“I believe I’ll dust my broom.”

From time to time I need to remind myself what Matthew 10:14 looks like. The verse reads, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

For 42 years now, with varying degrees of personal conformity to Scripture, I’ve desired and endeavored to honor God by being willing to put myself out there by being willing to put biblical truth out there as various opportunities to do this became available. Here’s a summation of what I’ve experienced:

With regard to evangelism and pre-evangelism; in one form or another, often non-believers in Jesus want to engage in a I’m ok/you’re ok at the end of day who can really know who are you to judge exchange of words that doesn’t seem to lead to anything particularly constructive.

With regard to believers in Jesus and attempts to have a truly substantive discussion of an edifying theological nature; far too often such individuals really don’t want to go there; and if they are willing to go there, it’s not unusual for people to have difficulty disagreeing without being disagreeable. Sometimes this seems to reflect a tendency to react to a respectful and honest interaction and critique of one’s conclusions, and how one reached those conclusions, as being a personal attack on one’s character. In this respect both believers and non-believers are often quite similar to one another. Stepping outside our self a bit in order to take a close look at our worldview is uncharted waters for most of us. Generally speaking, the cultures and communities we grow up in don’t encourage and equip us to reflect and engage in this way.

Perhaps this sounds a bit harsh and somewhat cynical. If so, I understand how these comments could be perceived like that.  But honestly I’m just trying to express what I have found to be so in my interactions with a fairly broad range of folks over the years. And certainly some of the tendencies I speak of have been reflected in my own behavior as well. But like anyone else, I’m engaged in a process and journey that hopefully is resulting in progressive spiritual growth and increasing emotional maturity. And so when I come back to Messiah’s words in Matthew 10:14; it reminds me that the value of one’s ministry isn’t determined by the amount of positive human response one receives, but rather it is divinely validated when one demonstrates a long term commitment to communicate truth regardless of the response one receives.

Send Me!

In the waning moments of World War II, the Nazis read the writing of an Allied victory on the military wall and pulled out all the stops in a desperate last ditch effort to avoid what appeared as inevitable defeat. This is the contextual backdrop of the movie Fury http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2713180/. And despite its crude language and graphic depiction of violence, given the brutal nature of the story, I thought neither of those things was presented in a gratuitous or unrealistic manner.

Just before the pivotal climax of the film, there’s a great scene when the Brad Pitt character, an American Army Sergeant, does not require the men serving under his command to join him in a dramatic last stand suicide mission. At this point, one of his soldiers, the Shia LaBeouf character, a bible verse quoting Christian, recites Isaiah 6:8; “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” However in this instance, LaBeouf’s character doesn’t cite the reference just the text. In response, Pitt’s character says, “That’s Isaiah 6.” And then one by one all the men join their sergeant in an act of heroism that barring miraculous divine intervention will require nothing less than the sacrifice of their lives.

This scene spoke to me on a visceral level. We live in a world that’s going to Hell in a hand basket! The adversary is quite familiar with the writing of a Messianic victory on the biblical prophetic wall; and there’s soon coming a day when he will pull all the stops in a desperate last ditch effort to avoid inevitable defeat (cf. Rev. 12:12). And so even though things are bad now they’re not nearly as bad as they shortly will be!

In the meantime, right here/right now; as Messiah followers, living lives of cowardly semi-isolation is not an honorable option. We can’t retreat because we’re afraid of getting emotionally hurt if we really put ourselves out there representing Jesus to people! Of course we’ll get hurt, and other people will be hurt by us! We’re all part of a fallen race in a fallen place operating at different levels of immaturity and inherent selfishness.  And God uses incredibly flawed messy insecure imperfect people to accomplish His perfect glorious will. So, it’s time to disciple-up already!  Plus, here’s the deal; over the long-haul, despite the precarious up/down rhythm of life; if we courageously find purpose and contentment in serving God by communicating the gospel and modeling Messiah’s character, if not in this life then certainly in the life to come, everything eternally comes out in the wash. And so if part of our sovereignly ordained life script is literally sacrificing our physical life before the Messianic Bridegroom comes for His Ekklesia Bride to remove her from the world prior to the 7 year countdown to the enemy’s inevitable defeat, then so be it. Here am I. Send me!

False Equivalency

Sometimes it seems like much of largely media-driven contemporary pop-culture in which life imitates art while art seeks to imitate life, is the mixing and matching of sweet/bitter, light/darkness, and good/evil (cf. Isa. 5:20). Last Sunday night at the Oscars, following his powerful spoken word performance of “Glory” which won Best Original Song from the movie Selma; the Hip-Hop artist known as “Common” made a very common category mistake when he compared the African-American Civil Rights Movement of 1960’s and it’s heroic struggle for human dignity to the widely accepted concept of “sexual orientation.” In today’s world, the term sexual orientation is politically correct/morally neutral code for non-heterosexual behavior conflated with social justice concerns.  Yet the truth is, this “orientation,” like any other so-called orientation that chooses to live independently of God and out of alignment with His revealed will, stems from an underlying desire for autonomy and a corresponding disdain for accountability. Sexuality in accordance with the beautiful design and dignified purpose of its Creator, is a sacred gift given to human beings who already possess the essential components of personhood;  intellect, emotion, and will. The desire and capacity to express physical intimacy given to men and women who display the Divine imprint of their Creator is part of what we’re able to do for good or bad but it doesn’t fundamentally define who we are. The core of our identity, and the foundational reason for our intrinsic worth and value is that by virtue of our existence we testify to the fact of God’s existence.  And because of the dreadful game-changing reality of sin, the image of this Divine testimony has been defaced, but in no-way – shape -or form – erased!  We still retain our essential worth and value.  But of course in his maniacal anti-God obsession devoted to our absolutely worst interests, the adversary would have us believe otherwise and drink his diabolical  kool-aid which promises freedom and life but delivers bondage and death.

Whether it’s same sex attraction or different race repulsion, living on this side of Adam’s transgression means we all have sin issues for which we need Divine forgiveness to receive salvation and Divine empowerment to live in a way that’s pleasing in God’s sight.  Many of the people who courageously crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965 were individuals of deep and abiding biblical faith who directed many to a path that was both socially and spiritually redemptive – which is why Common’s common category mistake was both a disrespectful and false equivalency.

His Will Offering

The title of the Parasha which contains this week’s taste of Torah is called terumah. Terumah is a Hebrew word meaning offering, gift, or contribution. In Exodus 25 it’s used in reference to Yahweh commanding Moses to take up a free will offering from the Israelites in order to build a sanctuary in the wilderness. In context, this sanctuary refers to a place of holiness. It stresses the transcendence of Israel’s God as an exalted being different from His people.  And yet, it’s also stated in this account (v. 8), that this same transcendent God would reside among His covenant people. So what we have here is a covenant making covenant keeping God who is not only above and beyond His people but also up close and personal with His people.

In Exodus 25:1-2 we read; The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 “Tell the Israelites to take an offering for me; from every person motivated by a willing heart you are to receive my offering.

This sanctuary, called the Mishkan, was meant to be a visible reminder for the people of God’s holy presence that dwelt among them. And in Exodus 25 we learn that the offerings the people were asked to bring included precious metals and stones, fine linens, animal skins, wood, oil for the lamps, and fragrant spices for the incense. And concerning these offerings, we see in verse 2 that the Lord instructed Moses to take an offering only from those who gave willingly and from their heart.

In this narrative, the people gave freely to build this sanctuary.  And this shows they valued the privilege of having an intimate relationship with God. However, when you look at the surrounding big picture of what’s going on here; it’s clear that the Israelites found it easier to give to the construction and decoration of a physical structure, than to be obedient to the God that this structure was intended to honor.  And on this basic point, essentially the same pattern and tendency is operative today. When it comes to spiritual matters, it’s easier to give one’s money than to grow one’s character. Yet clearly, in God’s economy, He desires obedience more than sacrifice (cf. 1 Sam. 15:22-23).

In comparison to our own little and often petty action/reaction human frame of reference, it’s literally other-worldly how undeservedly merciful God is towards us. In light of this truth, and in response to this truth with respect to our sin; I think we do well to reverentially fear God first and fear the consequences of sin second. To me this seems like the proper order because our sin grieves the Spirit and offends the absolute moral perfection of the One who secured our redemption. Yes, there are serious and significant consequences when a believer chooses to live independently of God; interruption of spiritual relational intimacy, temporary removal of ministry blessing and power, and possible loss of spiritual reward at the Bema (the Judgment Seat of Messiah) for example. And certainly we need to have a rational and appropriate recognition and desire to avoid experiencing those things.  But in terms of our initial deterrent to acting out in disobedience, putting first things first seems more conducive to our sanctification journey of progressively becoming more like Yeshua in character and conduct.  And progressively becoming more like Yeshua in character and conduct, is really the crux of a His-will offering.

The Fate of Hate

Purim begins on March 4th. And this megillah is not vanilla. It’s a failed murder plot full of real life/real time reversal and irony. And with God behind the curtain – one thing’s for certain – an incident of hate is no match for a “coincidence” of fate. Divine destiny wins every time. The covenant making/covenant keeping God protects and preserves His covenant people. Plus, everything that happens happens because God either directly causes it to happen or He consciously allows it to happen. And that insures that what He ultimately wants to happen will happen! And when all is said and done, He looks good big time. And, an off-the chain steroids example of this, are the events – incidents – and statements in the book of Esther which point to God choosing to remain anonymous while rescuing His Jewish people from evil and certain death! Which is why just about every Jewish holiday can be summed up as “They tried to kill us – we won – let’s eat!”

I’m convinced we live in a day when absolute biblical truth claims, particularly those which affirm a specific end-times apocalyptic scenario, are going to be increasingly equated with jihadist terrorism! In fact, we may have already reached the point where Messiah followers who take seriously and publically proclaim the 27% of God’s Word which is prophetic in nature, are being watched by intelligence and law-enforcement agencies as possible security threats.  And that kind of cultural landscape could very well be conducive to the inauguration of some kind of future ecumenical hodge-podge of false doctrine that the satanically deployed and empowered false – messiah will eventually control and preside over.

I also think the current demonically facilitated murderous activity of ISIS is reflective of the big-picture of the adversary’s evil activity in the world. And that activity is basically this: 1) Stop Jews from living to stop Messiah from coming. 2) Since Messiah came, and since Jews must confess their unbelief and plead for Messiah to come again before Messiah comes again (cf. Zech. 12:10; Matt. 23:37-39); stop Jews from living to stop Messiah from coming again!

Given the fact that for His own sovereign grace driven purposes, as opposed to any shred of human merit, God chose to use the Jewish people as His biological means to bring His Son into the world who decisively and eternally defeated this ultimate rebel and embodiment of evil, (a victory not yet fully realized); this two-fold annihilation strategy and its corresponding anti- Messianic rationale, is the foundational first cause of all anti-Jewish persecution.  And, it’s the only truly definitive explanation for the longest and most enduring hatred in the history of the world.

The story of Esther is a powerful reminder that created beings; in both the human and fallen angelic realm, do not have the power to prevent the realization of their Creator’s plans and purposes. Just because evil has not been totally eradicated yet, does not mean it never will!  And when it is, there will be a manifestation of Divine glory on a scale that presently we can’t even begin to fully fathom; because at the end of the day, hate is no match for fate.

Once But No More

Today’s Parasha is called mishpatim; which literally means judgments. But these are not judgments in the sense of evaluation of evidence to make a decision, these are judgments in the sense of laws intended to guide the daily lives of God’s covenant people in justice and righteousness. And since the Israelites had just been released from slavery, the first of God’s mishpatim deals with slaves and servants. In Exodus 21:2 we read: “When you acquire a Hebrew slave, for six years he shall work and in the seventh year he shall go free…” The painful experiences of the Israelites in Egypt are also behind the mishpatim to have empathy for the foreigner. Exodus 22:21 states: “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” By the way that’s the verse I use when Jewish people ask me what I do for a living.  😉

Let’s talk big-picture: The Israelites were not only commanded to recognize God’s holiness and to worship Him and Him alone, but they were also commanded to maintain proper relationships with one another. And this is why the Lord addressed the subject of slavery and empathy for the foreigner. In what is commonly referred to as the Ten Commandments, the first four of these commandments focused on Israel’s relationship with God ( Ex. 20: 1-11) and the next six focused on their relationship with one another (Ex. 20: 12-17). Centuries later, when one of the Pharisees asked Yeshua which command was the greatest, He responded, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands (Mt. 22: 37-40). And Messiah’s new command is to “love one another” just as He has loved us. And in Romans 13:8-10, Rav Shaul the Apostle Paul answered the question, “What does this look like?” He said, “Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and whatever other commandment— all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.”

Here’s where I’m going with this: In order to evaluate the maturity of our relationship with God, we should evaluate the quality of our relationships with one another. Let me repeat that. In order to evaluate the maturity of our relationship with God, we should evaluate the quality of our relationships with one another.

Let’s be honest about it, our tendency is to live lives of semi-isolation. And a major reason for that is that we’re afraid that we will get hurt if we really put ourselves out there for people. Well you know what, we will get hurt; and other people will be hurt by us!  We’re all part of a fallen race in a fallen place. But here’s the deal; over the long-haul, despite the up and down rhythm of life, if we learn to find joy and purpose in loving God and serving God by serving others, at the end of the day everything kind of comes out in wash. And in terms of not only the right here right now, but also with regard to the eternal existence to come; this kind of big-picture perspective is what walking by faith looks like in terms of having certainty about things hoped for and conviction about things not seen (cf. Heb. 11:1). And so in view of our future glory, I think our present attitude needs to get to the point where we can honestly say, “You know what, if this is as good as it gets, I’m okay with that.”

I know for myself I will probably die in the pulpit. And I mean that in a literal physical sense, because in a comedic sense I already die on a regular basis. 😉  But I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m more than okay with that; it’s actually pretty good because when all is said and done, it’s all better than I deserve, and when I look up all I see is grace, why, because once I was a slave to my own insecurities and fear of getting hurt which held me back from fully loving God and fully serving God by serving others.  And that means, in a very positive way what was once true, is true no more! 

The Religion Gone Wild Card

Without question, absolutely wicked brutalities have occurred and continue to occur in the name of religion. But if we recognize this dark side of belief as part of an incessant war being waged over the eternal destiny of human souls, souls with intrinsic worth and value because they bear the dignity of their Creator, this travesty is not surprising.  Forgiveness of sin and eternal life is the absolute most important thing for anyone to have possession of.  But there exits a literal embodiment of evil that seeks to thwart our faith reception of this salvation at all costs. And for such a diabolical being, the most effective strategy for accomplishing this anti-God obsession, is to grossly pervert what is intended to show one the way to Heaven, and then demonically use that mutation to seductively direct one to Hell!

When Barrack Obama, or anyone else, plays the religion gone wild card as being the underlying reason for atrocities committed by both ISIS and Medieval Roman Catholicism; instead of galvanizing efforts to stop barbarism and terrorism, such deflection only serves to reinforce the dangerous deception that one’s personal preference is the final arbiter of what is genuinely true, and that to assert otherwise inevitably results in man inflicting harm upon his fellow man.  In actuality though, the only rational way to circumvent being engulfed by the uncertainty this lie produces, and the only responsibly way to deal with the unavoidable issue of conflicting truth claims, is to seriously consider what God has said in His written Word, and then humbly ask God if His Word is true for all people in all circumstances at all times.

For many, the religion gone wild card is their ace in the hole to justify their desire for moral and intellectual autonomy. But in real time/real life, the religion gone wild card is just a red herring in a losing hand.  And concerning the prominent purveyors of religion of His day,  Jesus said, “…by their fruit you will recognize them”(Matt. 7:20). In short, denouncing evil while also affirming absolute truth is not a politically correct disconnect, it is a holy and righteous submission to reality!