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A Heart to Pray and A Mind to Work

Daniel Botkin, A Heart to Pray and a Mind to Work

Recently I asked a group of congregational leaders about their biggest concerns and challenges. Their responses didn’t surprise me.

  • How can we teach on controversial topics without stepping on too many toes? What really matters and which topics can be safely avoided?
  • How do we handle false doctrines and the general craziness that people pick up on the Internet?
  • How should we handle conflicts and troublesome members?
  • What do we do when we’re accused of wrongdoing? What do we do when we are actually in the wrong?
  • How can we promote a spirit of gratitude and faith in our people?
  • How do we manage expectations and integrate people with different levels of faith and relationship with God? How do we find a place for everyone who wants to serve?

Every congregation faces these questions (and many more) at some point. If you’re doing God’s work on earth, you can’t expect the enemy to ignore you. He will take notice and start probing for weak points he can use to attack you and undermine your ministry.

As Messianic and Hebrew Roots congregations multiply and grow, we are facing more crises of leadership than most other believers. We are treading “new” ground–at least in today’s culture–of the old paths. Our people are struggling with the bitterness of realizing they have inherited lies, and they often lash out at their fellow heirs rather than at the original father of those lies.

“If you feel any anger or bitterness toward Christians, understand this: Chances are, you were not deliberately lied to. Chances are, your former pastors and teachers were good men who loved the Lord and sincerely believed the erroneous doctrines that they taught you. Chances are, they were simply misinformed by the misinformed leaders who taught them, and those misinformed leaders had been misinformed by the previous generation of leaders. So put away any anger and bitterness you have toward Christians. Direct your anger toward the Devil, the deceiver who persuaded them to believe the misinformation.”

Daniel Botkin, A Heart to Pray and A Mind to Work

Our tendency to blame our fellow victims rather than our mutual enemy, leads many of us to reject authority, to reject all teachers and scholars, to strike out on our own as lone theological wolves. But we aren’t supposed to be wolves, whether lone or in a pack. We are a flock, and like every flock that wants to survive, we need shepherds, and we need each other.

I first met Daniel Botkin at a conference of Torah observant believers in Dallas, Texas. I attended his lecture on leadership in the congregation, and–the first chance I could get–found him in the merchant hall and bought his book, A Heart to Pray and A Mind to Work.

As I began to read it over the next week, it immediately struck me as a vitally important work in the community of Torah observant followers of Yeshua. Botkin has more knowledge of the Scriptures and more experience in congregational leadership than the vast majority of us will ever have, and we need to take full advantage of the wisdom he has to offer.

I believe that what we are doing in this Torah movement is right. We are shedding centuries of lies and rediscovering the biblical roots of our faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but the way back is treacherous. The Enemy doesn’t want us to make it, and he will do everything in his power to keep us distracted, divided, and off course. We need help to stay out of the ditches and swamps that lie on every side. We need common sense guidance on spiritual leadership, and I believe Botkin’s book is an important part of that guidance.

So I offered to narrate it and make it available as an audiobook. I’ve never done anything like this before, and it turned out to be a much more difficult task than I had anticipated. I’m not a voice actor or professional narrator. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever set foot in a professional studio. (I recorded in my bedroom closet with a usb microphone and a cheap laptop!) I’m sure the task could have been done better by professionals, but the professionals just weren’t going to do it, and this book needs to be available from as many retailers and in as many formats as possible.

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t do all this work for free, but I’m not making a bunch of money from it, either. My share will probably come out to around $1 per audiobook sold. The bulk of the revenue goes to pay for the servers and bandwidth at the various audiobook retailers, and most of the rest will go to support Daniel Botkin’s ministry.

If you are as tired of the bickering and controversy as I am, consider buying either the paperback or the audiobook. Botkin’s website (GatesOfEden.Online) has links to purchase the paperback of A Heart to Pray and A Mind to Work as well as others of his books. I’ll post links below to various audiobook retailers as they add it to their catalogues over the next few weeks.

Audiobook retailers carrying A Heart to Pray and A Mind to Work:

Men Who Fear God: Yitro’s Rules for Leadership

Jethro's qualities of leadership

Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.
(Exodus 18:21)

In this passage, Jethro (Hebrew: Yitro) had observed Moses working himself to death by attempting to address every complaint of the millions of Hebrew refugees by himself. He wisely suggested that Moses needed some help and gave some specific instructions on how to select his helpers. His instructions were essentially the same as those Paul gave to Timothy and Titus many centuries later:

Therefore an overseer must be

  • above reproach
  • the husband of one wife
  • sober-minded
  • self-controlled
  • respectable
  • hospitable
  • able to teach
  • not a drunkard
  • not violent but gentle
  • not quarrelsome
  • not a lover of money
  • manage his own household well
  • keeping his children submissive
  • not a recent convert
  • well thought of by outsiders

(From 1 Timothy 3:2-7)

…able men… These men were to be “able” or chayil. They must have proven their ability by success in business, community, family, and war. They should be men of both knowledge and ability. They don’t need to be supermen, but their families should be well ordered, their businesses more successful than not, and their personal finances in order. Untried men should not be placed in positions of authority.

…men who fear God… Ability alone is not enough to make a great leader of God’s people. He must also be a man of God. He should have high personal standards, a healthy prayer life, and not embroiled in sordid controversies. There are many fine atheists and agnostics in the world–at least by the world’s standards–but they are not qualified to lead God’s people.

…who are trustworthy… Not men who are apt to deceive their way into office. The pathological dishonesty of the vast majority of modern politicians is obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. They lie and they lie and they lie, bolder every year, yet they remain in office. That we continue to elect such men and women into leadership is proof of the old adage: We get that government which we deserve.

…hate a bribe… Offices with power are rife with all sorts of opportunities to advance one’s own interests. It is a good thing to desire to lead God’s people, but not to desire it overly much. Remember Yeshua’s words: The first will be last, and he who would lead must serve. Any system resembling a democracy, unfortunately, must favor dishonest seekers of power and fortune.

There are no perfect people in the world. Everyone has flaws. Everyone has weak moments when we make poor choices, set a poor example, and think terrible thoughts. But it’s one thing to be flawed and something else entirely to be a liar, a thief, or a murderer.

A Review of Yehuda Avner’s The Prime Ministers

The Prime Ministers isn’t a comprehensive history of Israel. It’s a collection of vignettes concerning an insider’s interactions with the country’s prime ministers up through Menachem Begin. It’s a very personal account that focuses on the personalities rather than the events.

There were some slow parts. (It’s a history, so you have to expect that.) But overall, this was a fantastic book. I loved it, especially the last half that focused on Menachem Begin. If only every world leader could have the kind of character, kindness, and realistic idealism that Begin possessed. The author’s portrayal of some of the biggest characters of the latter 20th century filled them out and made them more real to me. Carter, Reagan, and Shimon Peres dropped a couple of notches in my estimation, while Kissinger, Thatcher, and Begin all rose.

I’ve been reading a lot of biographies lately, and this book underscored a commonality I’ve seen among the great men and women of history. They’re just regular people with all the same flaws and motivations as the rest of us. There are a few things that set them apart: personal discipline, a clear vision, and the drive to make that vision real. If you can put those three things together, you can make things happen.

The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner

Created to Become Unequal

Leviticus 21:1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto the priests the sons of Aaron, and say unto them…

On some sense, I am sure that everyone is created equal, but I have yet to define what that sense might be. From birth we are all different. Some are stronger, some are hairier, some have different parts, and those differences confer varying responsibilities and powers.

God holds the physical descendants of Aaron to a higher standard than he holds the rest of us. For example, he deals with their sexual immorality much more harshly. The daughters of Aaron must remain virgins until married. If they don’t, the penalty isn’t just stoning. It’s burning.

Aaron’s sons are held to a higher standard than his daughters. Emor gives a short list of things that a priest may not do that other of God’s people may:

  • Touch the corpse of anyone who is not an immediate relative.
  • Shave his head or disfigure his beard.
  • Marry a woman who has sex outside of marriage or who has been divorced.
  • Drink alcohol while serving in the sanctuary.
The High Priest has an even higher standard than that. He may not
  • Touch the corpse of even immediate relatives.
  • Marry a widow or any non-virgin.
  • Leave the sanctuary while performing the duties of his office.
  • Bring anything unclean into the sanctuary.

Paul alluded to this same concept when he told Timothy and Titus his standards for Church leaders. He never intended those lists to be taken as absolute laws for all believers. (Or even for all church leaders, for that matter! They aren’t priests serving in the Temple, after all.) He was illustrating how good leaders must have a different code of behavior. There is no sin in preparing and burying a corpse nor in having a rebellious child, but God said that his priests shouldn’t do those things.

That God’s standards for some people might be different than his standards for others only surprises the inheritors of the so-called Enlightenment. Many good things have come from the philosophical and theological revolutions of the past, but some things have also been lost and corrupted.

What Killed Ted Cruz’s Presidential Campaign?

Nails in the Cruz campaign coffin:

1. Primary marketing shenanigans.
2. Glenn Beck’s lunacy.
3. Endorsements from Bush, Graham, et al.
4. Delegates shenanigans.
5. Collusion with John Kasich.
6. Carly Fiorina VP pick.

Much of this was SOP for political campaigns of the last 20 years, but taken as a whole in this particular election cycle, it’s almost like failure was planned.

Higher Standards for Higher Position

Character in leadership matters.
I mean to make myself a man, and if I succeed in that, I shall succeed in everything else. -James A. Garfield

God commanded the people of Israel to be holy, set apart from the world for a special purpose. He wanted them to live to a higher standard, to be a beacon to the whole world, pointing every other nation to the Creator. If the people of Israel were to be holier than other nations, how much more was the High Priest of Israel to be holier than other priests?

The Levitical High Priest has a number of restrictions on his behavior that other Israelites do not, things that would not be a sin if he were not High Priest. All of those restrictions are intended to protect his ability to serve the nation. The precise relationship between the restriction and his effectiveness as High Priest might not be obvious at first glance, some less so than others. For example, it’s not a sin for a man to marry a widow, not even a king. It’s not even a sin to marry a foreign woman so long as she worships the God of Israel. The High Priest, on the other hand, may only marry a virgin of the people of Israel. He may not marry a widow, divorcee, a woman of “loose morals,” nor any foreign woman no matter her faith or exemplary character.

People today see such rules as irrelevant or even backwards. What difference does it make if a national leader’s wife has a “history”? If you are serious about living by God’s rules, you can probably think of a number of reasons it might matter. There is an enormous gap between the people who see value in morally impeccable leadership and those who want their leaders to be just like them.

The problem here is cultural and, more importantly, it is spiritual. You and I can see why it matters that our pastors or Presidents be above reproach. Other people obviously cannot. They believe that if he makes the right promises, says the right words, and looks good on camera, then he must be qualified for the job. If his skin is like mine or if he’s liked by people like me, then he must understand me, represent me. Right?

Of course, not. Skin color and pretty words have no relationship to a man’s ability to lead, let alone his ability to keep from embarrassing his people in front of the entire world.

Character matters. Experience matters. An understanding and love of American ideals of liberty and faith in God matters. If a man wants to be the pastor of your church or the leader of your nation, his past needs to be a completely open book. His character and resume must be exemplary. His family must be respectful and respectable. If a man hides his past, he should be immediately rejected for any significant position of spiritual or political leadership. If his family is in shambles, his reputation in tatters, no further consideration need be given. He is not worthy of our trust as a people.

We are Americans, and we are Christians. Our leaders must be too. Without reservation.

We are commanded to be a holy people, lighting the way to God for all other peoples. If we hold ourselves to a higher standard—and we absolutely should—how much higher should be the standard of any man who would be our leader?

Resolving Conflicts in the Family and Nation

Moses teaching the people of Israel.

In his comments on Matot this week at Aish, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks highlighted the conflict between Moses and the tribes of Reuben and Gad, who wanted to settle on the east side of the Jordan instead of on the west with the other tribes. Although the narrative in Numbers 32 is probably very condensed from the actual events, Rabbi Sacks points out how the story illustrates good conflict resolution strategy:

The negotiation between Moses and the two tribes in our parsha follows closely the principles arrived at by the Harvard Negotiation Project, set out by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their classic text, Getting to Yes.(2) Essentially they came to the conclusion that a successful negotiation must involve four processes:

  1. Separate the people from the problem. There are all sorts of personal tensions in any negotiation. It is essential that these be cleared away first so that the problem can be addressed objectively.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions….By focusing not on positions but on interests, the question becomes, “Is there a way of achieving what each of us wants?”
  3. Invent options for mutual gain….the two sides usually have different objectives, neither of which excludes the other.
  4. Insist on objective criteria. Make sure that both sides agree in advance to the use of objective, impartial criteria to judge whether what has been agreed has been achieved….

Moses does all four. First he separates the people from the problem by making it clear to the Reubenites and Gadites that the issue has nothing to do with who they are, and everything to do with the Israelites’ experience in the past… The problem is not about this tribe or that but about the nation as a whole.

Second, he focused on interests not positions. The two tribes had an interest in the fate of the nation as a whole. If they put their personal interests first, God would become angry and the entire people would be punished, the Reubenites and Gadites among them….

Third, the Reubenites and Gadites then invented an option for mutual gain. If you allow us to make temporary provisions for our cattle and children, they said, we will not only fight in the army. We will be its advance guard. We will benefit, knowing that our request has been granted. The nation will benefit by our willingness to take on the most demanding military task.

Fourth, there was an agreement on objective criteria. The Reubenites and Gadites would not return to the east bank of the Jordan until all the other tribes were safely settled in their territories. And so it happened, as narrated in the book of Joshua…

The history of Israel (and every other people, really) demonstrates that a nation is an extended family with a common history, language, religion, & culture. The makeup of a family, like that of a nation, can change over time, but the family only remains so long as those things which define it as a family remain. Without the cement of common ideals and a common mission, you can’t have a family.

Like a national leader, a father must spend a great deal of time and energy resolving conflicts in the family. If he is to be successful, he must decide what really matters and what doesn’t. Since each family is different, with its own quirks and challenges, I can’t tell you exactly how you should govern your family or what specific things you should prioritize. However, I can speak to some things that are common among all families.

A father must keep his family’s first principles in mind, those things which define them as a family: blood, faith, mission, etc.

Everyone in the family must be related by blood or covenant. If anyone is free to walk away when things aren’t going the way he prefers, then he can’t be considered real family.

Everyone in a family should subscribe to the same religion. There can be differences of opinion, of course, even of expression, but the basic tenets of faith must be essentially the same among all individuals, or the family will experience serious trouble in time.

Everyone in a family should be working toward a common goal. Remember that Jesus said “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” It’s true of churches, commercial enterprises, nations, and families. Each person must have their own personal missions and aspirations, but they cannot be at odds with each other. If a father’s mission is to teach responsible life skills to inner city children, his wife’s mission cannot be to keep those same people dependent on government handouts in order to use them as political pawns. Or, rather, those cannot be their missions if they desire to remain a family.

Conflicts in themselves are not bad. Like all of life’s challenges, they are the exercises we need to develop relational and spiritual strength. So long as each member of the family is willing to place the needs of the family above their own needs, almost any conflict can be worked out to a favorable resolution.

Conflict is part of God’s plan. Resolving conflicts in the family is an essential element of familial–and therefore national–maturity and cohesiveness.

Fathers, remember your family’s first principles. Remember your covenants. Remember your mission. Remember God.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Our relationships with God, family, and community are inextricably intertwined. The health of one relationship depends on the health of all the others. We truly are a body. Imagine how well the lungs would function if they couldn’t act in concert with the heart or if they couldn’t detect signals from the brain. When one organ refuses to cooperate with others, the whole body suffers and eventually dies.

Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) describes some of the organs in our body and how they are designed to work together.

Numbers 4:21-49 The Levites and Cohanim are set apart from the rest of the nation for a specific set of functions. Work was further divided among different clans within the Levitical tribe, and no clan was allowed to do the work of another, nor was any other tribe allowed to do the work of the Levites. They were not set apart to do their own thing or to pursue their own interests: “This is the charge of their burden, according to all their service in the tabernacle of the congregation.” Although there were (and are!) many benefits to being a Levite or Cohen, their service is for the benefit of the whole congregation. A good relationship with God required orderly worship and sacrifice and even protection from God. The job of the Levites was to keep that order, to slaughter and present the sacrifices, and to provide a buffer between the people and the raw power of God.

Numbers 5:1-4 As in our own bodies, disease in the community has to be quarantined. Some of the sages have taught that there were varying degrees of separation required for different conditions. Lepers were completely isolated from the rest of the nation, while those with “an issue” were only barred from entering the camp of the Levites, and those defiled by contact with a dead body were not allowed to enter the Tabernacle. Social pathogens (gossipers, sexual deviants, idolaters, drunkards, the violent, etc.) must also be quarantined to varying degrees. God requires that some people be barred from polite company while others are to be separated from life completely. Our relationships with God, with the land, and with each other require an active social immune system.

Numbers 5:5-10 As with almost every passage in Torah, there are layes of meaning here.

  • Sin doesn’t have to mean permanent separation from the rest of the community. God has provided means to bring us back to full health. However, restoration is up to each individual. One cannot be forced to reconcile. Repentance, atonement, restitution, and service are all powerful tools for restoring relationships.
  • We should not usurp the service of another. Although God may delegate authority and service to one person now and to another person tomorrow, that is purely God’s prerogative. Nor can we force another to fulfill their appointment. It is up to each person to give their service or to deny it. “Ever man’s devoted thing shall be his, and whatever any man gives the priest, it shall be his.”

Numbers 5:11-31 A woman is to be set apart by a covenant with her husband. Ideally she would be with one man, and only one man, for her entire life. The repercussions of breaking that covenant go far beyond her own life and even that of her husband. The bonds between her husband, children, community, and God will all suffer for her mistakes. In the trial of the Sotah, the remedy involves being removed from under her husband’s authority and protection and placed directly under the judgment of God. If she is guilty, then she will die, but if she is innocent, then she will be restored to her husband and family.

Numbers 6:1-21 The Nazarite vow is a self-imposed wilderness experience that can serve several purposes. It allows a person to spend extended time in prayer and meditation with God. Or it can be a time of reflection and self evaluation, an attempt to find oneself. Or it can simply help a person feel special by doing something purposeful and different than what everyone else is doing. In every case, however, the Nazarite vow is essentially about the self and not the community. A Nazarite lets his hair go wild, abstains from the very communitarian activity of wine drinking, and cannot even attend to the funeral arrangements of his own family members. When the period of his vow is over, he symbolically anonymizes himself by shaving his head and invites his community together for a feast, as if he has returned from a journey to resume his place among them as one of them without special glory or dispensation.

Numbers 6:22-27 In order for God’s relationship with his people to be complete, the Cohanim are to bless them and “put [his] name upon the children of Israel.” They put God’s name on the people by teaching them Torah, particularly the keeping of God’s Sabbath. In so doing, they cause God’s blessing to be on the people. The implication is that, if they do not teach Torah, if they do not teach the people to keep the Sabbath as God intended, then God’s blessing will be diminished.

Numbers 7:1-3 Being a leader has costs and benefits. More than anything else, it carries responsibility. Leaders are expected to give of themselves and their resources above and beyond what is expected of the rest of the people. “To whom much is given, much will be required.”

Numbers 7:4-88 Each tribe brought identical offerings, indicating that no one tribe was more important to the whole than another. God’s promises to each family and person are just as sure as his promises to every other. No one has a greater claim to anointing than anyone else, even if their particular anointing is different than another’s. Each tribe brought offerings to support the tabernacle (gold, silver, and portions of the animal offerings), to enhance their own relationships with God (the burnt and sin offerings), and to enhance their relationships with their peers (peace offering).

Numbers 7:89 All of Naso is about how sanctification–separation–is a vital part of working together and being in healthy relationships with God and Man. If all of the parts of the body are in working order, then communication with the head is clear and efficient. Notice that if our relationship with God is healthy, then he speaks to us from above the atoning cover (aka mercy seat) and between the cherubim. Imagine a series of lenses through which we see and communicate with God. If any of those lenses are out of alignment, our vision is blurred and communication can be garbled. When all of the lenses are perfectly positioned–each person faithful to their callings and covenants–then we commune with God through the atoning, covering blood of the Messiah and past the gatekeepers of God’s throne room. Our prayers to him and his blessings to us will not be hindered.

Hat tips to Rabbi Meir Schweiger of Pardes Institute of Jerusalem and to Rabbi David Levine of Beth Israel Messianic Synagogue.

Fear Is Contageous

Deuteronomy 31:1-8  And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel.  And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in: also the LORD hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan. The LORD thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the LORD hath said. And the LORD shall do unto them as he did to Sihon and to Og, kings of the Amorites, and unto the land of them, whom he destroyed. And the LORD shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according unto all the commandments which I have commanded you. Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.

Moses told the entire nation of Israel not to fear, to know that God would be fighting with them. Then he took Joshua aside and told him the same thing.

God does not allow a fearful man to fight in his army because fear is contagious. If one man runs, the man next to him might run as well. And if the fear a soldier on the line is dangerous, how much more is the fear of a general? If Joshua showed fear after hearing God’s promises, it would sweep through the ranks like wind.

Fortunately, faith is also contagious. It is doubly important that leaders lead in faith and not in fear. If he stands strong, his men will stand strong. If he runs, then his men will run.

Fear not, neither be dismayed. Do what is right, and God will take care of the consequences. He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.

Feminism and Islam Are Partners in the War on Western Civilization

Feminism and Islam are natural partners in the destruction of Western Civilization.

Numbers 16:5
…even him whom he hath chosen…
God constructed the world to function in a certain manner. Like any complex machine, Creation’s functionality degrades as its components cease to function according to design. The extent of the dysfunction can be difficult to measure. For example, an automobile without brakes might travel along an uncrowded highway without incident. The driver only realizes his trouble when it becomes necessary to slow or stop. So it is with family structure, church organization, and civil government. As Western nations become more and more feminized, they are beginning to come apart at the seams.

As backwards as the Muslim nations appear, they have a very distinct advantage in that feminism has not taken a significant hold within their borders or cultures. As these two civilizations clash, the conclusion appears to be foregone. The superior technology and wealth of Europe and North America enable them to win many battles even as their borders are flooded with Muslims and other immigrants who have no interest in adapting themselves to the existing cultures. Instead they bring their own culture with them and destroy Western Civilization by forfeiture.

Our politicians say that we are fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here. Anyone with eyes to see can tell that they have no need to fight us anywhere. Until we excise the cancer of feminism from within our own people, we will go on committing cultural suicide.

The military adventures of the Bush-Clinton-Obama cabal are the death throws of a very broken machine and the Muslims need only bide their time to win.