Shabbat, January 31, 2015
How many of would agree: life is complicated!The Lord of heaven and earth says, life is rich… absolutely rich, abundantly rich! You have no idea!
When I was a young man and a young believer, the Lord led me to live in a Christian community called… the Mansion. On top of the Mansion was a turret, with great views of the Lake Mendota, where we could hang out and talk about God. I went up there many times, yet I only remember one intense conversation, with Ramona. She insisted that when Jesus said, in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He meant it. If person never confesses his sins and receives Jesus as Savior, that person is not saved, and doomed to hell forever. That’s the gospel, she insisted. No pussyfooting about it!I must admit, I was a little uncomfortable with Ramona’s hard line… or with Yeshua’s exclusive claim.
We all need to understand that Yeshua’s claim is firmly rooted in the exclusivity of the God of Israel.
Check out the Ten Commandments, starting in Exodus 20:2–3, “I the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: You shall have no other gods besides Me.”
In Exodus 20:5, He goes on to insist, “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, Adonai your God, am a jealous God.” Talk about exclusive claims! You must decide: does God have an absolute claim on Your life? Is there any atonement for our sins other than Yeshua? Can anyone else be your Lord?
Yeshua stands on solid, holy ground when He says in John 3:18, “The one who believes in Him is not condemned; but whoever does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not put his trust in the name of the one and only Ben-Elohim [Son of God].” Is He the one & only for you?
Or in Matthew 7:13, when Yeshua bids us all, “Enter through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way is broad that leads to destruction.” (Indeed, Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25 warn us in the same manner, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”)
Or when Yeshua warns those who reject invitations to the wedding feast and wind up gnashing their teeth in the outer darkness…. Yes, there is a path of deception that leads to darkness and destruction, and a way that leads to holiness and eternal life. Let us heed the call and urge others to walk in the way, the truth and life hat Yeshua has opened up to each one who says yes to Him and follows Him. V’eemru? (And let us say….)
Yet I think it would be a mistake to have the impression—let alone give others the impression that the life that Yeshua offers to us is narrow and dull. Many people do seem to have that impression—after all, not everyone is looking forward to playing a harp in the clouds forever! (Though most people have little idea how lovely it will be to make music in the heavens—King David got a glimpse… and loved it! How many people have tasted the joy of worshipping the Lord… Yet you have no idea!)
After I had meditated on these things for a couple of days, the Lord gave me a dream.
A theme of this dream is that I kept remembering things that I had apparently forgotten (that has often in my dreams—as well as in awaking life—but this dream was a doozy!).
I remembered houses I had bought (for example, somewhere in West Bethlehem) or places I had set up to live in (for example, in Madison), and had apparently left things behind in or obligations to return to)—these were threads from previous dreams. When I came to New Covenant Community Church, a woman met me at a door and told me that Pastor Jack would meet me later and had prepared a place for me to stay and I wandered away wondering was that woman Jack’s wife (when I awoke, I realized it was vaguely Pastor Tony Adamo’s wife)? and was I supposed to stay overnight somewhere? But wait, wasn’t I supposed to teach a natural language processing class tomorrow morning? Had I forgotten to teach it yesterday? And what were those signatures and seals that Jack had waved in the air before his congregation and then brought up close for me to see–apparently he thought it was important and glorious, he was so excited about it, but was there some event that I had been at?And why was I going downstairs and why was I wearing worn white sneakers?
The interpretation that the Ruach gave was a bit mind-blowing. He said, your dream is about life—and your eternal life. All these threads of your life and your dreams are doors that will open up for you.So there is no need to agonize so much about your choices— the road you didn’t travel by as in Frost’s well-worn poem—when the possibilities of those choices will still remain open to you, in eternity—yes, so long as they are good choices, life-giving choices! The choices made in sin and selfishness—those are dead branches, pruned away and burned up. But the choices made in righteousness and love—those are alive and sprouting up with new adventures and new life, forever! (“Oh my!” I marveled.)
So you may be teaching that natural language class again—if not in this life, in the life to come. Or you may visit all those places you dreamt about, or go through doors to rooms that you haven’t seen yet.(For doesn’t 1 Corinthians 2:9 say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no heart has imagined all the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” Did I say: you have no idea?)
The Ruach also said to me, people say that what you most remember from a trip is something that went wrong. That’s true—though you will also remember the sunset at Key West… as you sat with a thousand others on shore, and cruise ship, and sailboats… with your wife whom you love.
Yet wasn’t there something that went wrong that you will remember? Immediately I remembered how we got wonderfully lost, trying to find my Uncle Bill. Our smart phones led us on 2nd Ave NW, but the resident thereof politely confirmed that we had the wrong address. So we called the place where Bill lived and they pointed out that the correct address was on 2nd Ave NE (NorthEast).So now our smart phones led us through a maze of superhighways ramps and access roads, one of which we missed leading to detours, so that my Mom kept saying, “If we can’t find it now, go on, go on to Key West… just go on!” But we persevered—kudos to Pamela and her smart phone (later my Mom was full of admiration for Pamela’s patience)— and we eventually found 2nd Ave NE. Then as Pamela and I were looking left for the building at 16001, my Mom exclaimed, “There it is!” (she had been there before)—a peach-colored building, on the right. As we pulled into the parking lot, Mom marveled, “No wonder Bill doesn’t always respond to my letters!” Ha!
Your life, the Ruach said, is like that. All the ramps and access roads and detours of your life—when you pursue them in righteousness and love—are good, forever! Even if you had chosen to break off and head down to Key West, it would have been good (we actually had time to visit Uncle Bill’s place on our way back). Yet it was very good to have pressed on to your goal. So you met your Uncle—and now you have his correct address, so you can write him a note yourself—and even if you never see him again in this life, you can greet him with this living memory, when you see him in eternity.
At this point I gasped, for the Lord had let slip something about my Uncle, who is an Orthodox Jew, in eternity! (When you really pay attention to Him, He’ll do that sometimes.) Yes, the Ruach said, your visit matters, and your notes to him will matter to him. “Oh!” I exclaimed.
The apartments and the houses that you once lived in were only in your dreams—in your dreams you have access to the your other dreams that you don’t remember in your waking life—they represent the places that you look forward to living in—the apartment and the house in the Community House and many more rooms that I have prepared for you in My Father’s House. Wow!
The well-worn white sneakers—like a pair that I might have or had buried in my closet—these, the Ruach said, are a symbol of holiness. I momentarily thought, wouldn’t shiny white shoes—like the ones I wore at my wedding—be more appropriate? But the Ruach said, the holiness of your life is when it is well lived. So, live it well! “Ach!” I exclaimed.
The letter with the signatures and seals represent the honors that I will pour out on you for every deed you make in righteousness and love, with the many seals of My Spirit that I have already sealed.( For Ephesians 1:13 says, “when you put your trust in Him, you were sealed with the promised Ruach ha-Kodesh.”)
What can I say? What can I ever say? Isn’t He awesome? Isn’t He wonderful? What abundant life He has in store for those who love Him—and live it with Him!
When I shared a bit of this dream later that day over lunch with Pastor Jack, he mentioned to me that Song of Songs is a dreamscape. Think about it, all the fantastic, even erotic imagery, the sudden shifts from scene to scene, not to mention the explicit mentions of waking from sleep. as in Song 5:2, “I sleep, but my heart is awake. A voice! My lover is knocking! “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my perfect one! For my head is drenched with dew, my locks with dewdrops of night.” Yes, there’s another door in a dream: open to me the door of love! Be awake, He says, for I am coming and I am here! Or Song 2:9–10, “My love is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, he is standing behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice. My love calls to me: Arise, my darling. Come, come away, my beautiful one!” Can you imagine yourself dreaming and the Ruach coming like a gazelle, lithe and full of life, calling with a throat full of love, “Arise! Come away, come!” And you arise as you can only arise in your dream—and yet in your dream it is more real than reality?
When I made some comment, Pastor Jack said, “Maybe some day we’ll co-author a book about it!” Who knows? Eternal life is full of possibilities! V’eemru?
What if when we thought about what Yeshua has opened up for us—or when we shared the Good News, about it with others—we opened up our hearts to the abundant life that He has promised us?
Or to the many doors leading to many rooms, forever and ever?
What if we looked at the troubles of life, not as ordeals, but as opportunities, not as graves but as doors? For a trial that you kvetch about is a trail of dust, but every trial you overcome is a gemstone in eternity.
What the Ruach also said to me, after Job moaned and groaned a while, what did I open up to Him, with a burst from a whirlwind—wasn’t it a phantasmagoria of poetry and unbounded glorious vision?
Job might not have gotten an answer to his petulant questions—but he got a glimpse of glory! V’eemru?
Again, 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no heart has imagined all the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” We have no idea! Yet we have a glimpse… in spectacular sunsets & waterfalls, in fantastic dreams, whether you remember them or not, rushing past your Rapid Eye Movements, in a little child’s open-mouthed wonder, or the lilies arrayed like Solomon’s splendor, or the thrill of the songs that He has sung to us from His word and keeps on singing to all who have ears to hear Him knocking at the door of your life, what His Ruach, the lover of your soul, is breathing into your spiritual ear, “Come, come away, by beautiful one, my handsome one!”
This coming week is Tu B’Shvat—meaning the 15th day of the month of Shevat.Tu B’Shvat is not a moed or appointed time of Torah—you won’t find this festival in the Bible.Yet the ancient Rabbis discerned not one but four different New Years days or Rosh Hashanah. Tu B’Shvat is for the tithing of the fruit of the tree—so throughout the Jewish world, Tu B’Shvat is with taking up an offering for planting trees in the land. Only this year at Beit Simcha, we’ll take an offering for planting flowering trees near our building—what you sow today will bruit in the kingdom of our Lord. V’eemru? Is it good to praise the Lord?
Tu B’Shvat celebrates the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. Devarim (Deuteronomy) 8:7-8 says, “For Adonai your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; A land with wheat and barley, grape vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and date honey.” Therefore it is customary to partake of the seven species of fruit mentioned in these verses—wheat and barley, grapes and figs, pomegranates, olives and dates—and to remember the goodness of the land that Hashem promised to the children of Israel. Taste and see how good God can be! Is it good? Absolutely!
From Genesis to Revelation, the Word of God has much to say about trees, especially the Tree of Life. Beresheet (Genesis) 2:9. “And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground— trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
Adam and Eve never did get to taste of the fruit of this tree, did they? After Adam disobeyed concerning the forbidden tree, Hashem determined, in Genesis 3:22, that the man “must not reach out and take also from the tree of life,” and set up a flaming sword to guard the way back to the tree.
Will any of us ever get to taste the fruit of this Tree of Life? Yes! There is a way back to this tree.
In Revelation 2:7, Yeshua promises, “To the one who overcomes, I will grant the right to eat from the Tree of Life, which is in the Paradise of God.” Will you be one who overcomes? And in Revelation 22:14 promises, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and go through the gates into the city.” Have you washed your robes?
The tree of life bears fruit, and the fruit of this tree produce healing, wholeness, wisdom and abundant life. In Ezekiel 47:12, the prophets sees trees on the bank of a river bringing life to the Dead Sea: “Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”
It is found again in Revelation 22:2, the “leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
This healing is not about band-aids or a temporary fix, but the complete healing of shalom.
Shalom does not merely absence of conflict, but wholeness, completeness… abundance of life.
At the end of the Torah service, we chant, “Etz chaim he,” which quotes Proverbs 3:18:
“It is a tree of life to those who take hold of it, and all its ways are peace.” The following verses speak of this wisdom: “By wisdom ADONAI founded the earth. By understanding He established the heavens. … 21 My son, hold on to sound wisdom and discernment, do not let them out of your sight. They will be life to your soul, and an ornament to grace your neck.”
The life of Yeshua is full of wisdom. V’eemru? Whoever spoke with truer wisdom than Yeshua?
For when He said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take of itself?” Don’t you know that it’s true? Don’t you wish that you had the wisdom to live as He did? Yeshua never worried about His troubles—He didn’t even worry about the cross, but proceeded with determination to His destiny! Father, Thy will be done! For Yeshua saw beyond the gruesome agony of the cross to the glorious splendor of the resurrection… and the doors that would open up to all who answer when He knocks.
The Tree of Life has one central root … and many, many branches reaching out…. For the water and nutrients that give the tree life. That is your life… in Messiah Yeshua, only. V’eemru? Let’s pray….