Thursday, August 30, 2012

The 23rd Psalm: Restoration and Salvation

In verse one of Psalms 23, we saw that David had made an astonishing statement: The Creator of all, YHVH, not only provided for him personally; but acting as a Shepherd, did so on an intimate level.  In verse two, he made another massive statement by detailing the level of care the Shepherd went to on his behalf.  Now, we are moving on to verse three, and yet another revelation.  (KVJ here)

he restores my inner person. He guides me in right paths for the sake of his own name. (CJB)

The KJV says "he restoreth my soul."  Most Onlyists point to translations such as this as evidence of foul play in the translation department.  However, David knew full well exactly what the soul was: The inner person.  Some people refer to the soul as the "inner man."  More properly, the soul is comprised of three main areas.  These are the mind, the will and the emotions.  It is this same understanding of "soul" that is also referred to as "the heart" in verses such as Matthew 12:34, when Christ stated that from "the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks."

So what is David actually saying here?  He is stating that YHVH brings his entire soul, his inner person, back into proper alignment with His word and will.  Adonai refreshes his mind, and refocuses him on the things of righteousness.  The Lord adjusts his will, bringing him back into line with His own.  Finally, YHVH takes his emotions and brings calm to them.  This is the refreshment of the soul.

Another thing David states is that he is led along the right paths.  What's the difference between the right and wrong paths?  In shepherding, if one were to lead the sheep down a path of brambles, thorns, and so forth, not only does one risk losing precious wool by having to cut out the offending brambles, but one also risks the sheeps discomfort as well.  If the path is rocky and loose, one risks also their less than certain footing in such conditions.

Let's move on.

He will turn back my soul: he will guide me into the tracks of justice for sake of his name. (JULIA)

Once again, Mrs. Smith uses the future tense, showing the care of the Lord pressing forward beyond just the present.  The phrasing here is also interesting, as "turning back" refers to returning to a point prior to diversion from an appointed path.  This is the same thing that "refreshing" or "restoring" does for David, as it returns him to where he needs to be.  (It should be noted that the original Hebrew does not actually have tense, so any argument over tense sensitive translation is without merit.)

Some may wish to call into question the translation of justice in this verse.  The original Hebrew, however, is able to go either way.  In this case, the Julia version brings about another interesting aspect of this verse.  While most translations prefer the term "righteousness," (meaning a state of right living and purity of heart), justice refers to another aspect, one far more familiar to the shepherd: The seeking of an offending lamb.
A lamb which spurns the rest of the flock and heads off on its own is often in for a very rude wake-up call.  Alone and on its own, it soon winds up in danger of all different variaties, from brambles and thorns to ledges, rivers and predators.  The shepherd keeps count of his sheep, and when one goes missing, leaves the flock in the care of the under shepherds in a safe a protected place, and goes in search of the lost.
This is comparable to the tale of the Good Shepherd told us by Yeshua.  However, simply finding that lost lamb is not the end of the ordeal, for the lamb must learn not to wander again.

In David's time, this was accomplished most often by breaking one of the lamb's legs.  In this modern era of SPCA and PETA, such an action seems cruel- However, it would be far more cruel to allow the lamb to run off again.  Each time, the odds of finding the lamb alive dwindle; the more the lamb runs off, the more headstrong it becomes and the further it wanders.  With each extra length of wandering, the dangers to its life increase.  Breaking its leg is not solely for punishment, but to draw it closer to the shepherd.
Once the leg is broken, the shepherd carries the lamb everywhere.  He tends to the leg and makes certain it heals properly.  He feeds the lamb from his own hands, since the lamb cannot stand to graze.  He snuggles the lamb when it sleeps, so that it maintains the sense of physical contact it needs.  He speaks to it and sings to it, so that it grows used to his voice.  When all is said and done, and the lamb can once more walk on its own, it will never again run off, so dependant has it grown on the shepherd.  It will graze with the flock, of course, and sleep with them; but when moving from field to field, that lamb will be at his side always.

Justice does not simply mean punishment for a wrong deed; it requires corrective action so the deed is not repeated, or it is not justice.  Thus, the use of justice here shows us a great deal about our common Shepherd.

He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. (NLT)
Note the first part of the NLT's translation.  This is yet another aspect of the restoration of the soul.  Of course physical nourishment renews physical strength, but the provision of this has already been addressed.  Now, David references the renewing of his inner strength.
On long walks from one distant field to another, the flock of sheep can grow weary; one might even use the word dejected.  Sheep do not like to move for extended periods of time.  They are meanderers, happy and content to drift slowly with one another across a field.  Long marches, however, can slowly cause them to be depressed, in a manner of speaking.
For this reason, when on long walks, the shepherd will talk and sing to his flock.  The speaking and singing lifts the spirits of the flock, and keeps them strengthened.  David is telling us here that not only does Adonai strengthen him physically by providing sustanence, but that He strengthens him spiritually through encouragement- The same way David himself encouraged his own flock.  David was not a shepherd aspiring to be a musician, carrying around a harp to play in his downtime.  He had the harp to provide music to his flock, and in the process, worship YHVH.

He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him--not for my earning it, but] for His name's sake. (AMP)
The Amplified sums it all up very well.
Adonai refreshes and restores David's strength and his soul- Indeed, He safeguards David's life as a whole.  Adonai leads him, and us, in the paths of righteousness- Right standing and uprightness, of which justice is a part.  However, in all of these verses, we've seen the same basic phrase ending this verse: "To bring honor/glory (for the sake of) His name."  Why?

I said in the last section that it has been a long held belief of mine that David had a revelation of the redemptive work of Christ long before it happened.  I believe firmly that David knew of this gift of salvation; knew of the Gospel; long before it was actually presented.  This section here gives further evidence of that.
The most major of God's gifts to us, which we cannot hope to earn or be worthy of, is salvation.  This is not to say that we are trash- YHVH finds us valuable enough to have died for us!  Nevertheless, we cannot attain salvation through any other means aside from Yeshua and an appeal to His sacrifice.  That is what the Amplified is saying here: We cannot earn this right standing, but He gives it to us anyhow- For His name's sake.  For the honor and glory to His name.

I used to read this and wonder why I could not be prideful, but God seemed to demand people brown-nose Him.  I wasn't being heretical; I was honestly inquisitive.  That question has remained with me for some time, even since finding the answer, because I believe that there are other people out there who wonder the same thing.  Here's the answer:
If you were a doctor who had come up with a cure for cancer, but the general attitude of the world was set against you, how would you get the word out?  The solution is simple, yet most businesses will report to you that word of mouth accounts for the majority of their clientele.

Likewise, YHVH is able to remove the most insideous and lethal disease of them all, one which modern science has not yet been able to even track- But the general attitude of the world is dead set against Him.  So rather than advertise, (a neon sign, no more war, showing up and punching the atheist, take your pick), He chooses word of mouth.
We are given salvation and redemption, restoration and refreshment, not because we have earned it or deserved it but because we will then tell everyone about how good the Shepherd is.  We praise and extoll and lift up His name above all other names; and as a result, more come to Him for the operation they need and the gift they truly desire, and the cycle begins again.

Next time, we'll look at verse four, and the immortal "yea, though I walk" portion.  Until then, may YHVH continue to strengthen, restore and refresh you as you spread the word of His goodness, mercy and the gift that He offers to all.

God bless!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The 23rd Psalm: Rest and Provision

Last time, we looked as Psalms 23:1 and saw how this verse by itself was an earth shattering statement.  From the name God is given in this verse, (Adonai), to the statement that David wanted for nothing because of the Lord's provision, the verse is full of meaning that many far too often miss.  The simple assertion that YHVH is a Shepherd, an ever present guide, protector and provider, challenges the thought that God is unapproachable.

Now we will examine verse two. (KJV)

He has me lie down in grassy pastures, he leads me by quiet water (CJB)
Remember that at the time he was writing this, David was a shepherd.  He knew the importance of two things above all when it came to sheep: Pasture and water.
Grassy pastures are more than food for sheep; they are the places for repose and relaxation.  Sheep at peace are happy sheep, and happy sheep are healthy.  Moreover, the word picture of grassy pastures, or green pastures as it says in the KJV, speaks to the abundance of provision.
However, the softness and greenness of the grass was not all there was to settling the flock down to graze and relax.  If there was no water nearby, the flock would grow thirsty after a short time of grazing in the sun and be too weak to then move onward to drink.  If the water was too loud, it would spook the flock and there would be a risk of injury and/or loss of life as chaos ensued.
Thus, when David says that Adonai leads him by quiet waters, and makes him lie down in grassy pastures, he is making another major statement.  He is saying that not only does God lead him, but knows him so intimately that He knows where he'll be best kept.  Moreover, Adonai cares for him so deeply that He finds him a place where there is not only soft, green and abundant grass, but still water to soothe and water him.

Let's move on to another translation for another look at this verse.

He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters. (AMP)
Not only does God care for and provide for David, He provides only the best.  He doesn't just provide food for David's nourishment, but the very best; exactly what David needs to live a full and complete life.  God doesn't just care enough to give him food and water, but is intimately concerned with his rest as well.
Sheep cannot sleep next to water that makes noise.  Gentle babbling is one thing; gurgling, dropping and rushing water, however, keeps them awake, paranoid and frantic.  Sheep only spend an average of 3.5 hours sleeping every day, so it is vital that they have the very best conditions for sleep possible.  Because their hearing is one of their sharpest senses, loud water's constantly alternating patterns confuse them, adding to their unease and preventing sleep.
That said, one cannot have sheep rest beside stagnant water, either.  Not only does this invite sickness in the flock if they were to drink it, but it brings yet another problem only a shepherd would know of: It offends the nose of the sheep.  Sheep have great sight, but poor depth perception, meaning they depend upon their hearing and their sense of smell to warn them of danger.  When a sheep's hearing or olfactory system is overwhelmed, it places undue stress upon them because they can no longer hear or smell clearly.
What this means, then, is that David is seen to with the utmost care and attention to detail.

He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. (NLT)
The NLT's reading is important for an almost imperceptable reason: "He lets me rest."  The KJV and other translations can often be misunderstood to mean that God forces David to rest.  While it is sometimes the case in our own lives, and undoubtedly in David's as well, that God will introduce circumstances that cause us to rest, God does not force us to do anything.
This translation introduces a vital understanding to the attentive reader: Adonai, like any good shepherd, allows His sheep to rest.  While there are times when He will cause them to rest for their own sakes, and likewise keep them awake for the same reasons, He allows them to rest on their own schedule when in a place of safety.

He will cause me to lie down in pastures of tender grass: he will lead me to the water of rest (JULIA)
Mrs. Smith's translation is unique for several reasons, least of all that hers was an already accepted version among many churches in the late 1800's.  Additionally, she was a Greek and Hebrew scholar well regarded in her time.  In her own words she wrote out her translation "...endeavoring to put the same English word for the same Hebrew or Greek word, everywhere, while King James's translators have wholly differed from this rule..."  Thus, we have this beautiful passage reflected slightly differently, thereby giving us yet another glimpse of the Shepherd.
While other versions use past tense or present tense on this verse, Julia used future tense.  This is consistant with our God and the relationship we all have with Him.  Prior to coming to Him, we do not necessarily experience plenty, nor do we experience rest or peace.  Upon returning to Him, however, we are- And it continues on throughout our future with Him.

As we conclude this section, allow me to point to the fact that Yeshua called Himself the Good Shepherd.  In Psalm 22, we see Ha'Meshiach on the cross meeting the demands of YHVH's law.  Here, we see Him providing for the daily needs of His flock- The Church.  It has long been my firm belief that David had a revelation of the redemption and salvation that was to be offered to all peoples over two thousand years later.  His intimate references to YHVH and their relationship evidences this.

There is one final note which should be made on this passage in regards to shepherding: Sheep ill at ease cannot nurse their young.  Thus, not only is God concerned with the current generation of His flock by leading them to quiet water and the best pastures, but also the needs of the next generation.  By providing the best for the adults, the young also recieve the very best care.

Next, we will look at verse three.  I look forward to that time, but until then, I pray that you will find the rest and provision that Yeshua has for you.  God bless.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The 23rd Psalm: Adonai Our Shepherd

As I stated in the introduction to this study, Psalms 23 is a psalm not for the dead, but for those of us that still live.  Death itself is never actually mentioned in this Psalm, and the word is used only once.  Yet, for whatever reason, we equate death, dying and funerals with this beautiful illustration of God's provision and guidance throughout our lives.

Without any further ado, let us begin with the first verse. (KJV here)
A psalm of David: ADONAI is my shepherd; I lack nothing. (CJB)
I love this version for the simple fact that they used in text the Jewish manner of vocal reading.  The original text uses YHVH, (what we usually write as YHWH), but the Jews do not pronounce YHVH aloud; instead, they vocalize Adonai, or in some cases, Adon.
Adon, singular, means "Lord," whereas Adonai, plural, literally means "Lords."  When used with singular modifiers, it is meant to accent the preeminence of God. (1)  Thus, in this case, David is writing that the all powerful, ever present God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is his Shepherd.
This is an astounding claim to this day, because even then as today, many believe God to be an impersonal and distant deity.  David is saying that this is not the case at all; in fact, just as the shepherd is with his flock at all times, so too is God with him at all times.  Far from being distant and aloof, Adonai is personally concerned with the wellbeing of every one of His sheep.

Let's look at how the Amplified words verse one:
THE LORD is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack. (AMP)
The Amplified here takes the very job of the shepherd and inserts it in brackets to further amplify what the Lord is doing for David- And indeed, all of us.  He feeds us; He guides us; and He shields and defends us.  Again, this does not line up with the concept of God being distant, impersonal and unapproachable.  To the contrary, this says exactly the opposite.

Let's move on to the second half of verse one.  The New Living translation reads:
The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need. (NLT)
The New Jerusalem Bible phrases this last section as "I lack nothing."  The Message says "I don't need a thing."  The Easy-To-Read Version states "I will always have everything I need."  The God's Word Version announces "I am never in need."  Brenton's English Septuigent terms it "I shall want nothing."  Finally, the Apostolic Bible Polyglot trumpets "not one thing lacks for me."
Regardless which version you prefer, the meaning is clear- God's provision for His own is complete.
KJV Only Alert

A quick aside to those who turn up their noses at these other versions and the way they word the verse: The original Hebrew reads closer to some of these than it does the King James.  The word here is châsêr, pronounced khaw-sare', and literally means "lack."  "Want" and its synonyms are implied, but are not the literal translation for this Hebrew word.  What's more, the Bishops Bible of 1568, (which is one of those listed as source material for the creation of the King James), reads "therefore I can lacke nothyng." (sic)

In conclusion for this section, I want to quote Dr. J. Vernon McGee, who said of this verse:
"The emphasis is upon the fact that there is nothing between the man's soul and God. ...notice that David does not say, I have not wanted, but 'I shall not want.' ...[this] looks into the future and gives assurance to the child of God. The security of the believer rests upon the Shepherd."
The Creator of heaven and earth is not afar off; He stands with us, providing for us completely and totally.  No other shepherd could do the job which Adonai does for us.  Only YHVH is capable of such absolute provision.

This, the  twenty-third Psalm, opens with an absolute assertion: That the all powerful and omnipresent God that created all we see and do not see takes a close and personal interest in us, our lives and the quality of the same.
Next time, we examine verse two.  Until then, may Adonai continue to be YOUR Shepherd!

Friday, August 24, 2012

The 23rd Psalm: A Psalm For The Living

How many funerals have we been to where they read Psalm 23 with all the joy of a caught fish?  Ever notice it's the favorite scripture for movie funerals?  It also seems to have made its way into "condolence" greeting cards; stories of losing loved ones; songs about the deaths of others- Even rap songs have been crafted around it as being the Psalm of choice for those within the violence of the street.

Why all the focus on death for this Psalm- Has anyone ever actually read it?!

I'm sure the majority of us have either read or heard Psalms 23 from the King James, but here's a different look at it from the Complete Jewish Bible:
A psalm of David: ADONAI is my shepherd; I lack nothing.
He has me lie down in grassy pastures, he leads me by quiet water, he restores my inner person. He guides me in right paths for the sake of his own name.
Even if I pass through death-dark ravines, I will fear no disaster; for you are with me; your rod and staff reassure me.
You prepare a table for me, even as my enemies watch; you anoint my head with oil from an overflowing cup.
Goodness and grace will pursue me every day of my life; and I will live in the house of ADONAI for years and years to come.

I bring this up because I believe the time has come for Christians to have a fundamental shift of mindset when it comes to certain Scripture.  We do not serve Kali, Mara, Mors, Thanatos, Micthantecuhtli, or Ereshkigal.  YHWH is life, not death.  Yeshua took death upon Himself, not because He needed to prove anything about His power over death, but to remove any claim death had to those of us who choose to return to our origin- To Him.
With this in mind, I want to examine this misconceived Psalm of David and show just why this is not a Funeral Psalm, but a Life Psalm.

For this study, we will be using the Complete Jewish Bible, the Amplified Bible, the New Living Translation, the Julia E Smith Translation, and I will link to the KJV for those who desire it.  I will also reference other versions when their wording can be used for clarity and emphasis, but these others will not be directly quoted from.

Get ready, my friends.  This will be an eye-opening event.

NOTE: Second installment is finished and POSTED- Click here.  Third installment is finished and POSTED- Click here.  Fourth installment is finished and scheduled to post August 30.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Denominations: Not Divisions, But Organs In The Body Of Christ

Recently, I received a private email from someone in Greece who stated that they were concerned that we here at WarriorSoul are espousing a rather dim view of Christianity and the denominations within it.  This person's concern was that we seem to stand against various denominational churches within Christianity.  In other words, we seemed to this individual to be setting ourselves against the Body of Christ.
This, however, is not the case.  Speaking with the other founders of this ministry, and praying about the concern as well, we have decided to reprint the following article.  We here at WarriorSoul Ministries do not have a problem with denominations in general; as with most things of this nature, problems stem from certain people within the denominations.  
For instance, we have no problem with the doctrines of the Southern Baptist denomination, because their statement of faith remains the same as our own- They believe in One God who exists in Trinity as the Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost.  They believe Christ was born of a virgin as prophesied, died once, rose and ascended to the sky.  They believe He will return again.  Are there doctrinal differences?  Yes, of course there are; these are not enough for us to disavow the denomination.
The problem lies with the people within each and every denomination.  Any time someone states that the only true Word of God is the King James Version and that all other versions are from the devil; any time someone states that the Pastor's word is above question; any time someone states that women MUST wear this and not this, or that men MUST have hair of this length and not this- These are human issues, man-made laws that are not God's own, and these are what we take issue with.

Without further ado, here is the entry on denominations with the Body of Christ. ~Andrew, on behalf of WSM

God is far too complex for us to be able to comprehend a full revelation of who He is. Thus, he has allowed different aspects of Him to be seen by different people. Also, as humans, we are so varied that what helps me get into the throne room of God may not work for the person next to me.

I may enjoy lifting my hands and shouting praises to the rafters, whereas they may be much more focused on God if they are holding a hymnal and singing in a reverent tone. The other gentleman next to me might be the sort of willing vessel to jump and whirl when the Spirit comes upon him, while the woman next to him, because of her past, would not feel safe in anything but a carefully ordered service.

Thus, we have denominations, which are really only single words or phrases that sum up that church's approach to worship, Bible study, and prayer. Some of these are spawned due to rebellion, but some are very much acting upon a true revelation of God.

Very often, even those that originally began in rebellion have been blessed once that sin has been confessed.... Martin Luther rebelled against the "church" of his time because of a revelation of God and the meaning of His word.
Was the rebellion necessary? Only he and God know for certain, but the fact remains that it is because of him that many of us now know how to truly read and understand the Word of God.

As people come to know Christ, depending upon their prior lifestyle, God moves them into flocks that will minister best to their individual needs.

Someone who was an atheist for example, may not be able to get into the "Holy Spirit thing" right away, and thus God places him in a body that focuses more on the Word.
As he grows spiritually and develops, perhaps God will lead him into a new body, an new denomination even. Then again, perhaps not. His calling may keep him in that place, meant to instruct those who follow after him.

Or perhaps a former witch comes to knowledge of the Lord because of the Spirit she can feel around the Witness. She would, perhaps, be led to a Spirit manifesting church... One in which the Spirit that drew her can continue to love on her.
As she matures, perhaps she'll be led to another church or denomination, one that focuses more on the Word and it's study. Perhaps not. It may be her calling to become so filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, that she can simply enter a room and clear it, thus being able to witness to those in it unimpeded.

Either way, simply because someone hops, runs, walks, crawls or shuffles down the Straight and Narrow, the major thing that matters is that they are moving forward along it. If they are not moving, or not moving forward at all, then yes, there is a problem there.
If they have stalled, then there's a chance God is doing some major repair work. If they are falling, get out of the way, and take as many true believers with you as possible.

Some may feel that last part was too heavy handed, but let me be clear. When a church body is pronounced dead and lifeless by God Himself, it is time to leave. Period. Anyone staying will indeed be brought down with the ship- they either are too blinded, or they've got something to lose.

I've found this test to be true- The Word says to test the spirit with Spirit. Thus, ask the Lord to reveal if this particular church body is within His will. Because when it comes down to it, it's really not the entire denomination that's wacky, it's the individual bodies.

This was all brought about by a verse in the Bible, actually, in Acts...
I believe it was Gamaleil who stated that if this thing is not of the Lord, it will fail, but if it IS of the Lord, then we are powerless to stop it.
And there have been denominations who have fizzled into nothingness. And there are churches that have done the same.

So after reading that, I got this vision of the human body, and how all the organs are supplied blood, and they all work together. If one organ stops allowing the blood to leave it, it ceases to function correctly, causing the Body to weaken. This also will eventually cause the blood to stop flowing to it, which will cause a hemorrhage if left untreated.

So too the Body of Christ has many different parts that do many different things, but we all operate within the Body of Christ, and thus, MUST work together.

Originally appearing on Renegade's Rants, December 13, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2012

Jihad Within

I find that one can read to the heart's content on subjects such as investigation, politics, law, medicine, and so on, but it is never anywhere near as fulfilling as speaking with an experienced person within that particular field.  Likewise, one can read all there is to know about Mormonism, Witchcraft, Atheism and Islam- But it does not beat the understanding one can develop after speaking about it with someone who actually practices.  It is, of course, vital to remain distanced to some degree, as well as to be well versed in one's own faith and prayed up; but if one is led to do so, a conversation on other beliefs with one who holds those beliefs is invaluable.
For instance: I have regular discussions with an older gent whom I'll call Ali.  This man is an Imam that lives here in the States in virtual exile.  Our discussions range from the day-to-day conversation of two friends, ("We can't get this rain to go away!" "Send it our way, all we've had is sun!"), to more focused political or theological discussion.  Some of our most interesting conversations have been about the finer points of Islamic theology, and perhaps most interestingly, the subject of Jihad.

In the event that some of our readers do not know much about Islam, allow me to backtrack and state that there are several pillars of the faith, and by pillars I am also referencing their "articles of faith."  There is the Shahada, or proclamation of faith- "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger."  There are the prayers, for which every true Muslim must kneel on their prayer mats facing Mecca, repeating them a prescribed number of times.  There is the Hajj, which is a journey to Mecca that must be taken at least once in the life of a true believer.  There is the observance of holy days, such as Ramadan, during which a devotee may eat nothing during the daylight hours.  Finally, there is the Jihad.  (NOTE: I've only touched on some of the pillars of Islam; depending upon the sect, there can be many more.)

Jihad, according to Ali, can take three distinct meanings.  The first and most widely publicized is the holy war against Infidels- Anyone who is not a follower of their prophet.  (Some Muslim scholars now say that this form of jihad can take on the form of either words or weapons.)  The second, and less well known, is a holy cleansing war, in which those Muslims who are not unwaveringly devout are slain.  (Many Muslim scholars deny this, yet the teaching is found within the highest religious teachings reserved for prospective Imams.)  Third and lastly, the least reported is that of the internal jihad; the war all devout Muslims must wage against the sinfulness within.  Ali is now a political refugee for suggesting that this last type of jihad is all that is truly left to the Muslim.

While discussing this point, Ali said something that was very interesting in the "double take at the train wreck" kind of way.  He said:
"This is not so different from Christianity, you know."
The religious side of me immediately started shouting "Oh, he did NOT just say that!"  The analytical side of me was attempting to calmly say "Now wait- Let's hear him out."  In the chaos, my mouth got confused, and working completely independent of my brain, pulled off my best Porky Pig impression ever:
"Uh, b-dee, b-dee, b-dee, uh, uh... How so?"

He began to quote verses from the New Testament rapid fire, like some sort of spiritual AK.  "Take up your cross and follow Me"; "if any man wishes to be My disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me"; "we are dead to sin and alive in Christ"; "for this reason, I crucify my flesh," and so on.  When all was said and done, I was left with two thoughts above all else.
The first thing that hit me was that this man knew the Bible better than I did, and that brought some major conviction.  There are people in other parts of the world that memorize every scripture from cover to cover so that it can then be passed on to the next eager believer.  I've got four or five Bibles within reach at any given time, and I can barely quote five or six verses with their references.
The second thing was that Ali; Islamic Imam, trained and brought up in the Qur'an and the complete Hadith collection at Mecca itself; was absolutely right.  How I'd missed it before, I do not know, but there it is.  Jihad means "holy war," and we do fight against our flesh daily.  The difference is that we as Christians rely upon the strength of the Holy Spirit to be successful; Muslims must attempt this in their own human strength.  No wonder so many prefer to focus upon the jihad against infidels- Dying in holy battle absolves all of their sins, as opposed to having to fight their own sin nature.

So, dear reader, there is a major open door for ministry to the Muslim world- The simularity between Islamic and Christian jihad against the human sin nature, and the differences therein.  Until that opportunity arises, though, let us continue our daily jihad against our own flesh.

God truly is great!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Model Family, Model Bride

(Author's Note:  This is the devotional I brought forward at this month's men's breakfast.  Though it is written specifically towards men, I believe that women will find it of interest as well.  God bless you all!)

Her children rise up and call her blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied); and her husband boasts of and praises her, [saying], many daughters have done virtuously, nobly, and well [with the strength of character that is steadfast in goodness], but you excel them all.  ~Proverbs 31:28-29 (AMP)

Most people know this as the "Virtuous Woman" passage.  It also offers instruction to husbands, children and encouragement to the Bride of Christ.  We'll look at this here today.

Note first that the children bless her.  We all have mothers, and if they still live, we need to bless them; whether we feel they deserve it or not.  "Her children rise up" - They take an active role in doing this.  They do not just sit on the sidelines and ask for blessings to fall upon her; rather, they speak those blessings forth into existence.

Now, look at what her husband says to her.  He is expressing his satisfaction in her; his joy with her; and his fidelity to her.  How many times have we heard the women in our lives speak about feeling as though they don't measure up to other women?  The virtuous husband builds his wife up by assuring her that the only reason she does not is because she stands head and shoulders above them all.  He is telling her that his eyes see only her, and she is a precious treasure.

Ecclesiastes 9:9 - 
"Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil." (NLT)  
This passage tells husbands to live in joy with his wife all of his days.  This passage gives us an example of this in action.  Song of Solomon 8:7 -
"Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man would offer all the goods of his house for love, he would be utterly scorned and despised." (AMP)  
Read that carefully, for it tells us that nothing in this world can buy the love a husband and wife share- It should be treasured, not despised or taken for granted.

These two verses in Proverbs also speak to the joy of the family as a whole.  When we are operating in full alignment with the Word of God, there is joy and assurance within the family that no one can take away.  Indeed, we see this in Micah 4:4 -
"Instead, each person will sit under his vine and fig tree, with no one to upset him, for the mouth of Adonai-Tzva’ot has spoken." (CJB)

This passage also gives encouragement to the Church, for as Matthew Henry said, "God by His grace has formed from sinful men a church of true believers, to possess all the excellence here described" in Proverbs 31:10-31.  Verses 28 and 29, then, show us a picture of what we are to strive for in our daily walk.  A makes the point that we ought to live in such a way that we are held by those who know us best in high esteem; that those who see us at our lowest and our worst can nonetheless speak only blessings upon us, so well we serve the example of Christ.

Moreover, when we as Christians are living in the will of God; surrendered to His Word and doing nothing except by His strength; we serve as an example for the next generation.  They look back on us, as we look back on others, and bless us, as we bless those before us for their excellent example, instruction and encouragement.

Finally, Christ, our Bridegroom, praises us in the same manner when we live according to His Word.  He encourages us and builds us up- Reminding us of our future joy, and telling us not to compare ourselves with others.  His love is for us, and we surpass all others in His eyes.

So, in conclusion my friends- Be men of God.  Let us bless our mothers; build up our wives; provide the right example for the next generation; and be the Church that Yehshua earnestly awaits to rapture and bring away to Himself.  In His grace and mercy, we do not have to be perfect; in His strength, though, we can do all things.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Things of the Unseen

As Christians, we are told over and over that we are to be aware of the very real nature of the spirit realm.  I use the term generally in order to reference all things that are hidden to the eyes of man, but which are nevertheless very real.  Angels, demons, and all other created creatures which are not seen with the natural eye are still as real as you and I, and should thus be granted the same amount of respect as that which is given the things of this physical realm... At the very least.
Ironically, the majority of the secular world also believes, to some degree, in the existence of the supernatural.  The most popular thriller and horror movies incorporate aspects of the unexplained, and shows such as Ghost Whisperer, Medium, and Ghost Hunters enjoy large followings even now.  I say this is ironic because, as one Christian rap artist observed:
"They scoof at the Bible and the things that it tells- They'll believe in stars and astrology but not in Heaven or Hell?!"
What is, perhaps, most ironic is that within the Christian community there remains a strong disavowal pf anything supernatural that isn't easily relegated to one side or the other.  Concepts such as ghosts, invisible creatures, or crying/bleeding statues are looked upon as imagination, or most popularly, things straight from the devil.  With the way mainstream Christianity reacts to these paranormal activities, it's no wonder we are portrayed as crackpots and worse in modern entertainment.  (The Waterboy's mother comes readily to mind with her oft repeated phrase "it's the DEVIL!")
So, what I'd like to do today is an exercise in broadening the mind.  We'll examine several kinds of phenomena, and look to the Bible for commentary.

Let's start with crying or bleeding statues.  This is very often associated with Catholicism, and usually involves a statue of the virgin Mary or some other saint bleeding or crying.  Most often, healings or some other sort of miracle occurs from physical contact with the liquid, and this is usually followed by a surge in faith.  It is important to note also that the majority of these events take place in areas where signs and wonders move people more than words.
Now, when addressing this topic, I am often referred to the writings of Jack Chick, whose take on this sort of happening is always that it is of demonic origin.  Friends, whatever you do, don't base your theology on ChickTraks.  He firmly believes the Catholic church to be Satanic, and rejects the fact that Protestantism sprang from Catholicism; instead, he espouses the exact opposite which is completely contrary to historical fact.  Anyone that rejects truth and substitutes their own should, at the very least, be viewed critically.
This to the side, the Bible is full of accounts regarding inanimate objects being used to give signs and wonders to those people who placed less stock in mere words.  The stone giving water twice; the burning bush that wasn't consumed; the idol of Dagon falling before the Ark of the Covenant; these are just a few examples of such cases.  Even Christ warned that the rocks would cry out praise if the people did not.  A crying statue in comparison?  Why not!

Ever heard people talk of seeing dragons, or any other sort of creature that no one else has seen?  How often they are ridiculed!  These are creations that are mythical or invisible; things no human eye can see and no one has ever recorded scientifically- Of course jeering and derision is the default response to such claims!
Yet in Ezekiel, the prophet writes about creatures that are otherwise invisible.  In Revelation, John observes a pestalence- a kind of locust/scorpion hybrid that no human has ever seen.  Pterodactyls are supposedly extinct, yet sightings are reported every year around the world.  Moreover, anyone who claimed to have seen a Coelacanth was thought crazy... Until, that is, a fisherman ended up with one in his net.

Ghosts are a favorite for church disparagement.  Every ghostly encounter is immediately and gleefully condemned as demonic activity.  I will agree that the majority of these are, in fact, the work of familiar spirits... But not all.  The Bible itself offers proof that the spirits of humans can, on occasion, appear to the living.  Look at Samuel's ghost appearing to Saul- Had that been a familiar, the witch's reaction would not have been nearly so violent, considering she would have dealt with familiars on such a regular basis it would have been a ho-hum matter of course.

In its zeal to paint the devil for what he is, the Church misses hundreds of opportunities to introduce the supernatural of God to unbelievers, and that is a tremendous disservice to both parties.  So, the next time you hear of some supernatural occurance, dear reader, do as the Bible instructs: Test the spirit of the account with the Holy Spirit.
Then, seize the opportunity to open that person up to the supernatural God of Creation, for Whom nothing is impossible.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Waffles, Bacon and a Side of Prayer

I am a breakfast kind of guy.  I love breakfast food, and at any given time of day I'm as likely to be eating oatmeal, pancakes or cold cereal as I am a "normal" lunch or dinner.  Don't get me wrong, though- I'll plow through steak, pork chops, or a good bowl of pasta in a heartbeat!  I just like breakfasts because of the great memories that come with them.

On Saturday mornings, Mom and Dad would work together to make breakfast for us kids.  Sometimes, it was a simple pot of oatmeal.  Other times, it was pancakes or french toast with bacon and eggs.  No matter what it was, one thing remained the same on a regular basis: We'd eat breakfast as a family.  It was the best day of the week, and the best time of day, as the morning sun shone brightly and we gathered around the table together with a promise filled day ahead of us.

As life dragged on, the family breakfasts grew more and more infrequent, until it was nearly a miracle to get us together at the table for any meal.  Communication began to crumble, and the family followed closely behind.  Without the support of one another, we began to make bad choices all around: I fell headlong into a pornographic addiction; my sisters began dating and befriending people of dubious influence; and my parents' marriage dissolved into resentment, hurt feelings and heartache.
Soon, the only communication we had took the form of either written notes or face to face arguments.  There was a day, shortly before my parents separated, that my Dad called the house and I didn't recognize his voice.  That moment sticks with me because, all fault to the side, no child should ever forget the voice of a parent who took an active part in their lives.  In fact, the memory haunts me to this day- In that until recently, I never knew what had gone wrong.  My family had survived car accidents, a catastrophic fire (read more here), economic hardship and several church splits...  So what went wrong?

Over a Men's Breakfast of Belgian waffles, sausage, hashbrowns, eggs, and a side of bacon, I mulled over this question once again.  As I stared idly at the smaller plate of bacon, my pastor began talking about prayer and the importance of it.  I had learned a while before that prayer was a means of communion with God.  Then, suddenly, everything seemed to fall into place.

You see, I've never ordered a plate of bacon and a side of waffles.  Waffles are a main course; bacon is a side.  (Though it is an excellent garnish for salads!)  Sometimes, though, we order a side of prayer, instead of making it our main course.  When we do this, our communication with God begins to falter, and soon our relationship with Him begins to suffer.
Likewise, it was the communication between my family that was the lifeblood of our relationship.  When that began to fail, the family began to suffer.  It was no one person's fault, though we all had a hand in its demise. When we stopped communicating, the family began to fall apart.

When we do not communicate with God, our lives suffer for it.  So remember- When it comes to prayer, order it as the main course...  And get the waffles on the side.