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!!”

 

 

 

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!

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