Connections and Re-connections

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The joy of re-connection with old friends! Real friends. How is it I’ve been away from them for so long? There have been lonely gaps in those years and now time is moving on and the years haven’t been kind to all, and taken some… But there we go, there are journeys in life and pathways that lead us here and there and away from the familiar and crosses the paths of others who enrich us or, challenge us. But so nice to return to familiar faces and feel…connections.

The Torah Portion this week begins with connections. Moshe addresses them in Deuteronomy 29 as they stand together. Linked to each other because of birth and to God by the covenant they agreed to at Sinai. Leaders, men, women and children – and strangers. All! They stand as a community but each one shares the responsibility to listen and absorb, [shma] and obey. The community is only as strong as the individual commitment. They stand despite doubts and fears, and failures and the threat of curses delivered not long before. “You stand today!” says Moshe. Whatever the past brought and whatever the unknown future will bring, it is Today that counts.

There is something rather beautiful in these opening verses. It is that ‘strangers’ stood there too.  Not linked by birth, but linked by being there, standing with the Jewish community, before the God of Israel and listening to Torah/Divine Instructions.

Please God, I’m standing there too, a stranger, a ‘ger’ stranger, not a ‘nokriy’ stranger with foreign ways and no time for a holy God. A ‘ger’, one who stands with the Jewish people, embracing the principles of holy living they follow, grateful for the plan of redemption that God unfolded throughout their history and for the price they often paid for being a ‘set apart’ people.

“Therefore, remember that once you, the Goyim in the flesh…that you were at that time separate from Messiah…strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua, you who once were far off are made near…” Ephesians 2:10-13

While on the way Home

I remember reading a story once and names and details I do not know, but it was about a missionary lady returning to her home country after many years of service in another land.  In those days transport was by ship and as it finally came into dock there was a large group, banners and cameras waiting to welcome, not her, but a celebrity returning on the same liner. The missionary felt a prick of envy knowing her homecoming would be almost unnoticed and unapplauded. Until she heard a Voice whisper to her, ‘but you have not come Home yet’.  So, like Abraham who was a sojourner living as a foreigner in a land not yet his, we have a Home waiting for us. 

Meanwhile, on earth, there is built into us by the Creator, a feeling of comfort and security when we feel we are ‘home’ wherever that home may be. We are grateful for the people who can make us feel ‘at home’ and are uncomfortable with those who don’t. Perhaps our earthly ‘home’, is not our birthplace or family dwelling because sometimes we don’t find ‘home’ until later in life when suddenly, at the end of a journey we arrive at a previously unknown place and say, “I’ve come home!”  And there it is and there it stays even if life takes you away again. I was reminded of these mysterious connections in our lives when outback roads took me across a State border and magically, without a change in the landscape, I knew I’d returned home.  The same feeling I would have each time I touched down in the Land deeded to the Jews, their Land for sure, but I borrowed it to feel ‘at home’, somewhere I belonged, where it felt so normal to be.  Grateful I could share it for so long…

Yeshua as a pre Bar Mitzvah 12 year old, felt right at home in his ‘Father’s House’. No, not Heaven, the Temple. Later he spent a lot of time there and defended it against defilement in quite an aggressive manner! As a substitute for the Garden where man and God once had fellowship, the Temple’s engravings and embroideries of plants and the cherubim reflected that Sanctuary that once existed as God’s ideal.  ‘The Torah speaks about Mount Sinai and the Tabernacle, both revelations of ‘God’s glory’, in almost identical terms. See from Gleaning in Ancient Fields.

Prefigured by the mishkan, the tabernacle, the Temple was a sacred space. Just as God carved out slots of sacred time for His people to spend time with Him, so he carved out a sacred space and asked the people to partner with Him in constructing something that would be the channel of redemptive rituals, foretelling a deeper, wider redemption. The Jewish people mourn for the Temple and pray for its rebuilding.  The ‘home-connection’, that strong cord that binds us to a place of belonging binds them to the Temple and all it signifies.

Meanwhile, the Torah Portion for this week still has the new nation of Israel poised to enter their home. They are still listening to their deliverer and leader exhort, explain and encourage. The Portion ends with the commandment not to be devious in business details and immediately following that one is another reminder not to forget how Amelek attacked them. Why these two thoughts juxtaposed ask the Rabbis? Because they say, the newly released slaves had seen amazing miracles to secure their freedom but panicked and complained when it seemed their was no water, Exodus 17. So God couldn’t provide anymore? Amelek came and attacked them particularly the stragglers. Lack of faith opened them to an enemy attack. Cheating in business is also a lack of faith in the One who has promised to provide and deceiving others is deceiving ourselves and opening us up to the enemy’s tactics.

Renewal and Repentance

Last night I saw the new moon signifying the beginning of the new month of Elul. it rose in a beautiful sky and in an amazing landscape. The circle of the moon faintly visible against the night sky and the crescent shining with the light of promise and potential. The Jewish blessing gives the only appropriate response.

“Praised are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the skies with his word, and all heaven’s host with the breath of his mouth. He gave them appointed times and roles, and they never miss their cues, doing their Creator’s bidding with gladness and joy. He is the true creator who acts faithfully, and he has told the moon to renew itself. It is a beautiful crown for the people carried by God from birth (Israel), who will likewise be renewed in the future in order to proclaim the beauty of their creator for his glorious majesty. Praised are you, O Lord, who renews new moons.”

Forty days of preparation lie ahead on the Jewish calendar before the nation comes before God in the awesome Day of Atonement. Here in this Covid world, in completely different circumstances and surroundings I can only imagine the single blast of the shofar each morning, the nightly prayer services, the intensity growing; a people coming in humility before their God. And only He knows the sincerity of each heart as prayers of confession are poured out and repentance offered.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" Psa 139:23-24

This time period is a reminder to search our hearts and our relationships on a regular basis and to be in a constant state of preparation to stand before a holy God.

My Journey, Your Journey

The Torah readings have moved into Deuteronomy, (Hebrew name D’varim – Words) a Book of remembering, recounting and reminding. Each place Moses mentions has a connection to an event in which God showed His power, provision and protection; or the people their lapse of faith, their fear and fickleness. Following the failure to enter the Promised Land when the opportunity was there, 38 years later, and still in the wilderness, the next generation stand poised to at last take hold of all that God has promised them.

The recounting by Moses paints a dynamic picture. it begins with the order from God to start their journey. To leave the Mountain of God with its remembrance of the dramatic descent of His Presence as a bunch of slaves became a nation and received a unique calling and status. Then, its ‘we turned here’, ‘we crossed there, ‘we rose and journeyed’. The Cloud moved and the people followed.

I want to leave aside the depths of the beginning of this last Book of the Torah and see a very simple, probably obvious, but profound picture. Life is a journey for most people everywhere and every culture. Destinations to be reached, and markers along the way that stand for success, or disappointments, or lost opportunities, or bountiful blessings, or unexpected paths waiting.

But here’s a thing, the LORD their God went before them even when though they forgot that a lot of times, and, He carried them! Like a loving parent hoisting his child in his arms when the going is too rough. What a mystery really. How did He carry them? Through the provision of food, shelter, giving them victory in battles? Perhaps in ways of which they were totally unaware? Like the popular Footprints story. Followers of the God of Israel have a Destination beyond life’s lesser milestones, they have a Parent who lovingly carries them though they only be aware of a wilderness at the time. What a privilege!

in our journey, may we share that privilege with others, invite them to join us, pray they will, as we move towards the final Goal.

He understands your trudging through this great wilderness.” [Deut. 2:7]

Stumbling Along Strange Paths

I was reading recently Isaiah 10:1-19 where God condemned the nation of Assyria for being too enthusiastic as a tool in God’s Hand for punishing Israel. In their arrogance they thought victory was due to them, that they were unstoppable and in charge of their own decisions.  (How God laughs at the arrogance of nations Psalm 2).  They didn’t realise that nothing happens without God’s consent. It made me think about the situation in the West at the moment. That is, the conglomeration of nations founded on Biblical principles and until recently generally acknowledging God as Creator in their constitution or perhaps opening parliaments with prayer or other acknowledgements. Nations that would call themselves Christian nations with Judeo-Christian cultures.   And I thought, the West has an ‘enemy’ rising against it now.  One that includes a pandemic – which of course is attacking pretty much all countries – but we, in the West, also have a culture war at the same time.  It is dividing society, even families, it is insidious, changing shape, upending long held beliefs and values at a dizzying rate.  It is mixed with good intent and genuine concern for various elements of society that have gone wrong or been wrong but it offers no foundation to replace the one its trying to overthrow. And I wondered, is this ‘enemy’ a tool in the Hand of God to chastise the West with our greed, our lack of sharing resources, our neglect of the needy and vulnerable? Is it the Church? Is it because the church has been apathetic, neglectful of standing up for the rights of the oppressed, for expressing our faith in a way that gives a wrong impression? Like a parent who truly loves their child, God loves people enough to discipline (Proverbs 3:2, “because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” I don’t know, just wondering…  

In Jeremiah 18:15, the LORD says about His people Israel, “Because My people have forgotten Me, They have burned incense to worthless idols. And they have caused themselves to stumble in their ways, From the ancient paths, To walk in pathways and not on a highway.”  Nations need to be very careful about the paths take, and Believers need to be very careful not to cause others to go down the wrong paths through our actions.

Outwitting God

“Like a valley spread out…”

The Torah portion read in Synagogues today was from Numbers, chapters 22-24 and is about a man who thought he could outwit God. Balaam the gentile prophet had a gift, but he also had greed.  Despite being warned by God he could not curse a blessed people, he tried to manoeuvre a deal with God and man.  God allowed him to go his own sweet way and through Balaam’s donkey, proved He can control a mouth. To Balaam’s consternation, words of blessing flowed out of his mouth to the Children of Israel, a people set apart. “How beautiful are your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel, like valleys they are spread out, like gardens beside a river…”

‘Because we know they are words from God, we can read and meditate on some of the inspiring concepts and prophecies that came out of his mouth concerning God’s beloved nation.  We can also take hold of those concepts for ourselves knowing that those whom God calls His own are beloved, protected, and His promises for them are brought to pass.’ Gleaning in ancient Fields.

The story reminds me of Psalm 2: “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against His anointed one. ‘Let us break their chains’, they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’  The One enthroned in heaven laughs…”

Nations and cultures, and individuals, think they are smarter than God. They think they can live without His moral code and flaunt His rules of living that are designed to protect each human being made in the image of God. Even just causes can degenerate into unrestrained hysteria and breakdown into hatred and violence which we have recently witnessed on our TV screens. Living within God’s ‘chains and fetters’ as His boundaries and guidelines maybe perceived, help us to treat each other with value and worth.

Is There Light in the Darkness?

Right now, Christians and Jews can be forgiven for pondering prophecies that speak of the end of history as we know it. Wondering if 2020 has moved us a whole lot closer along God’s timeline to what is called ‘The End of Days’? Christians have been guilty of crying ‘it’s the end’ too many times so caution is needed.  But an awful lot of ‘end time’ circumstances are lining up.  And the Jews have returned to the Land of Israel with a huge Aliyah surge predicted in the coming months.  We wait and see.

Interesting year though, this year…  Covid continues to soar in many countries alarming both medical and economy experts. Famines are on the horizon warn U N officials.  Last week there were more corona-virus shaped hailstones, this time in China in a rare summer storm, about the size of ping pong balls only but enough to destroy 1,200 acres of crops. The hail interrupted the Dragon Boat Festival traditionally held around the time of the summer solstice. Locust plagues in Africa and Asia are adding to the misery of the virus and decimating crops and livelihoods. Throw in recent earthquakes as in Mexico and a volcanic eruption in Ecuador and 2020 is not looking good. Apart from these kinds of disasters, the cultural wars that include deriding Biblically based values and morals, the madness of identity and gender politics, and demise of free speech, is rapidly changing the world and not in a good way. Even atheists are warning that if the Judeo-Christian foundation disappears our Western civilization will collapse.  There are plenty of ‘prophecy experts’ who can put scriptures to this year’s unfolding dramas so I’m not going to.  “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows,” said Yeshua referring to his return at the end of cataclysmic events, “And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert.” Mark 13:32-33. Good advice!

And here is a reminder for the uncertain times in which we live:
The Feast of Tabernacles – Succot – will be the next major event on the Jewish Calendar. ‘Succot looks back to the way they had been protected and cared for when they lived in temporary dwellings during the wilderness journey.  The flimsy shelters they must construct are an annual reminder that it is not possessions and circumstances that bring us security and contentment, but a trust in God to provide and protect.  It is a foretaste of a day to come, that of eternally dwelling in God’s Presence.’ Gleaning in Ancient Fields.

New Roads – its time to start travelling.

Was there really Pentecost before Acts 2 someone asked me recently. What was special about Mt Moriah someone else asked the same day. I heard of amazement expressed by someone who had just been told that Jesus is a Jew!  I watched a clip of the ‘Last Supper’ on the screen at a recently allowed church service (no singing, no sitting close to each other…). This shared meal was in fact the Passover Seder, but in the movie, Jesus was seen breaking off a piece of bread from a leavened loaf and passing it around!!

When I hear of blithe portrayals of Jewish traditions and basic questions and uninformed statements, it brings a sadness, a frustration and even some anger that the Christian’s education has been so lacking, so dumbed down, so divorced from its roots. We have been cheated out of centuries of knowledge and exploration of the depth of scripture because the Church Fathers decided the Jews irrelevant now, and worse…

That was the desire behind my book.  To introduce Christians to a world they did not know about, or, were beginning to explore. A world of meanings behind words, Biblical Hebrew, Jewish sages, the world of Torah.  It is for gentiles too. Not in the same way but nevertheless, for all those who lay claim to serving the God of Israel.

This is not to say that God does not speak to the most simplest minded, or through the worst translations, through all languages, to the seeking heart.  He does.  But there is more!

My prayer is that my book will be a contribution to a new learning journey. Many are on this journey already as God is putting a desire in many hearts to learn more of Hebraic roots. They will find that the Gospels and the apostolic writings that make up the New Testament will pulse with the dynamic of the patterns, principles and pictures that God has embedded into the first five Books of His written Word.

Gleaning in Ancient Fields.

Pride and Prejudice

So it seems that racism, that is the kind that is prejudiced against black skin, appears in the Torah (Numbers 12:1-15), part of this week’s Portion.  And from someone no less than Miriam. The sister of Moses. The courageous girl who followed her brother’s ‘ark’ down the Nile into Royal territory.  The leader of women who led them in praise after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds.  Was her seeing Moses as the leader, the judge, the mediator, and the people dependent on him as the representative of a God they were really just getting to know, a trigger for jealousy?  After all if it hadn’t been for her, she may have reasoned in those moments when self pitying thoughts worm their way into hearts, he may not have been here.  So, she accuses Moses of what – getting undue favour from the LORD? Receiving too much credit and accolades? The slander included his black wife.  Was she referring to  Zipporah, who would have had a swarthy skin like Miriam herself, or had Moses indeed taken an Ethiopian woman for a wife.  Maybe one who had been a slave too and joined the ‘mixed multitude’ that attached themselves to the Children of Israel when they marched out of Egypt. The Jewish sages have some differing explanations.  However, the interesting thing to note is that the swift judgement she received – yes her not Aaron, but her name is mentioned first which is unusual when both male and female are together and so she, the rabbis say, must have been the instigator – turned her white.  White, the opposite of black. It was the result of the tzaarat, sometimes translated as ‘leprosy’ though it’s not. It is an outward manifestation of a spiritual condition most usually connected to evil speech including slander, which is what Miriam was guilty of. Aaron turned quickly to Moses asking for forgiveness for them both. Moses prayed for healing and God mercifully gave a shortened version of the ritual required for those smitten by tzaarat in the commandments not long given to Moses. The camp waited for her while she stayed quarantined – that word again – for seven days.

Photo by Kat Jayne on

So may we be on guard against pride that covets another’s position allowing resentful thoughts to grow until they manifest in spiteful comments and innuendo. And…may we never look at someone, made in God’s image, and somehow, even by a subtle hint, turn the way God has made them to be into a being worthy of sarcasm, a put down, mockery..or worse.

Reasons to Rejoice

Israel’s Bounty

Ahh, the Feast of Weeks! The Fiftieth Day has arrived.  The countdown has been carefully acknowledged by observant Jews each evening, at the start of the new day.  Love those memories of the supermarkets in Jerusalem filled with all kinds of dairy products and the advertisements and dairy dessert recipes appearing in the days preceding, contributing to the anticipation… The greetings, the preparations, the special meals all part of the beautiful rhythm of the Jewish calendar. 

In a Christian site I saw the headline which preceded the article on the ‘Significance of Pentecost’. It was about the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the new followers of the risen Yeshua and what the empowering of God’s Spirit meant and means.

But the ‘Day of Pentecost’ did not suddenly appear in a vacuum. It’s not a Christian invention.  It was celebrated year after year according to God’s commandments in the Torah.  It already had lots of significance!

It’s place on the Jewish calendar coincides, so the Jewish sages have derived, when the ex slaves would have arrived at Mt Sinai. They witnessed the incredible sights and sounds of God descending and giving His called-out nation a set of instructions to live by and reflect a holy God. 

The Biblically mandated Festival was the fulfilment of a period of time that began from the first grain harvest which was at the time of Passover.  Its celebration involved coming before the LORD with offerings, rejoicing – and not alone either but with friends and family, even strangers.  The day saw processions of families going up to Jerusalem with singing and decorated baskets containing the first fruits of their harvest and accompanied by the Levites with music and song.  

The events of the Day of Pentecost – Greek for ‘fiftieth’ – described in Acts chapter two, exploded into the throngs of pilgrims revelling in the music, the atmosphere, the holiday spirit as they crowded into the temple precincts. Fire appeared, like the Revelation at Sinai! And voices in various languages like the 70 languages of the world heard at Sinai according to tradition! And then, though probably not realising it, there were also first fruits! That day 3,000 joined the community that declared that messiah had indeed come, and he was Yeshua of Nazareth.

But I want to look at a most beautiful aspect – that of the harvest.  Three times a year, the people of God acknowledged the goodness of God in providing for them.  They were partners with Him.  They worked the land but realised they, as all are dependent on His mercy.  ‘Note that harvest festivals were not unique to Israel but only Israel recognized God as the source of the bounty.’ Gleanings in Ancient Fields.

The harvest was important. The harvest was dependent on a people not aligning themselves with idolatry and false pathways. The harvest had rules. The corners of a field could not be gathered but left for the poor to come in and do their own harvesting. The harvest was a picture God embedded in His Torah of sowing and reaping and patiently waiting, of sharing and thankfulness.

Psalm 65:11, “You crown the year with Your goodness, ​​And Your paths drip with abundance.”

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