TSH Text Messages...Please Scroll Down...

Biblical Text Messages for your Soul :-)
<< Previous 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7
The final blessing–prophecies in Genesis 49 of Ya’akov (Jacob) to his 12 sons — especially to Yosef (Joseph) who was betrayed by his oldest brothers then reunited with the same brothers who are changed men — is a model for how the church is a source of a “healing connection” between Heaven and Earth. Let’s take a look at Jacob’s strange blessing to Joseph (Genesis 49:22-24) :
וימררהו ורבו
“They embittered him, and fought with him
and they despised him [and who did these things?]
בעלי חצים
the archers
ותשב באיתן קשתו
But his bow was strongly established
ויפזו זרעי ידיו
and his arms quivered
מידי אביר יעקב
from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
משם רעה אבן ישראל
from there, he shepherded the rock of Israel.”
Now, this is Biblical poetry – and truthfully, it’s pretty hard to make heads or tails of it.
What was Joseph's blessing from Jacob really about?
וימררהו – they embittered him
ורבו – And they attacked him, struggled with him
וישטמהו – and they DESPISED him
בעלי חצים – the archers, those who shot with arrows.
Look at the word “Despised” (וישטמהו)…the Hebrew root of that word is “satam” – sin, tet, mem. It is translated it as “and they despised him”... But of course, in Hebrew, there are several words for hatred, the most common one being “sinah.” But satam is a word for hatred that appears rarely. This word is even more intense than plain hatred. It’s a seething sort of hatred, a deep-seated grudge.
Parallels to Jacob's experience with Esau – the hatred against a brother
The first time the Hebrew word satam appears is with Esau. It happens right after Jacob steals Esau’s blessings. “And Esau despised (satam)Jacob regarding the blessing that his father blessed him.” (Genesis 27:41a) So, satam is the word that describes how Esau felt towards Jacob. it’s the word that Jacob would be personally familiar with to describe a sort of seething hatred and jealousy between brothers. And the verse doesn’t stop there, look at what happens next: “And Esav said in his heart Let the days of mourning for my father be at hand; then will I kill my brother” (Genesis 27:41b)
The word satam is more than just hatred between brothers, it’s a hatred that makes one brother want to kill the other.  Satammakes one other appearance in the Book of Genesis, and guess where it appears? Right in the chapter that immediately follows Jacob’s blessings to his sons. (Genesis 50:15) Jacob dies and the brothers are afraid that with their father out of the picture, Joseph may finally take revenge on them for what they did to him all those years ago:
ויראו אחי-יוסף, כי-מת אביהם,
And when Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead
ויאמרו, לו ישטמנו יוסף;
They said: 'Maybe Joseph will despise (satam) us
והשב ישיב, לנו, את כל-הרעה, אשר גמלנו אתו.
And he will fully reciprocate all the evil which we did to him.
Now isn’t that interesting? It’s not just that this word appears with Esau and then again with Joseph and his brothers, but the two times we see the word satam, it’s in two very similar situations. We have:
•                    A father’s death…
•                    A deep-seated hatred…
•                    And one brother who now wants to take revenge on the other…
In each of these stories, as long as there’s a father in the picture, the hatred has to be held back. Esau holds in his hatred, waiting for the day that Isaac is gone. And here, after Jacob’s death, the brothers fear that Joseph will now get back at them for what they did to him. The brothers fear that Joseph going to pay them back with the same hatred, the same evil, that they showed him all those years ago when they threw him into the pit. That evil, that hatred is called satam.
Interpreting the meaning of Jacob's blessing to Joseph
What is the connection between the brothers and arrows? Well, interestingly enough, if we read on in the blessing, we meet another archer of a very different kind:
ותשב באיתן קשתו – but he sat with his bow firm
ויפזו זרעי ידיו מידי אביר יעקב – and his arms quivered from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob.
So, here’s another archer, except this one is holding a bow firmly outstretched… and he’s not releasing it. He has the power in his hands to cause harm but he’s holding back. The only thing stopping him is his own strength, tempered by the grace of God and his own discipline. Does that sound like anyone you know? Is there anyone in the Joseph story who has the power to cause harm but chooses not to use it? There sure was. Joseph was second in command of all of Egypt, the most powerful nation in the region. Food has run out and Joseph oversees concentrating and distributing all of the resources. By this point in the story, all of the power lies with Joseph. He has a bow aimed at his brothers. Joseph could have killed his brothers or withheld food from them or taken them all as slaves – but what does he do instead? He forgives his brothers, and he takes care of them. 
Think about the imagery here: bows are made to be released, not held. As much strength as it takes to shoot an arrow, it takes far more strength to hold it in place.
Think about what it took for Joseph to not take revenge. He’s holding many years’ worth of pent-up anger at his brothers who never apologized to him. From afar, he looks firm, secure, strong – but up close, you can see him trembling. He’s using every muscle in his body to stop himself from acting on his anger. Here is Joseph, with all the power in the world to unleash revenge on his brothers – and his external power is outmatched only by his internal strength not to act on it. From where did Joseph have this superhuman strength?  It was only possible by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob. The strength to hold the bow and not give in, that came from God. God’s powerful hands held Joseph’s quivering arms steady and helped him hold back from acting on his anger toward his brothers.
The archers here are a contrast with Joseph. The brothers let their arrows fly. They took their power and abused it. They unleashed it upon their younger brother when he was the weaker one. But Joseph, he acted differently. He took stock of his power and chose not to lash out or seek revenge. He held firmly to his outstretched bow. And never shot a single arrow.
The grace for serving as a servant-leader in your community thru the Holy Spirit’s Guidance.
Jacob is letting Joseph know that he sees his struggle. “I know what you’ve been through, Joseph. Years later, your scars haven’t disappeared. Any person in your position would want to take revenge, but you’ve triumphed over it. Your God-given strength, your will and discipline have allowed you to overcome hatred and pain to make peace with your brothers. This is your greatness. This is what makes you a true leader.”
Where did Joseph get this capacity to lead? It all started with Joseph having the will to hold his bow and not give in, to forgive the unforgivable. That’s what Jacob recognized. That’s when Joseph truly became a shepherd of Israel. The Holy Spirit’s influence upon or lives, and our obedience to the grace of the Holy Spirit can help turn our trials into testimonies of His grace. Just think about the courage of Joseph…the strength of character, integrity of heart and the love for the Lord NOT to release the arrow!
The Patriarch Joseph is an example of the GRACE and the CHARACTER about which the Apostle Paul was talking about in Romans Chapter-12…all the way from the beginning of that chapter…Romans 12:1-2 (A Living Sacrifice)“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
To the end…Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Reference: “the-meaning-of-jacobs-blessing” by Immanuel Shalev @ Aleph-Beta
When the Moses encounters God at the burning bush. God summons him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, but Moses is reluctant. ‘Who am I,’ he asks, ‘to be worthy of such a task?’ God reassures him, and then Moses asks, ‘Who are you? When the Israelites ask, who has sent you, what shall I say?’ God replies in a cryptic three-word Hebrew phrase, “Ehyeh Asher Ahyeh “(Exod. 3:14). It is fascinating to see how Christian Bibles translate this clause. The King James Version reads it as ‘I am that I am.’ Recent translations are variants of the same idea.
Here are some examples:
I am who I am.
I am what I am.
I am—that is who I am.
These are all mistranslations, and the error is ancient. In Greek, the Hebrew “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” became ego eimi ho on, and in Latin, ego sum qui sum: ‘I am he who is.’
Saint Augustine in the Confessions writes: ‘Because He is the "IS," that is to say, God is being itself, ipsum esse, in its most absolute and full sense.’ Centuries later, Saint Aquinas explains that it means God is ‘true being, that is being that is eternal, immutable, simple, self-sufficient, and the cause and principle of every creature’. And so, it continued in German philosophy. God became Hegel’s ‘concrete universal’, Schelling’s ‘transcendental ego’, Gilson’s ‘God-is-Being’ and Heidegger’s ‘onto-theology.’ etc. etc.
According to Rabbinic Scholars, the mistake of all these translations is obvious to the merest beginner in Hebrew. The phrase in Exodus 3:14 means, ‘I will be what I will be.’ The verb does not use the present tense. Elsewhere, the Bible does use "I am" in the present tense. In the Ten Commandments, for example, the first verse reads, ‘I AM the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ Here the present tense (‘I am’) is used. But then, that verse does not speak of God’s name. It speaks of His deeds. Here in Exodus 3:14, however, Moses asked God for His name. God might have replied, as did the angel who wrestled with Jacob, with a rhetorical question, ‘Why do you ask for my name?’, implying that the very question is out of order. There are things human beings cannot know, mysteries they cannot fathom, matters that transcend the reach of human understanding. But that is not what God says in Exodus 3:14. He does answer Moses’ question, but enigmatically, in a phrase that needs decoding. God tells Moses to say to the Israelites, ‘I will be” sent me to you.’
It is as if God had said, ‘My name is the FUTURE TENSE. If you seek to understand me, first you will have to understand the nature and significance of the "future tense." ‘I am that I am’ is a translation of Exodus 3:14 that owes everything to the philosophical tradition of ancient Greece and nothing to do with the thought of ancient Israel. The God of pure being, first cause, prime mover, necessary existence, is the god of the philosophers, not the God of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.
What, then, is the meaning of ‘I will be what I will be’? The name itself never recurs in the Hebrew Bible, but there is a later echo, in the great scene in which God appears to Moses on the mountain after the sin of the Golden Calf, in which he says, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion’ (Exod. 33:19). What this means is that God cannot be predicted or controlled. He cannot be confined to categories or known in advance. He is telling Moses, ‘You cannot know how I will appear until I appear; how I will act until I act. My mercy, my compassion, my strategic interventions into history, cannot be controlled or foretold. I will be what, when and how I choose to be. I am the God of the radically unknowable future, the God of surprises. You will know me when you see me, but not before.’ To be sure, in onesense, the future is connected to the past and the present. God keeps His promises tin ALL time (Hebrews 13:8).
So, when the Lord tells us that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8)…He is repeating what he said to Moses in Exodus 3:14…“Ehyeh Asher Ahyeh “ ( ‘I will be what I will be’)…This is an essential element of Judeo-Christian faith. But this very fact reveals the difference between predictability on the one hand and faithfulness on the other. People sometimes think faithfulness and predictability are synonymous. Objects fall, gas expands, particles combine: these things are predictable. But people freely honor obligations they have undertaken because they are faithful. That is the difference God never fails to teach Moses and the prophets in the Bible. God’s name tells us that He is not an entity knowable by philosophy or science, deducible from the past. God awaits us in the unknown and unknowable future as BOTH unpredictable and also VERY faithful. So, have faith! Keep moving forward into your future trusting His will and doing His will like Moses...He is already there waiting for you in the future...so, have no fear!  God keeps His promises in the future in ways we CANNOT predict. We just need to TRUST the Great I AM. 

Happy Passover (and Easter) to you!
Adapted from "Future Tense" by Jonathan Sacks. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
Losing my beloved wife this month has been devastating on my soul. I lost the love of my life, my anchor, and my lighthouse. She was the “gift of God” to me. Over the last 30+ years, I learned the joy of the profound mystery which the Apostle Paul talked about in Ephesians 5:29-33 (the mystery of the One Flesh). This month, I also learned that there is very great grief and great pain when that one flesh is ripped apart! As C.S. Lewis, the great Christian writer once wrote, all great love must end in great grief – on this side of eternity! I am experiencing that great grief now, and it seems like (for now) that it will never go away.
After the burial of my beloved Victoria, I felt lost, hopeless, and abandoned. No words or answers from anyone could take that pain away. I realized that I did NOT want any answers to life’s great mysteries. I only wanted the Presence of God. Answers cannot put the broken parts of me back together. Only the presence of God can put back together the broken parts of my soul and mind. I had lost my balance, and only the Presence of God can bring that balance back to my life. I further saw this truth from the Book of Job, where God offers no answers to any of Job’s questions. Only God’s Presence comes to broken Job in a whirlwind – the breath of God (Job 38-42)! I realized that what really helped put Job’s broken life back together was the Presence of God – not any answers to man’s questions! Job was able to pray for his “friends” because that Presence of God had helped put his soul and mind back together amid a great trail. BTW, why did these bad things happen to righteous Job? Only God knows! At the end of the day, the Book of Job tells me to reserve the quest for answers to some of life’s puzzling questions for a later time, when I can fully see and understand the heavenly perspective. For now, I must embrace the Presence of God on earth, and move ahead with integrity in who I am in Him (Job 2:3).
So, this letter is a brief testimony of the His grace and mercy to me on November-14-2022.
I buried my beloved Victoria on Saturday, November-12-2022. On Nov-14, Monday morning, when I woke up, without any thought, I went downstairs expecting to see my wife. But she was not there. At that moment I realized that she will never be with me on earth till the Lord brings me home. I broke down in great pain and sadness – I felt the hole in my heart just growing bigger and bigger. I had never cried out to the Lord like that before. It was at this time that the Lord graciously brought to my attention that the “Parsha Portion from the Torah Readings” in the Jewish synagogues around the world was “Chayei Sarah” – the burial of Sarah.
The Biblical portions read, preached, reflected, and discussed during this week (November 12-19) in the local Jewish synagogues was on the burial of Sarah through the hope of Abraham – Genesis 23:1-25:18. (FYI: my wife was of Jewish origin. Her father Jules Russell (of blessed memory) was Jewish, and her mother Virginia Russell (of blessed memory) was Catholic.) So, in my great grief, I remembered the lessons on “Chayei Sarah” taught by the late great Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks. It brought me hope through the promises given to us in Hebrews 11:8-16 (NIV)   
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed, and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so, from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
In Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18), Abraham was 137 years old. He had been through a few traumatic events involving the people most precious to him in the world - Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael. Then came grief. Sarah, Abraham’s beloved wife, died. She had been his constant companion, sharing the journey with him as they left behind all they knew, their land, their birthplace, and their families.
What does a man of 137 years do – the Torah calls him “old and advanced in years” (Gen.24:1) – after such a trauma and such a bereavement? Seven times he had been promised the land of Canaan, yet when Sarah died, he owned not one square inch of it, not even a place in which to bury his wife. God had promised him many children, a great nation, many nations, as many as the grains of sand in the seashore and the stars in the sky. Yet, separated from his son Ishmael thru Hagar, he had only one son of the covenant, Isaac thru Sarah, whom he had almost lost on Mount Moriah, and who was still unmarried at the age of thirty-seven. Abraham had every reason to sit and grieve.
Yet he did not. In one of the most extraordinary sequences of words in the Torah, his grief is described in a mere five Hebrew words: in English, “Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” (Gen.23:2). Then immediately we read, “And Abraham rose from his grief.” From then on, he engaged in a flurry of activity with two aims in mind: first to buy a plot of land in which to bury Sarah, second to find a wife for his son. Note that these correspond precisely to the two Divine blessings: of land and descendants. Abraham did not wait for God to act. He understood one of the profoundest truths of the Kingdom of God: that God is waiting for us to act.
How did Abraham overcome the trauma and the grief? How do you survive almost losing your child and losing your life-partner, and still have the energy to keep going? What gave Abraham his resilience, his ability to survive, his spirit intact?
I once read an article in Jon Courson’s commentary on the New Testament that talked about a group of psychologists who were studying the victims of the Holocaust, including those who survived concentration camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka. They found that 40 percent of the survivors who had adjusted well and had gone on successfully in their lives versus the 60 percent who were still struggling shared one common denominator that set the world of psychology topsy-turvy. That is, the 40 percent who had adjusted well did not, when asleep, dream about their past experiences. Until this study, the traditional rap in psychology had been to follow this advice: If you want to get over your hurts, you need to dwell on, relive, and work out the past. Instead, because of what they called “the Auschwitz Studies,” psychologists found that the people who were still working through the horrors of the holocaust were not doing well, while those who were healing were those who had been able to say, “That’s a closed chapter in my life. That was then. This is now. I’m going on.” Most of them did not talk about the past, even to their marriage partners, even to their children. Instead, they set about creating a new life in a new land. They learned its language and customs. They found work. They built careers. They married and had children. Having lost their own families, the survivors became an extended family to one another. They looked forward, not back. First, they built a future. Only then – sometimes forty or fifty years later – did they speak about the past. That was when they told their story, first to their families, then to the world. First you must build a future. Only then can you mourn the past.
Two people in the Torah looked back, one explicitly, the other by implication.
Noah, the most righteous man of his generation, ended his life by making wine and becoming drunk. The Torah does not say why, but we can guess. He had lost an entire world. While he and his family were safe on board the ark, everyone else – all his contemporaries – had drowned. It is not hard to imagine this righteous man overwhelmed by grief as he replayed in his mind all that had happened, wondering whether he might have done something to save more lives or avert the catastrophe.
Lot’s wife, against the instruction of the angels, did look back as the cities of the great plain disappeared under fire and brimstone and the anger of God. Immediately she was turned into a pillar of salt, the Torah’s graphic description of a woman so overwhelmed by shock and grief as to be unable to move on.
It is the background of these two stories that helps us understand Abraham after the death of Sarah. He set the precedent: first build the future, and only then can you mourn the past. If you reverse the order, you will be held captive by the past. You will be unable to move on. You will become like Lot’s wife – a pillar of salt – a metaphor for something that has hardened and unable to go anywhere.
Something of this deep truth drove the work of one of the most remarkable survivors of the Holocaust, the psychotherapist Viktor Frankl. Frankl lived through Auschwitz, dedicating himself to giving other prisoners the will to live. He tells the story in several books, most famously in Man’s Search for Meaning. He did this by finding for each of them a task that was calling to them, something they had not yet done but that only they could do. In effect, he gave them a future. This allowed them to survive the present and turn their minds away from the past.
Frankl lived his teachings. After the liberation of Auschwitz, he built a school of psychotherapy called Logotherapy, based on the human search for meaning. It was almost an inversion of the work of Freud. Freudian psychoanalysis had encouraged people to think about their very early past. Frankl instead, taught people to build a future, or more precisely, to hear the future calling to them. Like Abraham, Frankl lived a long and good life, gaining worldwide recognition and dying at the age of ninety-two.
Abraham heard the future calling to him. Sarah had died. Isaac was unmarried. Abraham had neither land nor grandchildren. He did not cry out, in anger or anguish, to God. Instead, he heard the still, small voice of the Spirit saying: The next step depends on you. You must create a future that I will fill with My spirit. That is how I believe that Abraham survived the shock and grief. God forbid that we experience any of this, but if we do, this is how to survive. God enters our lives as a call from the future. It is as if we hear him beckoning to us from the far horizon of time, urging us to take a journey and undertake a task that, in ways we cannot fully understand, we were created for. That is the meaning of the word vocation, literally “a calling”, a mission, a task to which we are summoned.
We are not here by accident. We are here because God wanted us to be, and because there is a task we were meant to fulfill. Discovering what that is, is not easy, and often takes many years and false starts. But for each of us there is something God is calling on us to do, a future not yet made that awaits our making.  It is future-orientation that defines our faith in-Christ (Hebrews 11:8-16).
So much of the anger, hatred and resentments of this world are brought about by people obsessed by the past and who, like Lot’s wife, are unable to move on. There is no good ending to this kind of story, only more tears, and more tragedy. The way of Abraham in Chayei Sarah (Life of Sarah - Genesis 23:1-25:18) is different. First build the future. Only then can you mourn the past.
So, during those moments of great grief, the Lord graciously brought back to my mind His Word given to me through my beloved Victoria, back on May-7-1990 (two years before we got married). She had written it on a Study Bible she had given to me as a gift for my Birthday – the Companion Bible by E.W. Bullinger. The words she wrote in there were prophetic, and as a young man and an immigrant trying to find his way in this land, I did not grasp the full significance of what she was trying to tell me at that time. But on Nov-14-2022 after her passing, I understood the significance of those words from 32+ years ago…it is what I must do now to move ahead in hope.
You see, the Word she prophesied over my life 32+ years ago was from 1 Peter 5:2-4: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
That is how I believe I will survive like Abraham survived the shock and grief after the passing of his wife, Sarah. God enters my life through this call from the future. I hear him beckoning me with my wife (his daughter) by his side, from the far horizon of time, urging me to take the journey as a shepherd, and undertake a task that, in many ways I cannot fully comprehend, but for that which I have been for.  I, as a shepherd, must move ahead with my family and my flock toward that which Christ has called us heavenward.
Philippians 3:13-14 – Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
This I know. This is what my wife wanted for me in-Christ.
May the Lord bless, guide, guard and govern our steps forward in faith in the days ahead!
  • Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, translated by Ilse Lasch (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992).
  • Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense: Jews, Judaism, and Israel in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Schocken Books, 2012).
  • Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 5). Thomas Nelson. 
  • C.S. Lewis, A Greif Observed.
  • https://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation/chayei-sarah/a-call-from-the-future/

Honoring our Moms

Honoring our Mothers
"The Law of the Mother Bird"
Deuteronomy 22:6-7

On Mother’s Day 2022, I would like us to look at the Law of the Mother Bird found in Deuteronomy 22:6-7, “If you come across a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long.” 
What does this Law of the Mother Bird have anything to do with honoring our moms? Let’s see…the Bible tells us to honor our parents. Why? The most obvious answer is that our parents gave us the greatest gift of all, life itself. They are the channels thru which we entered this world. Heaven and earth came together for us through our parents. When we honor them, we are doing the least we can for those who have given us life.
Our Mother’s Day message is from a passage from the Laws of Moses that contains the Commandment of Shiluach Ha'kan (in Hebrew) - sending away a mother bird (Deut.22:6-7) The way the Bible phrases it in Deut.22:6-7, if you find a nest with chicks in it or with eggs in it, and on top of the nest you notice that there is a mother bird who is crouching over her young, then send the mother bird away, and then you can take the chicks for yourself or the eggs for yourself. The big question here, what exactly is the rationale for this commandment? It seems to have some sort of ethical message. It is the way almost all the Biblical commentators interpret it. But, what exactly what is that message – that interpretation?
There's a lot of discussion of this among the major Rabbinic Commentators, but basically the theories break up into two main camps led by the Rabbi Maimonides, and Rabbi Nachmanides, as the principal proponents of two different approaches. Maimonides argues that the basic idea here is that the worst thing you could do to any parent is to force them to witness the demise of their child. Maimonides tells us not to impose that kind of cruelty even upon a bird. The Law of Moses gives you permission to take eggs or take the chicks, but don't force the mother to watch helplessly the demise of her young, send her away and then you can take the chicks or the eggs.
Rabbi Nachmanides and those in Nachmanides' camp see it a little bit differently. Nachmanides argues that there's something here that speaks about species extinction. In other words, while the Bible gives human beings the right to consume animal products and indeed animals themselves. But we must understand that there's a difference between killing a cow for food and killing out the entire species of cow. There is something ethically abhorrent, Nachmanides argues about driving an entire species to extinction. So, if you were to kill mother bird and baby birds together, two generations at once - you were to take the eggs and the chicks and take the mother bird - that's a kind of species extinction. You are killing two generations of birds. That's Rabbi Nachmanides’ way of looking at it.
Now, on this Mother’s Day, I would like to look at another “layer of meaning” beyond what Rabbi(s) Maimonides and Nachmanides already tells us. The key to seeing this “layer of meaning” is to look at the reward for obeying this commandment. It turns out that sending out the mother bird comes with a promised double blessing of long life and a prosperous life. “…that it may go well with you, and that you may live long (Deut.22:7b).” And there's only one other positive command in the entire Bible that comes with a promised double blessing, and it just so happens that that promised double blessing for the other commandment is also a long life and a prosperous life. What is the other Commandment? The other commandment that carries the same reward is honoring your mother and your father. It too comes with a promise of long life and prosperous life (Ephesians 6:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:16; Exodus 20:12). Ephesians 6:2-3, “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
What possible common denominator could there be between the commandment of sending away the mother bird and honoring your mother and father? The Bible seems to be linking these commandments together – but WHY? The common denominator would seem to be the “Honoring of Motherhood.”
Let me ask you a question, how easy it is to capture an adult bird? What if I told you to go outside, and catch a bird? There's plenty of trees, probably a lot of birds in them, you can hear them chirping all over the place. So, just go out with your bare hands and catch me a few birds and come on back and write me an email. How many emails of successful bird catchers do you think I'd get from TSH? Almost NONE! It is NOT easy to capture a mother bird. That's the point of the Commandment in Deut.22:6-7.
Imagine you are walking down the street and you see a nest with a mother hovering over its young. There in front of you is the one chance you will have to take a mother bird with your bare hands. You know why? Because that mother bird will do anything to protect her young. She will sacrifice herself, if need be, in a desperate effort to fend you off. She will flutter her wings; she will hover over that nest. Therefore, you might be tempted to take not just the eggs, but you could take the mother too. But the Bible is telling you, don't do that! Why? Because it's a desecration of motherhood.
Let me explain. God gave animals various abilities to evade predators. For a bird, that ability is flight. Its wings protect it. So, what is the Bible saying thru the Law of the Mother Bird? Let's look at the situation. There's a bird's nest, there's eggs, there's chicks, and there's a mother bird. What's the only reason you'd be able to capture that mother? She has wings, and she could fly away. But she doesn’t fly away. Why? It's because she's protecting her young and she won't fly away. You're using her own motherly instincts against her to capture her for your “self-centered purpose.” It's like there's a trap here and the bait in the trap is nothing but the mother's own maternal instincts. You're using the maternal instinct against her to trap her. That's a desecration of motherhood. So, the Law of Moses says, don't do it. Let the mother bird go free. You don't really have a right to catch her.
Here is where you get to the most amazing insight in the world as to what it means to honor your mother. Because what exactly is the idea with law of the mother bird? It's that a mother will do anything for her young, will even sacrifice herself for her young and we are commanded to honor that maternal love, not to turn a mother's own instinct against her. Well, that's not just true for the mother bird, that's true for your own mother too. Your own mother will do anything for you. Yes, she has expectations for you, and she has hopes for you, but at the end of the day if you do not rise to her expectations and even if you disregard her hopes, she will still love you because you are her child. Do not desecrate that love and take advantage of it. That love, that parental love, is intended to help you grow up. So, do not take that love, and use it as a trap that you set against her, where you take, and you take all that love, and you give nothing in return to your mother. Honor your mom by honoring her love for you.
And if you do, you will find that in HONORING motherhood, the source of all life, your own life will be strengthened. You may well find that you yourself will live a long, healthy life. It's only fitting that you show reverence to the source of all life – your mom!
Have a Blessed Mother’s Day!
  • "The Law of the Mother Bird" by Rabbi David Fohrman at Aleph Beta
  • https://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation/ki-teitse/animal-welfare/

Reigniting your Faith - Joshua 14:6-15

The faith of Caleb rekindled at Hebron
 On Sunday, April-10, the Sunday Sermon revolved around the subject of faith. Our Biblical text was Joshua 14. From the unfortunate incident the Ten Spies (Numbers 13 & 14), Joshua and Caleb were given a pledge by the Lord that they would survive to one day enter the land: God said: “…As surely as I live, the glory of God will fill the world. All of the men who saw My glory and My signs that I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness – who nevertheless tested Me these ten times and did not listen to My words – they will not see the land that I swore to their ancestors. All of those that blasphemed Me will not see it. But My servant Caleb who was of a different spirit and followed after Me, him I will bring to the land to which he arrived, and his descendants will inherit it.” (Num. 14:20–24)
I would like to clarify the some of the points I brought up in my sermon based upon some of the “Midrashic” tradition of the ancient rabbinic sages and the Talmud.
While Joshua continued to occupy a prominent role in the account of the wilderness (Num. 27:15–23; 32:28; 34:17) and eventually succeeded Moses as leader of Israel, Caleb passed from the Torah’s narratives until this episode in the Book of Joshua. Although there are two intervening mentions of him in Numbers (26:65; 32:12), both are references to the earlier incident of the spies. How astonishing then to hear from him again, more than four decades after our last encounter!  To be exact, it had been forty-five years since he had embarked on that fateful mission, as he himself relates: “I was forty years old when Moses sent me…. And now, behold I am today eighty-five years old” (Josh. 14:7, 10). Caleb now asks Joshua for a very particular plot of land: “And now, give me this ridge concerning which God spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that there are giants there, and great, fortified cities. Perhaps God will continue to be with me so that I will drive them out, as God has spoken.” Joshua blessed him, and gave Hebron to Caleb, son of Yefuneh as an inheritance. (Josh. 14:12–13).
The ancient city of Hebron, located at the southern end of the range of hills that runs the length of Canaan, is familiar to us as the burial site of Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah – the patriarchs and matriarchs of the people of Israel (see Genesis 23). In Joshua 14:1-12, Caleb maintains that Hebron was pledged to him by Moses himself: “Moses swore on that day saying, ‘Surely the very land upon which your foot WALKED shall be yours and your descendants’ inheritance forever, for you followed the Lord my God.’” When Moses recounts the incident of the spies in Deuteronomy, he makes clear that the pledge came from God: “Caleb, son of Yefuneh will surely see it [the land] and I will give to him and to his descendants the land upon which he WALKED, for he followed God” (Deut. 1:36). This is also indicated by the original passage from the Book of Numbers, in which God is the speaker: “But My servant Caleb who was of a different spirit and followed after Me, him I will bring to the land to which he arrived, and his descendants will inherit it” (Num. 14:24).
Mysteriously, however, the travels of Caleb to Hebron are never mentioned explicitly in the original account of the episode of the spies.  Numbers 13:22 states: “They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.)”
The actual Hebrew text reads: “They went up [VaYa’alu] from the Negev and he arrived [vayavo] at Hebron, and there were to be found Aĥiman, Sheishai, and Talmai the sons of the giant. Now Hebron had been built seven years before Tzo’an [Tanis] in Egypt. They arrived [vayavo’u] at the wadi of Eshkol and there cut a vine with a cluster of grapes that two of them carried on a staff, and took also from the pomegranates and figs. That place they called Naĥal Eshkol because of the cluster [eshkol] that the people of Israel cut. (Num. 13:22–24) “
In contrast to the other travels that the spies undertook, the arrival at Hebron is phrased in the singular. While this indicates that only one member of the expedition visited the site, nowhere does the text explicitly state that it was Caleb who traveled to Hebron. The matter is left unstated, obscured by the use of the indefinite pronoun. It is only in our passage in Joshua that the necessary clarification is provided: God and His servant Moses pledged to Caleb that he would receive the very land upon which he trod. That was none other than the place of Hebron, for it was none other than Caleb who arrived at Hebron in Numbers 13:22.
Why would the text of the Book of Numbers leave that critical detail unmentioned? Conversely, why does the account of the tribal territories in the Book of Joshua begin with that very detail? It is the Hebraic tradition of the great Rabbinic Sage Rashi (Num. 13:22) and drawn from the Talmud that alerts us to a possible solution: “He arrived at Hebron” – This refers to Caleb who went there alone and threw himself upon at the graves of his ancestors - his grandfathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and grandmothers (Sarah, Rebecca and Leah) - begging God to preserve him from the evil counsel of his 10 brothers who did NOT want to go into the promised land. Thus, God says, “I will give him the land upon which he WALKED” [Deut. 1:36], and it later states that “they gave Hebron to Caleb” [Judges 1:20]. (Sota 34b)
This rabbinic tradition links the visit of Caleb to Hebron, a city inhabited by a race of giants.
Hebron is the burial place of the ancestors of Israel.  Abraham first established a more permanent presence there by purchasing the cave of Makhpela as a family burial place. The relevant passages in Genesis (23:1–20, 25:9–10, 35:27–29, 49:29–32, 50:13) leave no doubt that in the collective consciousness of the people of Israel, Hebron and its cave of Makhpela not only mark the final resting place of our spiritual ancestors, but also signify their intense connection to Canaan. Their desire to be buried in Makhpela’s sand was the final expression of their lifelong trust that God would one day give Canaan to their descendants, who would possess it as a nation and there realize their unique destiny.
Caleb’s visit to Hebron, despite the danger suggested by the presence of the “giants,” was thus understood by the rabbinic tradition to indicate more than a spy mission. Caleb took off from the midst of the other spies due to their negatitivity. Caleb went to Hebron and to the cave of Makhpela, seeking to draw from that place the spiritual strength that he would need to oppose the “bad report.” But from that pilgrimage Caleb also hoped to draw inspiration for the people of Israel to remain steadfast in their faith that God’s pledge to bring them into the land would be realized. In our mind’s eye, we can see him part from his unbelieving brethren and set his sights for Hebron, even as they try to dissuade him with dire warnings of massive armies of giants. But he will not be discouraged. In Hebron, Caleb discovers the promise of Abraham sealed to the land of Canaan in the cave of Makhpela. Hebron is the encounter with Israel’s deepest roots in Canaan. The ancestral tomb signifies an everlasting love for the land and the absolute trust in God’s as-yet unfulfilled promise of nationhood.
The tragedy of the spies preserved in the Book of Numbers is for the most part an exploration of the limits of trust. On the one hand, God indicated to the people that the land of Canaan was beautiful, bountiful, and within reach. On the other hand, the spies surveyed a land that was filled with fortified cities populated by powerful and hostile tribes. How could Israel, scarcely freed from the grip of a prolonged Egyptian bondage that had enslaved the body and crushed the soul, persevere against them, except by believing in God’s promise? The account of the spies, their crisis of confidence precipitated by a lack of trust, is no place to highlight the heroism of Caleb, who was so obviously filled with a “different spirit.” Theirs was a tale of downfall and failure, while Caleb’s story was the story of conviction and triumph. The 10 spies betrayed the traditions of their forefathers who believed God’s word despite all, while Caleb knew in his innermost heart that His pledge to them would be upheld. The counsel of the 10 spies won the day, that generation was plunged into the abyss, and Caleb’s visit to Hebron was therefore concealed by the text.
Our passage in the Book of Joshua is about God as a promise-keeper. For 40 years the people of Israel walked thru the barren wilderness to successfully enter the land and to conquer its powerful Canaanite alliances. They finally stand at the threshold of God’s promise being fulfilled. With the main battles over, they prepare to formally divide up the land among the tribes. What more fitting way to introduce this great undertaking than by emphasizing the unshakable faith of Caleb? The section therefore begins with a moving recollection of Caleb’s visit to Hebron some forty-five years earlier, an expedition that not only offers dazzling proof of his own perseverance, but also provided the people of Israel with a paradigm for the nurture of their own spiritual fortitude. Caleb is still alive to recount those ancient events, standing before them with his vigor undiminished and his trust in God undimmed, while his 10 comrades and their fearful followers have perished long, long ago.
Joshua Chapter 14 tells all believers that Israel’s success in the land will ultimately be a function of adopting not only Caleb’s long-term view point (85+ years of waiting), but also his lifelong trust as the foundation of their own, in order to complete the awesome task of settlement that God now places before them: “Therefore was Hebron given to Caleb the son of Yefuneh the Kenizite as an inheritance until this very day, for he followed after the Lord, God of Israel” (Josh. 14:14).
The character traits we can learn from Caleb’s life are:
  1. Caleb trusted in God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. A woman or man who trusts God’s faithfulness will be greatly used by God. It was no fad, no flash-in-the-pan sort of season in his life. Caleb’s commitment was not a New Year’s resolution that was made and promptly broken.
  1. After 45 years, he was still going strong and wanted to accomplish great things for God’s glory. Caleb was faithful over the long haul. To do this, you must constantly remember, rehearse and repeat the promises of God to you from the Word and Spirit of God. Hold it close to your heart, despite the unbelief that currently swirls around you.
Now, how about you? Have you given up on tackling great things for God? Are you still in the game, putting forth your best effort or have you reclined to the bench or sofa to watch the younger generation attempt great things for God? A man or woman who remains faithful to God’s purpose will be greatly used by God.
Though Caleb had a “dog’s life” the first 40 years of his life, during the next 45 years, he still believed God would be faithful to His promises. From his actions, we can learn that nothing is impossible to the one who believes and walks in the Lord’s Word and Way (Luke 1:37) to honor the Lord’s Will for his/her life and community.
  1. Hattin, Michael. Joshua: The Challenge of the Promised Land . The Toby Press.
  2. https://www.cityviewnc.com/2021/04/21/faith-lessons-from-caleb/

The Birth-Day of Christ

Millions of Christians all over the world celebrate the birthday of Jesus on December 25. We call it Christmas. While most believers enjoy the holiday break and the opportunity to get together with family and exchange gifts, they would admit that December 25 is not likely the actual date on which Jesus was born. The question is, do we have anything to shed some light on the time of Jesus’ birth? When did it take place?
The Gospel of Luke offers a clue. Interestingly, the Gospel of Luke begins with the birth of John. Why is it important to understand John’s birth? The reason is that Luke 1:26 indicates there were six months between the conception of John and the conception of Jesus. If their conceptions were six months apart, then their births would also be approximately six months apart.
To understand the date of Jesus’ birth, can we establish the date of John the Baptist’s birth? The answer is most probably, yes! Consider Luke 1:5: “In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.” John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. Luke 1:8–13 tells us that Zechariah was serving in the Temple when he received the news that Elizabeth was with child. Why does Luke mention the fact that Zechariah belonged to the priestly division of Abijah? Do we really care? Should we? I think so.
It is important to pay attention to the details of Scripture. What at first glance may seem irrelevant or unimportant becomes very relevant once the Jewish cultural background is taken into consideration. Luke’s mention of Abijah is a direct reference to the division of the priests into orders found in 1 Chronicles 24:10. There it is stated that Zechariah’s priestly division, Abijah, was the eighth division to serve at the Temple.
The Mishnah (part of the Talmud) states that each priestly division had to serve twice in one year (but not consecutively), with the first division starting on the first week of Nissan. Each division served a one-week period and all priestly divisions had to serve during the three pilgrim Festivals. The following is the order of the priestly divisions in relation to the feasts found in the Jewish Mishna:
  • First week of Nissan, the first priestly division of Jehoiarib serves 
  • Second week of Nissan, second priestly division of Jedaiah serves 
  • Third week of Nissan, Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread, all the priests serve 
  • Fourth week of Nissan, third priestly division of Harim serves 
  • First week of Iyar, fourth priestly division of Seorin serves 
  • Second week of Iyar, fifth priestly division of Malkijah serves 
  • Third week of Iyar, sixth priestly division of Mijamin serves 
  • Fourth week of Iyar, seventh priestly division of Hakkoz serves 
  • First week of Sivan, eighth priestly division of Abijah serves 
  • Second week of Sivan, Shavuot (Pentecost), all the priests serve (including the division of Abijah), and so on 
As a member of the order of Abijah, Zechariah served during the first week of Sivan and then was required to serve the following week for Shavuot (Pentecost). After his service in the Temple, Zechariah went home to his wife. Therefore, John the Baptist must have been conceived sometime after Shavuot.
Following this logic through, then John the Baptist would have been born in the month of Nissan, the month in which the Festival of Passover is to be observed. Keep in mind that the Scriptures say that John’s and Jesus’ birthdays are six months apart (Luke 1:26–36). If John was born in the Jewish month of Nissan (March-April), during Passover, then Jesus would have to be born on or near the Jewish month of Tishri (September-October), which happens to be the first day of the biblical Feast of Tabernacles.
One further point of interest about John the Baptist being born during Passover: The Rabbis teach that the prophet Elijah will appear at Passover to declare Who the Messiah will be. That is why an empty seat is left for Elijah at the head table during the Jewish Passover Seder. Jesus alluded to John serving in the role of Elijah in Matthew 11:13–15: “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear.” In other words, John was born during the Passover, precisely the season when the rabbis expected the forerunner of the Messiah to come.
I personally think that it is highly probable that Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles. Perhaps then it is more than a coincidence that the disciple John starts his Gospel by saying, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The Greek word John uses for “made his dwelling” literally ​means ​that ​the ​Word of God “tabernacled” among men. This would seem to be a typically Jewish way of suggesting the season in which Jesus was born. This Rabbinic method is called the Remez method of teaching, by means of dropping subtle hints in the writings or teachings. In this style of writing and teaching you don’t come right out and make your point, but you lead your audience to the edge of the discovery and allow them to make the connection for themselves and have their own “Aha!” moment. As we look at this Scriptures within a Jewish context, it is very possible that taken together they tell us Jesus was born in the fall, during the Feast of Tabernacles.
There is more. One element of the birth scene that we know is correct is the place where Jesus was born. It was a place built to shelter animals from the elements while they slept. According to Luke 2:7, Jesus is placed in a MANGER. Traditionally this is understood to be a box where feed is placed for the animals. It was placed inside a shed or cave. In Luke 13:15 this same Greek word for “manger” refers to a stall or the entire shelter. In Genesis 33:17 we read: “Jacob, however, went to Succoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Succoth.” The Hebrew word succoth means “a shelter.” It is also the Hebrew name for the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths because the people were commanded to build temporary structures to live in to remind them of their time in the wilderness living in tents (Lev. 23:34, 42, 43). The imagery is staggering when you stop and think about it. The Feast of Tabernacles is all about remembering that during the wilderness journey (in Exodus) God came to tabernacle or make His dwelling with the Israelites. He was with them in a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. His presence was in their midst in the Tabernacle.
Jesus was born around the time of the Feast of Succoth, or Shelters (Tabernacles), and placed into a manger or shelter by his mother. John in turn tells us that this Jesus is God the Word come to dwell or tabernacle among us for a time just as God came to live among the Israelites in the wilderness. Jesus temporarily leaves the glory of heaven to come to earth and to pay the price for mankind. He dwells among us temporarily to reveal Who God is and to make it possible for God to be in the hearts of His people forever!
Merry Christmas! 
Reference: “Understanding Jesus” by Joe Amaral. FaithWords.

Circular Time in Christ

I like watching inspirational movies. Movies like “Field of Dreams,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Pursuit of Happyness,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Gandhi,” “Arrival,” etc., offer us an opportunity to rise above the ordinary into a different world of faith, hope and courage.  I sometimes use these movies to explain some complex, hard-to-understand theological concepts.

 In our Sunday Sermons on the “Living Hope of Christmas” - Matthew 1 &2, we came across Matthew’s use of Jeremiah’s prophecy using the metaphor of “Rachel’s Tears” -Jeremiah 31:15-17. When New Testament Biblical writers use prophecy as a pathway to process pain and suffering, they are suggesting that we enter God’s world of “Olam Haba,” a world in which past, present, and future blends into a single, intensely powerful messianic existence. A world in which everything you ever were, or will be – you now experience in a unified kind of way by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. The Gospel accounts of the “Transfiguration” (ex: Matthew 17) suggests that in-Christ there is a world where time isn’t a straight line at all. There is NO segmentation of past, present and future. Time is eternal in Christ. I see time as “Circular” - beginning and ending in the Trinity, the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit - the never ending source of life, light and liberty.

 What would it mean to enter a world like that? A circular concept of time? 

 The movie “Arrival” offers an artistic thought provoking journey into that question. It is about looking at time and our experience of time in a different way. To me, this movie is like a fable. It offers us a kind of “thought experiment” to chew on, in the form of a question the main character Louise actually puts directly to the man who will become her husband. How will he respond? And why is she willing to marry this man and have this child; why is she willing to accept this path of joy and pain wholeheartedly, despite knowing everything – all the moments of unavoidable pain and anguish in her future? 

 To me, something more is going on in Louise's decision. I happen to look at this movie it thru my Christ-lens. It has to do with the ideas expressed in Jeremiah 31:15-17.  In this movie, the main character Louise sees her life no longer as discrete, separate events lying along a linear straight line conveniently packaged with signposts, ‘past,' ‘present,' and ‘future.' Thru her experience with the extraterrestrials she has tasted what it is to experience time and life as a CIRCLE. She has glimpsed what it is like to experience ‘past, present and future‘ all at once.

 Now as you extend concept of “Circular Time” to a place where past, present and future converge in Christ as seen in the Scriptures in Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”...

 ...you will find that despite the pain, loss, uncertainties, contradictions, etc., that the Lord is always IMMANUEL in our time and space - always with us, never to forsake us or to leave us. He is Lord over our pain and our joy (2 Corinthians 1:3-10). He is is with us all the time, everywhere and in all circumstances. Thru this hope we will have the courage to look up beyond the clouds from our devastations to find faith and love. Hebrews 12:3 encourages us to not grow weary...”Consider Him (Christ) who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

 So, during this COVID influenced year, in this Christmas season, I am asking you NOT to be limited by the linear-straight timelines of this world. Remember that He is the Lord of our time and timelines. Time works very differently in Christ. He is the Lord of your Sabbath and your salvation. So, be strong and of good courage.

 My intention for showing you this movie clip fronm the movie Arrival was to encourage you. With our Savior and Lord Christ, past anguish must not be hidden from His grace – neither should we fear future anguish. Which is to say: We shouldn’t let the possibility of future sorrow intimidate us. We should not shrink away from life with a sense of fear, born from fear that ‘evil and pain’ may lie somewhere ahead on this linear path we call time. Yes, pain, anguish and sorrow feels awful when we encounter it. But there is more to life than a linear path through it. We can enter God’s world of “Olam Haba,”(Hebrew)  a world in which past, present, and future blends into a single, intensely powerful Christ-experience existence. A world in which everything you ever were, or will be in Christ – you now experience in a unified kind of way by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is a circular time path in Christ were your hope and victory lies in His life (See Matthew 17:1-23). And knowing that, perhaps you too, can summon the courage to lean on His Holy Word and Holy Spirit, embrace life more fully, not fearing the future.

 Merry Christmas 🎁🎄 


Reference: https://www.alephbeta.org/playlist/why-does-god-allow-suffering

TSH COVID-19 Announcement

On March-17 Governor Baker issued an emergency order limiting gatherings to 25 individuals and prohibiting on-premises consumption of food or drink at bars and restaurants.

See Official MA Website: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-guidance-and-directives

The call of the church to provide pastoral care to its members doesn’t change when global pandemics strike. Uncertain times call for church creativity. We must rethink and restructure what church looks like to protect our congregation while continuing our ministry work. Therefore, at TSH we are implementing the following:
1)     Small group meetings (less than 10 people) will continue at TSH. If anyone is experiencing cold-flu symptoms or have recently arrived from a foreign country in the last 14-days, we kindly ask that you stay home.

2)     Wednesday Night Prayer meetings (less than 10 people) for the healing of this nation will continue with a small group of prayer-intercessors. If anyone is experiencing cold-flu symptoms or have recently arrived from a foreign country in the last 14-days, we kindly ask that you stay home.

3)     For now, we are planning to continue Sunday Worship Services  at the Dedham-Westwood Campus (current attendance less than 20). If anyone is experiencing cold-flu symptoms or have recently arrived from a foreign country in the last 14-days, we kindly ask that you stay home.

4)     For now, our Sunday Worship Services at the Woburn Campus are cancelled for the next two weeks. We will have online content (ZOOM meetings?). TBD and TBA soon. We will re-evaluate the status of the Woburn campus after 2 weeks.

5)     I am encouraging Family/Small Group Study of His Word & Prayer Meetings (less than 10 people) – I will be sending out Weekly TSH for daily “family” devotionals.

6)     We must support the members of our local communities with the help they need. We will be reaching out to non-profit organizations in Woburn to see what we can do in the coming weeks.

7)     Please continue to be faithful in your weekly giving (Matthew 6:1-33). You can give via TSH online link: http://www.tshmin.org/donations/donate-to-the-shepherds-house/index.html or mail your it to TSH, PO Box 2526, Woburn, MA-01888.

Martin Luther, the primary leader of the Reformation, lived in Germany during the era of the deadly Bubonic Plague. Regarding that time of crisis, he wrote: "I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God."  (Luther's Works, Volume 43, p.132).

Martin Luther was not a perfect man by any means, but he was obviously gifted with extraordinary wisdom for an unspeakably difficult time.

Romans 15:2 “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (ESV)


1)      https://telioslaw.com/blog/commandments-law-and-religion/can-government-force-churches-cancel-services-because

2)     https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/march-web-only/seattle-churches-stop-meeting-to-slow-covid-19-coronavirus.html?utm_source=ctweekly-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=30948069&utm_content=701922595&utm_campaign=email

3)     https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-guidance-and-directives

 Living through Uncertainties and Contradictions

 Living through Uncertainties and Contradictions
James 2:21-24 
Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In his walk with the Lord, the patriarch Abraham learned that there is a long and winding road between promise and fulfillment. Not because God does not keep His word, but because Abraham and his descendants were charged with bringing something new into the world. A sacred society. A nation formed by covenant. An abandonment of idolatry. A spiritual code of righteous conduct. A more intimate relationship with God than any people had ever known. It would become a nation of pioneers. And God was teaching Abraham from the very beginning that this demands extraordinary strengths of character, because nothing great and transformative happens overnight in the human world. You must keep going, even if you are tired and lost, exhausted and despondent. God will bring about everything He promised. But not immediately. And not directly. God seeks change in the real world of everyday lives. And He seeks those who have the tenacity of faith to keep going despite all the setbacks. That is what the life of Abraham teaches us about faith. Nowhere was this clearer than in relation to God’s promise of children to Abraham (James 2:21-24). 
Four times, God spoke about this to Abraham concerning children, and these promises formed a pathway for Abraham to build a tenacity of faith to keep going despite all the setbacks:
[1] “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” (Gen. 12:2)
[2] “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.” (Gen. 13:16)
[3] “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Gen. 15:5)
[4] “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.” (Gen. 17:5-6)
Four ascending promises: a great nation, as many children as the dust of the earth, as the stars of the sky; not one nation but many nations. Abraham heard these promises and had faith in God: “Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).
Then, later in his life God gave Abraham some painful news. His son by Hagar, Ishmael, would not be his spiritual heir. God would bless him and make him a great nation, “But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” (Gen. 17:21). Abraham was forced to release Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness of Paran (Gen. 21:1-21). He had to endure the pain of losing his oldest son. In the process he learned a very valuable lesson – God is the only one who can protect, provide, and prosper his children. The Lord saved Ishmael from death and sustained him in the desert (Gen. 21:17-21).
It is against this background of promises and painful experiences that Abraham’s covenantal faithfulness was tested by the Lord with the chilling words that open Genesis 22: “Take your son, your only son, the son that you love – Isaac – and offer him up.” To understand the “Binding of Isaac” in Genesis-22, we must understand the covenantal lessons in the “Loosing of Ishmael” in Genesis-21.  In the “loosing of Ishmael.” Abraham found out that the Lord “saved and resurrected” Ishmael and provided him with a Well of Water (Gen. 21:19) – a lot more than what Abraham could provide for Ishmael (a mere 2-3 gallons water).
The trial of Genesis-22 was not just to see whether Abraham had the strength to give up something he loved. Abraham had shown this time and time again. At the very beginning of his story Abraham gave up his land, his birthplace and his father’s house, everything that was familiar to him, everything that spoke of home. In the chapter-21, he gave up his firstborn son Ishmael whom, it is clear, he also loved very much.  The Genesis-22 trial with Isaac (regarding human sacrifice) was completely abhorrent and contradictory to the Abrahamic covenantal way of life. How could Abraham make sense of this in his walk with the Lord, and submit to this commandment from the Lord? What was the test all about?  
It appears to me that the test of Genesis-22 was to see whether Abraham could live with what seemed to be a clear contradiction between God’s word now (sacrifice of Isaac), and God’s word on five previous occasions, promising him children and a covenant that would be continued by Isaac. The trial of the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22) was not merely about sacrifice, it was much more! It was about dealing uncertainties and contradictions within the life of the spirit. Until the trial was over, Abraham did not know what it was mostly about, or how it would end. But he believed that the God who promised him a son would not allow his son to die. But he did not know how the contradiction between God’s promise (the birth of Isaac in Genesis 21) and His command (to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22) would resolve itself. Abraham taught us that faith is not certainty; it is the courage to live with uncertainty by TRUSTING in the FAITHFULNESS of the Lord even when we do not understand His will and His way for our lives. As Abraham completely relied on the faithfulness of the Lord. He understood that the Lord’s promises would come true; and so, he could navigate through the uncertainty of not knowing how or when.
Hebrews 11:17-19 "By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death."
So, today you may be facing some “uncertainties” and "contradictions” in your life! What the Lord promised you many years ago, and how your life has turned out today may seem to be like a “complete contradiction” to His Word to you from yesterday. But please remember that the “just shall live by faith in His faithfulness…” Hab.2:4b.  As you trust in the Lord with all your heart, and walk in His Word and Way, you will eventually see His promises coming true. In this Abrahamic way of Genesis-22, you can deal with the contradictions and uncertainties of today, not knowing how or when His promises will be fulfilled. But it will!!
WAIT for the Lord! Again, I say, WAIT for the Lord! HE IS FAITHFUL (2 Cor.1:20). When you live your life on Christ’s terms and His way, you can be assured that your circumstances are subject to His change in His time 😊by His Spirit.

Adapted from http://rabbisacks.org/vayera-5780/

Blessings in our Diversity

Lessons from the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-8
 Crowds tend to have the effect of making the individual lose his or her independent judgment, and instead simply follow what others are doing. We call this “herd behavior.” People in a crowd become anonymous. Most times their conscience is silenced, and they also lose a sense of personal responsibility. Large groups are prone to regressive behavior, primitive reactions and instinctual actions. Crowds are easily led by exploiters and manipulators, who may play on people’s fears and sense of victimhood and incite them to hate and attack other groups. Judeo-Christianity encourages us to never lose our individuality in the crowd. We believe that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God. Hence, diversity is a sign of strength, not weakness! That’s the ultimate lesson from the Tower of Babel.

The tower or ziggurat was the great symbol of the ancient Mesopotamian city states of the lower Tigris-Euphrates valley, the cradle of civilization. It was there that human beings first settled, established agriculture, and built cities. As the Torah makes clear, one of the great discoveries of Mesopotamia (along with the wheel, the arch and the calendar) was the ability to manufacture building materials, especially bricks made by pouring clay into molds, drying it in the sun, and eventually firing it in kilns: “And they said one to another: ‘Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar” (Gen.11:3). This made possible the construction of buildings on a larger scale and reaching greater heights than hitherto. From this grew the ziggurat in the plains of Shinar (Gen.11:1), a stepped building of many levels, which came to have profound religious significance. Essentially these towers – of which the remains of at least thirty have been discovered – were man-made “holy mountains,” the mountain being the place where heaven and earth most visibly meet. Inscriptions on several of these buildings, decoded by archaeologists, refer, as does the Torah, to the idea that their top “reaches heaven”: “And they said: ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven,’ ” (Gen.11:4). The largest – the great ziggurat of Babylon to which the Torah refers – was a structure of seven stories, three hundred feet high, on a base of roughly the same dimensions.

The results of human behavior most often are the opposite of what God intended. The builders of Babel wanted to concentrate humanity in one place: “Let us build a city…and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Gen.11:4). The result was that they were dispersed: “from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth” (Gen.11:8). They wanted to “make a name” (11:4) for themselves, and they did, but the name they made – Babel – became an eternal symbol of confusion. Their pride lay in their newfound technological ability to construct buildings of unprecedented grandeur. They did not realize that the greatest creative power is LANGUAGE – a message found several times in the opening chapter of Genesis with the great simplicity that is repeated often in Genesis 1… “And God said…and there was.”

The Babel building project in Genesis 11:1-8 had two main goals – the city and the tower. The city is a means to concentrate people geographically, and the tower provides a vantage point for control of those people. Imagine multiple generations of the survivors of the Flood living in the flood plains in and around Babel. Whoever has the high ground establishes control; the higher the tower, the more control. A tower with “its head in the heavens” expresses the desire to control everyone, to be all-powerful. No wonder the ancient rabbis saw the attempt to build the tower as a rebellion against God. Remember that it is only God who has dominion over humanity. People are not to dominate other people. And certainly, nobody should have ultimate control over all humanity, as the designers of the tower intended. The builders of the tower were ultimately challenging God’s rule over people.

God is God; humanity is humanity. There can be no blurring of these boundaries. That was the sin of the builders of the tower. Their aspiration to “reach heaven” (Gen.11:4) was laughable, and indeed the Torah makes a joke of it. They think that their construction – three hundred feet high – has reached heaven, whereas God has to “come down” to look at it (“Man plans, and God laughs”). Intoxicated by their technological advancements, the builders of Babel believed they had become like gods and could now construct their own cosmopolis, their man-made miniature universe. Not content with earth, they wanted to build an abode in heaven. It is a mistake many civilizations have made, and the result is catastrophe. As Lord Acton pointed out, even the great city-state of Athens which produced Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, self-destructed when “the possession of unlimited power, which corrodes the conscience, hardens the heart, and confounds the understanding of monarchs, exercised its demoralizing influence.” What went wrong in Athens, Lord Acton writes, was the belief that “there is no law superior to that of the State – the lawgiver is above the law.” In modern times, the reenactment of Babel is most clearly associated with the names of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.

Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, (1817–1893), writing in Czarist Russia prophetically foreseeing the worst excesses of communism, talks about Babel as the world’s first totalitarianism, in which to preserve the masses as a single entity, all freedom of expression is suppressed (hence the expression “the whole world had one language and a unified speech”). The human race has witnessed way too many times in its history the desire by the few power-hungry to control the masses. One of the most terrifying threats to totalitarian rulers is the free dissemination of information, which is why, in the Western world, freedom of the press is such a core value. It is only through the control of information that the power-hungry can hope to limit the emergence of new ideas. It is only through the limiting of ideas and freewill that the powerful can impose their will of the powerless. Now we also understand the fear of the Babel leadership (Gen.11:4)– “lest we be scattered.”

God’s intent is for man to fill the earth, while the leaders in Babel seek to undermine the will of God by concentrating humanity in one place, the city with its control tower. Hence, we understand the divine judgement, which leads to the scattering of peoples across the face of the planet. What is more, we understand God’s method of salvation in this judgement at Babel. It is an act of God to dismantle the evil plans of power-hungry individuals who ultimately challenge God’s will and ways. Changing the language of people is not simply a tool to confound their plans. First, the inability for neighbors to understand each other forces people to live apart, thus moving them into the purpose of God to fill the earth and be fruitful (Gen.1:28). Secondly, the diversity of language leads to the expansion of the human civilization as people discover, explore, express, and implement a diversity of thoughts and ideas.

Indeed, what differentiates humans from other animals is the ability to speak. Targum Onkelos translates the last phrase of Genesis 2:7, “God formed man out of dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature,” as “and man became ruaĥ memallelah, a speaking spirit.” Because we can speak, we can think, and therefore imagine a world different from the one that currently exists. Creation begins with the creative word, the idea, the vision, the dream. Language – and with it the ability to remember a distant past and conceptualize a distant future – lies at the heart of our uniqueness as the image of God. Just as God makes the natural world by words (“And God said…and there was”) so we make the human world by words, which is why the Bible takes words so seriously: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue,” says the book of Proverbs (18:2). Already at the opening of the Torah, at the very beginning of creation, is foreshadowed the Judeo-Christian doctrine of revelation: that God reveals Himself to humanity not in the sun, the stars, the wind or the storm but in and through words – sacred words that make us co-partners with God in the work of redemption. Our human creative power is linked to our language (words) – the medium through which we communicate our ideals, construct imaginative possibilities, and call others to join us in realizing them. Hence, the lack of diversity in language in the story of Babel highlights limitations to human creativity. This is understandable, as every different language – with its unique grammar, structure, and vocabulary – yields nuanced differences of tone, meaning, intensity, etc. Different languages enhance the human creativity. Diversity is a sign of strength, not weakness!

Only when God is God can man be man. This means organizing our world under the sovereignty of our Creator. Without this conscious effort of living under God’s Word, there is little to prevent human beings from sacrificing the many for the sake of the few, or the few for the sake of the many. Only a respect for the integrity of creation under God’s intended purpose will stop human beings from destroying themselves. Humility in the presence of Divine order is our last, best safeguard against dehumanizing ourselves. Babel was the first civilization, but sadly not the last, to begin with a dream of utopia and end in a nightmare of hell. When human beings try to live apart from the Word and Will of God, they quickly become less than human.  Diversity is a sign of the strength of God in our lives; it is not human weakness!

Adapted from:
  • Sacks, Jonathan. Genesis: The Book of Beginnings (Covenant & Conversation)
  • Grumet, Zvi. Genesis: From Creation to Covenant.
  • Lord Acton, Essays in the History of Liberty (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1986), 13.
<< Previous 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7