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]