Is it possible that we spend all our lives waiting for God to act while He spends all our lives waiting on us to act?
© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2016-17. Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
There is this problem among the people of God: the expectation that He will come along and fix everything that is wrong in the world in an instant. I suppose that perspective comes from the hope that one day we get to live happily ever after in some kind of undefinable paradise where the biggest problem we have for all eternity is deciding what we would like to eat. For time immemorial, Jews and Christians of all varieties have engaged in this hope, expecting that Messiah will make everything all better without us having to do much of anything. Messiah will indeed make everything all better, but the belief that it requires little if any effort on our part, or that it will be a pleasant experience, is nothing more than wishful thinking. Such is the warning to ancient Israel, both the Jewish and non-Jewish parts of the nation:
Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, and sin as if with cart ropes; who say, “Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it; and let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come to pass, that we may know it!” (Isaiah 5:18-19 NASB)
Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord, for what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it? (Amos 5:18-20 NASB)
The Apostle Paul issued the same warning to followers of Messiah Yeshua in his day, noting the direct linkage of those believers – both Jewish and non-Jewish – to the people of ancient Israel:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. (I Corinthians 10:1-6 NASB)
This is the same apostle who admonished his readers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). The application of his words is not limited to the ancient Mediterranean world, but to followers of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) down through the ages to this very day. It is important to understand that Paul is not advocating a gospel of works for salvation, but is instead issuing an exhortation for us to take responsibility for what YHVH has given us freely by virtue of faith in Him and His Messiah. From the very beginning our Creator has intended this to be so. Consider His first recorded words to our first ancestors:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28 NASB)
To put it another way, we are intended to rule with God over the part of creation He has placed under our jurisdiction (Exodus 19:5-6; Revelation 5:9-10, 20:4-6; I Peter 2:9-10; II Timothy 2:11-12). More importantly, we are to rule with God as His bride (Isaiah 62:4-5; Revelation 19:7-8).
What does one call the bride of a king? Is it not a queen? The question, then, is this: does the King of the Universe desire a queen who is fully capable of ruling in His Name and whom He trusts to do so, or is He content with a fat, lazy queen who screams at her servants if her food is not cooked to her definition of perfection?
If we think of our eternal destiny in these terms, we begin to see the necessity of trials and tribulations to make us ready for our Creator’s ultimate purposes. As we mature in our relationship with Him we should grow ever more eager for the test rather than building ever more elaborate schemes to avoid it. The eager ones who seek to please their Master will prevail, but those who seek to avoid pain most likely will succeed neither in avoiding pain, nor in prevailing over anything.
This is the subject Ken Rank addresses in his article, “Dying in the Wilderness”, recently published on United2Restore. Be careful! Ken makes some paradigm-shifting observations here. Reading this may cause you to question everything you have been taught about the End Times.
January 6, 2016
Originally published on United 2 Restore
We are part of Israel; we are children of the Most High God. He loves us, He will care for us, He will sustain us . . . and He will leave us in the wilderness with our spiritual baggage intact unless we learn how to get beyond the minutia that we allow to divide us.
This post-modern generation of the industrialized West has lost sight of the power of the Oath. That is why there is so little understanding of the covenant terminology which establishes the context of humanity’s relationship with our Creator. An oath sworn in good faith is something far more powerful than a legal procedure. It is a spiritual transaction which makes an indelible mark on the parties who take part in it. That is why one’s conscience is troubled when even the least significant promises are broken. Something as simple as committing to be at a certain place at a specified time is a type of oath or covenant. Failing to keep that promise fosters disappointment, anger, and bitterness in the heart of the one who is expecting the appointment to be kept. Hopefully the one who broke the promise will make amends and resolve to keep such commitments in the future. However, if the promise-breaker develops a habit of showing up late, or not showing up at all, then eventually his or her conscience will no longer serve as a reminder about the transgression. And then the promise-breaker becomes something worse: an untrustworthy person.
If this is the case with something as simple as a promise to be on time, what can we say about more serious promises? There is an illustration which may help. J.R.R. Tolkien delved deeply into the subject of oaths and covenants in his epic works about Middle Earth. Perhaps his most memorable account is the oath made by the Men of the Mountains to fight against Sauron, an oath they did not keep. In The Return of the King, Aragorn explains the circumstances of this broken oath:
But the oath that they broke was to fight against Sauron, and they must fight therefore, if they are to fulfill it. For at Erech there stands yet a black stone that was brought, it was said, from Nümenor by Isildur; and it was set upon a hill, and upon it the King of the Mountains swore allegiance to him in the beginning of the realm of Gondor. But when Sauron returned and grew in might again, Isildur summoned the Men of the Mountains to fulfil their oath, and they would not: for they had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years.
Then Isildur said to their king, “Thou shalt be the last king. And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk: to rest never until your oath is fulfilled. For this war will last through years uncounted, and you shall be summoned once again ere the end.”
In Tolkien’s novel, Aragorn leads his companions to the realm of these dead oathbreakers, and as Isildur’s heir calls them to fulfil their oath by following him into battle against Sauron’s armies. They answer the call, and upon winning the victory are released at last to depart in the peaceful sleep of death.
In Tolkien’s story the oathbreakers are redeemed by the descendant of the king whom they had betrayed. Their answer to his call brings an end to the curse and the blessed peace they have sought through the ages. As is so often the case with Tolkien, he illustrates a profound principle first explained in the Scripture. Yet what we learn from Moses differs from Tolkien in one critical point: redemption from the curse of broken oaths, or vows, results not the peace of death, but in the promise of life.
אַחֲרֵי מוֹת / קְדֹשִׁים
How do we love the unlovely? That is one of the questions Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise explore in Rain Man. Hoffman earned an Oscar as Best Actor for his portrayal of Raymond Babbitt, a man with autism whose family had chosen to place him in an institution after he had accidentally harmed Charlie, his younger brother. Because of that, Charlie (played by Cruise) never learns of his brother’s existence until after his father’s death. Charlie is surprised to learn that his father had left most of his fortune to a trust fund that paid for Raymond’s expenses. Determined to obtain a share of the money, Charlie entices Raymond out of the mental institution and takes him on a road trip to his home in California, where he intends to file a lawsuit for custody of his brother. The rest of the movie is a journey on many levels as Charlie begins to see Raymond not as an easily exploitable asset, but as a remarkable human being, and as the loving and lovable brother he has missed all his life.
The audience shares that journey thanks to Hoffman’s masterful performance. By the end of the movie we are still a bit awkward and uncomfortable around Raymond, but we no longer think of him as something less than ourselves. He is brilliant in his own way, far more capable with computations and connections than most of us could ever be. In an odd way he is charming, affectionate, and even adorable. Once we look beyond his peculiar mannerisms and grow accustomed to his unique forms of expression, we begin to see a person of great value. Indeed he has special needs that prevent him from functioning on his own, but we learn from Rain Man that Raymond Babbitt and others like him do have a place in society. One example of this was reported recently in The Times of Israel, in an article explaining how the Israel Defense Forces have recognized the special gift of persons with autism, and have found a way for them to make a valuable contribution to the defense of their nation. Yet even those who are not able to make such a contribution have value. They teach us about ourselves – what it means to be human. We are enriched when we get to know them.
Indeed, they are our neighbors, the very people we are to love as ourselves.
The problem with great satire is that it can be so irreverent. Then again, that is the strength of satire: using humor and ridicule to point out something (usually a shortcoming, hypocrisy, or vice) often overlooked in the routine of living. Satire can be cruel, and thus must be used with great caution. If employed properly, it moves the audience to laugh loudly in genuine humor at their own or their society’s expense, and plants seeds for reflection that hopefully will bloom into motivation for positive change.
Or perhaps not. Sometimes humor exists only for humor. That is one way to consider the works of Douglas Adams, the late English author best known for his satirical science fiction works, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It is quite possible that Adams and I could have been good friends, although our worldviews would have generated a continuous wrestling match between us. To the end of his life he remained utterly convinced in the nonexistence of a Creator, even as I am utterly convinced that there is no god but YHVH. And yet I can appreciate his masterful use of the English language, his clever story lines, and his penetrating wit, all of which he employed to point out things worthy of our consideration. Here is one example from the first Hitchhiker’s Guide novel:
The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?.
This is Adams at his best, using seemingly trivial questions with simple answers to provoke a deeper level of inquiry on the very nature and meaning of human existence. Perhaps he would be surprised to learn that the Lord God does the very same thing. The small, simple, seemingly insignificant things are what He uses to test our hearts, to discipline us, and to mature us so we can exercise greater responsibility, and all the time He magnifies His glory through us and through these processes. Thus, when it comes to distinctions between believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the differences usually are much smaller than we may think. Consider, for example, the attitudes of believers in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) regarding the Law, or Torah, of God. To define this difference, we can use the same pattern Douglas Adams used by asking three simple questions:
When are we to worship God?
How are we to worship God?
What does God say is food?
Running with the Marines
Long-distance running has been one of my favorite activities. I am not too old to try a marathon one day, but so far I must remain content with completing several half marathons. My favorite race is the Marine Corps Historic Half in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It truly is a community event. The race starts at the exposition center high up on the ridge west of Fredericksburg, and for about eight miles runs gently downhill through the historic city and past Mary Washington University until it reaches the Rappahannock River. All along the way there are bands playing, choirs singing, school and church groups handing out water, a children’s drum chorus from a local school, and of course Marines everywhere. They mark the course, direct the runners, provide first aid when necessary, and cheer on everyone just by their presence. There is something very special about a Marine, and even in a long race like a half marathon the sight of that uniform brings encouragement and confidence. And the runners do need it, particularly as the miles add up. Once the course reaches Sophia St. next to the river, it runs level for about two and a half miles, and the cheering crowds begin to thin out. About the time the runners pass the VFW post, the only people there to offer encouragement are a couple of representatives from the Rappahannock Nation, beating drums to remind everyone that long ago all the land was theirs.
This paper was presented on September 8, 2012 at a conference hosted jointly by Healing Tree International and Israel Arise at Hershey, PA, and again on May 25, 2013, at a fellowship hosted by Proclaiming Justice to the Nations in Franklin, TN.
Most people have experience the peculiar phenomenon of the pink elephant in the living room, that awkward situation in which a group of people are confronted with an obvious, but uncomfortable, issue. Because it is obvious everyone knows or suspects what the others are thinking, yet because it is uncomfortable no one is willing to address it. Therefore the issue goes unresolved and the relationships within the group, however cordial, remain tense, fragile, and shallow.
My purpose is to address the pink elephants that keep Jews and Christians from cooperating in a spirit of mutual trust and support, touching on areas of disagreement and misunderstanding that have bedeviled us for centuries. The intent is not to pour salt old wounds, but to move through the uncomfortable territory and arrive at common ground where we may stand together as one people united in the service of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This journey is beset with many openings for offense. Given the likelihood that I shall stray into one of those openings, I ask in advance for pardon, for no offense is intended. I am confident that if we persevere together, we will overcome the awkwardness and find the common ground which we desperately need in this critical hour.
This is the final part of a series comparing the words of Yeshua and Paul regarding the Law (Torah) of God.
Salvation: The Great Question
What especially upset the Jewish establishment was the message Yeshua and His followers preached that salvation comes by grace through faith, not by works. In keeping with the division of the world between Jews and Gentiles, the prevailing understanding of the day was that anyone who wanted to be reconciled to God and learn His ways needed to convert to Judaism. Formal, legal conversion required circumcision, mikvah (baptism), and presentation of a sacrifice at the Temple (when possible). Gentiles who went through that process were called “proselytes”. Sadly, the conversion process also involved complete immersion in the Jewish traditions to the point that the proselytes adhered more to the doctrines of the men who had instructed them than the Torah itself. That is why Yeshua included an indictment of this process in His confrontation with the Pharisees:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15 NKJV)
This is the third in a series comparing the words of Yeshua and Paul regarding the Law (Torah) of God.
The Very Jewish Paul
Was Paul hopelessly confused on the question of the Law of God? No, not at all. The confusion comes when we attempt to view him as a man who walked away from Judaism after he met Yeshua on the road to Damascus. That is not true. Paul remained an observant Jew until the end of his life, as we know from his own words:
But Paul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.” (Acts 21:39 NKJV, emphasis added)
But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” (Acts 23:6 NKJV, emphasis added)
This is the second of a series comparing the words of Yeshua and Paul regarding the Law (Torah) of God.
There is a story about a man who had an interesting way of structuring his day. Every morning he would close his eyes and flip through his Bible, letting his fingers choose a verse at random. Whatever the verse said would be his guiding principle for the day. That worked well until one day when his finger fell on this verse:
“And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5 KJV)
This was not what the man expected and certainly not an example he wanted to follow. After much contemplation, he decided that it would be acceptable to choose another verse at random. After going through the process again, his finger came down at this place:
Then said Jesus unto him, “Go, and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:37b KJV)
This story illustrates a common shortcoming: the practice of “verse plucking”. Those who employ this method latch onto a passage, a verse, or a piece of a verse to prove a point, but they neglect the context of the Scripture and thus miss the full meaning. “Verse plucking” is the method by which the Bible can be twisted to say anything the interpreter desires – even if it is the exact opposite of what the Scripture actually means. That is why Peter issued his warning regarding the words of Paul:
Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. (II Peter 3:14-16 NKJV, emphasis added)