It is Really About Love (Mishpatim)

For I the Lord do not change Malachi 3:6

This week we continue our reading of Exodus, chapters 21-24. It is an interesting portion with two and a half of the four chapters filed with laws.

The laws are detailed; how to deal with slaves & property, personal injuries & social responsibility, Shabbat & the Holidays. These kinds of chapters seem rather irrelevant to Christians today and are often skipped over. After all we don’t have slaves, most of us don’t have livestock, and the government has installed laws on how to deal with justice.

Despite that, I encourage you to open your bible and read these chapters, because we can learn a lot about God’s character from these laws that He gave the people of Israel. After all, the Lord is the same, yesterday, today & tomorrow. And what He had to say so many years ago to the Israelites is still very relevant today.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12: 30-31

All the laws given in these chapters can be summarized with the above verse; Love the Lord and love your neighbor as yourself. The basis of all these rules is love. Perfect Love. Love that outcasts fear. The kind of self-sacrificing love that the Father shows us.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

It was always about love, and it still is. While we can have endless discussions about Grace vs. Law and the relevance of these ‘Old Testament’ rules for our lives as believers today, it is really about love. The love the Lord has shown us and we in turn give Him, and the love we have for our neighbor because of the love of the Lord in us.

So I encourage you to read these chapters and to ask the Lord to show you what you can gain from them. Let these words remind you that it is about love and they can help you to show more of the Lord’s love to your neighbors.

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Moses and his father-in-law (Yitro)

In this weekly Torah portion, we learn the Moses had sent his wife Zipporah and their two sons, Gershon & Eliezer to stay with his father-in-law for a while. The time had come for the family to be reunited and Jethro brought his daughter and grandsons to Moses, who was camped with the Israelites in the wilderness, by the mountain of God.

Moses told his father-in-law all about what the Lord had done for Israel’s sake. It had been hard, but the Lord had saved them. Jethro was glad to hear the report and praised the Lord for rescuing Israel from the hand of the Egyptians and the Pharaoh. Jethro brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to the Lord for what He had done for Moses and the Israelites.

“Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” Exodus 18:11

Jethro was a religious man, a priest of Midian, and he recognized the power of the Lord. But he was also a very practical man. And when he saw how overburdened Moses was with caring for the people he spoke up with some good advice.

Whenever the people had a question they’d come to Moses directly to hear the will of the Lord. Moses was busy morning till evening and Jethro saw that this was too much. The work was too heavy and would wear him out. Moses needed to get some help.

Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. Exodus 18:19

Jethro advised Moses to not only teach the people the Lord’s decrees and instructions, but to find capable men who could assist him. Trustworthy men, who feared God and hated dishonest gain, were to share the load. Sharing the burden would make Moses be able to keep up and the people would still get their answers. Moses followed the advice of his father-in-law and began to teach the people the law. He also chose capable men who he installed as leaders.

Jethro was used by the Lord, to help Moses. It is not the first or the last time that we read about an ‘unbeliever’ who is being used by the Lord. God can use anyone to encourage us and remind us of His love. The advise given by someone from the ‘outside’ can be inspired by the Lord and add a lot to our life.

Have you ever gotten advice from that was clearly from the Lord, but came from an ‘unbeliever’ source? How did you know it was really the Lord? Are there people in your life that speak love even though they don’t serve the Lord?

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Standing together in prayer leads to victory (Beshalach)

This week’s Torah portion has several miracles in it. The Lord parted the Red Sea, bitter water turned sweet, quails and manna fell from heaven and water came forth from a rock. It is really amazing to see how the Lord provided for his people during their time in the desert. He is truly faithful.

At the end of this week’s portion, we read how the Amalekites were defeated after they attacked the Israelites. Moses sent out Joshua with some of his men to fight while Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. Moses lifted up his hands and as long as his hand were up the Israelites were winning. But when Moses lowered his hands the Amalekites were winning. The fight was long and Moses hands grew tired. Aaron and Hur brought a stone, so Moses could sit down. Aaron stood on one side and Hur stood on the other side. Together the held up the hands of Moses until sunset and Joshua defeated the Amalekites.

To me the picture of Moses getting help from Aaron & Hur is what stands out in this week’s portion. It is teamwork, helping each other out, Moses couldn’t do what he did without help. There wouldn’t have been victory without the three of them working together.

It took humility from Moses to accept help. The only way he could do what needed to be done was with the support from his brother and friend.
And it took willingness from Aaron & Hur. Holding up Moses hands till sunset was not an easy task. But they did so anyways. And helped secure the victory.

Joshua was a strong & brave warrior but he could not succeed in his own strength. He needed Moses to lift up his hands to the heavens. And when Moses wasn’t strong enough, he needed the help from Aaron & Hur.

This story reminds me of what the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth. In his first letter to them, in chapter 12 he explains how just like a human body, the Body of Christ is made up of many parts. It doesn’t matter if we are Jewish or not, we are one by the Holy Spirit. And the Lord God Himself has put the Body together.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it. I Corinthians 12:26+27

The same teamwork that was needed to defeat the Amalekites is what is needed between brothers & sisters in the Lord. We can not be victorious on our own. We need each other.We need to be willing to ask for help and we need to be willing to help others. And above all, we need to remember that we need the Lord in heaven if we want to overcome.

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A new fresh start for Adina & Avi

Adina* has been part of our single mother’s group for a few years. She raises her two small children on her own after her husband left her to go back to his home country. She has a strong faith in the Lord and takes her children to the congregation weekly. Adina works as a cleaner and her modest income does not cover the family’s expenses. Because of this Adina slowly built up more and more debt as she struggled to take care of herself & her children. Several small loans have grown into a large amount of debt over a few years of not being able to make payments.

Recently Avi*, her husband came back to Israel. He had found the Lord and felt convicted about the family he left behind. He wanted to be the husband & father he hadn’t been before. Adina agreed to make a fresh start. Praise the Lord for the restoration of this union!

However, making a new start has been difficult. Adina & Avi shared with our staff about the financial difficulties they faced. The ever-growing amount of debt was very discouraging to them. They didn’t see how they would ever get out from under this burden.

Our staff met with the banks where the couple had loans. We were able to negotiate the loans down to a quarter of the original sum on the condition that the remaining amount was paid off in full within a short time span. We lifted up our prayers to the God who restored a marriage and gave this family a second chance. We really wanted to help Adina & Avi, we wanted them to have a real new start, without dept. And the Lord answered our prayers; our faithful and generous partners provide the funds needed to pay off the loans in full!

It is such an encouragement to see how the God we serve is a God of second chances. This story is very special, with a restored family. Not all stories go like this. But over and over we are blown away by God’s provision when we help families get out of debt. Our God restores people and gives them hope for their future, and it is an honor to be a little part of it.

*Names changed for privacy.

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The bible becomes alive in the Land of Israel

They say that the bible comes to life in Israel. There is something truly amazing about reading the stories in the places it actually happened. It was a very special experience for me when I first came here. And now I get to take my children to those sites and tell them the bible stories right where they took place.

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forever more.” Psalm 125:2

While it is a blessing to be able to walk in the land of the bible, there is even more. It is the images that are described that become real. Visuals are very powerful. Seeing the Old City of Jerusalem surrounded by mountains is what the writer of Psalm 125 saw. And it is what we can still see today. It gives a visual reminder of the protection of the Lord. I can see the mountains and I am reminded of the faithfulness of the Lord.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Psalm 42:1

Most of the deer in Israel live in the dessert. There is very little water and it is very hot. During the dry summer months, you can find deer panting and looking for water. When I see a deer, I can relate to how it feels as my soul pants for God.

“…. See how the flowers of the field grow….” Matthew 6:28

The flowers are suddenly there, after a rainy season. But as the weather heats up, they wither and dry up within a day. All that they are good for now is to be burned. This is a visual that the Lord Jesus used to encourage his disciples not to worry about clothing. For me it became real, when seeing the usually dry hills, suddenly with the most beautiful flowers, only to be gone within days. When flowers that are only there for a day are clothed with such splendor, how can I doubt that He will also care for me?

The bible becomes visual while reading it in the Land of Israel. It is truly amazing and I hope you get to experience it. But, while visuals help, the really ‘coming alive’ is in our hearts, and that can happen anywhere.

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Our Daily Bread (Bo)

There is something almost magical about making a dough. It is basically just water & flour, but adding a little yeast makes it into an airy dough that bakes up into a delicious loaf of bread. Nothing beats the smell of fresh baked bread. Cutting into a homemade loaf is heavenly. Taking that first bit from a freshly baked slice is simply amazing. It is easy to understand why the word of God is compared to bread.

I love making my own bread, but the last years I haven’t made it a priority. However making sourdough bread has been on my bucket list and this week’s Torah portion made me decide to finally give it a try.

While we have commercial yeast available, back when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt they did not. Making bread with leaven was a slow process that took a whole day from start to finish. Water & flour were mixed with a little bit of salt and some leftover dough from the previous batch would be added. That little bit of leaven would be enough to slowly make a big batch of dough rise. The process is still the same today.

Since I didn’t have some leftover dough, I had to make a starter. When you mix water & flour and let it stand, it will become sour over time. For a week I added more flour & water until it was ready. And with a little bit of my sourdough starter, just like the women in the bible, I too made my whole batch of dough rise. Just like in the time of the bible, this process takes a long time.

In this week’s Torah portion the Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Israelites go. The last three plagues were locusts that ate everything that was left after the previous plagues, three days of total darkness, and the death of the firstborns. With the Pharaoh’s own son death, he summoned Moses and Aaron in the middle of the night and told them to leave. The people of Egypt urged the Israelites to hurry.

“So the people took their dough before leaven was added… With the dough the Israelites had brought from Egypt, they baked loaves of unleavened bread. The dough was without leaven because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.” Exodus 12:34+39

Making bread with leaven is a timely process and the Israelites were in a hurry. There was no time to add leaven and wait for the dough to rise. They had to hurry and leave.

We remember this hurried leaving of Egypt every year when we celebrate Passover. All leaven is removed from our homes and for seven days we eat unleavened bread. While we are free and have the time to let our dough rise, it is good to remember that our forefathers did not when the Lord delivered the people out of Egypt.

When we prepare for Passover in three months from now, I will follow the instructions that the Lord gave through Moses and remove the leaven from my home. But until then I will enjoy my sourdough bread and  I will give thanks to the Lord for allowing me to life in freedom, for giving me the luxury of having the time to let my bread rise, and for Jesus the Messiah who is the Bread of Life.

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The Lord remembers His covenant (Vaere)

In this week’s Torah portion we continue reading in Exodus. It is the famous story of Moses and his brother Aaron who repeatedly kept asking the Pharaoh to let the people go. But the Lord had hardened the heart of the Pharaoh and he refused time after time. And the Lord sent plague after plague. Blood, frogs, gnats, flies, death of life stock, boils, hail are the ones we read about in this portion. The last three plagues are for next week.

This portion is full of horrible events and suffering that befell the Egyptians. However, it starts with the Lord speaking to Moses. Words of encouragement and full of promise.

“I am the Lord, I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians enslaved, and I have remembered my covenant.”
Exodus 6:2-5

The Lord continues and instructs Moses to say the following to the Israelites;

“I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted arm to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. It will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord”
Exodus 6:6-8

The Lord is both a righteous judge and a loving father. He is about to bring plague after plague on Egypt. The Egyptians who had enslaved an entire nation, even murdered the baby boys, taking away any hope or future. That same God who is going to judge the nation of Egypt, remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He heard the groaning of the Israelites. The same God who hardened the Pharaoh’s heart, made Himself known to Moses by His name. A long time may have gone by but the Lord remembers and He will do as He promised. He did so for the Israelites a long time ago, and He will do so for us too.

“Father God, thank you that you are the same throughout time. Thank you that you are faithful to do as You have said. Thank you that you heard the groaning of the Israelites and delivered them from slavery. Thank you for hearing us when we call out to you and sending us Jesus the Messiah who delivered us from being enslaved to sin”

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Do not be afraid (Sh’mot)

When the family of Jacob descended to Egypt their number was seventy. Many years went by, Joseph and those who knew him had passed away. The small family that had come to Egypt had multiplied greatly and the land was filled with them. A new king came to power. He feared the large crowd of foreigners living in his land and decided to make them his slaves. But the harder he worked them, the greater they grew. The Pharaoh decided to take more drastic measures. He ordered all baby boys to be killed after birth.

Baby Moses was born and we know the famous story, of how his mother hid him for three months. She made him a basket and put him in the water, close to where the Pharaoh’s daughter would bath. His big sister Miriam stood nearby to keep watch. While all other baby boys were killed, Moses lived. He would eventually lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and bring them to the borders of the promised land.

This week we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Also his birth has a terrible story of baby boys being killed connected to it. King Herod feared what the news of the Newborn King could do to his reign so when the Magi came to him he asked secretly when the star had appeared. He asked them to let him know where he could find the child. What he didn’t tell them was that he planned to kill the child. The Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod.

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who where two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” Matthew 2:16

While all the other baby boys were killed, Jesus lived. The angel of the Lord had appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take the child and his mother to safety. He would eventually die at the cross for the sins of the world, conquer death itself, and allow for all of us to have access to the Promised Land.

Both Pharaoh and Herod were evil men who committed horrible acts against the most vulnerable ones. Their motivation was fear and it almost lead to killing the savior, twice. Over and over the Lord tells us in His word not to be afraid. “Fear not” is written over eighty times in the bible. Actions fueled by fear can have terrible consequences as we see in the two stories we read this week. While our actions will likely not be wicked or evil, it is good to be aware of what motivates us. The Lord Jesus himself gives us a much better motivator; peace, His peace by the Holy Spirit.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

May our actions be motivated by the Holy Spirit and the Peace that only the Lord gives.

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May God make you like Yeshua the Messiah (VeYichi)

It is Friday night. The Shabbat candles are lit, with a blessing over the family, both near & far. The table is set for a nice family dinner. The children are gathered and excited. Dessert is going to be cake & ice cream, their favorite. But before we eat, we first bless. And in our home, as in Jewish homes all around the world, the children are the first to be blessed.

“May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh”
“May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel & Leah”

Praises are giving to the woman of valor (Proverbs 31). There is a blessing over the wine, with words from the story of creation and of how God installed the Shabbat to be a day of rest. Two loaves of beautiful braided challah bread are uncovered and blessed as well. After everyone has a little piece of bread and wishes the each other “Shabbat Shalom” it is time to eat.

We find the words for the blessing over the boys in this week’s Torah portion where Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph as he got near the end of his life.

Jacob had gotten very old and was ill. Joseph was informed. He went to see his father and brought his two sons along with him. Jacob was told that Joseph had arrived. He gathered his strength and sat up on his bed. Jacob’s eyesight was not so very good due to his age, so when Joseph brought his sons near to be blessed by his father he positioned them so that his father’s right hand would be on Manasseh’s head and his left hand on Ephraim’s head. After all, Manasseh was the first born, he should receive the greatest blessing from his grandfather.

Jacob decided differently and crossed his arms, placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left hand on Manasseh’s. Joseph tried to correct his father, but Jacob refused. He knew that he was doing. And until this day, when boys are blessed Ephraim is named before his older brother Manasseh. A tradition we have our forefather Jacob to thank for.

My father in law made a little change to this blessing when he came to faith and we continue to follow his tradition when we bless our children on Friday night.

“May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh and like Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah”
“May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel & Leah, like Mary the mother of Yeshua, and like Yeshua the Messiah.”

No matter what age you are, may these words bless you, and may you be more like Jesus every day!

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So much more then we hoped for

In several cities in Israel we organize gatherings for believer single mothers and their children. We schedule these meetings around the Jewish holidays, of which we have several throughout the year.

We don’t just invite the younger single mothers who have young children. We also include those who have grown children who no longer live with them, as well as some believer widows who never had children.

While our intention is to give these moms a fun evening, with a meal and fellowship, we have noticed something extraordinary happen. The meetings became support groups. These women became friends, good friends! They are using their unique gifts to help each other.

And while some of the women might complain, they will be quickly reminded by those whose who have been on this road a bit longer that the Lord is faithful. The slightly older women form an amazing source of encouragement to the single mothers who are still very much at the beginning of the journey. They are living proof that it is going to be okay.

But it doesn’t just end there. These amazing women, with all the challenges they face, don’t just encourage the other moms, they encourage us. We arranged for these events because we want to bless them, but they end up blessing us. Their perseverance is inspiring. Their prayers are powerful. The love they show is overwhelming.

The result of these meeting is so much more then we could have ever imagined. We had high hopes, but we could have never even dreamed to have an outcome like this. These women are living proof that with a little push in the right direction, amazing things can happen.

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