A Mikvah

Today I was privileged to officiate at a mikvah for a dear brother who will be married in a few hours.

A few things struck me. The first is that God really knows His creation! Of course, right!? But I am repeatedly impressed upon realization of a specific way in which God designed His instructions with our nature in mind.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. Psalms 103:13-14 (ESV)

There is something about us humans that benefits from coupling an external action with a mental determination. I suspect a lot of the significance of the ritual found in Torah is related to this.

The other thing that hit me is another aspect of the importance we attach to what has come to be known as baptism. I often related to folks that a mikvah symbolized any significant change in status. That the ancient Israelites took a mikvah when they changed from the status of unclean to clean, when they got married, when they took a vow, and when they repented of sin. I’ve written or said these words hundreds of times. But for some reason, when considering baptism as it is used in the Christian church, I have always focused in my thinking on the issue of repentance from sin, on the change from walking in darkness to turning and walking in righteousness. And this is true, but not until today when we practiced a mikvah in the context of a wedding, was I struck by the significance of baptism representing our vows of marriage to Messiah.

A change in status from that of one having no hope and without God in the world, from someone separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenants of promise to that of one who has been brought near by the blood of Messiah and bound by vows of marriage.

And this takes me back to my first thought. I was baptized at age nine, and I’ve contemplated baptism and its relation to the mikvah for years, but it wasn’t until today in the practice of this statute that a fuller awareness of its truth dawned on me.

If we consider ourselves to be “free” from the practice of God’s commands as they are outlined in the so-called “Old Testament” we are relegating ourselves to a less full apprehension of God’s truths. I choose not to debate with most folks over whether we are obligated to observe the “Old Testament” commands. However, I cannot but point out, that whether it is a matter of obligation or not, it is most certainly an opportunity potentially lost.

Nothing New Under the Sun

The state of affairs today is little changed from that which has persisted for centuries.  As evidence I offer the following.  In 1923 Dr. Claude J.G. Montefiore wrote in his book The Old Testament and After:

“Jewish critics of Christianity and Christian critics of Judaism make precisely the same charges against each other. The Christian says: ‘Judaism thinks of nothing but reward. It is a low and selfish religion.’ The Jew says: ‘Christians think of nothing but saving their own souls. Christianity is a self-regarding and selfish religion.’ Yet one set of critics is as wrong as the other.”

While Jewish-Christian relations have been the emphasis of many scholarly books and conferences, the average person still thinks largely as Montefiore described above. The reality is that neither relgion is truly focused on self, but rather on the glorification of God. How then do the adherents of each come to be characterized by such a misfortunate reputation?

Community: A Malleable Attempt at Definition

I’ve been pursuing community as the ideal expression of the Gospel life for a long time.  It’s an elusive goal; though even limited expressions of community can provide wonderful experiences.

I have also witnessed true community first-hand, and it is radical, it is spiritual, and it is inescapably life-altering. It brooks no besetting sin in its midst, it forms halacha as a living, breathing thing that flows from the text (of Scripture) and is informed by the Ruach’s guidance amidst a plurality of elders. It is evangelistic in operation, not “evangelistically-minded,” by its very nature it produces disciples, not converts. It is charitable, and what it has spills over into the lives of those around it. A majority of the children raised in true community, stay in the community.

I’ve seen it, and I’ve lived amongst it for several short periods and I’ve realized that it is only possible for people who are willing to be other than.

What, you may ask, is “other than”?  It is different than the majority; it is different even from those who profess to share the same goals and values.  The difference between those who profess and those who are “other than” is observed when you mention the idea of abandoning their white picket fence or their late-model car, or a single-family dwelling.  But that is another post; note to myself–work on a description of “other than.”

Cities of Refuge Controlled by Enemies of God

it is noteworthy that five of the six cities of refuge (Israel’s ancient judicial system) are now under the control of Islamic countries. The names of the cities are Golan, Ramoth Gilead (now in Jordan), Shechem (now the Islamic city of Nablus), Hebron (now in the control of Palestinians), Bezer (also in Jordan); the only city left is Kedesh on the way to Dan and Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights. Syria is presently demanding that the Golan Heights be returned to them, which will, in fact, be the end of ancient Israel’s judicial system of the cities of refuge. That must have spiritual implications.

Care to join me in speculating on what the spiritual implications of this are?

Quote from: http://jerusalemthroughmylens.blogspot.com/2007/05/israeli-tribe-of-dan.html

Re-evaluating an Author

I did not like Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament. It was inaccessible, ethereal and elusive… and it was verbose. I didn’t like it so much, that I almost missed what may prove to be a phenomenal book.

Where Theology of the Old Testament is a massive tome of a book (700+ pages) this one is 77. Perhaps if Brueggemann had limited himself to the same brevity…well, nevermind.

Anyway, I may be jumping the gun, because I’ve just finished the Preface. However, if the Preface is any indication then Spirituality of the Psalms is going to be a great book!

Listen to some of these quotes:

We understand in baptism that the loss of control of our lives (disorientation) is the necessary precondition of new life (new orientation). – pg xi

…Psalms…is finally an act of hope. But the hope is rooted precisely in the midst of loss and darkness, where God is surprisingly present. – pg xii

…the Psalms invite us into a more honest facing of the darkness. The reason the darkness may be faced and lived in is that even in the darkness, there is One to address….Because this One has promised to be in the darkness with us, we find the darkness strangely transformed, not by the power of easy light, but by the power of relentless solidarity. – pg xii – xiii

But the psalm writers will not tolerate a faith in which human well-being is not honored. – pg xiv

Well, I start Chapter One tomorrow. I’ll let you know if the rest of the book is as good as the Preface has promised.

P.S. I started reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer today too, so I’m not sure which I’ll read tomorrow…