Less Obvious Fruitbearing

A few moments ago I took time to look through posted photos of the destruction left in the wake of the West Virginia floods. There were homes scattered like lawn toys in their neighbor’s yards and lying in heaps of rubble. Cars and trucks were submerged in Main St. ponds or lying at the bottom newly formed sink holes, resting in impossible positions by any normal standards. “Those poor people” I heard myself whisper. Perhaps it’s not a quiet whisper that this carnage requires but rather a thunderous cry toward the heavens that poured its fury out on these desperate lives. Oh Yah! Will You not show mercy and grant deliverance for these suffering souls?”

This viewing of West Virginia’s devastation was followed by a seemingly unrelated conversation with my wife about disappointments and deemed failures at attempts to accomplish significant ministry. We have tried hard to leave deep footprints in our efforts to touch people. We want to do more than go through the motions of teaching, leading worship, writing, administrating, or organizing Feast Day celebrations. We want to see people’s daily lives producing more of the heart and character of Y’shua, where they also are making impact on the lives of co-workers, family members, and neighbors. When you don’t see obvious results the conclusion seems to be that “We must have failed somehow. What have we done wrong or not done right enough?”

At this point you might have well meaning friends seek to encourage you with reminders of how seeds planted take time to germinate and break through to produce fruit. Well, after seeds have had almost 35 years to produce something, you would think results would be seen by now! And they have. We’ve had solid successes that we can look back at and rejoice over for years to come. As much experience as we’ve gained however, impatience and frustration still mark the more recent plantings which have not yet produced. Because the current crop yet lies dormant, one might assume nothing has been done. Of course, that is a failed way of determining results.

In Yochanan/John 6, Y’shua has just finished an incredibly insightful and yet stern teaching in which it seems He intentionally offended everyone who had any targeted sensitivities. He stated, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Adam and drink His blood, you possess no life in yourselves.” [The Scriptures, 2009] In verse 60 we read, “This word is hard, who is able to hear it?” The result of His teaching is found in v.66 “From then on many of His taught ones withdrew and were not walking with Him any more.” Wow Y’shua. You just preached a sermon that ripped Your congregation wide open! Y’shua looked at the remaining 12 and asked, “Do you also wish to go away?”

What do we want to do? When efforts are not producing desired results, we might easily walk away and leave the field abandoned. Y’shua chose to follow His own teaching in Yochanan 15 about pruning to gain more and higher quality fruit. He knew these people were mainly following Him for miracles and free meals instead of fully recognizing Him as Ben Elohim and accepting the call of His coming Kingdom. He knowingly pruned the crowd down to the ones who chose to stay with Him saying, “Master, to whom shall we go? You possess words of everlasting life.” The crowds were not His fruit. These 12 men were and then only 11 would prove faithful. Actually only 1 would follow Him through His trial and subsequent death. But, these frail pieces of fruit proved to be enabled to turn the world upside down with their report of Him.

So thenshould “those poor people” I saw from West Virginia look at the mess and destruction and determine to walk away to some other place to start over again? Should they leave their friends and neighborhoods because the task appears overwhelming? Or should they remember the generations who survived storms before them and the pleasant memories of living in their towns, while rolling up their sleeves to start the clean up process?  It’s natural and predicable to overwhelmed and in shock. It’s heroic and fruit bearing to start over. You can’t reap what you fail to sow.

From their plight I take a personal lesson. When I’m disappointed in the lack of apparent fruit, frustrated with people’s lack of participation in my efforts to minister to them, or wishing for greater results, I need to offer praise for what has already been accomplished. If I take time to offer thanksgiving for all the successes and benefits I can see, lives changed, paths recognized and taken. If I thank Yah for my family, my home, my health and strength, my friends and partners, my congregational family, my tools and means of getting my jobs done, my transportation, my gifts, callings, opportunities, and the rest of the list, I may have much less to ask Him for. My home is not in the middle of a newly formed lake on Main St. My neighborhood is intact and mostly at peace. My family loves each other and desires to be together. After 33 1/2 years, Laura and I are still in love and wanting to stay together. Yah has been good and gracious, and merciful, and faithful. He has also granted me fruit for my efforts. He has provided seed for new attempts. He gives the rain and the sun of His Presence to grant new results. I can offer no other response than “I am most thankful O Yah, especially for the fruit I can’t see; yet!”

 

 

Consequential Collusion

The last thing I’d want to do here on “The Returning” would be to delve into the arena of politics, especially with the American nomination process as volatile as it is currently. The latest news items are focused on plans by two of the Republican candidates to strategically maneuver through the remaining primaries in such a way as to thwart the frontrunner’s ability to win the nomination outright. This would result in a contested Convention where anything could happen. Such is the American Election process. It doesn’t seem to matter very much what the popular votes of the citizens might reflect, as the powers that be appear to have the ability to do as they please. Like I said at the beginning, I really don’t want to go here at all.

As tasteless and corrupt as politics are, I’d like to nevertheless draw a point from our current scenario. Men and women of ability, rank, wealth, and connection seem to be able to approve an agenda and move it forward, even against the will of the masses. We may know or more likely don’t know who these people are, but they are the real authority in the world order of things; at least as far as human ability goes. And that’s the point. Man has always had an agenda, based on his opinion as to how things ought to be. One contrives the story of a better world, preaches his perspective to the disgruntled, raises an enthused mob seeking his version of justice, and overthrows by some means those who have held them down.

The Who recorded a major hit with Won’t Get Fooled Again. The opening lines state, “We’ll be fighting in the streets, with our children at our feet…” Toward the end of the song we hear the words, “There’s nothing in the streets, looks any different to me.” Of course the familiar tag line from the tune is at the end of the chorus, “Then I’ll get on my knees and pray…We don’t get fooled again.” Seems the revolution only changed who ends up at the top of the same old system.

For all our fighting and striving against man made systems of government or economics, or religion, we are really no better in most instances than when we began our revolts. The problem is not in the desire to improve one’s lot in life or to raise up humanity around us, but rather in the fact that we are yet men. As such we are extremely prone to corruption, power, and greed. Our cause somewhere morphs and mutates from one of throwing off oppression and fear to becoming the newest oppressor who rules through the same old fear. So why do we buy into what is doomed to fail and fall to the vices we war against?

Maybe we should realize that behind the scenes of the behind the scenes crowd is the ultimate Puppet Master, hasatan, the Accuser, Slanderer, Tempter of man. For his own advantages and desires to overthrow the Throne of the Most High in the heavens, he manipulates the lusts of men to stage the world for his purposes. So men gain popularity and crowds with promises of a brighter future while the Puppet Master pulls the strings, laughing at our gullible naivete’. Again The Who sing, “Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss.”  So what are we to do? Let’s examine a few Scripture texts to see.

Tehillim/Psalms 2:1-3 “Why do the nations rage, and the peoples meditate emptiness? The sovereigns of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together, against YHWH and against His Messiah and say, ‘Let us tear apart Their bonds, and throw away Their ropes from us.’ ” [The Scriptures, 2009]

So men’s attempts to self rule according to their own designs and systems of control are actually acts of rebellion against the Most High and His Messiah. Yeshayahu/Isaiah 14:12-15 says,

“How you have fallen from the heavens, O Helel, son of the morning! You have been cut down to the ground, you who laid low the nations! For you have said in your heart, ‘Let me go up to the heavens, let me raise my throne above the stars of El, and let me sit in the mount of appointment of the sides of the north; let me go up above the heights of the clouds, let me be like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to She’ol, to the sides of the pit.” [The Scriptures, 2009]

Those then who are in collusion with hasatan will suffer the same fate. By the way, collusion may be defined as secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others. Those who bank their improved futures on such devices will ultimately end up either in grave disappointment or included in Yah’s wrath and judgment against such things. We should understand that we vote for imperfect men/women to rule over imperfect societies through imperfect systems of government. We should not then expect perfection. Whatever means or men that we employ, we will end up with less than ideal and often oppressive results. Are we then doomed to suffer under these systems? No, not at all. Let’s go back to Tehillim 2 and read verses 4-6. 

“He Who is sitting in the heavens laughs, YHWH mocks at them. Then He speaks to them in His wrath, and troubles them in His rage, saying, ‘But I, I have set My Sovereign on Tsyion, My set apart mountain.’ ” [The Scriptures, 2009]

Let’s also read Revelation 11:15, “…The reign of this world has become the reign of our Master, and of His Messiah, and He shall reign forever and ever!” [The Scriptures, 2009]

The current collusion of hasatan and his minions have consequences of disappointment, failure, and probable judgment for most involved. For the rest of us who seek the best means and men possible to lead us forward, at least for the present moment, these failures of men are able to motivate us to pray for the coming Kingdom of Heaven, the Rule and Reign of Y’shua the Messiah of YHWH upon the Earth. If YHWH is laughing at the antics of the behind the scenes crowd, why should we panic or fret ourselves that there is no hope. We should pray for Yah to seat His Messiah on His Throne and overthrow the puny kingdoms of man. They will never last while His Kingdom is forever. The climatic achievement of the hasatan’s collusion is that men and women will cry out from under their oppression, “Come Messiah, even so, come quickly!!”

 

 

 

Weapons Not Carnal In A War On Carnality

Some many years ago, in the mid to late 90’s, I was pastoring a crusty old church tucked away in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. The area is rugged, the economy is challenged, and the people are unique and interesting. In the public arena, you will find most folks friendly, warm and apt to smile while they call you “Sugar”, “Sweetie”, and “Darling”, even to perfect strangers. I remember going to the local Piggly Wiggly [Supermarket Chain] and the lady checking out my groceries called me “Sugar”. I went home and confessed to my wife that a woman had been flirting with me and I didn’t know what to do about it. After a few weeks in town I realized the local custom and understood that I wasn’t that special after all.

In the church arena, things were and are much more challenging and difficult to understand. There was an often repeated phrase of “…the real power of God…” that spoke of their desire to get back to something they believed was missing. Lost somewhere in the 40’s and 50’s was a fervor and intensity of spiritual experience that had since become  legendary. Much time and talk was given to searching for the missing formula to accomplish the return of power and presence, and unfortunately, determining the hindrances that prevented the legend from being realized again. These hindrances most often were found in people, who were then put at arm’s length and corporately shunned until they found themselves somewhere else to go. My family and I were so charged and found guilty. After 2 years of struggle and mistakes, theirs and my own, we found somewhere else to be, embarking on our own search for the legend of Yah’s Real Power and Presence.

When insulted our normal response is to return words in kind. When we are accused, we tend to defend ourselves by finding fault in the accuser. Y’shuah’s teaching about “…turn the other cheek…” must have some sort of mystical application because it can’t work in real life or so we reason. There is a better way, a more righteous way to deal with accusers and slanderous defamation of our character. Rabbi Shaul of Tarsus wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:4 “For the weapons we fight with are not fleshly but mighty in Elohim for overthrowing strongholds, overthrowing reasonings, and every high matter that exalts itself against the knowledge of Elohim, taking captive every thought to make it obedient to the Messiah…” [The Scriptures, 2009] Note that the goal is to fight spiritually against the flesh and its carnal tendencies, bringing it to obedience to Messiah. When rebellion of flesh has been transformed into obedience to Y’shuah, we win and not until then.

It is the weapons of humility, brokenness, and obedience that conquer religion, that overcome accusations, and destroy the strongholds of wrong thinking. It was the assumption among my former congregation that if they could achieve unity, then power could be more than legend. But the form of unity sought was more accurately named uniformity. They pushed aside anyone or anything not thought to be like themselves. In all honesty, these dear people didn’t realize that they were only doing what had been taught to them by people they loved and respected. They fondly remembered an era of time filled with excitement and fervor, but forgot the reality of hard lines drawn and the many people that were shunned out of not conforming to someone’s ideal example. That kind of thinking is but a stronghold of religion and the very thing that prevented their finding what they were yearning for. Until the minds and hearts are changed, the power and presence of Yah will remain but a legend.

Rav Shaul says that there is a better way. We must change our minds and renew our understanding from justifying ourselves by accusing others to walking in humility and seeking ways of obedience. Familiar strongholds teach us to reason and explain away our failures while pointing long fingers at those whose sins are less than our own. But our most effective weapon is to be totally obedience to Y’shuah and His Commands; the Torah. Revelation 14:12 “Here is the endurance of the set-apart ones, here are those guarding the commands of Elohim and the belief of Y’shuah”   [The Scriptures, 2009]

In Mattithyahu/Matthew 5:25, Y’shuah taught us to be well minded with or to agree with our opponent promptly. We know that our accusing opponent in hasatan, who stands before the Father slandering and accusing us of not be righteous and faithful to His Word. When he accuses you of not praying enough, agree with him and ask the Father to teach you to pray more and more effectively. When he says that you haven’t forgiven or that you don’t love others, quickly agree and seek to release those who have wounded you and love them instead. When his accusations only urge us to grow in Messiah’s likeness, he will cease…for a season. Kefa/Simon Peter instructed us in 1 Kefa 5:6 “Humble yourselves, then, under the mighty hand of Elohim, so that He exalts you in due time.”  [The Scriptures, 2009] The way up is down, in humble servanthood, preferring others over yourself. In the right moment, at the time of our maturity, we will find a place higher to stand before Him.

Finally, I’ve learned over the years to not fight battles not worth winning and to never engage in a war that can’t be won. I knew that I could not win that former congregation over to a new way of understanding and I certainly wasn’t going to die on that mountain trying. But this warfare, this struggle against the prevailing religious mindsets and strongholds of our day, is one that can indeed be effective and one that we can be victorious in. Our overcoming is found in not resisting religious carnality with carnality, returning in kind what we are assaulted with. Rather, it is in humility, choosing to find a place to quietly serve without fanfare, and walking in obedience to Messiah that grants us a crown. Y’shuah prayed, “Father, if it be Your counsel, remove this cup from Me. Yet not My desire, but let Yours be done.” Luke 22:42  [The Scriptures, 2009]. Rav Shaul spoke of his fight saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race I have guarded the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7  [The Scriptures, 2009] Keep fighting the war worth winning.

Going Against the Grain; Again

So we’re at the climatic stages of the football season, with the Super Bowl in sight and the College Championship being played tonight, as of this writing. I’ve been a major fan of the game for as far back as I can remember, and to be honest, I can very easily get too wrapped up in it. In fact, I was watching my team play last evening in its first playoff game and they lost. I yelled at the officials, I pleaded for the blitz, and I groaned at missed opportunities. In being a little transparent here, I HATE TO LOSE. I’m not a sore loser, but I hate to lose, at anything from board games, to cards, to party games, and especially sports. I have to admit it. I am too competitive.

This urge to win is complicated by my tendency to choose the less popular brands or teams and follow my Dad’s propensity to cheer for the underdog. Growing up, most of my friends and family preferred Chevy’s, but I’ve always liked Fords. The popular team was the Dallas Cowboys, but I’ve been a Washington Redskins fan forever. As a musician I play Fender, when the popular choice for many is Gibson. Why can’t I simply go mainstream and take the popular choices and be happy with the majority when they win? The answer is I’m just not wired that way. I was designed with a preference to go a bit against the grain and see things from a different angle.

I found myself in the middle of mainstream church life, pastoring and shepherding, leading worship, and administrating a local church. I preached the acceptable and standard doctrines that were expected, trying to keep them fresh and appealing, but to a desired result. However, that thing that makes me different, that part of the wiring schematic that is unique started to affect my heart. I became discontent and wanted to find a sharper spiritual edge. I grew dissatisfied with the status quo and the urge, no, the urgency to find more depth in my prayers began to consume me. I had to go beyond talking at my Redeemer up there somewhere to finding the place where I could look into His Face and into His Eyes. I had to know Him, not just about Him. This pursuit of Him cause my reference point to turn completely to the opposite direction. I was now going against the grain and finding myself out of the mainstream; again.

In the wisdom of Mishlei/Proverbs 27:17 we read, “Iron is sharpened by iron, and a man sharpens the face of his friend.”

For an effective edge to be gained there has to be something abrasive, capable of removing that which is not needed, and able to refine and hone. When it comes to applying this thought to your friends, you don’t want to destroy them, rendering them dulled with no edge at all. You want to refine them, reveal the unnecessary parts and help them become their best. This is my hope and desire for you. You may have found the opposing grain too rough to endure and no longer can simply go with the popular flow. But there are others like yourself and others who understand how you feel. Remember that I tend to choose the underdog and the less popular. This wiring that Yah chose to put inside me causes me to believe that hurting and frustrated people can find Him and look into His Eyes. They can learn to discern the tone of His Voice. People such as yourself can absolutely find His Heart and determine what and who it beats for. It requires a process and a commitment to letting go of whatever stands in the way. You will have to choose to go against the popular and the mainstream, but that’s the path that leads to Him.

I’m just offering a word of encouragement. I choose you. I believe that Y’shuah chooses you. We may disagree and even get abrasive, but let’s sharpen one another until we both find the edge we need. Come on. Take the more narrow, less traveled road that leads to a place worth finding. That’s where Y’shuah waits.

 

Shalom, shalom

 

 

 

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.

My Journey Begins

I was raised as one of the fortunate few in the 60’s and 70’s. Not that my parents had great jobs with a large income, but that they had a strong belief in the ideas of living righteously and having integrity. The Pentecostal Church we attended expected that its people would “live right” and, to some degree, they enforced that ideal. My childhood friends and classmates seemed to live a completely different lifestyle, being exposed to ordinary things like beach vacations, going to carnivals and  amusement parks, movies on the weekends, and Dads who drank beer. All of these things were seen as “worldly” and probably sinful, so we didn’t take part and, to be honest, look down on those who did. So how is all of this “fortunate”?

What my family believed to be true according to the Scriptures is exactly what they lived out on a daily basis. The people that Mom and Dad were on Sunday morning were the same people that fed me breakfast on Monday. There was/is nothing phony about them. With all the cultural shift that took place in that era of time, with morals being challenged and relaxed, and with the loss of values, our home remained much the same.

This ideal of living out what you believe and know to be Truth has been more of a challenge than expected in my adult years. In December, 2000, I prayed a prayer that would expose truth to me in a life altering way, forever changing my understanding of what I should believe. I prayed, “Jesus, show me who You are. I’m not asking for You to give me another spiritual experience, but I want to know what You see when You see me, when You see the church, when You see this country and when You see Israel. Show me what Your eyes see, from Your perspective.” In January 2001, about 1 month later, my wife and I are flying to Israel on a very unexpected trip and an encounter that would rock my world.

While walking down Ben Yehudah street in Jerusalem, I had a sudden realization. The One I called Messiah and Savior was Jewish. I knew that He was a Jew by birth, but I had failed to connect Him with being Jewish by culture, language, and perspective. I remember looking a the merchants and the people on the street and realizing that He was like them and what was disturbing is that I then understood that He was not like me. He is not an American, with a Greek Western world view, but He sees things with an Hebraic mindset. He was answering my prayer. The problem I now had concerned what I had always believed to be true. My belief system was based on my world view and resulting bias concerning the Scriptures. I now could see that all the writers of the texts, except possibly Luke, were of this Hebraic mindset. So to be best understood in the intentions of their words, I needed to see them from their perspective. There and then, on a street in Jerusalem, my Messiah took my western focus away and gave me a Hebrew sight in its place. The pattern of integrity and living what you know to be true that I gained from my parents now required me to make choices that even they could not understand. My journey had just begun.

Barry Phillips