God's children to serve the high purpose of our Father.

Accepting the truth that God is our Father helps us to better understand what life is all about, but that doesn't automatically put us in right relationship with him. Torah teaches that we come into the world predisposed as rebels against him. No matter how hard we try to feel good about ourselves, we are deeply aware that something is wrong with us. The Scriptures call this problem sin. Sin is more than misdeeds; it is the principle driving our inability to be what we know we should be.

But God as Father has provided a solution to the problem of sin. In Jewish tradition the Messiah was expected to come to defeat God's enemies, but an essential aspect of this victory tended to be overlooked by our ancient teachers: that to achieve that goal, the Messiah would need to resolve the internal issues that made people God's enemies in the first place. It was necessary for Yeshua to die on behalf of our sins, thereby reconciling us with our Father. And through his resurrection he empowers us to truly live as children of the Father.