Sunday, October 23, 2011

Parshat B'reishit

Hey guys! Well, I am very sorry that this is getting posted much later than I'd hoped. Some comp issues came up at the last minute, I was out and about all of yesterday, but while I'm sure I can think of a number of other hindrances, I could've done a better job planning my time (and as you'll see, what I just said was an example of how we can apply the lesson of this message).

So, w/out any further ado, here begins our first drash. Many of you know that I'm much the science geek, myself, so given that this week's portion is "B'reishit" (lit. "In the Beginning"), I'm sure there are at least a few of you thinking I'm getting ready to launch into a spiel about the Creation story, what science tells us about the origins of the universe, were they literal 24-hour days, was there a pre-existing earth (a.k.a. "gap theory"), etc. Sorry to disappoint, but no (although if you're up for an interesting discussion, ask me about the first and seventh days in the story in light of Einstein's Relativity Theory.....long story ;-). You might also know that I'm somewhat the language geek, too, and that I love digging to find the deeper meaning of things. Hence, you might be thinking that I'm going to break into a lengthy lecture about the genealogies and the meanings behind the names. Well...not quite. Truth be told, this section of Scripture is filled w/ plenty of meaty material for the geek and non-geek alike, so having weighed this all out, here are the extractions from the Torah, Haftarah, and B'rit Chadasha portions I've decided to make:


"And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee [shall be] his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where [is] Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: [Am] I my brother's keeper?" - Gen. 4:3-9


"Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember [that] which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid [wait] for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. .... But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all [that was] good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing [that was] vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly. ... And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed [be] thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD. And Samuel said, What [meaneth] then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? ... The LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD? And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal. And Samuel said, Hath the LORD [as great] delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey [is] better than sacrifice, [and] to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion [is as] the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness [is as] iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from [being] king." - 1 Samuel 15:2-3; 9; 13-14; 18-23


"And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Yeshua answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." - Luke 5:29-32

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men's] bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." - Matthew 23:27-28

Have you ever gotten caught doing something you know you weren't supposed to do? What is your reaction when this happens? It's human nature to insist that what we're doing is right, even when we know (and evidence well suggests) that we're not. It's really silly, too, when you think about it. Why do we do that? Isn't it b/c we want others to accept us, even though we know that we'll never meet up to people's expectations? It's as if we think that our perpetual insistence on being right will earn that acceptance and be easier on us than simply being honest w/ ourselves and others, genuinely wanting these ill-ward tendencies of ours to turn around.

While we aren't clearly told why, God was pleased w/ Abel's sacrifice and displeased w/ Cain's. Now Cain could have said, "God, I'm sorry! Please help me change!", and how hard would that have been, really? However, he decided to walk around in bitterness, carrying a grudge to the point that he killed his own brother, then lied about it when called upon by "The Big Guy Upstairs" (as if He could've been fooled). Saul didn't prove to be any different, either...except of course for the fact that he chose to take it a step further: Saul - "Samuel! So good to see you! I just finished obeying God w/ that whole destroying-the-Amalekites thing we were talking about." Samuel - "Uh, really? So, what's w/ all these sheep 'n such?" Saul - "Oh!....uh....well, I....uh....that is....I had a better idea! Why destroy them, when we could sacrifice them? I mean, God likes that kind of stuff, right?" All jesting aside, I need to point out a few things in the text, here. First, notice how Saul tries to pass his disobedience off on the people (v.20,21). Second, not only does he deny he was disobedient, he tries to pass off what he did as as a righteous deed, claiming that the "best" of the flock was spared to "sacrifice" unto the Lord (v.15) Third, notice how he speaks to Samuel of the Lord *your* God (v.15,21), implying that his heart is distanced from his Creator.

In the B'rit Chadashah portion, we see Yeshua reminding the scribes and Pharisees of two things. First, His mission was not to the righteous, but to the sinful. Second, that even they (the scribes and Pharisees), w/ all of their "good works", still didn't cut it. In a standup routine, comedian Jim Gaffigan once had this to say: "It doesn't matter if you're religious or not. Does anything make you feel more uncomfortable than some stranger going, 'I'd like to talk to you about Jesus,'?" An interesting observation, indeed, and one w/ which Scripture agrees (see Romans 9:30-33). Why do you think this is? Let's just pretend for a second that you are Cain, Saul, or one of the scribes and Pharisees. Obviously, you've put a lot of work into what you're doing, and God knows you'd probably want a little recognition, right? I mean, after all, it's not like you're trying to say that you're perfect or anything, you're just trying to say that you're trying. The last thing you want to hear, then, is, "Sorry, but this doesn't cut it," but this is exactly the point that God is continually trying to get across to humanity. Everyone has sinned (Rom. 3:23), and no one can be counted holy enough in his own merits to stand in the full presence of God (Ex. 33:20). Furthermore, there's the bit about choice. So let's say we admit to our need for help. Good for us. If we're smart enough to recognize this need, then certainly we can trust our logic to choose from the buffet line of spirituality what are some good choices to help us along (Buddhism, Islam, philosophy, etc.). However, Scripture takes the offense one step further, telling us that we don't have any other options (John 14:6).

I remember learning in 7th grade a rather twisted way to kill a raccoon. As I recall, you take a a shiny piece of metal, place it in an opening on a log that is large enough for him to get his hand into, but small enough that he won't be able pass his fist through it, that way he won't be able to get the desired object. Take the log w/ the raccoon on it, throw it into a stream headed towards a waterfall, and what happens? The raccoon will become so fixated on getting that shiny piece of metal that he won't look ahead of him to see what's coming. Our pride is like that. So often we'll have something in mind that our hearts are set on, while God has another idea that we're just much better off w/. But we know what's best, don't we? We just can't let go of that shiny piece of metal, or be bothered w/ anything that would ask us to. So we continue to strive and work hard to be "really good", deceiving ourselves to think that righteousness is about all that is done outwardly, when God is beckoning us to something so much deeper, all the while stretching His hand out to us, saying, "Here, let Me help you."

So my advice from all of this? Come clean before God. Confess your shortcomings to Him, quit making excuses for them, and ask for His help. If you haven't placed your faith in Jesus as the only way back to God, I'd encourage you to do so (and I'd love to talk w/ you about it). If you have, continue in His grace. Don't become like the scribes and Pharisees who focused so much on the appearance of righteousness that they wouldn't admit to their internal weaknesses and failures, lest you become like Saul, who distanced his heart from his Maker.

I'll leave you w/ a few verses for meditation:

"Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully." - Psalm 24:3-4

"[There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Messiah Yeshua, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." - Rom. 8:1-4

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." - Eph. 2:8-9

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Announcement (change of plans)

Hola amigos! Well, if you're reading this, you might be aware that I've been in the habit of posting a minimum of two blogs every month to keep you up to speed on my life and thoughts. Long in short, I will be keeping this blog active. However, I will no longer be keeping to any required minimum number of postings per month/year/lifetime/etc. Bottom line, I'd been doing the two-per-month-minimum deal in addition to a regular monthly e-mail update, a quarterly newsletter, and a boatload of other things while working a part/full-time job and being involved in YWAM. If I continue my regular communications at that rate, there's a lot that I should be accomplishing that won't come to fruition. So, when I have enough $ raised so that I can do the YWAM thing full-time, I'll likely get back into the 2-per-month groove. Until then, I'm just gonna let it go as it flows, and in the words of Forrest Gump, "That's all I've got to say about that." Hasta luego!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Science in Missions: An Inconceivable Feat?

The memory remains with me almost as fresh as the string cheese I was holding that September Friday night back in '89. I stood by the refrigerator door w/ my snack in hand, a spy movie from the late '60's playing on the tv two rooms away. Though I don't know what prompted it, a thought just suddenly occurred to me. If a lightning strike can cause a power outage b/c of an electrical overload, what if somebody could have some sort of metallic ball in their backyard that could act like a lightning rod, which, if struck, could then kick the power back on inside their house?

Of course if you know your science, you know that this idea is wholly laughable (I was only 9 at the time, mind you). Even the very idea of harnessing energy from a lightning bolt is quickly dismissed due to the excessive amount of energy that you're dealing with, and the rapidity with which it is delivered. However, is that to say that the idea is unattainable, or at least unprofitable? "You could probably do it through the use of superconductors," a friend of mine told me. I like that, it sounds pretty cool, and the only question I have is...what's a superconductor? In any event, it's an idea I'm working with (sapping energy from a lightning bolt, that is; the ball-in-the-backyard idea was discarded a long time ago).

What of science in missions, though? Are there any possibilities, and what did all of that stuff I just said have to do w/ it? It is commonly understood that the work of a missionary is the communication of the Gospel, but one thing that's sometimes overlooked is that the communication of the Gospel must be accompanied by deeds: "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?" - James 2:15-16

There are many needs in the world today, and the solutions to them can often be answered by science. One such need is for newer (and preferrably renewable) sources of energy, and along w/ that, the effective implementation, maintenance, and distribution of energy systems in underdeveloped areas around the world. Will I find a way someday to tap into the power of a lightning bolt? It's doubtful, but it's worth the try. The worst thing that can happen is that nothing I try turns out to be successful, in which case I've succeeded in helping others figure out what won't work so they can spend their time and energy on other approaches which might work, instead. The bottom line is I'm following this path b/c, to make a long story short, I see the arrows of God pointing in this direction, and if that's the case, the most intelligent thing I can do is to keep walking this path.

So, that's just one idea that comes to mind in terms of how science can play a role in missions. Think you might have any others? I'd be interested to hear what you have to say.

Youth Ministry!

So I have some exciting news to share. You might know that I have a real strong heart for working in youth ministry, and for that matter, that this is something I haven't done for a while. Having settled well into my new life in PA, I started attending a church nearby last January (the first time in nearly a decade that my home congregation is a Sunday church and not a messianic congregation). It turns out one of the areas where they've had a need for more volunteers is in their youth ministry!

I started joining them a few weeks ago in the classes they have during the Sunday morning service. I also got to go to a pool party they had this past Sunday. I'm talking w/ the youth pastor to see what service opportunities are available (teaching, planning activities, etc.). It's definitely a different feel than the last youth group I was involved with, carrying with it a new set of challenges. I'm enjoying it, though, looking forward to what lies ahead, and thankful that God is, once again, giving me the desires of my heart.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It happened for the first time.

So I've been up here in PA for a little over a year now. I visit home quite frequently as it's not even three hours away, but of course most of my time is spent near the rolling hills and pastures of Amish country. Now this isn't the first time I've lived for an extended period of time away from home (there was that year I spent mostly in Arkansas and on some travels, and let's not forget the better part of a year and 1/2 that I spent in Richmond), but what hit me as I finally made it into Herndon on Mother's Day came quite unexpectedly - the official feeling that I was no longer "visiting home", just visiting Herndon. I love making the drive down to see friends and family, but it no longer feels like home to me. It truly was an awesome and sobering experience. PA is where I am, and it is where I belong.

As I look back on the year and two months that now trail behind me, I'm so glad I made the move up here. It was nice getting to spend the majority of my twenties being a "Tarzan visionary", as I call it (i.e. "Lemme swing over here, check this out, and see how it looks. Cool, now I'm going to swing over there and see what that looks like."), but I can honestly say that I've come to a place of rest now where I can commit to something practical over the long-term, not just a "vision" that will come into fruition at some point in the future. I guess this is all part of growing up, something that we never stop doing (or at least never should). I'm enjoying learning what it means to mature without losing a childlike heart. Thank You, God, for Your direction in my life.

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever." - Psalm 23 (KJV)

Dehydration (Another worship song written in spring '07)

"O God, You are my God. I will seek You early in the morning. My soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water." - Psalm 63:1


I am a desperate man

Hungering for truth

Thirsting for it like water

As I wander through this desert

This desert of Your presence

(Where are You?)

This desert of Your presence

(Where are You?)

Please hear my cry

And quiet these raging waters in my soul

They're drowning me away

They're drowning me away

This can't be Your will

You that made me in Your image

I am Your child and I know

You still have a sovereign plan

I am still in Your hand

So please answer this desperation

That I may understand

The things that come between us

That leave me in this paralyzing state

Oh, God Who raised the dead

I'll trust every word that You said

But only by a strength that comes from You

So hear me now and answer the cries of my heart

Touch me Lord, and give me a fire anew

That I may serve You

For I am Your child

I know this is true

And what would I be without You?

Without You, what would I be?

What would I be?

What would I be?

What would I be?

"My God! My God! Why have You forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1a; Matthew 27:46c; Mark 15:34c)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Whisper (A worship song written in spring of '07)

"To some G-d calls in a whisper, to others with a shout - depending on how close they are to Him." - Rabbi Nachman of Breslow

"...And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave...," - I Kings 19:11b-13a (KJV)


I heard a distant echo
From the caverns of my heart
I had to listen closely just to find out what it was
The sound was my desire crying out to You, saying,
"Speak here in a whisper."

So here I am before Your feet
Waiting patiently to hear
In silence I will listen and obey,
But if I turned my back on You
And ran so far away
Would You still call me in the thunder
Like You did before in days of long ago?

So call me in the thunder
And draw me back to You
Kiss the tears as they run down my face
And as You hold me near You
Pour Yourself out on me
And fill these empty caverns crying out
"Speak here in a whisper."
"Speak here in a whisper."
"Speak here in a whisper."
"Speak here in a whisper."