In God We Trust?

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
(Psalm 46:1-3 ESV)

“In God We Trust” was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956. The phrase has appeared on U.S. coins since 1864 and on paper currency since 1957. Strict Separationists have questioned the legality of this motto because they state that it violates The United States Constitution which forbids the government from passing any law respecting the establishment of a religion. However, the United States Supreme Court has rejected the legal basis for this claim. Religious accomodationists, on the other hand, state that this entrenched practice has not historically presented any constitutional difficulty, is not coercive, and does not prefer one narrow sect over another. Outside of constitutional objections, President Theodore Roosevelt took issue with placing the motto on coinage as he considered it sacrilegious to put the name of God on money.

As we draw to the end of of another year and into the new year, it is a time for reflection. The media reviews the top news stories and events that occured during the past year. Many people plan New Year’s Resolutions to put into effect on New Year’s Day. A New Year’s Resolution is generally a goal someone sets out to accomplish in the coming year. Some examples include resolutions to donate to the poor more often, to become more assertive, or to become more environmentally responsible. A key element to a New Year’s Resolution that sets it apart from other resolutions is that it is made in anticipation of the New Year, and new beginnings. People committing themselves to a New Year’s Resolution plan to do so for the whole following year.

At watchnight services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions. There are other religious parallels to this tradition. During Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness. People may act similarly during the Christian fasting period of Lent, though the motive behind this holiday is more of sacrifice than of responsibility. The concept, regardless of creed, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually.

Presently, the United States is suffering from financial and economic crises. Unemployment is high and jobs are virtually nonexistent in many places. Crime rates are increasing and religion and morality are under complete persecution both nationally and internationally.The last year brought the “Arab Spring” to the Middle East, many regional wars, several asteroids, comets and solar flares either passing within close proximity to the orbit of the earth or directly impacting the atmosphere or planet.

The great Tōhoku earthquake (it was the most powerful known earthquake ever to have hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world since record-keeping began) and a subsequent tsunami which left 15,844 people dead, 5,890 people injured, and 3,451 people missing. The tsunami resulted in the still ongoing level seven meltdowns at the Fukishima Nuclear Power Plants and worldwide fallout of nuclear isotopes. Hundreds of thousand of animals died with no apparent cause around the world. The United States saw severe weather outbreaks that produced record numbers of tornadoes decimating many areas through tornado prone areas. Haboobs on scales not seen before occurred in Arizona and the southwest. Medical professionals have been compelled to provide abortions against their will. Homosexuals are gaining the right to marry and clergy is being compelled to preside over their weddings under threat of criminal prosecution. We have seen many false prophets either proclaiming to be the Messiah or predicting the end of the world. This list could continue for pages, but you get the idea.

Yeshua was sitting on the Mount of Olives and His disciples came to him privately and asked Him, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the world?” Yeshua answered them saying, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:4-14, 37-44).”

Obviously, many of the warning signs that Yeshua proclaimed would be a warning that the end was near are occurring  Many prophecies from the Tanakh have been fulfilled in the Middle East and the stage has been set for the fulfillment of many more of these prophecies in the very near future.

We undoubtedly have a problem. The question is, can we do anything about it? Can we convince God to delay His judgement or wrath on this wicked earth? It would appear so. Consider the story of Jonah the Prophet and the city Nineveh in the Tanakh.

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
(Jonah 3:1-10 ESV)

Jonah named the place and the date of the judgement that was to come upon Nineveh. When the people heard it they repented of their sins. When God saw this he changed His mind and did not destroy Nineveh as He said He would. The key is repentance. What is repentance? Repentance is confession to God, ceasing sin against God, and resolving to live according to His laws (Torah). It typically includes an admission of guilt, a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.

In Biblical Hebrew, the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs: “shuv” (to return) and “nicham” (to feel sorrow). In the New Testament, the word translated as “repentance” is the Greek word metanoia, “after/behind one’s mind”, which is a compound word of the preposition “meta” (after, with), and the verb “noeo” (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by “after” and “different”; so that the whole compound means: “to think differently after”. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, “change of mind and heart”, or, “change of consciousness”. A description of repentance in the New Testament can be found in the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in the Gospel of Luke.

Immediately after King Solomon finished construction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he consecrated (made sacred) and dedicated the Holy Temple to God. King Solomon and the Children of Israel sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep to Hashem at this time. God accepted their sacrifice and told them exactly how to stay under His mercy and protection.

Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’ “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.'”
(2 Chronicles 7:12-22 ESV)

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
(Hebrews 6:17-18 ESV)

In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.
(Psalms 56:11 KJV)

Best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year.

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The Devil’s Advocate

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
(Proverbs 29:11 ESV)

How then are we supposed to correct someone who has wronged us in any way? How do we aproach another believer that has transgressed against us in any fashion? The Apostle Paul addresses that very issue in his second epistle to Timothy.

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
(2 Timothy 4:1-5 KJV)

Yeshua taught on the subject of someone being wronged by another believer. In his discourse, he addressed how the matter should be approached and specifically addresses gosssip and slander.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
(Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)

The Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Galatians addresses the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Enmity, strife, rivalries, dissensions and divisions are clearly listed as fruits of the works of the flesh. Paul warns us that “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This admonition is for believers, not unbelievers, yet it warns of being rejected from entering the kingdom of heaven.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
(Galatians 5:19-23 ESV)

The Apostle Paul continues by telling believers how we should interact with each other within our fellowship with each other through Messiah Yeshua in his epistle to the Ephesians.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the calling with which you are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
(Ephesians 4:1-3 MKJV)

James, the brother of Yeshua, wrote at great length in his epistle to the twelve tribes of Israel who were in diaspora at the time about the taming of the tongue.

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
(James 3:5-10 ESV)

This article has made it very clear how serious and potentially dangerous the sin of gossip is to a believer and warns of other sins that may be incurred by a person engaging in gossip or breaking the laws of lashon hara. King David probably left us with the best advice regarding our communication in one of my favorite Psalms, it says, “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me” (Psalms 39:1 KJV). Don’t play the part of the Devil’s Advocate. Yeshua’s followers are under enough persecution from Satan without your assistance.

Light in the Darkness: Hanukkah and the Disciples of Yeshua

Rededication, Miracles, Enlightenment, Celebration! That is what Hanukkah is about. Light in the Darkness: Hanukkah and the Disciples of Yeshua is a great publication from First Fruits of Zion that takes believers, step-by-step, through the traditional celebration of Hanukkah while revealing Messianic meanings in the ancient festival found in the prophecies of Daniel. You will discover how the celebration of Hanukkah is relevant for every believer. Follow this link (Light in the Darkness) to download a free copy of this publication.

Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights and Feast of Rededication

Hanukkah, while not being a feast given by God in Scripture, is mentioned in the B’rit Hadashah (New Testament) in the Gospel of John.

“And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.”
(John 10:22-23 KJV)

Hanukkah is historically a time to rededicate oneself to God and His purposes. Many Messianic Jews and Gentiles see this feast time, rather than the modern day of Christmas, as a unique factual Bible time event of miraculous deliverance to be a more fitting time to remember the birth of the Messiah, the Light which came into the world. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:4-5 KJV)

It was in the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, nearly twenty two centuries ago (165 B.C.), that the events took place which we commemorate each year at Hanukkah time. The Jewish people had returned to the land of Israel from the Babylonian Exile, and had rebuilt the Holy Temple. But they remained subject to the domination of imperial powers, first, the Persian Empire, then later, the conquering armies of Alexander the Great. Upon the death of Alexander, his vast kingdom was divided among his generals. After a power struggle which engulfed all the nations of the Middle East, Israel found itself under the sway of the Seleucid Dynasty, Greek kings who reigned from Syria.

Though at first, the rule of the Seleucids was rather mild and uneventful in Israel, there soon arose a new king, Antiochus IV, who was to wage a bloody war upon the Jews, a war which would threaten not just their physical lives, but their very spiritual existence. Over the years of Greek domination, many Jews had begun to accept the Greek culture and it’s self-serving pleasure oriented, pagan/false god way of life. These Jewish Hellenists became willing pawns in Antiochus’ scheme to obliterate every trace of the Jewish religion. The Holy Temple was invaded, desecrated, and robbed of all its treasures. Vast numbers of innocent people were massacred and the survivors were heavily taxed. Antiochus placed an idol of Zeus on the holy altar and forced the Jews to bow before it under penalty of death. And he forbid the Jewish people to observe their most sacred traditions, such as the Sabbath and the rite of circumcision. Antiochus went so far as to proclaim himself a god, taking the name ‘Antiochus Epiphanes’ (the Divine). But even his own followers mocked him as ‘Antiochus Epimanes’ (the madman).

In every city and town, altars were erected with statues of the Greek gods and goddesses. Soldiers rounded up the Jews and forcibly compelled them to make offerings and engage in other immoral acts customary to the Greeks. As Antiochus’ troops tightened their grip on the nation, the Jews seemed incapable of resistance. It was in the small village of Modi’in, a few miles west of Jerusalem, that a single act of heroism turned the tide of Israel’s struggle and altered her destiny for all time. Mattityahu (Matthew), patriarch of the priestly Hasmonean clan, stepped forward to challenge the Greek soldiers and those who complied passively to their demands. Backed by his five sons, he attacked the troops, slew the idolaters, and destroyed the idol. With a cry of ‘All who are with God, follow me!’ he and a courageous circle of partisans retreated to the hills, where they gathered forces to overthrow the oppression of Antiochus and those working with him (even many Jews).

The army of Mattityahu, now under the command of his son Yehuda (Judah) Maccabee, grew daily in numbers and in strength. With the Biblical slogan, Who is like unto You, 0 God, emblazoned on their shields, they would swoop down upon the Syrian troops under cover of darkness and scatter the oppressors, then return to their encampments in the hills. Only six thousand strong, they defeated a heavily armed battalion of forty-seven thousand Syrians. Enraged, Antiochus sent an even larger army against them, and in the miraculous, decisive battle at Bet Tzur, the Jewish forces emerged victorious. From there, they proceeded on to Jerusalem, where they liberated the city and reclaimed the Holy Temple. They cleared the Sanctuary of the idols, rebuilt the altar, and prepared to resume the Divine Service. A central part of the daily service in the Temple was the kindling of the brilliant lights of the Menorah. With the Temple about to be rededicatedm, only one small cruse of the pure, sacred olive oil was found. It was only one day’s supply and they knew it would take more than a week for the special process required to prepare more oil. Undaunted, in joy and with thanksgiving, the Maccabees lit the lamps of the Menorah with the small amount of oil, and dedicated the Holy Temple anew. And miraculously, as if in confirmation of the power of their faith, the oil did not burn out, and the flames shone brightly for eight full days. The following year, Jewish Sages officially proclaimed the festival of Hanukkah as a celebration lasting eight days, in perpetual commemoration of this victory over religious persecution.

The Hanukkah lights are more than simply a reminder of God’s deliverance and miracles in days gone by. They provide inspiration for us, in our times, to enrich our lives with the Light of Messiah Yeshua and in remembering the greatest miracle of all, His birth! In ancient times, the Jewish people rededicated the Temple with the Menorah. Today, we rededicate ourselves to the Lord and to the salvation of this world. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16 KJV)