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A Calling of Separation

What do you think about when you hear the name Sampson? Many of us, when we think about Sampson, think about a strong, talented guy who fell asleep on the lap of the wrong girl. The next think he knew, he was blind and weak and grinding wheat for his enemies to eat. This is not the destiny God had planned for him. But he was indeed gifted.

When we take a deeper look at Sampson’s life we see that his relationship with Delilah was not the first thing that caused him to become defiled, but the last. See, Sampson was called by God to be a Nazarite. A Nazarite could not partake in anything that came from the vine. Not from the seed, not from the skin not even vinegar that was made from wine. A Nazarite could not come into contact with any dead thing not even for the sake of burying a close relative. Coming into contact with the dead would defile the Nazarite and the vow would be broken. The last thing that separated a Nazarite was that they could not cut their hair. Having long hair was a visible sign that a man had taken a Nazarite vow and many times, it was only for a period of time.

Early on in Sampson’s life, he was confronted by a lion which he ripped apart with the strength that God had given him. But later on, he passed by that same way and he saw that some bees had built a hive in the carcass of the lion and there was honey. Sampson was hungry, so he ate that honey from inside the dead lion and he broke his vow.

Then, he took a philistine girl to be his wife. He celebrated his marriage for one whole week and there were thirty Philistines who celebrated with them. Now, the Bible doesn’t say that he drank wine during the ceremony, but it was customary for a person to drink wine in celebrations and it is hard to imagine that the Philistine’s would have understood that Sampson could not enjoy a drink of wine because of a vow he had made.

Then, years later, Sampson broke his final Nazarite vow when he gave Delilah the secret to his strength and she cut his hair while he slept in her lap. When he awoke to her cries that his enemies were upon him, he thought he go out as always in the strength of the Lord and take on his enemies but the Lord had departed from him. And his shaven head was a visible sign that his anointing has come to an end.

“The Philistine’s took him and put out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze fetters and he became a grinder in the prison”– Judges 16:21.

In the end, what is it we can learn from Sampson’s life? Here was a guy who had giftings and a calling and an anointing to deliver the children of Israel from the hand of their oppressor. But he did not value the calling to be visibly separate from those around him and it ended up causing his blindness and his early death.

God has a calling on our lives as well and we have to recognize that His calling is contingent on our separation from the world around us. We cannot live like the world and walk in God’s anointing- it will not work. So, choose this day the calling of God in your life. Make a commitment to not fulfill the short term satisfactions of this life but to enter into the eternal satisfaction of knowing that you have been a good and faithful servant.

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Think on These Things

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good reputation, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think on these things”. – Philippians 4:8

It is not by force, nor by our ability to fight, but by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can overcome. Throughout my time of working with families in financial crisis and single mothers, I have met many believers who think that we need to focus our attention on overcoming the enemy and “taking him down”. While there is a time and a place for this, there is something we miss that I believe is even more powerful and effective. It is our offering of thanks and praise to God.

Over the years, I have learned that God loves to see us at peace despite our circumstances and to hear our praises and offerings of thanksgiving for all that He has been and done for us. Our spiritual enemy, on the other hand, loves it when we focus our attention on the battle that rages around us. Satan lures us into his battle field where his chances of defeating us increases.

I believe that what we need to do is walk out the victory that Yeshua already won for us. The question is not whether or not the struggles we have and the pain we suffer will come to end. The question is what we will do with our struggles and what we will learn and gain from them. Didn’t God say that through our struggles we will grow in godliness and in character?

Here are three things to remember as you endure the inevitable suffering you will face in this life.

1.) You have a choice. God does not force you and I to do or think or believe in a certain way. That is a choice He has given us to make. He has given us all the instruction we need for life and godliness, but it is up to us to take it, believe it and apply it to our lives and circumstances.  

2.) Our words have power. When we speak negatively about our circumstances and we don’t add faith to the equation, we may not realize that our negative words are paving a path for us to walk on. But on the contrary, when we choose to speak God’s truth and perspective over our circumstances, we will see those words taking effect in our lives.

3.) God is good and He is with us who believe. No matter what we face in this life, He will walk through it with us. You are never alone. He who began a good in you will complete it until the day of the coming of Yeshua our Messiah!

I encourage you today to take your cares to the Lord and do as His word says, “cast them” or a better translation would be to “throw them” at the feet of Yeshua and let Him bring all things into focus. Don’t be afraid to take time to make decisions if it means that wisdom will be your guide instead of fear and hastiness. One moment of prayer and asking God for help could change the entire outcome of your future.

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But There Are Giants in the Land!

When God spoke to Moses and called him to be the deliverer of His people Israel out of their bondage and slavery in Egypt, He said to him, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”- Exodus 3:12. God did deliver His people out of Egypt through Moses and they did come to meet with the Lord at Mount Sinai as He promised.
There at the mountain, God wanted to reveal Himself to His people and to make Himself known to them that they might hear His voice for themselves and receive His good instructions. But their response was fear and they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen, but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”-Exodus 20:19.

God’s intention has always been to have a personal relationship with His people. We see this in the garden of Eden when Adam walked with God. We see this in the sending of God’s Son Yeshua whose death tore the veil in the temple so that all could come into God’s presence. We see this in the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:34 when God says the days are coming when all will know Him for themselves.

But what is it that hinders us from knowing God and receiving the good things He has for us? Fear. When the people heard God’s voice on the mountain, they were afraid and said to Moses, “you speak to us, but don’t let God speak to us or we might die!” God heard these words and He gave them what they asked for. Moses mediated between God and the people all throughout their journey through the desert.

Later on, when it was time for the children of Israel to inherit the good Land that God wanted to give them to possess as their own, spies were sent out to investigate what it was they would face. When the men came back, most of them gave a negative report and invoked fear into the hearts of the people. Their focus was not on the promise of God, but on the giants the people would need to overcome. Because the people chose fear instead of faith in God, once again, He saw their choice and instead of taking the Land He wanted to give them, they spent the next forty years in the wilderness.
Time and time again, it was fear that kept God’s people from intimacy with God and receiving the good things He had in store for them. Are you afraid to hear God’s answer to something you are seeking Him about? Are you afraid to do something that He is calling you to do? Perhaps you have lost faith that the challenges or giants that you are facing are part of the outworking of God’s plan for your life. In this day, God sets before us a choice to make. We can either choose fear and miss out on all that God has for us, or we can choose faith and walk out His calling and into His promises.

Remember, God’s intention is not to bring you and I out of Egypt, up the mountain, or into the promised Land to harm us. His intention is for us to know Him, worship Him and to make Him known in the earth.

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Comparison is a Sickness

I was just a child in elementary school learning to read when I experienced something that would change my life. My teacher, who had also taught my older brother and sister before me, saw that I struggled to read and said, “If you are their sibling, why are you so different that you can’t read like them”? In that moment my confidence to read was shattered. For many years afterwards, I was terrified to read in front of people because one woman who had authority in my life spoke something negative over me. And as long as I believed those words, they had power in my life. 

One day I decided not to let them affect me anymore. I began reading out loud and was even able to read in front of the group I was teaching at the “Heart to Serve” seminar. When I shared this testimony with those who were present, they clapped for me because they saw that I could do it and in encouraged them to overcome their fears and weaknesses as well. 

Those who think they are weak have a lot to give. Many times, the weak are stronger than those who think they are strong. Yeshua told the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Messiah’s power may dwell in me”. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Since I was born in the 1960’s, I remember the time when magazines came out featuring models as examples for beauty. Intelligent young women suddenly struggled with anorexia and depression because they were trying to be like those models and they couldn’t. How many times have we looked at other people’s Facebook pages or lifestyles or the opportunities other people have and we compare ourselves with them? It produces the same kinds of sickness! No one is supposed to be the same as anyone else. We were all created differently with sets of strengths and weaknesses. But God never intended that we should accomplish anything on our own. When we try to be perfect in the eyes of man, we fail because our trust is in ourselves and not in God. For it is “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts”. – Zechariah 4:6. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. But He has given us the gift of His Holy Spirit and this same Spirit that raised Messiah from the dead lives in us! 

“But let him who boasts boast about this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD”. – Jeremiah 9:24.

If you have swallowed the lies of the enemy about who you are, I encourage you to face that lie with God’s truth and trust Him to give you the courage to see yourself through His eyes. He has given you great gifts to be used for His glory and as a blessing to others. So don’t let the enemy make you sick with comparison or depression about what you don’t have. Be thankful for all that God has given you and go out and make something of it! 

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Shavuot- The Feast of Weeks

What the New Testament translates as “Pentecost” comes from the Greek translation of the Jewish festival of “The Feast of Weeks.” In the Christian world, it is remembered as the time when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Disciples who gathered in Jerusalem.

In the time of Moses, the Feast of Weeks was commanded by God as an annual celebration where the people brought in of the first part of their harvest. If you consider the sequence of events, the instructions for the Feast of Weeks was given right after their release from Egypt. The people did not know it at the time, but they would be spending the next 40 years in the wilderness because of their disobedience and unbelief. Imagine what it would have been like to live 40 years in the wilderness and celebrate a feast that represents the start of the season of the harvest and never actually having a harvest to celebrate. There was no harvest in the wilderness. Year after year, as they wandered in the wilderness of disobedience, they never arrived at a place of fruitfulness.

Throughout their time in the wilderness, the children of Israel were not abandoned by God for their disobedience and unbelief. But it did cause that whole generation to never enter into a season of fruitfulness. The apostle Paul warns the believers in Corinth about their own conduct by using the wilderness experience of Israel as an example:

“I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea,  all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,  all ate the same spiritual food,  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.  But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” (I Cor. 10:1-5)

These things were written as a warning to us who have come to a knowledge of salvation through the work of Jesus. As with the children of Israel, we have been released from the bondage of slavery to sin, and it is God’s purpose to bring us into our inheritance in Him, and a place of fruitfulness. However, if we want to come to the fulfillment of the promises of God, we must make sure that we are walking in obedience and that our conduct does not doom us to the same wilderness of fruitlessness.

The “Feast of Weeks” is celebrated on the same day that God first spoke to the children of Israel from Sinai. We also see that later, on the same day, the church received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. There is a direct link between the revelation of God and our ability to become fruitful. If we receive His Word, are filled with His Spirit, and become obedient, He will bring us to the place beyond the wilderness and into a land where we can celebrate His harvest in our lives.

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Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?

Have you ever tried brushing your teeth with your left hand? If you are right-handed, this simple task is suddenly not so simple. That is the way it is every time we try to change a habit or perception. When it comes to sin, we don’t have the power to change on our own. Only through Messiah, Yeshua, can we overcome the power of sin. But with habits and perceptions, we do have the power to change. It is a matter of our will, effort and practice. 

As believers, we have become accustomed to thinking that prayer is sufficient. But is it? I believe prayer is the beginning. It is where we seek the grace and blessing of God with the understanding that we need His help in doing what we cannot. But prayer should not replace our responsibility to do what we can to make a change in our lives.

For example, this morning my older daughter told my wife and I at breakfast that she had started brushing her teeth with her left hand because she had read that this would open up the right hemisphere of the brain and help her to become more creative. That made me think, “Is it really possible for us to change the habits that have been embedded into us for so long? Can we really accomplish more than we think?” If, heaven forbid, my right hand stopped working, then I would be forced to use my left hand for things like brushing my teeth. So why should I wait till my situation forces me to change my habit instead of changing it before a crisis? Here my daughter is deciding to make a change to improve herself, even though she knows it will take time and effort.

We were all born with baggage and all have something we will struggle with. But every one who is born again receives a new opportunity for salvation. And what more do we need salvation from? From the old man and the old habits that still try to govern us. Is it possible to change? Yes, it is possible. Is it simple to change? No. Does it require our efforts? Certainly. Every single day. 

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”. -Ephesians 4:22-24 

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The Season of the Omer

After celebrating the Passover, we shared with you about the tradition of “Firstfruits,” which is a special day celebrated on the first Sunday after the Passover (when we celebrate Easter). It was called “Reshit Katzit,” literally: “First of the Harvest.” In Jewish tradition, the Passover was the start of a ‘journey of redemption’ that leads us to ‘Pentecost’ or ‘The Feast of Weeks.” The two major holidays are linked by a 50-day countdown from one feast to the other. Out of all seven of the Lord’s Feasts, three major ones required all the men of Israel to ‘appear before the Lord,’ or come up to the Tabernacle/Temple. Two out of the three are the Passover and Feast of Weeks.

“You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord.” (Lev. 23:15-16)

During this same period, Jesus appears to his disciples and as many as 500 people for about 40 of the days. He is taking them through a journey that will prepare them for what will happen at “Pentecost.” Then He instructs them to go to Jerusalem and wait until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which happens on the 50th day, the day of the “Feast of Weeks.”

 When God sends Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the reason that is given to Pharaoh for their freedom is “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness” (Ex. 7:16) It is for this same reason that God has brought us to a place of deliverance, that we would be ‘free’ to serve Him. When Paul explains this, he does not want there to be any misunderstanding, now we have been set free to become slaves of righteousness:

“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

For the Israelites, the season of the Omer was a time of purification after being in slavery until the revelation of God at Mount Sinai. We can recognize this as the season of purification in our own lives as God takes us from deliverance out of slavery to sin and prepares us for the outpouring of His Spirit at “Pentecost” or “The Feast of Weeks.” Everyone who is found in Christ has experienced His deliverance from slavery, let us also allow God to prepare us for the outpouring of His Spirit.

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Our Very Real And Personal God

I was recently struggling with a situation that made me feel desperate to hear from the One who could see further down the road than I could. I felt like a soldier who needed specific instructions from the commander detailing what I should do and how I should do it. I guess what I was needing the most was assurance that God was with me even though I felt fear of the unknown future. 

During this time, I came across the story of Joshua when he had just succeeded Moses as the new leader of the children of Israel. But Joshua was about to do something his predecessor had never done. He was about to lead the people of Israel into the Land that God had promised to all their forefathers was theirs to take. So here was Joshua walking in a new position and into a place he had never been. I love what happens next- God shows up! But not in the same way He had revealed Himself to Moses. He reveals Himself to Joshua in a way that was personal to Joshua. The captain of Israel’s armies met the Captain of heavens armies and received the affirmation he needed that God was with him. (See Joshua chapter 1 and chapter 5:13-15). Directly following this encounter, Joshua courageously fulfilled what he was called to do. 
This is not the first time that God personalized His encounters with people. David was a shepherd who had spent many years with his father’s sheep. When David was in sin with Bathsheba and had not yet repented, God sent the prophet Nathan to rebuke him in a way that David would understand. He used an analogy of a thief stealing the only beloved sheep of a poor man in order to slay it as a sacrifice. David could most certainly experience anger for someone doing such a thing and it was then that God could reach his heart by saying, “You are that thief”.(See 2 Samuel 12). But David knew God in so many personal ways that He said of God, “You have searched me and You know me…You are intimately acquainted with all my ways”.- Psalm 139:1&3. 
One more example that rises above all others in regards to how God reveals Himself in a very real and personal way is through the sending of His own Son in the form of a man. Yeshua, the Word of God, was made flesh and He lived among His people. (See John 1:14). Could there have been any more personal way for God to relate to man than by becoming one? That is mind boggling to me.
But this is the God we serve. One who is so holy, so perfect, so above all, yet His desire is for us to know Him personally. And the more we know Him, the more we can in turn reflect His nature and character to others in a very real and personal way. He came through for me in the midst of my struggle and I know that because He is no respecter of persons, if you seek Him, He will come through for you too. 
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Suffering is Part of the Process

One of the hardest things for us to deal with is the presence of pain and suffering in our lives. We ask ourselves the questions, “Why does a good God allow us to experience pain and suffering? And if He is good, why is He not delivering me out of it?” I think that the way things are laid out in the scripture are there to help us illustrate that God knows we live in a broken world and pain and suffering are a part of our experience no matter what we do to insulate ourselves from it.

I think the illustration of the olive press is very important because in Exodus 27:20-21, Moses tells the children of Israel, You shall command the children of Israel, that they shall bring to you pure olive oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning before the Lord; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout their generations for the sons of Israel.”

In order to get pure olive oil, you would have had to go through a whole process which in this case was the responsibility of the people, not the priesthood. This responsibility gave the people a real, material witness as to how the light in the Temple would be produced. The first part of the process was to place burlap sacks around the olive trees and then to beat the branches of the olive tree so that the olives would fall off the branches and into the sacks. Then once the olives were collected and put into a stone trough, a large stone was rolled over them in order to make them crack. Without the crack, no olive oil could come out of them. Once the olives were cracked, they were ready to be crushed.

The cracked olives were placed back into the burlap sacks which acted as a strainer and these were squeezed beneath large stones with a lot of pressure. The pressure squeezed out what was on the inside and produced the oil which ran down into the trough for collection.

This oil that the children of Israel took through the whole painful process to produce, was what was used as fuel to give light in the Lord’s temple. In other words, where God comes to dwell among His people, there is a requirement for light. And the fuel for that light is actually the process of suffering that each one of us goes through. My encouragement to you is that if you are in a place where God is taking you through what feels like a beating or a crushing or even a squeezing, it is all part of God’s process to bring forth His light in and through you. And that light is what fuels the place where He comes to dwell.

So don’t be discouraged in the painful times you go through. We all go through them. We all have seasons of pain and suffering. But keep on going and allow God to finish that process because that process is where you will find your fellowship and intimacy with Him at the end.

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Fruit In It’s Season

Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, His rejection by the spiritual leadership of the nation was evident. To illustrate what was happening, Jesus spoke a parable of the “Wicked Vinedressers” (Matt 21:33; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19). The parable was about an owner of a vineyard who leased it to some vine-dressers. Their job was to work and tend the vineyard and give a portion of the fruit to the owner. When the fruitful season arrived, the owner sent representatives to receive his portion. However, the vine-dressers beat and mistreated the messengers. Then when the owner sent his own son, they killed him.

It may be easy to look at this parable and see how true it was for the time when it was given. It is a little more difficult to apply it to ourselves, or the season we live in. We do not usually think of ourselves as responsible for a vineyard or the need to be producing fruit. However, God also requires us to tend to our own vineyard, one that He has placed in our care, and that we are just as responsible for being fruitful as they were back then.

This is true on a personal level, but also true on a broader level. What is the season we are living in? What is God expecting us to understand about what He is doing in our day?

For almost 2,000 years, the Jewish people were living as a minority among the nations of the earth. However, it is no small event to have just celebrated seventy years of independence as a Jewish state in the land of Israel. During the long years of exile, it was difficult to see or believe how God could restore this small and often persecuted minority back to their land. Theologians felt a need to explain that God did not really mean all those promises He had made to the Jews. But God is indeed faithful, and what seemed impossible has become a reality in our days.

The fulfillment of the promises of restoration are part of a season of fruitfulness that God is showing us that we are to be a part of. We want to be faithful to the call to work in His vineyard and be able to bring him the fruits of His vineyard. We do not want to be like the wicked vine-dressers, but ones who are faithful to understand our responsibilities.

We thank you for standing with us during this season of restoration and being a part of what God is doing. May God continue to show us all how to join Him in what is on His heart.

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