Month 8:15, Week 2:7 (Shibi'i/Sukkot), Year:Day 5940:221 AM|
2Exodus 3/40, Yovel - Year 50/50
Gregorian Calendar: Monday 14 November 2016
The Spirit of Apathy
Overcoming an Obstacle to Life
Shabbat shalom kol beit Yisra'el and Mishpachah Lev-Tsiyon. The American General Election is over and though there is obviously a lot going on with attempts by the élites to prevent the President-Elect from ever getting into office or to otherwise influence him away from his avowed course of action and back to their agenda, we must return to the main business of the Messianic Community (Church). We must let let the politicians get on with their work and we, ours.
Remembering an Old Friend
Yesterday, in an idle moment, I remembered an old friend of mine from Britain whom I met whilst we were both in Oxford. Our paths crossed while I was in the ecclesiastical wilderness, as it were, in search of a church home. I had had big disagreements with the church I had been a member of and was searching for a place to fit in where I could serve. My friend stepped in and though I was not entirely satisfied with the belief system of the denomination he represented, it was liberal enough to accept where I was, at least at the beginning. Later we came into conflict because it was too liberal.
A Theological Liberal Arts College
Suffice to say that I was thinking of my friend, who I have not had contact with now for over 35 years, and learned that he had recently been retired from his high position as an apostle in that denomination. I came across a sermon he had given in a conference - the only one online that I could find - and listened for as long as I could manage, which was about 10 minutes, and remembered just how sickening that Torahless liberalism is, infected so badly as it is by the spirit of the age. It was "another gospel" (Gal.1:8,9), another Messiah, a intellectual 'gospel' devoid of that deep and arousing Ruach (Spirit) that quickens mind and heart and motivates you to want to go and tell everyone about Yah'shua (Jesus), and in place of that divine passion was another 'spirit' masquerading as that passion in the form of a barely conceived anger that occasionally burst out on shouting. His church, which I also left, is what I would describe as a theological Liberal Arts College.
Simple Message, Complex People
It's interesting how we cross paths with people to then go our permanent separate ways, destined only to interface for a short while. We were both intellectuals, both university men, and yet saw the besorah (Gospel) in a radically different way. One of the things I have learned over the years is that the message of salvation is extraordinarily simple and doesn't need polish of any kind. The only thing that is complicated is people - fallen, sinful people. Sin is what makes everything to messy, sin is what makes it so hard to untangle lives. My friend's church talks little of 'sin' and 'repentance' in the biblical sense and is essentially majors on the social Gospel. Another way it could be described is an acclesiastical United Nations. It loved the ecumenical movement, not just between Christian denominations but between all religions. In consequence, when it talks about 'love' and 'peace', the words lose alltheir biblical saltiness and flavour through dilution in the matrix of the world's philosophy where it has made its nest. And when they quote Scripture, it's entirely out of phase with the context of the Divine and Living Davar (Word). It is simply weaved into the Babylonian way of being to give it an apparent respectability.
Ten Minutes Was Enough
Ten minutes was all I could stand of that pot pourri of worldliness masquerading as saving emet (truth). It was as bad an experience for me as it was a few weeks ago when I dropped into a Jehovah's Witness meeting locally to collect a copy of their latest Bible translation. Now, as then, I felt as though I were suffocating after only 5 minutes. More than 10 minutes of that and I would have needed spiritual hospitalisation.
The Evangelical Work of the Messianic Community
So if the politicians have their work - as they do - what is ours? Our work, in a nutshell, is to "make talmidim (disciples) of all nations" (Mt.28:19, NIV) starting with ourselves - because there's always work to be done on ourselves - and then reaching out to whosomever Yahweh leads us by His Ruach (Spirit).
Spirit of the Old Testament Prophets
When Yah'shua (Jesus) first commissioned His talmidim (disciples) He did so in a way identical to the prophetic call narratives of the Tanakah (Old Testament). And what did the nevi'im (prophets) of old do? They called the people to make teshuvah - to repent of sin - and to return to obeying the mitzviot (commandments). They exposed and denounced the false nevi'im (prophets) and the rulers who listened to them. They admonished the people to get back on track and live righteous lives, implicitly having emunah (faith) in the Creator.
Yah'shua as a Tanakh Prophet
So when Yah'shua (Jesus) commissioned the first apostles and talmidim (disciples) in general it was in the same prophetic vein. And though the Master was certainly a navi (prophet) in the sense that He could with 100 per cent accuracy predict the future, as the Tanakh (Old Testament) nevi'im (prophets) did; and though He was a Seer - a man of vision - who could picture the certainty of the overruling of the universe on the part of His Father, Yahweh, He was far, far more than that.
Modern Liberal Christianity Does Not Fit the Pattern
His prophetic commission to us today, as back then, was far greater in scope. The actual categories or modes of thought of the nevi'im (prophets) may not satisfy the idea of modern Christians (and certainly not those of the liberal, worldly variety like my old friend the former 'apostle'), but their emunah (faith) and their seeing is eternally true. 'Elohim (God) is in His Heaven' and His Kingdom must prevail. Since Yahweh is a Person, we can think of no higher category than that of personality, and the purpose of Elohim (God) is therefore linked with the 'fortunes' of a Person, Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). This Person is vaguely foreshadowed in the Tanakh (Old Testament), and it is interesting to see how certain prophecies point to the Messiah, and how the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) realise these pictures.
The Constant Mark
I remind of you of these things so that you will see how integral Tanakh (Old Testament) thought and behaviour is to the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament). The Messiah is in every sense an authentic navi (prophet) - He speaks like one and He behaves like one. And you have only to read the Book of Revelation, penned by the apostle John, to see how thoroughly 'Old Testament-like' it is. Torah is not being replaced with something new in the new Covenant but is being added to and completed with something new and filling. And though the spiritual birth is a one time event, the spiritual rebirthing process does not end upon profession of emunah (faith). Confession and repentance is a constant mark of the person walking in the light of fellowship with Elohim (God).
Overcoming Any Doubts
So let us return to Yah'shua's (Jesus) reunion with His talmidim (disciples) after His resurrection. No sooner had He presented Himself to the Eleven, He encounters a problem. What is that problem and what is the the first thing He does to remedy it? Some of His talmidim (disciples) have doubts that what they are seeing and experiencing is real, and His first job is to overcome their doubts:
Commission to Evangelise
"When they saw Him, they worshiped him; but some doubted" (Matt.28:17, NIV).
How did He do that? Not by making a psychological analysis but by showing them physical evidence of who He was and then by commissioning them, backed up with divine authority, with lots of reassurance, for worldwide evangelism:
The Part Played by 'All Authority'
"And Yah'shua (Jesus) came and said to them, 'All toqef (authority) in heaven and earth has been given to Me.'" (v.18, NRSV).
In dealing with the way we wonder how we are to relate to our Saviour, knowing that He has been given all authority by Yahweh is, I think, pretty reassuring. The fact that those talmidim (disciples) who had walked with Yah'shua (Jesus) and seen Yah'shua (Jesus) do miracles, and now to see Him standing before them in a resurrected body after He has been killed and entombed for nearly three days...the fact that some still had doubts is, I am sure some of you may be thinking, rather incredible. And yet here is the human condition once more heavily underscored - we are plagued by DOUBTS. We are such a doubting species!
Action vs. Inaction
Every one of us, even seasoned believers, has doubts occasionally, our periodic 'bouts of atheism' that we, of course, tend to deny instead of resolving the issues behind them . Yah'shua's (Jesus') solution to this inner plage of the soul was to challenge them to out believe and carry out His commission, not to sit around brooding over it, because it is only in the exercise of free agency, applied in action, that emunah (faith) can even have a chance to grow. Emunah (faith) and works are powerfully interlinked - emunah (faith) grows as we act (even in making mistakes) but atrophies or stagnates when we do nothing.
Doubters Amongst the Apostles
Now the ones who doubted were, in this instance, some of the remaining eleven apostles, and we know from elsewhere that Thomas was one of them:
The Women Believers' First Commission Accomplished
"Now the eleven talmidim (disciples) went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Yah'shua (Jesus) had directed them" (v.16, NRSV).
So in that repect they had been obedient. They had gone to Galilee as commanded. But viâ whom? The women talmidim (disciples), on the other hand, have already carried out their first commission faithfully, as we read:
A Testimony to the Integrity of the Bible
"Then [you women] go and tell His talmidim (dsiciples) , 'He has been raised from the dead,' and indeed He is going ahead of you in Galilee; there you will see Him...Then Yah'shua (Jesus) said to them (the women), 'Do not be afraid; go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see Me'" (vv.7,10, NRSV) .
That the doubting of the first apostles was recorded is testimony also to the integrity of Scripture:
The Inperfection of the Apostles
"The transparent honesty of a statement like this shows that Matthew is not attempting to exclude or cover up the facts that might lessen the perfection of such a glorious moment" .
A qualification for being a witness is not perfection - were not the apostles frequently rebuked for having such "little emunah (faith)"? . I know we sometimes doubt that we qualify to be witnesses, missionaries or evangelists. Certainly we must work with our own doubts but the solution is not to doubt but to simply 'get on with the job' and trust the Ruach (Spirit) to teach and guide us. This is as true in the spiritual sphere as in the physical for in anything new that we have to do a huge of element of trust is needed.
Today I want to look not so much on the doubts which may hinder our witness but that plague called apathy. And I have to confess, right off, that preparing this sermon was been really tough for me because I suffer from apathy like the next man or woman.
Brought to a Halt
What is apathy? Apathy is a coldness or indifference - a condition of 'not caring' that can lead to withdrawal. I meet a lot of people, myself included, who get stuck in a spirit of apathy and don't know how to get out of it. It's like a sticky, stodgy goo like melted tarmac that binds our feet to the ground and prevents us from doing the things we want to do and doing the things we ought and need to be doing.
The Problem With Frustration
One of the problems of the human condition is that we tend to respond to similiar situations in a variety of ways. For that reason we expect other people to respond in exactly the same way as we do, and that can be a big mistake. Let's take an example you'll all be familiar with. And that is that annoying condition known as frustration. So many things frusrrate us because people do things differently to us.
Yahweh Created Frustration
Did you know that Yahweh is the author of frustration? Surprised? Listen to what Paul says:
Frusration, Futility, Vanity
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of Elohim (God) to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of Elohim (God)" (Rom.8:18-21, NIV).
Other versions commonly use the word "futility" (hevel) (NKJV, NRSV, NASB, KNT, OJB, ISRV, NAB, ESV; Moff., ) instead of "frustration" (NIV, CJB/JNT, NEB, S&G), and others, less convincingly in my view, "vanity" (KJV, RSTNE 2e, AENT, HRV, CLNT) and "God's curse" (NLT). (The Amplified Version combines "frustration" with "futility" and "frailty").
Historical Origin of the Frustration
As it is rather inmportant to understand the correct meaning here, we need to go back to the Tanakh which it is referencing, and the reason why some versions choose the translation they do:
The Purpose of Frustrating Men
"To Adam [Yahweh] said, 'Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return'" (Gen.3:17-19, NIV).
Though this frustration is a fruit of the curse placed on mankind by Yahweh because of the original rebellion, it does serve an important purpose. What is that purpose as revealed to us by Paul?
Dealing With Frustration's Roots
"[The] tiqveh (hope) that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of Elohim (God)" (Rom.8:21, NIV).
In other words, though frustration is definitely a negative thing, being the product of the the curse caused by disobedience, its purpose is what? To spur man on to overcome those things that lead to this frustration - the fruits of the embraced impulses of the flesh - "liberated from [the curse's] bondage" and so be "brought into the glorious freedom of the children of Elohim (God)" Frustration is permitted to goad us into the action that will lead us to deliverance from the thing that is frustrating us. That means we must do something about our frustration, even if there is no apparently ready solution, otherwise we will simply remain in it, and that can lead to further difficulties. So what can some of those difficulties be?
Frustration's Response - Aggression or Apathy?
A common response to frustration is active aggression but there can equally be another response, it's complete opposite, namely, apathy. Frustration leads to one of two possible negative twins - aggression or apathy. We will tend to choose the one or the other in our reaction to unresolved frustration - whether to be aggressive or apathetic - based on what we have learned in our social environment. In other words, aggression or apathy are acquired like any habit. Furthermore, someone whose reaction to frustration is aggression will tend to be very irritated or annoyed by the person whose choice of reaction is apathy, and vice versa.
Depending on the situation, someone who is normally aggressive can as equally well give up and become apathetic and withdraw as someone who is typically apathetic can suddenly 'snap' and become aggressive. From the study of prisoners in POW and concentration camps, we now know, for example, that apathy is the usual outcome when the frustrated person realises that resistance is futile. Apathy in time leads to sullenness, detachment and indifference - the 'I don't care any more' attitude. This was the consistently observed reaction in concentration camp prisoners in the face of continual deprivation, torture and threats of death. Such people become listless, lack emotional expression and at length become completely absorbed within themselves .
A Psychological Solution to Apathy
Psychologists pretty much agree that the way to get someone to snap out of apathy is not to treat it as depression or psychosis (which are something else) but to do two things:
Enthusiasm Generated by an Ideal and a Plan
- 1. Get the apathetic person on his feet and doing something, no matter how trivial; and
- 2. Get him interested in some current or future problem that he can plan out and work on - that is, to actively pursue a goal.
Or as Arnold Toynbee suggested:
A Friend's Helping Hand
"Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused bt two things: first, an ideal, which takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite, intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice."
More often than not it is the effort and support of a friend that helps get the apathetic individual to 'snap out of it' and get going. It's important not to make the problem too big for the individual, which means knowing what that person can, and cannot manage, because if a set problem becomes too difficult, the person under such pressure often seeks a 'solution' through an escape into a fantasy world. Too much of that and the person can begin to lose his ability to distinguish between his fantasy world and reality, and that is the first step toward madness.
Fantasy Escape Routes
I mention this because with the advent of TV and computers it becomes increasingly easier and easier to find fastasy escape routes. Fantasy is not, however, a solution to frustration or boredom - the answer is activity with a goal in mind. Or as my youngest daughter likes to put it, "action is the antedote to despair" (Lisa Nichols). And "apathy allows hate to act out," noted Joanna Oblander.
The Importance of Work and Activity
"There is a distinct difference between contentment and apathy. Contentment endures with gratitude where apathy has ceased to care" (Jordan Blake Michiels).
As human beings, Yahweh designed us to be active, busy and working. We weren't built to be idle. Idleness makes us sick. The mitzvah (commandment) to work six days out of every seven is not arbitrary - it's not just so we can provide for our family but to also keep us healthy and well-adjusted mentally and emotionally. Work, which we enjoy, is hugely important to our well-being. One of the hardest things for sick and old people is the frustration which builds up because they can't do anything much. They need stimulation, even if it's just someone to talk and interact with.
Apathy affects believer and unbeliever alike because apathy is a function of emotions out of balance, and everybody has emotions. Feelings are, as we know, fickle things. We can be enthusiastic and fervent one minute and apathetic the next. Part of our life in Messiah is to overcome such things as frustration, aggression and apathy. That's a conscious choice that has to be made, though - nobody else can do it for you even if they may be able to assist you when needed.
Beyond Psychology to the Spiritual Depths
Now I have talked some practical psychology here, all of which is valid and works as far as it goes. However, there can be no abiding shalom (peace) and simcha (joy) in our deepest depths unless we have eternal chayim (life) abiding in us:
The Ruach as Apathy's Antidote
"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of Elohim (God) so that you may know that you have eternal chayim (life)" (1 John 5:13, NIV).
We need to know who we are, to Whom we belong, and the source of our security and happiness that is the antidote to apathy:
How Did I Lose Life?
"The Ruach (Spirit) ... testifies with our spirit that we are Elohim's (God's) children" (Rom.8:16, NIV).
So if you are experiencing apathy, you need to determine what the source of the life is that you are trying to live. Are you a true believer? And if you know that you are a true believer, then you have to ask yourself this question - "What caused me to lose my love and passion for Yahweh?" And if you never had that love and passion for Yahweh, you must first of all determine whether you want that, and if you do, to ask yourself whether or not you are willing to do what he wants you to for it? I suggest there are no two questions more important than these if you are in a state of apathy.
The Sin Cause
Now it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that one cause of spiritual apathy is sin in the believer's life. Here you have to be totally honest with yourself. When David fell into sin, this was his response:
Apathy and a Loss of Joy
"Do not cast me from Your presence
or take Your Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) from me.
Restore to me the simcha (joy) of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" (Ps.51:11-12, NIV).
Noticing that he wasn't asking top be saved again but to be restored to the simcha (joy) of the salvation he knew before he sinned and lost it. It is the loss of simcha (joy) that can lead to apathy. David's plea was very specific:
"Create in me a pure heart, O Elohim (God),
and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Ps.51:10, NIV).
If you're feeling spiritually apathetic, you should confess any known sin and ask for Yahweh’s cleansing and renewal.
True Love vs. Dead Religion
Another way we can get apathetic is by exchanging true ahavah (love) for Yahweh for dead religion - going through the motions without really feeling anything or meaning it, for whatever reason. We have this important promise:
Identifying the True Believer
"Whoever has My mitzvot (commandments) and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him" (John 14:20-21, NIV).
What characterises a true believer is obedience in ahavah (love). We can, of course, cling to the emet (truth) and serve Yahweh in a mechanical, loveless and lifeless fashion, and whilst this is obviously far, far better than going after untruth and pursuing wickedness, by itself it is not enough and can never bring us lasting satisfaction. It will never lift us out of apathy and it does not please our Father in Heaven.
Sliding into Dead Religion
How does this slide into dead religion happen? In the same way it did to the Ephesian qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones):
How Does It Happen?
"You have forsaken your first love" (Rev.2:4, NIV).
"You have abandoned the ahavah (love) you had at first" (NRSV)
"You don't love Me or each other as you did at first!" (NLT)
How does that happen? By getting your priorities wrong. By prioretising other things or people ahead of Messiah, both lawful and unlawful things. By taking for granted what you may have had in Messiah and not cultivating the relationship through study and prayer. By losing sight of the reason you are down here on earth. That is how vibrant ahavah (love) and passion for Messiah can be lost. There are so many different ways. If you truly don't know, or don't remember, ask Yahweh what it is that cut you off from Him that lead to apathy.
From Apathy to Renewed Love
The solution for turning this spiritual apathy into renewed ahavah (love) and passion for the King and His Kingdom is simply this:
Remember, Repent and Renew
"Remember the height from which you have fallen! Make teshuvah (repent) and do the things you did at first" (Rev.2:5, NIV).
If you are apathetic and have been born again, then you need to remember, make teshuvah (repent), and renew (start again). That's proactive, especially when it comes to renewal, because that's all tied to doing what's right. Let's run through those.
Three Steps to Recovery
First, the spiritually apathetic person needs to remember. He should think back to the time when he sensed the warmth and closeness of Messiah’s presence. He should realise that he can return to that state of fellowship by asking the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) to take him there. Then he needs to make teshuvah (repent). He needs to see his spiritual apathy as sin and confess that sin to Yahweh (1 Jn.1:9). Finally, he needs to renew. He must cultivate a renewed commitment to Yahweh — not just serving Him, but knowing Him, praising Him, and fellowshipping with Him in all emet (truth). He should start again, if he has discontinued it, with daily Bible reading and prayer. He should let the indwelling Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) empower him so his life will display the fruit of the Ruach (Spirit) which are "ahavah (love), simcha (joy), shalom (peace), patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal.5:22-23, NIV). And finally he should fellowship with the qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones) and if possible attend an assembly or congregation of like-minded souls (Heb.10:25).
Satan Promotes Apathy
It should come as no surprise to learn that Satan loves apathy. Of course he does. Apathy puts Yahweh's workers out of the picture, leaving the field clear for him. Accordingly, so as not to have a repeat apathy session, we must stay alert to the temptations of the old nature, the world, and the evil one. We must never lose the sense that Yahweh is always with us and in us, even as it is written:
"But this precious treasure - this light and power that now shine within us - is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies. So everyone can see that our glorious power is from Elohim (God) and is not our own" (2 Cor.4:7, NLT).
As we begin to worship and praise Yahweh and let Yah'shua (Jesus) control our lives each day, we will rediscover a life of adventure filled with simcha (joy) and eternal purpose. And we will wonder how we ever became spiritually apathetic in the first place. .
It does not take long to overcome apathy, depending, of course, how habitual it has become. It's a matter of choice - of the exercise of will-power - as easy as making a U-turn. Just do it. These are not difficult choices to make even if they may be offensive to pride and self-pity. If you have a spouse or a friend to help you, accept the offer of help. Get busy, get involved, get on mission. And ask Yahweh to lead you through and into ahavah (love) and simcha (joy) again. Amen.
 This doesn't mean that the women weren't talmidim too, like the men. The world 'talmidim (disciples)' can either be general (referring to all true believers) is, on this instance, to the 12 (at that time only 11) special emmissaries or apostles.
 In the same way that atheists have their periodic 'bouts of religosity'
 John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, Dallas, TX: 2005), p.1186
 Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:13; 16:8; 17:20; Luke 12:28
 Ernest R.Hilgard, Richard C.Atkinson & Rita L.Atkinson, Introduction to Psychology, 5th edition (Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich Inc., New York: 1971), pp.450-451
 Input from S. Michael Houdmann, How Can I Overcome Spiritual Apathy?