Friday, May 11, 2018

Heaving Ho!





Confession:  Forgiveness is something I convinced myself I understood because to admit that I did not understand it would have been humiliating.

I was more than happy to accept the idea of being forgiven by YHVH for my sin.  I mean, that gets me off the hook, right?  So, by all means, bring on the mighty, amazing grace of Almighty Elohim!  I don’t mean to be flip.  His grace IS mighty and amazing, as well as eternal, unearned, and beyond human comprehension.  What can I do but accept it, even though I do not understand it? 

Nevertheless, my acceptance of YHVH’s grace is (way too) often easy, lazy, and self-serving.  I am certainly not thinking about what His forgiveness might be costing Him.  He is YHVH!  He can afford it regardless, right?  That’s what I am thinking without allowing myself to actually think it.  I am thinking primarily about how His grace benefits me.  According to ‘conventional wisdom’ (in some circles), I personally am THE reason He has done all the wondrous things He has done.  But, yeah, no, of course YOU also are THE reason…



On the other hand, when I am faced with a need to forgive others, how do I behave?  Unfortunately, I often (usually) take too long, and most of the time it seems I do not truly or completely forgive, which equates to an utter absence of forgiveness, by definition.  Partial forgiveness is not a thing.  My flesh wants to hang onto whatever slight, betrayal, offense, or damage I perceive to have been done to me or to others whom I love.  And, by the way, every “bad” thing that has happened to me was someone else’s fault.

Yet I cannot escape the simple instruction Yeshua included in the prayer he gave to his disciples when they asked him to teach them how to pray.  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us… For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12-15)

Wait.  What?!  When we refuse to forgive others, YHVH’s forgiveness toward us will be withheld?  That seems cold and harsh.  Actually, it seems downright impossible.  We think YHVH does not work that way.  If He loves us, why wouldn’t He forgive us, even to the point of forgiving us for not forgiving others?  Why?  His Word tells us point blank that is not how He works.



Look.  There is a powerful Kingdom principle operating here.

Many of us, perhaps most of us, have been taught that YHVH hears our prayers no matter what; that we can and should come to Him “just as we are”; that His grace abounds toward us despite our unworthiness.  All of these statements are true – with one important condition.  Yes.  Condition.  We must come to Him with contrite and repentant hearts, with pure motive, and with righteous intent. (Isaiah 1:15; John 9:31; Psalm 51:17)

So, we must be in a particular heart-state when we approach Almighty YHVH seeking forgiveness.  We must be repentant, and we must have forgiven others for the transgressions they have committed against us. (Matthew 5:23-24) We can come to Him “just as we are”; i.e., imperfect, human, broken.  But we must also come ‘clean,’ laying down our lives in true surrender, repentance, and forgiveness.  We cannot come to Him in defiance and rebellion.



Once again, English leaves us wanting.  “Forgive” is an okay word.  We mostly have a general idea of what it means to forgive.  But I believe we do not fully understand it.  It feels nice to hear that we are forgiven; and it is comforting to say that we have forgiven others.  What does that mean, though?

The words for “forgive” in the “original” languages, both Hebrew and Greek, mean something a lot more complete and irrevocable than our common usage of the English word “forgive.”  They mean “let go,” “leave behind,”  “separate oneself from,” “cover over,” “purge away,” “lifting up, carrying away.” 



We often say that we can forgive but we can never forget.  We even think that is acceptable and expected.  After all, we are only human.   Some things we just cannot forget.  So we say.

Look at those definitions again.  To forgive inherently includes forgetting.  I concede that our flesh will try to remind us.  But this is part of the action nature of the principle of forgiveness.  We put it aside.  We let it go.  We purge it away.  We forgive.  We forget.  We choose.

Somehow, in our English way of thinking, we cling to the idea that saying the word is enough.  “I forgive you.”  But the actual forgiveness does not happen at all without something happening in one’s heart and mind.  It is a conscious decision.  Forgiveness is not an automatic consequence of saying a combination of ‘magic’ words.

Like all principles of Kingdom life, forgiveness is a true action word. 

It is substantive.  

It means something.  

It is Kingdom currency.



Sunday, April 29, 2018

Baggage and Filters


“Baggage” and “filters” are two of my favorite analogies for those things inside us that keep us from seeing truth.



Baggage – because over the course of our lives we have gathered bags full of ‘stuff’ that we carry around with us wherever we go.  The stuff may be good, bad, or neutral, but it all adds up to a heavy load.

Filters – because we will view every new input in our lives through the filters of our previous experiences, unless we consciously lower those filters.

Are you willing to test your beliefs?

If your beliefs are true and correct, and you confirm them to be so, then you can hold fast to them with even more devout conviction.  If your beliefs turn out to be incorrect, then you are better off for having discovered that, are you not?



Let’s start here:

Do you know who you are?

Are you sure?

Would you make a conscious decision to discover and recognize who you are? To organize the fabric of your identity? To celebrate the wonder of your authentic self?

This message. 

I am convinced I cannot overstate its importance in our lives, nor can I explain it in enough different ways to amount to overkill.

It is something that has been on my heart for many years.

I have mentioned it and discussed it in many previous conversations.

Here is the basic concept:

You are the product of the accumulation of your life experiences.  Everything you have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched, read about, heard about; every person you have known, met, befriended, loved, hated, ignored; books, movies, television, music - every kind of input that has touched you in any way has contributed to who you are today.

Some of these influences you have cherished and nourished, some you sought after, some just happened unexpectedly, some you have struggled to forget, some have haunted you relentlessly, some came and went like a whispering wind, some thundered and clamored and crashed into you and over you and through you.



In one sense, every scrap of it is vital to you, your identity, and your future.  In another sense, all of it needs to be examined and categorized as useful, extraneous, or toxic. You can decide what should stay and what needs to go.  Of course, deciding to put away some element of your personality, what you think makes you you, is a major turnstile in your life. Even when you have decided to lay something down, often it does not stay laid down.

At some point, in order to walk in freedom, we must put aside the things that prevent us from seeing who we truly are.  There are things we have learned or experienced or chosen to believe that are hindering us.  We must figure out how to face those things and lay them down in favor of the things that contribute to our authentic identity. 

You see, some of the things that have influenced you are lies.

Bold statement.  Am I right?

Do you doubt the truth of it, though?

All of us would certainly prefer it if, all through the course of our lives, we had only and ever recognized and retained truth.  But sometimes we have been convinced of the truth of something when in fact it was not true.  We have held tenaciously to untruths for years.  Decades.  Our whole lives.

I know for sure that I have advocated many things I was convinced were true.  I have persuaded others to believe them, too.  Now I know some of those things were not true at all.

It’s not like these things used to be true, but have somehow now become untrue.  They were always untrue.  I was just convinced otherwise.  In other words, I was deceived; and I was contributing to the deception of others.  All with the best of intentions, of course.  We like the (false) absolution of declaring the sterling sincerity and sanctity of our good intentions.



My point here is that none of us can claim honestly that everything about who we are and how we behave is based on nothing but the truth.  Many of us certainly want that to be the case.  Most of us will probably say we would do whatever it took to get as close to that ideal as possible; i.e., the ideal of living only in truth all the time.

Now that we have accepted - and I trust you have, however reluctantly, accepted - that we may have some elements of our identity that are operating according to faulty information, what do we do about that?  How do we know if something inside us is true or false?  What is our standard of truth?

For most, if not all, of my life, I have understood the prime standard of truth to be the volume commonly called The Bible.  Scripture itself has convinced me that certain things I once believed to be true are not true.  

How could anything we have believed based on The Bible not be true?  Let me remind you that the enemy of our souls, HaSatan, used scripture against YHVH’s only begotten Son, Yeshua.  Of course, Yeshua was not swayed.  Nevertheless, scripture can be used to convince us of all manner of things that are untrue.

Here is an example.  I was taught, and I believed for many years, that The Church replaced Israel as YHVH’s Chosen People.  We were told that Israel rejected Messiah, so YHVH rejected Israel.  Not true.

YHVH’s gifts and callings are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). 

His covenants are eternal.  He is a covenant-keeper.  (Genesis 17:7; Jeremiah 32:40; Psalms 105:8, 10; Luke 1:55; Hebrews 13:20, and many more)

Even when we are faithless, he remains faithful.  (2 Timothy 2:13)

We are grafted into an existing tree and root, which is Israel.  (Romans 11:17-18)

We are Israel. (Galatians 3:29)

Judah and Ephraim (kol Yisra’el) will be brought together as one in the end days  (Ezekiel 37).

Are you ready to understand that you are Israel?

Are you ready to explore what that means?


Shalom!

שלום

Friday, April 06, 2018

Identity in a Pie Chart





Do you know who you are? Can you explain your identity to others?

DNA testing seems to have become all the rage these days.  Various companies take a sample of your saliva (usually), and eventually send you your “results.”  Most often your results are displayed in the form of a pie chart with percentages for each “known” geographical/ethnic aspect of your DNA.  From these results, people apparently form a new understanding of their identity.  In one commercial a man explains how he grew up knowing he was German, but discovered through DNA testing that he was actually Scottish, not German at all!  So, he traded his lederhosen for a kilt.




I am not here to denigrate the DNA testing industry.  I think it can be enlightening and interesting.  I am just wondering if knowing how your DNA reads will alter your own perception of who you are.  Also, I am wondering about the whole percentage thing.  Another DNA testing commercial depicts a young man who finds out he is six percent Native American; so he is finding new family among his previously unknown roots. Based on a reading of six percent.




As a believer in YHVH, and a follower of Yeshua, I see in scripture that I am grafted into the tree of Israel (Romans 11:17), and I am the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:29). Further, I am no longer “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:11-13).  By grace through faith, I have become Israel (Ephesians 2:8-9).  That makes my identity “Israel.”  I find this to be a non-negotiable truth.

Besides laying claim to an identity as Israel, my perception of who I am is based on multiple factors, not just DNA, ethnicity, and geography.  My “identity pie chart” would also include things like education, gender, age, relationships, experiences, skills, talents, preferences, and more.  I might be able to sub-divide my identity into discrete pieces labeled with those various categories of input.

However, my identity as Israel is a 100 % category.  Whatever else makes up my identity is superimposed or coexistent with my identity as Israel.  All of me is Israel.  I cannot break the Israel in me into smaller portions of who I am.  I might be able to say that 30% of who I am is based on my education; and perhaps a larger percentage is based on the relationships I have had with others over the years.  But the fact that I am Israel supersedes all other factors in the stew of my identity.  My whole being is Israel.

In fact, that turns out to be a pretty decent metaphor.  Stew.  I am a pot of stew.  The whole pot of stew is Israel.  Chunks of meat in the stew could be my education.  Various vegetables could be other elements of my identity, like experiences, skills, and talents.  The broth might be the sum of all the relationships in which I have participated.  Overall, the stew itself is Israel.



What shall I do with this knowledge of who I am?  If I am Israel, does that make me Jewish?  Could I be literally descended from the “lost” ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom; i.e., Hebrew but not Jewish?  Does that matter?

“Tell them that Adonai Elohim says this: ‘I will take the stick of Yosef, which is in the hand of Efrayim, together with the tribes of Isra’el who are joined with him, and put them together with the stick of Y’hudah and make them a single stick, so that they become one in my hand.’  The sticks on which you write are to be in your hand as they watch.  Then say to them that Adonai Elohim says: ‘I will take the people of Isra’el from among the nations where they have gone and gather them from every side and bring them back to their own land.  I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Isra’el; and one king will be king for all of them. They will no longer be two nations, and they will never again be divided into two kingdoms.’” 
(Ezekiel 37:19-22)




Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Heaven and Earth


I grew up hearing the expression, “He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good.”[1] I internalized this to mean that taking action is a priority.  The focus and intention (in my mind) were on the power and benefits of doing “earthly good.”  Therefore, it was considered wasteful and even lazy to be “heavenly minded.” In other words, the message was: we can think and plan and hope and dream and pray and scheme, but nothing will actually happen until we DO something.  Therefore and thereby, my cultural default setting has been action and achievement.  “Do, do, do!”; which reminds me of something else I heard a lot in my early years, “Don’t just stand there! DO something!”  I was always being reminded to keep busy.

Over the years, I have heard and read many messages from both sides of this coin – heavenly-mindedness on one side and earthly goodness on the other.  Some focus on the idea that heavenly-mindedness leads inevitably to earthly goodness, while others focus on the perceived need to control one’s bouts of heavenly-mindedness to engage in active, productive work to contribute to the Kingdom’s progress.  Either way, the interpretation was generally pointing toward action; accomplishing something here and now.  That leads to a mindset that doing good works is more important than contemplating and pursuing the Kingdom.

Now, of course, scripture encourages us to action in many places – to go, to sing, to shout, to dance, to clap, to run, even to fight.  But it also instructs us to “be still,” to “wait,” and to “stand.”  There is a solidly healthy balance in scripture between getting things done and patiently waiting.  We are not to be afraid to take action.  But we are also, perhaps even more so, not to be afraid of being still.  In all cases, whether we are taking action or being still, it is about trusting and worshiping YHVH.  All of our biblical role models, when they are doing things, are doing what YHVH has told them to do.  They are not keeping busy solely for the sake of keeping busy.



More important, though, than the tension between doing something and being still, is the truth inside what it means to be “heavenly-minded.”  I believe the most common interpretation is that the “heavenly-minded” person is a daydreamer, thinking about future glory and blessings while there is always work to be done in the present.  But I think “heavenly-mindedness” is more truly about having your mind fixed on eternity.  And eternity is not about the future; eternity is about the constant now-ness of our existence.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “whatsoever things are true, …honest, …just, …pure, …lovely, …of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8)  Think on these things.  Have your mind set on these things.  Good things.  Heavenly things.  Paul also wrote to the Colossians, “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”



The primary commandment is that we are to love YHVH with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:4-5; Matt. 22:37).  This means we are to be Kingdom-oriented people.  Always.  As we say these days – 24/7/365.  I think, then, by definition as Kingdom people, that we are to be “heavenly-minded.”  Does this type of heavenly-mindedness inherently preclude the ability to do good works in this life?  Not at all.  I believe having our minds set on eternal things enhances our ability to do good works.  Our good works will be motivated by something stronger and deeper than a sense of moral obligation, social duty, or rote habit.



Let me hasten to say, though, if our understanding or definition of heaven has to do with some future dwelling place, this could cause some problems.  If we are thinking about “somewhere beyond the blue” all the time, then we probably are not going to be much use in the here and now.  Unfortunately, much of our ecclesiastical culture for centuries has conditioned us to envision heaven as a cloud-borne destination in the sky, which we will eventually, someday, finally attain.  So, we dream about it, sing about it, emote about it, pray for it, hope for it, and just basically don’t expect to see it ‘Until Then.’  When we focus on that future resort life, we tend to neglect things that need to be done right now.

What I am saying is, you are a Kingdom person.  YHVH’s heir.  An eternal being.  Heaven is now.  Think on these things.

[NOTE: Proverbs 16:27, which is often rendered something like “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and which is also frequently quoted to encourage keeping busy, is one of those verses that suffers from faulty translation.  The English word ‘idle’ here is from the Hebrew word ‘be’liya’al,’ which actually means ‘worthless.’  It has also been translated ‘ungodly,’ ‘wicked,’ ‘evil,’ ‘naughty,’ and even ‘rascally’ and ‘mischievous.’ None of these translations carries anything like our 21st century American English understanding of the word ‘idle.’]





[1] Attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Label Makers



In my so-called dotage, which is in itself a label I refuse to apply to myself, I have become increasingly resistant to labels.  Well, at least, to labels meant to categorize people.  I am happy to accept labels on food products, usually; and on specific types of plants and animals; and bio-hazard warning labels.  But, stereotypes, generalizations, pigeon-holes, boxes, et al, applied to human individuals and especially to groups of people, are never precise, legitimate, fair, perfect, nor unqualified.

This principle of “resistance to labels” is at work in almost every area of life, from sports to music to politics to literature.  Some things defy pinpoint labels.  In particular, as this applies in my own life, I am finding that my “belief system” keeps bumping up against the edges of various labels then moving away; sometimes abruptly, sometimes discreetly.  Time was, I truly yearned to find a “satisfactory” label for my “faith portfolio” so that I could easily answer questions about what or who I am.  Now I do not want the “faith” question to be answered so blithely.

I am tempted here to declare a basic “statement of faith” so that my dear readers will understand where I am coming from.  (Also, I keep wanting to put every phrase in quotation marks.  Is this a symptom of label resistance?) (Further, I am bugged by ending that sentence with a preposition, but “from where I am coming” just does not cut the mustard, ya know?) (And now I am apparently hiding behind a seemingly endless chain of parenthetical statements so I can postpone the revelations I am about to make) (Are you still reading? Cool.)

My suspicion is that the basics of my faith are not so different from most of you intrepid readers.  I believe in the Creator.  I believe in the truth and history of His Holy Word.  I believe in Yeshua haMashiach ben Elohim (Jesus Christ, Son of God); his birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, rule, and return.  I believe in the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit).  The rest, which is much, we can discuss later, I reckon.



Labels are astonishingly rampant in the Body of Messiah.  I have known this all my life, and I suspect nearly everyone knows this.  I mean, we can start with denominational labels.  Take a moment to come to terms with the images and terminology that arise in your mind when you see/hear these few representative denominational labels:  Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic, Assembly of God, Nazarene, A.M.E., Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, LDS, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of God in Christ, Quakers… and, of course, the list could go on for pages.  By some estimates there are more than 40,000 distinct Christian denominations in existence.  Forty. Thousand.

Now, some would say, “one Body, many members” explains the “need” for the various denominations.  I disagree, but that is not actually the point of this blog entry.  I will just say this about that: are the many denominations operating in unity as One Body?

Over the past several years, my faith journey has crossed, and often joined, a path upon which has been bestowed the label “Hebrew Roots Movement.”  I still consider myself to be a “Hebrew Roots” sojourner.  But that label has taken on some unfortunate connotations due to the publicized behavior of some of its adherents.  These days, I am hesitant to tell a new acquaintance, “I am a Hebrew Roots believer.” Many of us in this “exploration” are feeling the same way.  We do not want to be lumped in with the emerging mainstream definition of “Hebrew Roots.”

So, what can we do about this?  It’s not like I can memorialize my present, personal, preferred definitions of terms and expect the world to accept, adopt, and celebrate!

What I am trying to do here, I guess, is just to admit to myself and to all and sundry that I am sincerely trying to avoid being molded and stamped by external (mis)interpretations of names, terms, and labels.



A couple of my favorite (?) examples of this phenomenon go back several decades in my personal experience.  Pentecostal and Charismatic.  There is no reason for any Bible-believing follower of Yeshua to avoid these terms.  In fact, we should ALL be both Pentecostal and Charismatic; i.e., if we believe in the infilling of the Holy Spirit and the gifts that come with it.

In 1974, I had a personal experience that highlighted this label resistance phenomenon for me.  I was raised in a denomination that ardently eschewed that term (denomination) and insisted on being called a “movement.”  It is called “Church of God (Anderson, IN).”  There are many groups who call themselves “Church of God,” usually with some qualification in parentheses to set them apart from each other.  (btw, this is not what I think YHVH means when he tells us to be “set apart”)

I was working in Georgia that summer (1974).  One day I saw a little church that was from “my” Church of God.  In the southern US, there is another Church of God (or two or three) that has distinctly different doctrines about the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”  So, to make sure onlookers understood the difference, the sign out front of this little church declared, “Church of God (Anderson, IN) (NON-PENTECOSTAL).” Yes. It was in all-caps, just like that.  I laughed.  And then I wept.

I understood.  They were trying to manage the expectations of potential visitors.  Is that what we have come to?  Pre-selection of folks who might come share with us?  This is a recurring theme all over so-called Christendom.  A whole movement arose around this concept of managing expectations a few decades ago.  It is called “Seeker Sensitivity.”

OK.  So many terms, so little chance y’all will keep reading.

So…  I will not try to make an exhaustive list of malleable labels (mal-labels?).  And I certainly will not try to offer any definitions or clarifications.  But I will make a list as a demonstration of the breadth of the label-making phenomenon.  I encourage you to look at the list below and consider how YOU would define each of these terms; and how do these things look in your own life and beliefs?  Do any of them make you uncomfortable with the notion of applying them to yourself?  It is a long list, but it barely scratches the surface.


Apostle
Atonement
Authority
Baptize
Believer
Berean
Bible
Blood
Bride
Christian
Church
Clergy
Covenant
Dance
Deacon
Disciple
Doctrine
Dry Bones
Elder
Ephraim
Evangelist
Faith
Freedom
Gospel
Healing
Hebrew Roots
Hope
Israel
Justification
Kingdom
Layperson
Lost Tribes
Love
Mainstream
Messianic
Minister  
One Law
Pastor
Pew
Prophet
Propitiation
Rabbi
Remnant
Sabbath-Keeper
Sacred Name
Sacrifice
Salvation
Secular
Seminary
Teacher
Theology
Torah-Observant
Trust
Two House
Unity
Witness
Worship

Our definitions and interpretations of these and many other terms leads us to distance ourselves from each other.  We all need to be moving closer to Father.  As we do that, we will be drawing closer to each other, not farther apart.  Which do you prefer?  Drawing close to Father, or keeping a sterile barrier between yourself and your brothers and sisters?




Perhaps we should concentrate on how to walk together in faith, love, and peace.

Shalom!
שלום