Intentional Deserts

IMG_0593 IMG_0575Recently Laura and I had the opportunity to return to Israel for a couple of weeks, spending time in the Land and meeting many amazing people. We traveled through the Negev, the southern portion of the country, seeing Masada, the Dead Sea, the Caves at Qumran, En Gedi, and the city of Eilat. I was impressed with how dry, barren, and HOT the area was. I remember thinking of the newly formed nation of Yisrael walking through this same type terrain under Moshe, wondering where the next drink of water might come from and perhaps asking each other, “Are we lost?” I had to do a bit of repenting. I realized that while that generation did walk in unbelief, I had believed that I would never have had that attitude. After seeing where they might have walked and experiencing the extreme heat,  I probably would have done the same thing.

The rest of this awesome country is lush, green, watered, and covered in agriculture. The mountains have beautiful streams and the hills are decorated in flowers, crops, and colorful tile roof homes. These regions of Israel make you want to sign up and move in. But that’s not what Am Yisrael first saw of the Land. Their initial experience was hot, barren, dry, and lacking water. Surely Mitsrayim [Egypt], with the Nile River supplying irrigation and food would have been a better alternative. Forgetting the slavery, the harsh labor, and the cruelty of Pharaoh, they struggled to stay focused on what was before them and yearned for what they had been liberated from.

Those of us on this journey wrestled with questions that provoked deeper study of the Scriptures. We asked, “Is this all that there is?” While the pulpits declared how blessed we were and people around our pews seemed to be content, we stretched and squirmed, yearning in our spirits for something to free us. The sermons no longer fed our hearts and minds. The routines of songs, offerings, appeals, messages, prayers, and “What are your ministry gifts?” classes no longer filled the void inside. We cried out to Him, as the Hebrews in Egypt did, and He answered by leading us out. We left our spiritual Mistrayim, our place of confinement and started out toward our Land of Promise.

With visions of “…green pastures…still waters…restored souls…” we walked in search of what had been missing, taking our journey into the unknown. What we may have found was “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…” Would YHWH intentionally lead us out of a place where we at least had some degree of life, health, and spiritual sustenance to walk in the desert? Is it YHWH’s will for us to struggle, even with the basic necessities of insight, fellowship, and answered prayers? How long do we have to knock on closed doors? Surely wandering from one small oasis to the next, just to make some progress is not what He led us out for. Again we start asking, “Is this all that there is?”

I bring this up because I still have this same struggle and issue. I left the church system almost 13 years ago. I’d like to say that my sojourn through the desert to the Land of Promise has been full of joy and tremendous growth. The reality is that while there have indeed been awesome highlights and seasons of my yearnings being satisfied, I have also found the heat and barrenness of the desert. I’ve worn grooves on doors from knocking. I’ve literally yelled at the heavens for an answer. I’ve argued. I’ve cried. I’ve lost people and relationships that I thought were solid and dependable. But, I can’t go back to Egypt. I have no desire to return to what I’ve been called out of or to duplicate it in the wilderness. “…I count all to be loss because of the excellence of the knowledge of Messiah Y’shuah my Master…I press on, to lay hold of that for which Messiah Y’shuah has also laid hold of me. Brothers, I do not count myself to have laid hold of it yet, but only this: forgetting what is behind and reaching out for what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of Elohim in Messiah Y’shuah.” [Philippians 3:8, 12-14 The Scriptures 2009]

Yeah, YHWH will intentionally lead you through dry and barren places. He will allow you to struggle and groan on purpose. He designs places of questions and frustrations for us to walk through for at least two reasons. D’varim [Deuteronomy] 8:2-3 “…YHWH your Elohim led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, prove you, to know what is in your heart, whether you guard His commands or not. And He humbled you, and let you suffer hunger…to make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of YHWH.” Shemot [Exodus] 20:2 “I am YHWH your Elohim, who brought you out of the Land of Mitsrayim [Egypt], out of the house of slavery.” We must know Him as He really is and we must learn what is really in our own hearts. The barrenness of the desert places is His chosen environment to discern those things. Isaiah/Yeshayahu said, “…waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert…” and “…I am even making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” [Yeshayahu 35:6-7; 43:19] Believe it when I say that life and powerful hope can be found in the driest of terrain. In the struggle of it all, we are still free from what religion was doing to us. We no longer raise hands in worship that are weighed down by chains of man and his dogmas. When Yah leads us to His waters, they are without weekly sermon measures. No more a sip at a time. We are no longer slaves to the system!

Hey fellow traveler, the land that bears fruit and grants shade is not far away. The Kingdom of YHWH is indeed approaching. The growth that you experience is real and will last. You are not alone. If you look around you, you will find others are making the same journey and overcoming the same obstacles. That’s what this blog is all about; to help us stay focused and going forward. Keep walking. Find new springs in the desert. Lay hold of His reason for laying hold of you. Be encouraged. I am.

Obligation and Opportunity

For most of our nation the hoopla of easter is over, as children are forgetting about hunting eggs, and all the candy is gone. For those of us who observe and celebrate Pesach/Passover, we are still experiencing and embracing the impact of what it means to be delivered and set out on a journey into the unknown. We are still observing Chag haMatzot, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, munching on the plain, unsalted cracker bread of Matza. We’ve smeared it with butter, honey, peanut butter, cheese, pizza sauce, and chicken salad to improve the experience, but it remains that our bread these days is simple, basic, but enduring.

Beyond the matza, we who acknowledge Y’shuah haNetzari/of Nazereth as our Messiah yet have the fresh image in our minds of what He has accomplished for us. The more common thoughts are of Y’shuah revealing the purpose of the Pesach Lamb. As He shed His blood and gave His life in behalf of Yisrael, He showed the effective role of the Pesach offering, protecting their first-born priesthood, and signaling the eve of their deliverance. Y’shuah has indeed raised us from our fallenness and restored our priestly standing before the Throne of YHWH. He has indeed given Himself to redeem a people from apathy and slavery to the world’s system of living. And the tomb, wherever it might actually be, is empty of His body. He has been raised up from the grip of death, becoming the first fruits of the resurrection. He now lives to give us hope of life beyond the physical realm’s limitations, and to give us hope of breaking the authority of our own fleshly inclinations. We now can choose to live in the power of His resurrection, being raised up to a higher purpose than our choices or desires might elect.

A higher purpose. A greater motivation. An elevated desire for something of exceeding merit or worth. Consider the image of Y’shuah, alone, praying with almost agonizing intensity. His face is sweating, His words selected and uttered through almost clenched teeth. Our Messiah is wrestling and struggling over a deeper issue than fear of death or the threat of betrayal. He has already acknowledged to His student followers that He is to go to Jerusalem and “…to suffer much from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and to be raised again the third day.” [Mattithyahu 16:21] I believe His travail in prayer was over His motivation for dying.

Y’shuah was born in accordance with the Prophet’s words; in Netzaret, to an Almah/yes I believe a virgin maiden, during the Feast of Tabernacles/Sukkot, of the lineage of David. He acknowledged that Moshe and the Prophets spoke of Him, being the Prophet like Moshe, the Branch of David, and Shepherd that Jeremiah promised. He cried out for His people to make teshuvah/to repent and return to the teachings of Moshe and walk in heartfelt righteousness. He was affirmed on multiple occasions by Yah’s Voice from the Heavens as Ben Elohim. This was His moment. But was this His obligation or His opportunity?

Did Y’shuah of Netzaret die on the tree for us out of obligation as the Son of Elohim, because this was His purpose and calling, because it was the Father’s will for Him? Or did He appeal to something higher, more intentioned, and elevated? Could it not be that Y’shuah focused His heart to reach for a goal greater than following through with His obligation as the Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world, slain from the world’s foundations, to seize His opportunity instead? To be obligated and accomplish what is expected is worthy of merit and honor. It is doing one’s duty; one’s whole duty, even unto death. For such ones we give medals and parades, but I believe Y’shuah sought something higher.

To seize an opportunity is to recognize a moment that will not come again, to lay hold of something because of the worth it offers. Knowing Who He was and realizing the immensity of our need, drove Him to look beyond calling to lay hold of our deliverance. He chose to give Himself. There was no other way, even though He asked if it were possible. So He seized this moment, this opportunity to grant our release from sin and fallenness. The time was NOW if this was to be done. He was the One Who could accomplish our need. More than duty, this was compassion for,  yearning for, and defending a people who desperately needed Him. For a reason higher than duty, He loved us and chose the tree.

We can follow Y’shuah’s example. We may possess gifts and callings that we feel obligate us to fill certain roles. We lead worship because we play instruments and sing. We lead congregations because we speak well, organize effectively or because we know the most information. We give money and support because we earn a good living. We love our spouses because we’re married to them or our children because we’re their parents. We care for our families when hurt and needy because others can’t or are not available. We feel obligated and we do our duty. But through a different perspective, we can realize the Father has given us an opportunity to be His Hands, His Voice, His Passion and Praise, His compassionate leadership. We can love our spouses and children because it’s our opportunity to give them our hearts and the love of Yah for them through us. We can choose to lead because we want to seize our moment to grow people to a place beyond where they are now. Do what your hand finds to do by seizing your opportunity, not because somebody has to do it and no one else can or will. This is Y’shuah’s heart; looking beyond expectation to find elevation. I hope you find it my friend. I hope I do too.

Barry

Positive Unpopularity

Now is not the greatest time to be a Washington Redskins fan. Our record ranks among the worst in the NFL. Our starting Quarterback is sitting on the bench for poor play, the defense gives up huge gains, the offense is sputtering, and our rookie Head Coach doesn’t seem to have the answers needed to tun the team around. Last week you could pick up a ticket for a grand total of $4.00!

I was raised in a home where my Dad groaned about Billy Kilmer’s failings and prayed for Sonny Jurgensen to be put into the game. Now I stand in my living room shouting at my TV and threatening to send all of my “Skin’s” stuff back to owner Dan Snyder, along with my fan resignation letter. In reality however, I’m not a fan because my team is the most popular, but rather because their my team. And so, I’ll continue to groan, complain, and pray for next year.

Twelve years ago I walked out of the Overseer’s office of the denomination I grew up in. I had just resigned my church that I pastored and turned in my ordination credentials. The denomination was and is large, spanning the globe and numbering in the millions of members. I had spent 20 plus years in becoming a seasoned pastor and gaining the acceptance and respect of my peers. But I could not continue to pursue popularity and acceptance if that meant I had to compromise the truth of what the Scriptures were revealing to me. While sincere and well intentioned, the church I was apart of did not have room for the avenue that I was seeking to walk. After pushing the limits for a year and a half, and after consultations and phone calls, I was faced with the choice of compliance or departure. I left.

My choice prompted questions like, “If what you are teaching is true, then why doesn’t [insert TV Evangelist name] preach it?” “How can the whole church be wrong and you be right?” “If we’re wrong, then why is our church seeing so many people coming and being blessed?” Needless to say, I didn’t always have a good answer or explanation. How do you explain to someone who’s whole life is centered around one perspective that a different perspective offers a greater advantage? How do we escape the emotional attachments to what we believe and to those who have taught us? 

Large numbers, in and of themselves, do not grant irrefutable evidence that a belief is correct. A well received and popular personality may espouse doctrine or belief, but their wide acceptance does not authenticate their teaching. Not everyone sitting on a pew alongside hundreds or even thousands attends a meeting to get spiritually fed. Excitement breeds excitement. But I ask, when the novelty wears off, and it will, are you left with enough substance and foundational understanding of the Word of Yah to know how to walk more effectively? Is your life better or do you merely feel better?

For some time now my concern has been that among those who have chosen to return to their Hebraic Roots, there may be some who may falter when the novelty is replaced with reality. When they find themselves more alone in their beliefs, or when anti-semetic persecution raises up in greater degrees, will they continue to pursue Yahshua in His reality or yield to outside pressures? We must not choose to walk according to the Torah’s teachings because it is popular or our friends have chosen to do so, or because we are excited about what we are learning. We must examine our purpose at a greater level than these. We should determine that there is only One Who is worthy of being followed. Yahshua prayed alone in the garden. He stood alone at his trial. At the intensity of His teaching,  the numerous thousands had dwindled to the point where He asked, “Do you also wish to go away?”[The Scriptures, Yochanan/John 6:67] The truth is, following Yahshua has always had consequences. His Word has always divided relationships, rarely causing us to be popular.

Now is not the time to change teams. This is the time to remain focused and alert, seeking to solidify your walk with intense practice of prayer and study. This is the time to listen closely to what Yahshua’s plan for our future holds and requires for us and to count HIm worthy of that cost. Sports and entertainment will fail to be a blip on our screen. People with questions, frustrations, and spiritual wounds must become our cause. For all its modern versions and reinventions of itself, the system still leaves many seeking and asking, “Is this all there is?” We must be ready to answer that question and do so without feeling that we need to ask the same of what we’re walking. We have to know that we have found what we’re looking for. We may very well not know all that there is to learn, but we must know that we have found the way to the answer. Yahshua said, “…the gate is narrow and the way is hard pressed which leads to life, and there are FEW who find it.” [The Scriptures, Mattithyahu/Matthew 7:14]. Again, Yahshua said, “If you love Me, you shall guard My commands” [The Scriptures, Yochanan/John 14:15] We are to walk in His Commandments, even though that walk is not well numbered. Even more profound are Yahshua’s words in Yochanan 16:1-3. “These words I have spoken to you, so that you do not stumble. They shall put you out of the congregations, but an hour is coming when everyone who kills you shall think he is rendering service to Elohim. and this they shall do to you because they did not know the Father, nor Me.” [The Scriptures]

Hey, be encouraged to walk rightly. You may be lonely but you are NOT ALONE. If you have found the way to return to what has been missing, finding again the roots of our belief, and finding the beauty of walking according to His Torah, then you have found something worth living and dying for. This is not a passing fad or doctrinal crusade for new members. This is about Truth, about allowing the Word to speak for itself, and above all, about finding the authentic Messiah; Yahshua! So, come on and walk with me. Walk with us. Find the Gate. ENTER IN!

The Monster of Narcissism

We’ve entered into my favorite time of year, when the weather starts to change, the Fall Feasts are on the horizon, and when Football returns! I’ve been a fan of the game as far back as I can remember and still sport a crooked nose from a sandlot effort at playing Quarterback. However, the game has changed in recent years. Currently the NFL is dealing with multiple cases of players conducting themselves in unacceptable fashion, marring the image of the League as a whole. I think the problem goes much deeper than what makes the headlines.

I’ve been grimacing for years at the antics of those who make a great tackle, successfully catch a deep pass, or cross the goal line. You would think that they had just saved the world by their super hero gestures, some of which have become trademarked as their own. In reality they are only doing what they have been paid huge money to do; tackle, catch, run, and score. The heros of the game from previous decades would smear you into the ground, turn around and go back to their own huddle. They didn’t have the time for posing like a Mr. America contestant.

Behind the gestures and antics breathes, in my opinion, a nasty monster that also shows up in real life situations more and more often. It has already consumed our most recent generations as a whole and has quietly devoured many individuals who could have done more with greater critical acclaim. Sadly, this beast chases us on our journey, seeking to take advantage of our wounded spirits and our offended minds; conditions that man’s religious antics have left us with. This demonic plague on our society is called Narcissism, the over indulgent ego that believes itself to be the center of all things. “What’s in it for me?” “What about me?” “But I don’t want to.”  “But that’s not fair!” “You can’t tell me ‘No’!” “Look at me, see what I just did!” We’ve raised the last generations of our children to believe they need an applause, a reward, and a trophy for doing what we did as kids, just because our parents said to. The doctrine of “everybody’s a winner and nobody loses” fails to prepare anyone for the real adult world, where your skills and ethics determine what end results you actually end up with.

So, we’ve sat on our pews and stared at the ceiling tiles above us in the Sanctuary, our roaming minds wondering, “Is this all there is?” We’ve seen enough of the cheerleading choirs and heard the Pastoral coaching sermons until they fall on deaf ears. Even worse, some of us have been crushed by the behind the scenes play calling and staff maneuvers, being forced out and left devastated. At these critical moments the monster smells blood and seeks to clutch our minds in its claws. Our thoughts are filled with self protecting strategies and the building up of personal defenses that keep everyone out lest we get hurt again. “Me…my…and I…” become the subject of our conversations. We look for anyone who will console and listen, but who also will not tell us where we might have been at fault. No one should dare tell us that we need to forgive and let it go. If we become self absorbed and inwardly focused to the exclusion of others at this point, we will be consumed by the monster of Narcissism.

This journey back to Him, back to the place where Truth is found, and where we get healed and restored requires that we be real. We must be willing to deal with our stuff. We must become capable of allowing others to help us clean out thoughts and attitudes that promote the old stories and the over rehearsed tragedies that crowd Messiah out of our room. [2 Corinthians 10:5] You will never be truly free until you stop demanding retaliation and judgment by YHWH’s hand. Yahshua set the example for us by washing the feet of His complaining, egotistic, and even traitorous followers, on the last night He had with them prior to dying on the Tree. While hanging and dying for our failures, He asked that His tormentors, accusers, and the followers who failed Him be forgiven.

Rav Shaul, in 2 Corinthians 4:5 said, “For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Messiah Yahshua the Master, and ourselves your servants for the sake of Yahshua.” In v.7 he said, “And we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the excellence of the power might be of Elohim, and not of us…” And again, in v.11 we read, “For we, the living, are always delivered to death for the sake of Yahshua, that the life of Yahshua might also be manifested in our mortal flesh.” These words follow those that speak of our being hard pressed, crushed, perplexed, persecuted, thrown down, and dying. While none of those ideas sound desirable, they are indeed apart of our journey. It is only when we die, when our personal preferences and demands lie buried under a nameless tombstone, and when our antics that generate applause have ceased, that real resurrection life and power will be given to us. We are not being raised up to live for our own grandstanding, but for the promotion of His Name and for the labors of compassion that bring others to His Kingdom.

In summary, this whole thing is not about you or me. We do all that our hand finds to do and then do it with all our might as unto Yahshua. And expect nothing of reward in return. We do not seek to keep His commands for any other reason but that we love Him. Our lives are to be spent and perhaps seemingly wasted to give Him first place, applause, celebration, and a standing ovation. He alone is worthy. He alone has accomplished anything worth a reward. Our release from the plague of self is to be found in the exalting of Yahshua. “Therefore, we do not lose heart, but even if our outward man is perishing, the inward man is being renewed day by day.” [2 Corinthians 4:16]

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Hearing Someone Greater

A man of great wisdom and intelligence sat down with me recently, listening to me describe my bold plans for a new venture. After working in the music retail business for the last ten years in support of my teaching role at House of David Beit Midrash, I plan to leave the job in order to pursue traveling to teach/speak at congregations, and to build up a web presence to spread the message that I feel I have been given. The man’s eyes first stared intently as I spoke and then widened with approval. He then started to offer his insight so it was my turn to stare intently.

This wise man doesn’t claim to fit in any acceptable religious category, professing belief in the Master Designer and acknowledging that our lives are to have some higher purpose than merely existing until we die. While he wouldn’t fit in most church pews or synagogue seats, I know from our many conversations that when he speaks I need to listen. And I did.

Among the many things of which he spoke I have found one remark to remain in my thinking. “The key for your success is to realize a belief in something or someone greater than yourself. Otherwise we fall into the trap of becoming narcissistic and believing this is all about us.” I find this especially important insight as my whole goal is to teach others about the Elohim of Yisrael, indeed Someone greater than myself. Yet the trap of my labor, travel, and speaking opportunities lies in the very acceptance and hearing that I am praying for. Answered prayer can become a trap if it leads to promotion of self or if we take it as affirmation that we are someone worthy or special. The realization that we are being guided and aided by One Who is greater should humble us, not inflate us.

Another man of great wisdom and superior prophetic ability was told to confront the systems of religious deception and gross idolatry in ancient Yisrael. Eliyahu HaNavi [Elijah the prophet] contested the power of 450 priests of ba’al and 400 prophets of asherah at Mt. Carmel. At the end of the day, those 850 men were dead and fire sent from heaven was consuming Eliyahu’s offering. Shortly thereafter, the great prophet is lying under a broom tree, depressed, tired, and  praying to die. Somehow this extraordinary man became overly aware of his personal feelings. Anxiety and fear became the focus of his mind, leading him to think this whole adventure was about himself.

Believing in Someone Who is greater requires the process of humility and brokenness. Our journey demands that we learn to trust YHWH for our path and its required provision. Our reasonings and arguments that speak against His way and methodology must be cast down [2 Corinthians 10:1-6]. This process most often means testing, proving, enduring, and a long list of similar words. Ya’acov [James] 1:4 says that patient endurance leads to a state being complete and lacking nothing. BELIEVING in Someone Who is greater, YHWH Elohim of Yisrael, means that He will prove to us His Greatness in the place of our weakness and lack. For Eliyahu, that meant receiving food from birds and taking the last morsel of bread from a starving widow and her son. Her response in believing YHWH fed her family and the prophet.

This is not about you or me, but rather about Him and those He wants to reveal Himself to. There is a higher purpose, a greater goal, a more worthy endeavor IF we are willing to become set apart for it and give our selves to it. The process of humility and proving only make us more capable and resolved to get the job done. Believe in Him. Believe in your calling. Trust Him for your journey.

Fruitless Frustrations

My mom gave me some tomato plants some weeks ago, which I have planted, watered, and waited on. I’m still waiting at the moment, seeing growth and blooms but no tomatoes. We’ll continue to wait and see how this gardening project turns out.

This led me to a prayer project a couple of days ago. Not knowing what to pray but just knowing that I needed to pray about something was all I had to get started. So I prayed for Israel, the IDF, the Gaza Invasion, Shalom for Jerusalem and anything obvious. This effort stirred up my spirit to sense my personal need.

While praying I was reminded of Luke 13 and the parable of a landowner who had a fruitless fig tree. Yahshua said that he had looked for fruit for 3 years and had found nothing. His response was, “Cut it down, why does it even make the ground useless?” The caretaker offered to clear out around the roots and dung it to urge fruit bearing before the drastic step of cutting it down. Now, in Yahshua’s case, the Fig Tree is the Sanhedrin Court [not Yisrael which is the OLIVE Tree] and which was indeed fruitless. For myself, I started looking at areas that were consuming my time and efforts but were not bearing any fruit.

Consider Eliyahu the Prophet standing on the ledge of a cave and hearing YHWH say, “What are you doing here?” Consider Yahshua not being able to do many miracles in His own hometown. Think of Rav Shaul trying to convince the Jewish leadership of his day about the Messiahship of Yahshua. He left them in frustration and went to the goyim/gentiles. Running into brick walls or spinning your wheels and getting nowhere will wear you out. Remember the parable of the Sower and the Seed. Only one piece of ground out of four actually produced any lasting fruit.

If you’re experiencing the same frustration and empty fruit baskets, take courage and be reminded that one will plant, another water, and yet another reap the increase. Some of the seeds that we have planted are stubborn and will only produce after seasons of time. But we can’t sit and wait on that harvest. With what little time we have left, sow seed in better ground. We have got to find what works and what can be done now. It may be a project left on the shelf long ago, or something neglected or even dreaded in getting started. Ask for help from those who know more than you do about the field you are being shown. And PRAY. Ask the Master of the Harvest for His vision, instructions, wisdom, and favor. He desires you to be fruitful and will prune and purge you to get you to fruit bearing status. See Yochanan [John] 15.

Finally, frustration itself is fruitlessness unless you use it to act in a positive direction. Gritting your teeth and wringing your hands are not preparations for sowing seed. Use the energy of being frustrated and even angry to pray and cry out to YHWH. It’s alright to yell your prayers and become desperate for His intervention. Plead your case and intercede for your cause. Cut down the fruitless tree and plant something else or you will lose the value of the ground you’ve been entrusted with. Our Yah wants us to be fruitful and bring honor to Him, increasing the value and volume of His Kingdom. Be bold and take the necessary steps to make something happen that your fruitless trees have prevented until now. Now, excuse me while I go check on my tomatoes.