Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Last Jedi and Other Stuff, etc.

I noticed my last blog post was so long ago.  HA!  It was about my wife being pregnant with our son.  Much has happened since then.  The idea of journaling is wonderful, but having children, a job, and being in ministry kind of keeps you from the idealistic vision of someone in a tranquil setting with a cup of coffee / tea and writing down everything that is going on in their lives all the time or typing out their lives in their blog surrounded by such serenity.  Do people do that stuff?  People with families, I mean.

Long story short, my boy is 3, and he is all boy.  His name is Yosef David Manolis.  We call him Yosi.  I love him more each second he exists.  My daughter is almost 1.  She was a mystery from the moment she was conceived, which is a story for another post, and she still has the countenance of one who has some sort of secret.  She's more reserved than her older brother, is strikingly beautiful, and has firmly staked her claim on a portion of my heart forever.  Her name is Chesed Ya'el Emunah Manolis.  We call her "Kes".  Her name Chesed means "lovingkindness".  Her two middle names are Ya'el and Emunah.  We gave her this middle name after the Ya'el of the Bible who bravely killed the wicked king Sisera.  Emunah was added later after we went through an excruciating period during the pregnancy when we thought she wasn't healthy.  Emunah is generally translated in Hebrew as "faith".  Faith was all we had during this time.  I feel for her when she gets older and people try to pronounce her name.  Sorry sweet girl, talk to God.  He was the one who called the shots regarding you and your brother's names.  Long story short, I have two great kids that continue to bring the best and worst out of me. 

So, The Last Jedi, what about that movie?  I'm not going to defend it.  This is just me explaining why I truly loved the film and found a great deal of meaning in it.  I wrote this blog post right after I saw the movie and I've kept it in DRAFT form for like three months.  I'm not sure this is ideal return to blogging.  Anyways, I've been a Star Wars fan ever since I can remember.  I saw Return of the Jedi at the theatre when I was 4.  I've always loved the movies and at one point of my life, was a huge collector of the toys.  I'm a major geek, and I'm a Star Wars fan, through and through.  I love the original trilogy.  The Empire Strikes Back is definitely my favorite Star Wars film and probably always will be.  Regarding the prequel trilogy, let's just say I enjoy what good I can mine from them, which is mostly Ewan MacGregor's portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

I loved Star Wars Episode 7:  The Force Awakens.  I'm a major fan of J.J. Abrams as a director.  I often refer to him as this generation's Stephen Spielberg.  He's gifted.  He had the daunting task of continuing a hugely popular and important story many people thought was concluded.  He had to create a continuity of an epic story and establish new characters to continue it.  The result was Episode 7:  The Force Awakens, and it was a great film.  Old and new characters, and some good and bad surprises were throughout.

When we get to the end of Episode 7, our new protagonist, a gifted-in-the-Force young woman named Rey has truly begun her journey into the great mystery set before her.  We Star Wars fans, who have idolized the great Luke Skywalker for so many years, imagined what he had become, wondered what happened with his life-narrative after the big Ewok party, finally see him.  He's aged.  He's wiser.  But something is wrong too.  We know some of what has happened based on cryptic flashbacks.  We know that Ben Solo / Kylo Ren, Han and Leia's son, who would no doubt be strong in the Force, would flourish under Luke's teaching as one of his new students but then became corrupted, turned to the Dark Side, and burned everything Luke built to the ground.  When Rey encounters Luke at the end of the film and holds his father's lightsaber out to him, it's iconic.  She doesn't quite understand the meaning of what she's doing.  She's following her path one step at a time, yet she knows what she's doing is greater than herself, even if she can't see all of it.  She holds out the lightsaber.  She seems to be asking a question.  "Who am I?  What is happening to me?  Can you help?"  Luke sees his dad's old lightsaber, and by the look of his expression, has realized a bitter truth, that those who are called to a Goodness greater than themselves simply can't just run away and escape their destiny to finish their part in that Goodness, no matter what.  Then, it's over.  We're left only to look forward to Episode 8.

Here come the spoilers.  When Episode 8 arrives, we pretty much pick right up where Episode 7 left off.  The big question is about to be answered.  What will Luke do with the appearance of Rey and his dad's lightsaber?  Well, he takes the lightsaber, then tosses it behind him like a piece of garbage.  Okay.  I get it, Luke.  That made me kind of wince.  Even still, I loved Luke in Episode 8.  Unfortunately, it was one of the things that many people seemed conflicted or dissatisfied about.  So, now that this is all prefaced as good as possible, here goes why I loved Episode 8.

1) Luke - This is probably the most important talking point.  Luke was the most important part of the film.  Heck, the poster has his massive face in the background.  Unfortunately, it seemed that a lot of people thought Luke wasn't portrayed well.  People couldn't seem to handle the man he had become in the winter of his life.  What's crazy is that even Mark Hamill, the actor who portrayed Luke, felt like he was playing a different character than the Luke he helped create in 1977.  My question is, why couldn't Luke be the way he was in The Last Jedi?

Does this not happen to us?  When applying this to my own life, I remember when I was younger, and idealistic, and was wide-eyed about entering ministry and serving the Lord much like a young Luke Skywalker ready to join the Rebellion against the Empire.  "I love God.  I want to make a difference in His Kingdom.  I want to fight the Good Fight!" I said.  This is a good thing, mind you, but there are costs to fighting for the Kingdom of God.  At the outset, we see doing good as glorious and pure and worthy.  AND IT IS.  I still feel that way.   Yet, in any narrative - fiction or non-fiction, when have the good guys ever NOT encountered defeat, peril, heartbreak, betrayal, disaster; things that can change them forever?  I've been in ministry for 12 years and I've experienced all of these things in some form within myself and from other people.  Let me tell you, these things change you.  I still love God.  I still love His Kingdom.  I still long to serve God and make a difference in His Kingdom.  But, the perils I and my wife have faced over our years of fighting the Good Fight, have changed us.  We serve in God's Kingdom but live in a world that counters it.  Those who die to themselves truly live, those who bow low are exalted, and so many times, winning feels and looks so much like losing.  It's hard.  It's very hard.

I don't fight with a lightsaber, so I'd say my weapon of choice is a guitar.  Like Luke and the lightsaber in The Last Jedi, I've had moments where I wanted to throw my guitar behind me, hang it on a wall, or even smash it.  Brooke has left her keyboard to collect dust before.  Ask her and she'll tell you.  Let's be honest here.  Who hasn't had to fight being jaded?  The fact is God is glorious and pure and worthy.  Service unto God is glorious and pure and worthy.  But then there's us.  And I don't mean people in general.  I mean Believers.  God's people.  We, are messy and broken and struggling.....on the road to being glorious and pure and worthy.  We make mistakes.  We don't always know what to do.  We aren't consistent.  We hurt ourselves.  We hurt each other.  We've not arrived...YET.  If that's not enough, there's the Adversary who moves to and fro, looking to devour.  Not that there isn't hope for our journey.  The fact that we are the objects of God's affection is enough to at the most cause us to leap and shout for joy, or at the very least, cause us to continue hanging on by a thread.  Whether we are leaping and bounding for glory, or dragging under the weight of affliction for glory, we are fueled by the love of God.  And however much or little we are moving forward, we are blessed.

This leads us back to Luke.  When we see him in Episode 8, he's taken a long break from moving forward on his road of destiny.  He's stopped altogether, and I think a lot of fans were unhappy with that.  They wanted the Luke who was daring, bold, and full of righteous zeal; the Luke who reproved an older Han Solo about doing the right thing in "A New Hope"; the Luke who redeemed his fallen father and saved the Galaxy.  Well, Luke got jaded, guys.  That might not make for a great reveal after all these years, but it sure as heck was realistic.  The fact is, we have to step back and look at Luke as a person.  Looking past "the lightsabers and explosions", true fans should see what kind of person Luke is.  He's idealistic.  He's ambitious for good.  He stands up for what's right.  BUT.  What isn't Luke?  He's NOT even-keeled.  If you want that, stick with Han Solo.  Han, though his character evolves some, is pretty much the same throughout the films.  Luke, however, is a man of extreme highs and extreme lows.  He's not always consistent.  He has moments of being hopeful, then moments of despair.  Moments of great confidence, then moments of great frustration.  We see his victories, like when he demonstrates complete faith in the force and destroys the Death Star without using the "targeting computer".  We see his failures, like in "Empire", during his training with Yoda, we see his impatience and doubt.  His faith in the Force totally wavers during his training with Yoda, which culminates in him rejecting the Jedi Master's advice and in foolhardy fashion, rushes to confront Darth Vader, and fails.  Master Yoda deems him "reckless".  In "Jedi", Luke has the ultimate bounce back.  He's wiser and more experienced, when he strode into Jabba's Palace to save Han Solo and never batted an eye and executed the perfect plan, it's amazing to watch.  Then, despair again.  When Yoda informs Luke he must face Darth Vader again, he initially refuses.  Luke has extreme, if not unstable emotions.  If you asked me who I would rather be in a Hoth trench with during an Imperial assault, I'd say Leia.  She has all of Luke's prowess, but it's wonderfully encased in stoic temperance.  Leia's kind of more bada** than Luke in some ways.  Hold on though.  We need Leia.  But we also need Luke.  We need the stability and comfort provided by Leia, but we also need the righteously daring, haymaker-lightsaber-slashing Luke.

If the Rebel Alliance was an arrow, Luke was the sharpened head of the arrow, and Leia, the feathers that gave the arrow true aim.

All this to say, with Luke's extremes, it made perfect sense that he would give it all up and run in a fit of dismay, despair, and overwhelming guilt.  In his mind, he failed his students, and Obi-Wan, and Yoda, and Han and Leia, AND everything that's good in the galaxy.  He was the NEW HOPE.  He was one who breathed new life into the Jedi Order, then blew it.  Had it been Leia, she'd have had a moment, then would keep fighting.  But Luke and his extremes and the way he's wired?  Nope.  He took off.  Was it right?  No.  But it's what happens.  And honestly, the fact that I was kind of disappointed in Luke, made me love him more.  He's our hero, and now we see that with his great virtues come great flaws.  As a flawed individual striving to do right in a dark world, I absolutely loved it.  He's one of us.

And like God does with us, Master Yoda shows up and has to remind the now wise Master Luke, that he still struggles with the same old things, like keeping his eyes on the horizon and not with what's in front of him.  He gives Luke the sweetest and most wonderful advice:  "The greatest teacher, failure is."  We who have seen the movie know that Luke turns it around.  He comes back.  Not in the way that many of us thought he would, but in end, the way he was meant to.  His confrontation with Ben Solo / Kylo Ren wasn't what I expected.  I thought it would be a bitter lightsaber duel to the end.  However, more fitting, it was Luke, as the Jedi Master, taking the still-conflicted Ben Solo / Kylo Ren to school.  Kylo Ren, enraged, and in Sith fashion, tries defeating Luke in his own strength, but to no avail.  Then Luke gives the ultimate mic drop.  He tells Kylo Ren that if he strikes him down in anger, he'll always be with him, like his father (Han).  That did it for me.  That was the final flourish.  Han Solo is dead, but not really.  Han Solo haunts The Last Jedi throughout its entirety; from watching the Falcon fly to seeing Ben Solo desperately and unsuccessfully try to convince himself that he doesn't love the father he struck down so coldly.  And when it's all said and done, Luke, with all his successes and failures, comes full circle, and meets his destiny victoriously.  His life ends how it truly began, breathing NEW HOPE into the galaxy.

2) Ben Solo / Kylo Ren - What impressed me about Kylo Ren is just how complex he has turned out to be.  He can't bring himself to kill his mother in The Last Jedi.  As much as he tries to snuff out the guilt over killing his father, Han Solo, it won't go away.  As my wife Brooke said, Kylo Ren thought killing his father would make him darker, but instead the light in him grew.  Crazy right?  I thought it was an excellent move.  Look, no matter how many Star Wars episodes we have, there will never be another Darth Vader, but I dare say, Kylo Ren has even more dimensions than Anakin Skywalker.  We also get more of a glimpse of how it all went down between him and Luke.  Would you believe it was all a misunderstanding?  It was!  Luke sensed the darkness in Ben and in a moment of weakness, considered killing him as he slept.  He even went as far as igniting his lightsaber but then realized he was making a mistake.  Just as he realized this, Ben Solo wakes up and boom, it's on.  Was Ben in a bad place?  Yes.  Still, was Luke wrong?  Yes.  Ultimately, Kylo Ren became less the immature petulant angry kid we see in The Force Awakens and more a tortured soul who was angered that his express path to supreme power made him more conflicted and more sad.  What's worse too, is that Kylo Ren uses these feelings not to come back to the light, but to fully embrace the monster he's become.

3) Good vs. Evil - In Episode 8, all the stark blacks and whites of the Star Wars saga mingled into gray at times, which made it, in my opinion, interesting and different from any other Star Wars movie to date.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not a gray area person.  I know all too well that there's light and dark; holiness and wickedness; blessings and curses; Israel and the nations.  I strive for right, I believe there is an ultimate right, and I stumble after it.  I know holiness is embodied in God.  However, that's the Lord; that's reality. As much as we'd like to be able to apply that to every fictional story we enjoy, it's simply not reality.  We can make applications and comparisons in this story to our lives as Believers but ultimately we can't expect Star Wars to follow Biblical principles.  It is, after all, a story.

Biblical principles aside, what we learn in Episode 8 is that the Force is much more complex that we first believed, and a balanced Jedi can't be totally on one side of the spectrum.  Fully light isn't balanced.  Fully dark isn't balanced either.  Episode 8 peels more layers off of the concept of The Force and how a Jedi relates to it.

There's a lot more, but I think I'm going to stop here.  I enjoyed the movie.  If you hated it, I respect that, but if you have been patient enough to read this entire blog post, I congratulate you, and I thank you, and I hope maybe perhaps I brought up some interesting points for you to think about.  I look forward to seeing it again.  I feel like I need to.  Until then, I'm gonna call this one.  This has been fun.  Perhaps I'll try posting more from now on.  No matter who reads this, this has been quite therapeutic. 

Grace and Shalom...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Son

It honestly feels like yesterday that I wrote my last post here (Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire).  So much time has flown by, so much to talk about, but I'm going to focus on the most exciting, most important, and the one that's been on my mind every hour of everyday!  We're having a baby, and it's a boy!  Last October, the Lord blessed us with the news that Brooke was pregnant.  Soon after we discovered that we're having a son.  His name is Yosef David Manolis.

This post won't be lengthy, as our boy hasn't arrived yet!  But he'll be here very soon as his due date is July 2nd.  I really don't know how many people follow this blog and while I would love to reach a lot of people, God just told me to start the blog and not really worry about it.  However, for those who do follow or occasionally pop in, I wanted to let you all know the exciting news.  Also since it's been so long, I wanted every one to know that we're alive and doing well!  Lastly, and most importantly, perhaps one day my son will read this blog post when he gets older, and he'll read about and see just how excited his daddy was to see him and be his father.

I'm looking forward to being a little less busy, but with what's coming I can't guarantee that!  So, until the next time!

Grace and shalom...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Out Of The Frying Pan...Into The Fire

In synagogues, after each book of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) is read, the congregation proclaims "Chazak! Chazak! V'nit chazek!", before moving on to the next reading.  This translates as "Be strong!  Be strong!  And let us be strengthened!".

While these exact words aren't found in the Scriptures, it is still a powerful blessing, but not one to only be used for the end of scripture readings.  How about for our whole life?  We can see throughout the Word of God, the Lord pouring courage into people like Joshua (Joshua 1:9).  We can see David's final words in Psalm 27, to be strong and take courage and wait upon the Lord (Psalm 27:14).  We can see again in the Psalms, particularly Psalm 84, when David says that the children of God go from "strength to strength" in their pilgrimage to be before God in Zion.  Interesting that when I look at these examples with Joshua at the outset of leadership of the Children of Israel into the Land, and David in the Psalms, I see one thing that they have in common:  a transition.

God was pouring courage into Joshua that fateful day in Joshua Chapter 1.  Moses, the great leader of Israel, the one that God had performed such great wonders and terrors through before all Israel and upon all Egypt, had died.  To say that Joshua had big shoes to fill is just plain silly.  It would seem insurmountable.  I think Joshua was scared; scared that the people wouldn't listen to him; scared that God wouldn't do through him what He did through Moses; just plain scared.  This was a time of transition for Joshua, to a position of leadership.  This was also a transition for the people of Israel, leaving what they had known so long, the leadership of Moses and dwelling in the desert, to entering the Land of Israel and driving out the sinful nations that God was expelling.  What did they need during their transition?  God knew.  They needed courage, strength, and the knowledge that God would go before them, and watch their backs as well.  He would surround them in every direction.  He would be with them, bottom line.

In Psalm 27, David is saying to himself, essentially, "God is with me.  He is my light and salvation, why should I be afraid of anyone?"  Though we don't know what was going on particularly when David penned this psalm, it's obvious that it's a time of difficulty and fear.  He's telling his soul NOT to be afraid and he gives a list of worst case scenarios:  should war arise against me, should an army encamp against me and lay in wait, should my parents leave me.  In the end, he encourages himself, and, today he encourages us, in the Lord with these final words to the psalm:  "Put your hope in ADONAI, be strong, and let your heart take courage! Yes, put your hope in ADONAI!"  Again, though I don't know the particular details of the situation with David, I can honestly see transition in this psalm.  I see David going through a difficulty, a threat of wickedness, a time of fear.  He is waiting for the Lord.  He is waiting for God to deliver him and disperse the storm.  Until then, he holds on the hope that he WILL see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  So again, we in times of difficulty, in times of waiting for the help of our great God, in times of great change and difficult transition, that we need STRENGTH.  But where do we get this STRENGTH???

In Psalm 84, David tells a story of the People of God on a journey, a pilgrimage.  Psalm 84, David is describing transition"Passing through the Baka Valley, they make it a place of springs, and the early rain clothes it with blessings.  They go from strength to strength and appear before God in Tziyon."  Now while we aren't physically travelling through the Baka Valley right now, aren't MANY of God's Children passing through some valley?  Our lives are a journey, through the valley, to the ultimate destination: our God in Zion!  We need strength from God for this journey!  In the 84th Psalm, David proclaims to us a blessing, those of us whose STRENGTH is in God.  He is the source of our strength, even as we past through dry land and wilderness.  He goes further by saying that we go from "strength to strength" until we appear before God.  This is our life!  God carries us through, going from strength to strength until we see His face!  Yet, it doesn't always feel like strength does it?  You may right now be in a time of transition, a time of waiting for the help that God has promised.  To that, I point you to the words of Charles Spurgeon concerning the scripture of Psalm 84:  

"Fretful spirits sit down and trouble themselves about the future. "Alas!" say they, "we go from affliction to affliction." Very true, O thou of little faith, but then thou goest from strength to strength also. Thou shalt never find a bundle of affliction which has not bound up in the midst of it sufficient grace."

Our souls can rest and wait in peaceful silence with the knowledge that though we feel at times like we are out of the frying pan and into a fire, we are shielded by the grace of God.  In the words of Rabbi Sha'ul (Paul):  "but He told me, "My grace is enough for you, for my power is brought to perfection in weakness." Therefore, I am very happy to boast about my weaknesses, in order that the Messiah's power will rest upon me.  Yes, I am well pleased with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties endured on behalf of the Messiah; for it is when I am weak that I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).

The message here is that God is with us.  In our times in dry and weary lands, in times of transition, and in times of waiting, we have an everlasting source of strength in our weakness.  It is a strength that will take us to the next strength, that will eventually take us into the arms of our Abba Father.  Praise be to God, our loving Father and great King for His great faithfulness!

So, now, not just when we finish a book in God's Word, but EACH AND EVERY DAY, we can say, no, WE CAN DECLARE AND PROCLAIM with confidence and with trusting faith with the power of God's Spirit:


Grace and shalom...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Return of the King

This will probably be my shortest blog post ever.

I can't wait for Yeshua to return.  What a Day that will be.  The Holy Spirit told me to capitalize the word "day" whenever referring to the Day He returns.

I'm waiting for my wife to get home and I'm preparing dinner for both of us.  However as I prepare everything and wait, I for some reason caught a vision of the Kingdom that's coming.  Yeshua, Melech Yisrael (King of Israel) has returned and we are in the midst of His 1,000 year reign.  Can you imagine?  HE will reign, and He will rule the world by the holy measure of the Torah.  Everything unholy and idolatrous will be destroyed.  What's crazy is that we, His people, we who have believed in Him, will reign with Him (2 Timothy 2: 11-12).  I can scarcely take that thought in.

I honestly can't get past just falling before Him and eating the dust on the ground on which He stands, and staying there forever.  How could I get up and stand in the presence of Him?  It would be enough, or as we say during Passover, "Dayenu!", just to lay there on the ground and in the dirt.  However, He has given us so much more than just that.

I wish I could live in this moment forever.  In this moment, everything that I worry about fades away, and everything that bothers me and everything I get so worked up about is destroyed in the presence of the knowledge of the unfathomable riches of knowing God as my Father and His Son, the firstborn of many brethren (Romans 8:29).  We all know Romans 8:28, that there is no condemnation for those in Messiah Yeshua.  But man oh man, why do we stop at Romans 8:28, when if we read on, we see that Yeshua is not just our Messiah, our Savior, our King, but our Brother?!  My soul can scarcely take this in!

At any rate, if you are reading this, take it from someone who has struggled in these recent months to be happy.  Right now, I am filled with joy.  Right now I could burst with delight.  Our God, our Father, loves us beyond all thought and belief, and His only unique Son, our Brother, is in great anticipation to bring us Home.  I relish this moment, for right now, I can truly say:  IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL!  HALLELUJAH!

Amen!  Come soon Lord Yeshua (Revelation 22:20)!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Theology of Biology

**Warning, this will probably be a lengthy post .  Some of you may give up and move on, but I hope this ministers to and helps at least one of my brothers or sisters.  God moved on my heart to write this, so I'm just following His lead.**

This past Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" Speech.  This speech is definitely one of the most well known in America, but it is also considered one of the greatest in the history of mankind.  What is it about?  Certainly, it is about the plight and struggle of the African-American in the United States during the time of legal segregation and discrimination.  However, by the end of the speech, Dr. King's dream becomes something that every one, no matter what race, can grab on to.  This is what I think was most beautiful about Dr. Martin Luther King.  Not only was he about getting victory for his own people, but also for getting the ultimate victory for all mankind.  Dr. King didn't just stop at his own people, but worked to promote equality and unity among all other races.

Being a teacher, it has had me thinking.  Even at one time, Dr. King mentions "Jew and Gentile" joining hands.  That part of the speech always strikes me, because the idea of "Jew and Gentile" and the One New Man, is something I encounter very often, since I am a Messianic Believer, and not just a Messianic Believer, but a Gentile by birth.

Make no mistake, as a person who is very much a part of the Messianic movement, I'm WELL aware of the importance of the Jewish people (Romans 1:16; Romans 3), whom I see as the firstborn of our God and Heavenly Father (Exodus 4:22).  I consider them "my older brother".  I'm aware my spiritual debt to them, thankful that they have kept the oracles and the word of God faithfully throughout the generations.  I know the importance of the land of Israel, and God's eventual fulfillment of prophecy concerning it and its glorious restoration (Isaiah 66).  However, I also want to address in this blog, a struggle I used to have for so long, as a Gentile in the Messianic faith.  I remember after getting past the initial shock of my first experience with the Messianic movement, I had so many questions.  I remember my first visit to a Messianic congregation, it was the first time in so long I had felt the presence of God, and it was the strongest I had ever felt it.  I could almost see it, like a fog and feel it, like a heat.  I saw so much that today I understand, but back then, I didn't.  Tallits, Hebrew, liturgy, the Torah, hearing Yeshua instead of Jesus; guys, I didn't understand a lot, but the entire time it took every thing in me to keep from busting out crying because I knew I had found something special, and most importantly, something truthful.  I'll never forget as I walked out the doors, feeling God's audible voice say "Your life, as you have known it, is over."

By God's grace, I grew in the faith.  I grew in intimacy with God with a new found zeal.  I still had my salvation, but it was so much more intense and I felt it because I was walking out the faith the same exact way as my Messiah, Yeshua, who was and still IS a Jew, did.  I realized that the Shabbat and the Levitical Feasts weren't just for the Jewish people.  They belong to God, and if He's my God, then the Shabbat, and the Feasts were mine as well.  It was so exciting and new!  I ended up joining the praise and worship team, becoming more and more involved.  Then the more I learned, questions began to flicker, then burn in my heart.  What does it mean to be a Gentile in a Messianic community?  Does God love a Jewish person more than me?

Being in a movement that is largely Jewish and Jewish-focused, I have a hard time believing other Gentiles in the movement don't ask this at least once.  Then again, we all struggle with different things.  Either way, let me get to it.  I used to struggle severely with feeling second-class and less favored because of being born non-Jewish, yet being called to be a part of the Messianic movement.  As someone already prone to insecurity, this was something that haunted me ALL THE MORE because of my intense love for God.  I love God so much.  He's my all in all, my heart of hearts, He's my vision, He's my FATHER, and to think that there is something in me that I can't help, in this case, not being Jewish, that would separate me from Him in EVEN the smallest degree, was making me absolutely crazy.  At times Satan would use this against me to make me feel defeated, like I didn't matter, and that because I wasn't Jewish, I wasn't chosen.  At times, it was inflicted upon me by myself, my own insecurity.  Also, on some occasions, it has been inflicted upon me by the hands of fellow brethren.

So I sought the scriptures, I prayed and sought God.  It took me several years, many battles in myself, talks with my rabbi, and a great deal of sweet and comforting words and confirmation from the Lord, and I've concluded with confidence that:  While there is a physical distinction between Jews and Gentiles, and their callings and functions in the Kingdom are different in some cases, their entitlement, their value to God, and their access to His calling, promises, relationship, love, and favor, are the same.  Like the Ted Pearce song says, one People, one God.  There certainly won't be a Jewish table and a Gentile table at the wedding feast of Messiah (Revelation 19:9).  And God, Whose love is perfect, Who is THE PERFECT Father, is EQUALLY rich to all who go to Him in spirit and in truth (Acts 10: 34-35).  I'm hoping this is something that is being taught and pushed and emphasized in all Messianic fellowships.  It's just important to me, and I believe should be important to all of us, because I consider myself grafted into the people of Israel, a people whom I love and cherish, with the calling of Ruth that "Your people shall be my people, your God shall be my God."  I know that God has accepted me, but there's nothing wrong with wanting to be accepted by my fellow brothers in the faith!  As you read, please keep in mind as you continue on, it is ABSOLUTELY NOT my intention to cheapen or diminish the value and significance of the Jewish people. 

Also keep in mind, this is not something that I have encountered day-to-day, all the time, but it has happened and when it does happen, it's not something you easily forget.

Now let me say, it's so refreshing to hear Messianic Jewish Rabbis teach on this.  I remember one teaching where a Messianic Rabbi said:  So you're Gentile, who cares?  So you're Jewish, who cares?  Don't be mistaken or take that the wrong way.  The point of what he was saying was, no one can boast in themselves, which is a very scriptural idea (Romans 3:27).

In my short amount of time walking with God in the Messianic movement, I've seen many extremes.  I have had a few instances where fellow Jewish brethren would intentionally make me feel second class.  I have had a few where it was unintentional as well.  One person I knew very well on a personal level, believed that Jewish people were more favored.  Their identity had unfortunately, become their idolatry.  How could they feel this way, when God commanded the Children of Israel NOT to mistreat non-Jews, but treat them like a native-born (Leviticus 19: 33-24), and how Messiah Yeshua tore down the wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles occasioned in the Torah (Ephesians 2:14),  or the story of Ruth, etc.?  Honestly, It's an awful feeling.  I've read in one Messianic periodical where a Messianic Jewish author said that Messianic Jewish Believers were slightly more favored.  I'm sorry, but no matter how more slightly favored this person may feel, they are more than slightly off when that statement is measured against God's Word, especially 2,000 years on the other side of the New Covenant.  This has been an issue and a controversy since the earliest days of the Messianic Community, as the Apostle Sha'ul (Paul), had to rebuke Peter regarding a situation where he displayed an elitist attitude towards Gentiles at the Jerusalem Council (Galatians 2: 11-21).  In this situation, Sha'ul states, Peter was clearly in the wrong.

But again, make no mistake, there's a flip-side to the coin.  As a student of history, I'm well aware of how the majority of the Gentile Believing community has squeezed every bit of Judaism out of our Faith.  It's in the least tragic, at best, demonic.  The majority of the Body of Believers has been robbed of its true heritage.  I've run into Gentile Believers who are totally defunct in their theology about the Jewish people and Israel.  Some of them are in my own family.  I've also known Messianic Gentile Believers who are in the movement who think they have to have the outward appearance of a Super Jew to please God.  I've also known brethren who are Believers in the Messiah, but not Messianic, to be so ignorant, SO flippant, SO painfully INCORRECT about the importance of the Jewish people, their own in-grafting, the Land of Israel, and the significance of the Torah, that it hurts my heart and discourages me to no end.  But the bottom line remains, whether it is the Jew who thinks they are better than the Gentile, or the Gentile that thinks they are better than the Jew, neither of these are correct, Biblical, or expressing in any way, the heart of our God and Father, or the message of the Kingdom that's coming (Revelation 7:9).

So what does matter to God?  Well, as I've said in so many of my posts, THE HEART (1 Samuel 16:7).  Being a child of God starts with an inward change that over flows into an outward testimony.  I'm a big movie buff.  I'm going to use two as an example here.  The first one is "A Knight's Tale".  This is a movie about a young man named William, who is born a commoner, but desires to become a knight.  He lives in a world where you have to have noble blood to be a knight, but his desire to be a knight is so strong he masquerades as one.  We who watch the film, know that William is a TRUE knight, but to other knights, he isn't because of his birth.  Then, when he's found out, he is subject to humiliation, until Prince Edward shows up.  Prince Edward, before the people, knights William, because of his actions, not his physicality.  He honors him.  When I see William I see us before we knew God, and when I see Prince Edward, I see Yeshua, who is freeing us, both Jew and Gentile, from the oppression and humiliation of the adversary and sin and taking us from the ash heap and seating us with Him.  Is this not what our Messiah does for us?  Watch this powerful scene:

Prince Edward and Sir William

My next movie reference is from the film, Prince of Persia.  The lead character is a young man named Dastan, who is in fact, not royal by birth, but was adopted by the Persian king (totally my story with God!).  His two older brothers, however, are royal, and the biological sons of the king.  At the end of the film, when the two older brothers present him to a princess for marriage, they say something so powerful!  When I see Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal's character), I see Gentile children of God who are grafted in.  When I see the two royal brothers, I see Yeshua and the Jewish people.  This is how Yeshua accepts all who come to the Father in His Name, royal blood or not.  This is the attitude WE ALL must have, Jew or Gentile, when welcoming God's new children into the Family of God.  Check this clip out, it's within the first minute or so:

Prince of Persia brothers scene

This blog post is not a blog post about the callings / responsibilities of the Jewish and Gentile children of God.  That's a whole other can of worms.  This blog post is about God's love, favor, and who He sees as His children.  For it doesn't matter who any one is or where they come from when it comes to His love and favor!  We, both Jews and Gentiles, who love and honor, call upon and worship, the God of Israel, in the Name of the Yeshua the Messiah, are considered His people!  There is no rank or favoritism.  Yes there is an order, the Jewish people were chosen first.  Yet it must be kept in mind that it's an order, not a hierarchy.  Both Jew and Gentile are capable of and entitled to the same things, as we are both empowered by the same Holy Spirit, belonging to the same Messiah, and are of the same Father!  When Yeshua was sent down and gave His life, He saved Israel, and He enlarged it!  Whoever you are, know this:  whether You are a wild branch or a natural branch, if you are covered by the blood of Messiah Yeshua, you are a true child of the King, a prince or princess of Israel.  Let us all treat each other this way, for this is the Kingdom of God.  Claim it and believe it!

Grace and shalom...

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Measure of a Man

Satan is attacking the men in God's household.  It's true.  I might as well be short and to the point.  While I can't speak for everyone, I certainly know I'm not the only one who sees this crisis in the household of God.  According to studies, women comprise 60% of adults in a typical worship service in the United States.  Mid-week gatherings have an even larger gap, being 70%-80% women.  However, it's not JUST in America, it's all over the place.  It begs the question: Where are the men?  My wife and I are the youth leaders at our congregation.  We don't have a MASSIVE youth group, I would say about 12-14 kids.  (Which by the way, we're happy about because massive numbers means NO discipleship in a group.)  Anyways, out of those 12-14 kids, two of them are boys.  What's disappointing is that there are other guys at our synagogue that are youth age, but they just don't come.  No condemnation for them as its their choice.  I always invite young people to be a part of our youth ministry, but I'm not that youth leader that bugs you every single week about it.  My point is, the young ladies in our youth group, and our two young gentlemen, are galvanized, on fire, and totally zealous and sold out in their love for God and in their worship of God.  Now before I go on, I wouldn't trade one of our precious and pure young ladies in our youth group for ANYONE.  The ladies need to keep doing what they are doing!  All I want is to see is more of a showing of men who are desperate and zealous for the things of God.  So again, what is the deal?

1) The Adversary is attacking men because of their role as spiritual leaders in the Kingdom
God's Word has an order to it but before any one gets up in arms, I'm not saying it's men first, and women second.  That would be a hierarchy, which moves vertically, and the only hierarchy in God's Word is God above and us below.  Order, however, moves horizontally.  Men are not more important than women, or vice versa.  Taking either stance isn't scriptural.  However, scripture very clearly indicates that men and women, while equally important in God's eyes, have different responsibilities in the Kingdom of God.  While its certainly appropriate for women to lead women in a ministry setting, the Bible consistently recognizes giving the responsibility of leading both men and women, to men (1 Timothy 2:12).  Israel only had kings.  Out of Israel's 12 judges, Deborah was the only female judge and speaking of Deborah, when it came to leading Israel into battle, God chose Barak, a man, to go and win victory over Sisera.  However, Barak wouldn't go without Deborah and her response was:  “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.” (Judges 4:9)  Even Deborah understood that this would be out of place.  Look, God's going to get it done and He'll use whoever steps up, man or woman.  Again, I am asserting the equal importance of men and women in God's eyes, however there is an obvious pattern that can be seen in Scripture that God expects men to step up when it comes to general leadership in the Kingdom.  Are there some that disagree with this?  Of course and I totally respect that, however, I would encourage you to seek the Scriptural idea of the Kingdom of God and not modern culture's idea of society on earth.

The Adversary is working overtime to spiritually disarm men because when he does, he's disarming the strong leadership of God's household on large and small scales, from the congregation to the home.  He will do anything to debunk and counterfeit every single word in the Scripture.  When he sees that with men lie the mantle of collective leadership in scripture, the enemy is going to target them.  This sheds some light on why houses of worship are short on zealous and galvanized men; why we see more women worshiping with reckless abandon than men.  (Disclaimer:  I know there are congregations out there that do have a great deal of zealous men, but again I'm referring to the overall numbers.)

2) Society's image of a man is totally opposite of how God defines a man in His word.
When we look at modern society's view of what a real man is, we think of a guy who is physically imposing and tough.  He's "cool" and not very sensitive.  I'm a public school teacher at a high school here in Georgia.  Often times I gauge the young men in my classes by asking them if they ever cry at movies.  They laugh or very quickly and adamantly say no.  Counseling ministries are often flooded with women, but in comparison, we see few men willing to pour out their hearts.  At congregations during worship, women are in the majority of people dancing and worshiping, while many men stand in the back with their hands in their pockets or sit quietly.  It's such a far cry from what should be, such a far cry from the days of David, when he, the king, danced before the Lord with all his might.  I call this the "Eliab Syndrome", named after King David's older brother, who, because of his physical appearance, was mistaken by Samuel to be the next king of Israel and the man after God's own heart.  It's the belief that it's the biggest, the tallest, the fastest, the most physically impressive / highly credentialed men, that are choice and the best.  The belief that you gotta be tough.  The belief that being a real man means doing "guy" things and that's it.  No crying!  Don't dare dance and worship before the Lord.  Don't talk about your feelings.  Just be cool.  Yeah right.  I believe it's this syndrome that causes many men to not be able to handle hearing the Lord being the "Lover of our souls", or the concept that the Body of Believers' union with Yeshua in the end days will be a wedding, or perhaps even the idea of an intimate, personal relationship.  It's quite sad.

God's definition of a man is quite simple.  It can be found in Acts 13:22, when Paul was giving a sermon in Antioch.  During the sermon, he references David: 

But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do..." 

Well that's quite simple isn't it?  God defines a real man as a man who obeys Him.  Not one that's good at sports, or can bench-press 500 pounds.  Not one that has a doctorate or even a bachelor's degree.  Not a man that is "without fear", which I've yet to meet one without some kind of fear.  Not one that is the "it" guy of anything, anywhere.  The measure of a man, depends on his love, worship, and obedience to God.  Period.  Forget the other stuff.  That's what makes a man.

3) The ultimate Man in Scripture, Yeshua (Jesus), is often poorly portrayed outside of Scripture.
When we talk about "The Man", that's Yeshua.  He is the ultimate Man.  When I started typing this section about how our Messiah has been lost in the translation in many ways, what immediately came to my mind is the scene from the film "Talladega Nights:  The Ballad of Ricky Bobby".  The movie is about the life of Ricky Bobby, a southern-American race car driver.  Most people might think the movie is stupid, or funny, but if you really pay attention, the film makes quite the social commentary not only on the South, but American Christianity.  In the movie, Ricky Bobby always prays to "Baby Jesus", and he does so almost defiantly, because he likes "Christmas Jesus" best.  It's funny in a movie, but in reality it's also a sadly true commentary on many Believers.  The attitude towards Yeshua in American Christianity can at times, be like an ownership, but not in a good way.  We have to be careful with "My Jesus", or "My Yeshua", because who we "think" Yeshua is might not be who He really is.  Yeshua is by no means a baby anymore.  He's definitely not a pushover or a softy.  By the same token he's definitely not insensitive, emotionless, or cold, either.

Yeshua was full of grace and truth, gentle as a dove, but shrewd as a viper.  He loved and forgave, but also rebuked and turned over tables.  He is the ultimate man's man.  In the Scriptures, Yeshua is shown as zealous (Matt. 21: 12-13), telling it like it is (Matt. 23), tough (Matt. 4: 1-11), a warrior king (Rev. 19: 11-16).  So yes, on one hand, being tough is good.  We want our Messiah, our Savior, our Deliverer, to be strong and make our adversaries shake in fear!  Which is what Yeshua does.  It gives me goosebumps to know that Satan shudders when he thinks of our Father and Yeshua.  However, on the other hand, Yeshua is also shown in the scriptures as loving (John 21:15-17), compassionate (John 8: 1-11), emotional (John 11:35), and affectionate towards those he loves (John 13:23).  We want our Messiah, our Savior, and our Deliverer to be tender and loving too!

Men have to have the grace with the truth.  We have to be gentle, but also wise.  We need to be tough when the Holy Spirit calls for it, and loving and compassionate when the Holy Spirit calls for it.  We can't lean on ALL the truth with no grace.  We can't lean on ALL God's grace without truth.  No matter who you are, the Holy Spirit requires *gasp*.....sensitivity...in order to know what God wants us to do.  I do know this, God wants more men to step up and step out for the Him, and for their places of worship and fellowship.  We also need to stop judging the strength of one's heart based on the strength of one's arms.  Our bodies are dying and weakening as the years go on.  In the end it's our hearts that should still be vigorous, resolute, and uncompromising about the ways of God, no matter our age.

Grace and shalom...

Monday, February 4, 2013


I'm obsessed with military stuff.  Not guns, or weaponry mind you, but I have several pieces of military clothing and accessories.  I have two M65 field jackets that I wear when its cold.  I have an army combat shirt, and a military issue cold weather parka.  I really love the stuff.  I also carry my bible, my tallit (prayer shawl), my journal, and other personal items that I like to keep with me in a military issued tactical backpack that one of my closest friends gave me. 

I suppose I could say I just like the military style of clothing and accessories, but that's not all.  There's something very spiritual about why I like those things.  It's because I'm fighting in a war.  I'm a soldier in an army.  If you are a Believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and are covered by the atoning power of His Son, Yeshua, the Messiah, guess what?  You are a soldier in that war too.  The problem I often encounter with many Believers, in my closest circles at times, is the lack of alertness and sobriety that comes with being a soldier.

The "war" I am referring to is the greatest war of all time.  It has been going on since Genesis and doesn't end until Revelation.  It's the great cosmic spiritual war between good and evil, between the Lord and Satan.  Sounds crazy?  It shouldn't.  It's in the Bible.  Paul mentions it in 2 Corinthians 10: 3-5.  It's a war that isn't fought with physical weapons.  The strongholds and the fortifications of the enemy that we have to destroy aren't physical, but spiritual.  Paul re-iterates it in Ephesians 6:12.  Here, he teaches that we are not struggling against human beings, but the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers governing darkness and evil.

Sounds intense, but then again, we know the ending don't we?  We know that Yeshua has overcome the powers of evil, this world, and death eternal.  However, we are still in this fallen world.  No wonder Paul speaks of ARMOR as we continue on in Ephesians.  The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the feet of readiness, the shield of trust, and the helmet of salvation; these things are needed because the enemy attacks us.  The enemy attacks Believers in all sorts of ways:  exhaustion, disillusionment, depression, stress, doubt, fear; we ALL combat these things.  Fighting the war is complicated, but understanding that we are at war as Believers, and the need to be prepared at all times is quite a simple concept to understand.

If there is anything that the Body of Believers lacks its readiness.  I suppose I should also say UNITY, since the Believing Body is plagued with denominations and separations, which weakens us greatly.  But that in itself, is a blog post.  So let's focus on readiness.  When I think about being spiritually ready, I think about the story of Gideon, and God's selection of the army that would fight with him.  Let's go to Judges 7:3.  By that point, God had narrowed Gideon's army down to 22,000.  However, that was still too many people in God's opinion, so he had Gideon perform another test.  He told Gideon to go down to the water and God screened the army as they drank.  God told Gideon to get rid of every man who got down on his knees to drink the water and keep the men who drank without getting down on their knees (Judges 7: 4-8).  Why did God screen the men like that?  Think about it, because it wasn't happenstance.  The men who got on their knees were thinking about nothing but drinking the water.  So they stopped, got down into a restful position and drank.  Meanwhile, 300 men didn't, because while they needed the water, they couldn't get down on their knees because then they wouldn't be able to see a sneak attack.  They had to be ready in case the enemy surprised them while they were drinking.  They had READINESS and they were fit to fight in Gideon's great army that would change the destiny of the nation of Israel.  It's powerful!

Our brother Peter drives this point home when he says "stay sober, stay alert!" (1 Peter 5:8).  Why?  Because the Adversary stalks us.  He doesn't look to bust through our front door.  He waits until our guard is down.  We have to be sober and alert.  That's not to say we can't enjoy life.  Like I always say, don't take this to the extreme.  We should enjoy life.  God's Word tells us to rejoice always, because it's a great witness to others when we rejoice in this fallen world.  However, in our moments of peace we must understand that we're not home yet.  The great victory was won before the foundations of the earth, but we're not there yet, brothers and sisters.  Our Adversary knows his time is running out, and you can believe that the attacks against God's children are going to get worse.  We can't always be of the mind that we are to just sit still while God fights for us.  Sometimes, it does work that way, as He did for Israel against the Egyptians (Exodus 14: 13-14).  However sometimes, God expects us to go up, charge forth, and fight with the power He gives us, like He did with Joshua when he went into the Promised Land; like he did with David time and time again.

Unfortunately at times, being sober and alert causes lukewarm Believers to think you are "weird", or "too intense" and you need to "lighten up" or "chill out".  It reminds me of a scene in "The Dark Knight Rises", when in one scene, a congressman and another police officer named Foley are talking about Commissioner Gordon.  They are talking about him because they can't understand why, when things are going so well in Gotham City and the crime statistics are so low, that Gordon would want to go back out on the streets to fight more crime.  Here is their dialogue about him:

Congressman:  Anyone shown him (Gordon) the crime stats?
Foley:  He goes by his gut and it continues to bother him, no matter what the numbers.
Congressman:...The Mayor's gonna dump him in the spring.
Foley:  Really?....But he's a hero.
Congressman:  A war hero.....This is peace time.

We need more spiritual "Commissioner Gordons" out there, who keep standing up for what's right no matter what others think of them; who understands that while we'll never be perfect until the Lord returns, there's always work to be done to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.  We need more watchmen on the wall who, during times of peace, still know that we are still at war.  We should never reach a place of ultimate comfort and satisfaction in this world.  We can always go deeper with God.  There's always more room in our imperfect hearts for Him.  We must stay sober and stay alert for attacks from our Adversary.  We should enjoy life, but also understand that this is not our final destination.  We must understand that when God gives us peace during our lives here, it's miraculous, because this world is NOT peaceful, and spiritually, the war wages on even now and we are soldiers in that war!  The REAL peacetime comes at the end of all things when God saves His people and judges this world.  Until then, we must fight on.  We must fight this good fight.  We are still on duty (2 Timothy 2:4).  Until the King returns, the war will never be quite finished, and the day will never be quite ours.  The fight will go on until our God has His day...

Grace and shalom...

The Last Jedi and Other Stuff, etc.

I noticed my last blog post was so long ago.  HA!  It was about my wife being pregnant with our son.  Much has happened since then.  The ide...