Children of God

You are the children of the LORD your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead 
— Deuteronomy 14:1

The  portion for this week is  which means “see,” from Deuteronomy 11:2616:17, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 54:1155:5.

It is said when a soul comes into the world, the new baby cries while we shout for joy. But when a soul leaves the world, we cry while the newly departed rejoices in heaven.

Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things in the world. And yet, death is an inevitable part of life. If we are granted a good and long life, invariably, we will lose loved ones along the way. In this week’s reading we receive some comforting words to help us through life’s most challenging moments.

The verse reads, “You are the children of the LORD your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead.” The Sages question what the first part of the verse has to do with the second half. Clearly, this verse teaches us that it is forbidden to mutilate our bodies as part of mourning. This was a popular ancient custom that God did not accept. But what does being “children of the LORD” have to do with it?

The Sages explain that God is speaking to our pain. It is as if God were telling us: “You are all my children. When a person passes on, he or she is rejoining Me in heaven. I am the true Father and with Me is an everlasting home. So do not lose yourselves in mourning. Take heart and know that your loved one is in a good place. When the time is right, all My children will be together again.”

I am reminded of a famous story in the Talmud which recounts how a great rabbi endured the loss of his two sons. The story goes that the two boys passed away from an illness on the Sabbath. Rabbi Meir’s wife, Beruriah, wanted to break the news to him gently. She asked her husband a question, “Someone gave me a treasure to guard for them, but now he has asked for that treasure back. Must I give it to him?” Rabbi Meir answered, “Of course you must return the treasure to its owner.” With that, Beruriah led her husband to their deceased children and explained that their true owner had come for them.

Friends, there are two lessons that we must learn from this teaching. The first is to cherish every moment that we have with the invaluable people in our lives — our greatest treasures. The second is that when the time comes, we must let them go. We must take comfort in the knowledge that our loved ones are with their Father in His heavenly home.

Proverbs 11:25 He that watereth shall be watered also himself.  

We are here taught the great lesson, that to get, we must give; that to accumulate, we must scatter; that to make ourselves happy, we must make others happy; and that in order to become spiritually vigorous, we must seek the spiritual good of others. In watering others, we are ourselves watered. How? Our efforts to be useful, bring out our powers for usefulness. We have latent talents and dormant faculties, which are brought to light by exercise. Our strength for labour is hidden even from ourselves, until we venture forth to fight the Lord’s battles, or to climb the mountains of difficulty. We do not know what tender sympathies we possess until we try to dry the widow’s tears, and soothe the orphan’s grief. We often find in attempting to teach others, that we gain instruction for ourselves. Oh, what gracious lessons some of us have learned at sick beds! We went to teach the Scriptures, we came away blushing that we knew so little of them. In our converse with poor saints, we are taught the way of God more perfectly for ourselves and get a deeper insight into divine truth. So that watering others makes us humble. We discover how much grace there is where we had not looked for it; and how much the poor saint may outstrip us in knowledge. Our own comfort is also increased by our working for others. We endeavour to cheer them, and the consolation gladdens our own heart. Like the two men in the snow; one chafed the other’s limbs to keep him from dying, and in so doing kept his own blood in circulation, and saved his own life. The poor widow of Sarepta gave from her scanty store a supply for the prophet’s wants, and from that day she never again knew what want was. Give then, and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and running over.

The Word from the Top (5)

You shall not commit adultery.” Ex 20:14 NIV

The seventh commandment says, “You shall not commit adultery.” But Jesus takes it one step further by saying, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery…in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better…to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Mt 5:28-29 NIV). You’re not responsible for what you see, but you are responsible for what you continue to look at. Paul told Timothy, “Flee…youthful lusts” (2Ti 2:22); and James writes, “After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas 1:15 NIV). Immorality in practice or in thought can result in the death of your marriage, your self-respect, your influence, and your joy. In The Door, theologian Mike Yaconelli writes: “Author Susan Howatch made a fortune writing blockbuster novels…She had houses in several countries, drove a Porsche, and after divorcing had a number of ‘transient liaisons.’ But at age thirty, she said, ‘God seized me by the scruff of the neck and shook me until my teeth rattled.’ Now a Christian, she reflects: ‘I was promiscuous, but finally one morning I woke up and said, ‘What am I trying to prove, and to whom?’ I knew exactly what—that even though my marriage broke up I could still attract men. The fact that I could control men boosted my fractured ego.’ What was her conclusion? Promiscuity is a sign you’re not aligned right with God or yourself.”

Serving God with His Gifts

You must not worship the LORD your God in their way. But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go. — Deuteronomy 12:4–5

The  portion for this week is  which means “see,” from Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 54:11–55:5.

Pablo Picasso once said: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Whether our gift is in the arts, medicine, or the ministry, our job is to find out what our talents are and then devote them to God’s purposes.

Many years ago, when a Jewish boy approached 17, it was his father’s duty to find him a vocation. It was the custom to take the boy to the marketplace in town where many artisans worked at their trade. There were tailors, cobblers, leather-workers, bakers, artists, and so on. Whatever area attracted the boy most was the area his father would choose for him. If the boy paused for a long time at the baker’s, it was a signal that he was well-suited for that job. If he lingered at the cobbler’s shop he might be best at that trade. In this way, the father could choose the most appropriate trade for his son.

The rabbis explain that the same principle applies in doing God’s work. Wherever a person is drawn and whatever talents he or she innately possesses are signals for what that person should be doing to best serve God. In Proverbs 3:9 we read, “Honor the LORD with your wealth.” The Sages teach, “Don’t read the word as honecha, meaning ‘your wealth,’ but as chonecha, meaning ‘with what God has graced you with.’” In other words, we all have been graced with a set of talents. We must figure out what those are and serve God with them.

In this week’s Torah portion we read: “You must not worship the LORD your God in their way. But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go.” On the surface, God was instructing Israel that they must not worship as other nations do, but must serve God alone in the particular place that He would choose. The fact that the verses are nonspecific – they don’t specify that God’s chosen place is Jerusalem in the territories of Judah and Benjamin – leaves them open to other interpretations.

One such interpretation is that we are not meant to serve God the same way as someone else because we have our own unique set of gifts which God has given us. Our job is to uncover those talents and find the unique place in which to serve Him.

What gifts have you been graced with? How might you give them away?

2 Samuel 23:1 The sweet psalmist of Israel.  

Among all the saints whose lives are recorded in Holy Writ, David possesses an experience of the most striking, varied, and instructive character. In his history we meet with trials and temptations not to be discovered, as a whole, in other saints of ancient times, and hence he is all the more suggestive a type of our Lord. David knew the trials of all ranks and conditions of men. Kings have their troubles, and David wore a crown: the peasant has his cares, and David handled a shepherd’s crook: the wanderer has many hardships, and David abode in the caves of Engedi: the captain has his difficulties, and David found the sons of Zeruiah too hard for him. The psalmist was also tried in his friends, his counsellor Ahithophel forsook him, “He that eateth bread with me, hath lifted up his heel against me.” His worst foes were they of his own household: his children were his greatest affliction. The temptations of poverty and wealth, of honour and reproach, of health and weakness, all tried their power upon him. He had temptations from without to disturb his peace, and from within to mar his joy. David no sooner escaped from one trial than he fell into another; no sooner emerged from one season of despondency and alarm, than he was again brought into the lowest depths, and all God’s waves and billows rolled over him. It is probably from this cause that David’s psalms are so universally the delight of experiencedChristians. Whatever our frame of mind, whether ecstasy or depression, David has exactly described our emotions. He was an able master of the human heart, because he had been tutored in the best of all schools-the school of heart-felt, personal experience. As we are instructed in the same school, as we grow matured in grace and in years, we increasingly appreciate David’s psalms, and find them to be “green pastures.” My soul, let David’s experience cheer and counsel thee this day.