Finding Truth

Too often among people that treasure the Hebrew Roots of the Christian faith we find an unspoken assumption that spiritual treasures of great value are found most among the sages and mystics of Judaism, rather than among the sages and mystics of Christianity.

Those who grew up in Christianity often become disillusioned with the day-to-day unfaithfulness of bourgeois Christians. Had they, however, been born among Orthodox Jewry, they would have found the same phenomenon. It is the unfortunate reality that a passionate disciple will often feel, as Elijah did, as if he alone is faithful among many, when in truth there are “7,000” that have not bowed the knee to false gods.

We need to be careful upon discovering the great illumination of the truth of our connection to Israel/Judaism/Torah that we don’t “throw out the baby with the bathwater” as regards the towering truths and great saints of Christianity. The truth that we are a part of an often unfaithful and yet truth-possessing body (the Church) persists.

This has been true of the Church throughout history; when she was comprised predominantly of Jewish people, the Bride of Messiah was more often rebellious than faithful to her covenant promises. Since becoming peopled predominantly by Gentiles, the Bride of Messiah has been more often unfaithful than true “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1) It is a sad reality.

I happened to read two quotes today that expressed identical apprehension of truth: one by a Jewish mystic and rabbi of great repute from the late 18th through early 19th century, and one by a Christian teacher of the 20th century. I thought it might be a good reminder to us that God reveals Himself to all who seek Him, but that our primary identity is with the body of people who acknowledge Yeshua mi’Natzeret (Jesus of Nazareth) as Messiah.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813) was the first Rebbe of the Lubavitch Chasidim, who later became well known in America as followers of R. Menacham Schneerson.

This was actually heard from my master and teacher, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, when he was in a state of d’veikut [spiritual ecstasy] and would exclaim: “I want nothing at all! I don’t want Your Gan Eden. I don’t want your Olam HaBa … I want nothing but You alone!” (Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek)[1]

A.W. Tozer (1897 – 1963) was a prominent pastor within the evangelical Christian Missionary & Alliance denomination, author and magazine editor. He wrote:

To know God, this is eternal life; this is the purpose for which we are and were created. The destruction of our God-awareness was the master blow struck by Satan in the dark day of our transgression.

To give God back to us was the chief work of Christ in redemption. To impart Himself to us in personal experience is the first purpose of God in salvation. To bring acute God-awareness is the best help the Spirit brings in sanctification. All other steps in grace lead up to this.

Were we allowed but one request, we might gain at a stroke all things else by praying one all-embracing prayer:

Thyself, Lord! Give me Thyself and I can want no more.[2]

It was also Tozer who wrote,

“The Church of our day has soft-pedaled the doctrine of obedience, either neglecting it altogether or mentioning it only apologetically and without urgency. This results from a fundamental confusion of obedience with works in the minds of preacher and people. To escape the error of salvation by works we have fallen into the opposite error of salvation without obedience. In our eagerness to get rid of the legalistic doctrine of works we have thrown out the baby with the bath and gotten rid of obedience as well.[3]


[1] Rabbi Schneur Zalman, Journey of the Soul: A Chassidic Discourse by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi trans. Ari Sollish (Brooklyn: Kehot Publication Society, 2004) 13.

[2]A. W. Tozer and Harry Verploegh, We Travel an Appointed Way (Camp Hill, PA.: WingSpread, 1988), 73.

[3]A. W. Tozer, Paths to Power: Living in the Spirit’s Fullness (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 1964), 23.

The Wesley Study Bible

The General Editors of The Wesley Study Bible were Bishop Will Willimon of the United Methodist Church (Birmingham Area) and Dr. Joel Green of Fuller Theological Seminary. The contribution of Bishop Willimon was enough in itself to attract my interest in this project. Bishop Willimon is the co-author, along with Stanley Hauerwas, of the book Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, which while it was not a formative influence in my life, came into my life at a time when I was thrilled to discover that other Christians were suggesting the primary calling of believers is the development of Christ-like communities rather than attempts to reform the secular culture.

wesleystudybibleThe volume itself is not particularly appealing. It is bound cheaply in one of the seemingly endless varieties of polyurethane “pleather” covers so popular today. It has, in my opinion, an unattractive, two-tone, green and tan cover. On the plus side, it opens up and lays flat, and is remarkably “floppy” in the hand. So the bible is functional, if not aesthetically pleasing.

In fact, while some of the Tru-Tone bindings available (I’m thinking of Crossway’s ESV, for example) have proven pretty reliable, and behave like a really good leather binding, the Wesley Study Bible’s quality is extremely sub-par. There is only one edition available, and since I wanted to read the study notes, I took the plunge and ordered a copy from Cokesbury.

The spine cracked the second day I had it, and the cover began separating from the block. I was not pleased. But I just so happened to be already planning a trip to Leonard’s Book Restoration…more on that later.

Why would someone with a Hebrew Roots bent be interested in the Wesley Study Bible? Consider the comments on Psalm 106:3 as an example:

“Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.”  – Psalm 106:3 NRSV

An opening call to praise God and live righteously. It is impossible to adequately praise God (v.2), but one can live well by adhering to God’s law (v. 3)

Or the insert on the same page as Jeremiah 31:

…Wesley saw that “holiness of heart” could be misunderstood, however, as solely an interior change. The outward and ethical dimension so prominent in Scripture could be missed. So Wesley often used the phrase “inward and outward” (or “all inward and outward”) holiness to forestall any disconnection between inner transformation and outward behavior. Holiness of heart means transformation by God’s grace, enabling people to be holy, loving, and Christ-like in their relationships with one another and with the land.

Basically, because of the Wesleyan emphasis on practical holiness, there is a recognition throughout the Wesley Study Bible of the present day value of God’s law as a tool for ongoing sanctification. Likewise, because the law of God is valued there is a notable absence of the derogatory comments so common in many study bibles on passages like Colossians 2:16-17, etc.

re-bound Wesley Study BiblePractically speaking, however, what was I going to do with this Bible? The NRSV translation is not a favorite, so I won’t be using this on a day-to-day basis, which means that I want the bible to sit on my shelf, rather than have to lay flat and take up extra space. So, I had Eric at Leonard’s Book Restoration re-bind it as a hardcover. The results are extraordinarily functional and durable.

open

 

Despite its ridiculous original cover, the text block is sewn and of good paper, and the resulting hardback lays flat when opened to any page. It looks decent on the shelf, and definitely feels good to the hand.

 

 

 

on the shelf

I’m not sure I’m a fan of the printing on the spine, but the cover material is high quality.

cover material

Personal Size Reference Edition (ESV)

I’m a fan of the English Standard Version, so when I read about the single-column, reference edition of the ESV in a personal size on Mark Bertrand’s blog I knew immediately that this would become my daily use Bible.

The major problem was that (as is typical of Crossway) there was not a high-quality binding available. Fortunately, however, the “Genuine Leather” edition comes with a sewn binding and therefore begs to be rebound.

I was so tickled about the prospects of this edition that I bought a buddy of mine a copy as well. I was having a bit of difficulty getting used to the idea of spending $70 to re-bind a brand new bible, however, so the PSRE mostly sat on my shelf for several weeks, since the Genuine Leather cover exhibited more cardboard-esque than leather-like qualities.

A few weeks ago, however, I saw my buddy’s  PRSE, which he had been using daily. The state of the cover was so disconcerting (permanently curled up, etc.) that I immediately began looking in to who I should have do this re-bind.

I had previously used Mechling Book Bindery for a black goatskin re-bind of a Classic Reference Edition ESV and was fairly pleased. The quality was excellent, but the action and handling of the bible left something to be desired, which may have been my fault for using a bible with the cheapest paper available. On the other hand, goatskin is slick in the hands and I’ve dropped the bible a couple times while reading or teaching, which involuntarily elicited a “Christian” swear-word right in front of the congregation! Can’t have that happening again (for those of you wondering, I said, “doggoneit” with particular vigor.)

I checked out the prices at Abba Bibles because the photos I’ve seen of their work looks like the richest leather I’ve seen anywhere. While their quote was half of anyone else, the cost of shipping to Mexico and back was going to be four times the cost of the re-bind! So that option was out.

deerskin ESV PSRE Leonard’s Book Restoration happens to be about two hours from my house, so the Long family went on a road trip to see what a custom book binder looks like. After considerable discussion with Eric (the proprietor) and handling all the leather they had on hand, I chose a 2 ounce, natural deerskin.

I received the deerskin bible yesterday (it took 5 weeks since Eric had around 150 bibles to do before mine). I must say that this is the best handling, best feeling bible I’ve ever experienced.

Check out the color and grain of that beauty! I told Eric that I wanted a darker but still undyed, natural skin. What he had on hand was a bit lighter than I was hoping for, but he got a new shipment in, and the result is absolutely perfect. Here’s a close-up of the grain.

deerskin grain

The critical factor behind my choice of deerskin was the way it felt. I wanted that luxurious, thick leather feel, but didn’t want the slick feel that goatskin has. Deerskin was a bit tackier to the feel than calfskin, and not as expensive, plus the natural deerskin color was exactly what I wanted.

spine

I went for a blind stamping rather than foil stamping, and I’m really pleased with how that turned out.  Inside I went with a brown leatherette. I was concerned that the synthetic material would make the cover less “floppy” than I wanted, but Eric assured me that he thought it would work well.

inside cover

Sure enough, it is precisely the right combination, and produced the “action” in the hand that I wanted.  I chose chocolate brown for the ribbons and asked for three.

Eric and Margie are very friendly and will talk with you at length about what you’re looking to accomplish. Make sure to mention every detail that you want, and feel free to clarify whether what Eric describes is the same thing you’re looking for. Eric enjoys talking so don’t call when you’re in a hurry.

Check out the delightful result:

cover action

Leonard’s Book Restoration can be reached at (574) 652-2151; they are also very responsive to email. Their website is www.leonardsbooks.com.

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In the Hand

I should point out, however, that I have large hands, so this picture could be slightly misleading.

12 Tribes Part IV

Well, it’s been two years since I posted about the 12 Tribes, but a conversation this morning caused me to realize that I need to post a follow-up!

I remain fascinated by the 12 Tribes and amazed by the biblical lifestyle nature of their communities. I have spent a total of 15 days with them, visting on several occasions and in two different communities.

There were two factors that convinced us not to join the 12 Tribes communities. The first was sitting in on a morning of their homeschooling. They did a great job of educating their children, they have well developed curriculum, and I was impressed with the nature of homeschool with a group–taught by community adults. However, since I don’t agree with all their theology and since their theology (rightfully so) is woven into the very fabric of their teaching, I could not imagine how I could subject my kids to day-to-day teaching that I could not affirm.

Secondly, a close friend of mine and I were blessed to be at a community when a participant expressed the desire to covenant with the community, so we witnessed their baptism/induction ceremony. The key factor that stood out to us was the necessity of forswearing the Christian Jesus, and swearing allegiance to “Yahshua.” It was stressed that the Christian Jesus was not truly Messiah and that the prospective member must reject all that had led her forward in faith prior to meeting the Community.

This was a MAJOR red light to my friend and I. Granted, I have never met a group of people among whom the Spirit seems so present, however, since it was the Spirit of God and the Messiah Jesus (Yeshua, Jesu, etc., whatever name He may be called in various cultural and linguistic contexts) that has led us to where we are today, there is no possible way that I could reject the very God Who brought me to Him. Nor can I in good conscience say that the only true name of God’s Son is “Yahshua.” In fact, it is a made up name and there is no historical evidence to suggest that his mother called him anything other than “Yeshua” (or a nickname thereof).

What this experience emphasized to me was the abounding grace of God. I believe that the 12 Tribes truly know Him and are pursuing Him, even in the midst of a grave misunderstanding on their part (a misunderstanding that one can sort of understand; truly mainstream Christianity has often seriously misrepresented the true character and teaching of Jesus). However, I cannot give my assent to this monumental error, not even to benefit from their prophetic lifestyle of radical Gospel living.

Finally, there were other nagging issues like a series of interviews done with two men that were a long time part of the 12 Tribes and part of the upper echelon, the strangeness of Eugene Sprigg (aka Yoneq), the founder of the 12 Tribes, etc. that make me think that in many ways the 12 Tribes do not represent a balanced, healthy environment–particularly not for raising kids.

With all that having been said, there is a lot we can stand to learn from the 12 Tribes and their radical dedication to living out God’s instructions. There is a lot we may take as examples of what not to do, but much to be admired.

Someday I hope to write about them much more in depth, as they bear significant sociological investigation as regards Christian communities throughout the ages.

Bob Pardon of the New England Institute of Religious Research has this to say in their “Conclusion” about the 12 Tribes:

Our initial reactions, when we had the privilege to visit various Communities, were only positive. We have met many, many fine people who have given up their lives to Messianic Communities. Thus, upon first exposure to the group there does appear to be a love that is demonstrated in a way not often found in Christianity. However, there is a seamier side to Communities life. The devastation in most ex-member’s lives, and the teachings of Spriggs, evidence a litany of spiritual and emotional abuse. In their zeal to “forsake all for Yahshua” it is, in reality, a forsaking all for the Communities. This is because the members commitment to Messianic Communities is their commitment to God. This is a common confusion that often occurs in high control groups.

I don’t agree with everything that Pardon concludes about the 12 Tribes, but this seems to be an accurate analysis.  (http://neirr.org/mcconclu.html)

Another Look At Proverbs 3:5-6

I’d like to challenge us to take another look at a very familiar passage. Yesterday David, Edith, Ruth and I had a good discussion about the necessity of learning to “live in the tension” as believers who have embraced the Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith.

I thought Proverbs 3:5-6 might hold the key to some encouraging thoughts as we anticipate walking this not so simple path.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

So familiar, eh? And yet, it is a timely reminder, particularly when we begin to contemplate the word “ways”, which comes from the word derek in Hebrew. Derek (H1870) is a noun that derives from the verb darak (H1869), which means “to walk.” So we understand that derek can be understood to mean “the way that one walks” or the path that one walks. What word does that remind you of? Yep – halacha: way or manner of walking.

We might responsibly re-read Proverbs 3:5-6 like this:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your halacha acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

As we contemplate being trailblazers in a world that has forgotten the rule or standard by which good is measured, we can be assured that as we trust in the LORD, and as we acknowledge Him in our attempts to put His teaching into practice, He will straighten our paths.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Galatians 6:7 ESV)

Be strong and courageous. The LORD will not leave you nor forsake you.

The Story

Have you ever wondered why Jesus so often taught in parables?

Eugene Peterson wrote:

… if we want to change our way of life, acquiring the right image is far more important than diligently exercising willpower.[1] Willpower is a notoriously sputtery engine on which to rely for internal energy, but a right image silently and inexorably pulls us into its field of reality, which is also a field of energy.[2]

A story paints a picture. If it is true that “willpower is a notoriously sputtery engine,” (to this I think we can all attest) but that the right image or vision contains an inherent power to cause change, then painting pictures with words, or to say it another way—to tell stories, is perhaps the most powerful thing we can do when it comes to transforming our lives, and indeed, the world.

It should not surprise us that Jesus knew this! Viva storytelling!!!

The insistent argument of post-modernism is that there is no Grand Story that makes sense of the world. The late Robert E. Webber, Myers Professor of Ministry at Northern Seminary in Illinois, and founder of the Institute for Worship Studies, was a prolific author. His final book—literally dictated from his deathbed—is titled Who Gets to Narrate the World?.

Dr. Webber considered this question to be the most pressing spiritual issue of our time.[3] Webber believed that Christianity in America will not survive if Christians are not rooted in and informed by the uniquely Christian story that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wherever there has been conflict in the world—throughout history—it has been as a result of conflicting stories meeting head-on. In days past, this happened relatively rarely, but in today’s highly mobile society, where the views of any obscure philosophy are only a google-search away, competing stories are colliding at an unprecedented rate. Will we teach our children to cope with this new reality by giving them to understand that Jesus is “the way for me” or that He is “the way, the truth, and the life”?

This may come as a surprise, but the answer to that question will be determined by storytelling; by whether we do it, by whether we do it convincingly, and by whether we live in accordance with the story we say we believe—by whether we do it well.

My passion is to tell the story of the gospel—God’s narrative as told in Scripture—in a manner that makes it leap from the pages into our lives! Too often we consider the Scriptures theology to be studied (and it is), principles to follow (most certainly it is), maxims to remember, or archaic stories of people who lived long ago in a situation far removed from ours, and who found solutions little relating to the predicaments of today. May it never be so!

The Scriptures are not just a collection of stories, but a meta-narrative, an over-arching tale that gives meaning, purpose, and sustenance to our lives. It tells us our place in history, our role in society, the hope of our future, and the way we should “walk” today (Eph. 2:10).

If it is true that the road to the future lies in the past, it is also true that when the past has been lost or neglected there is no certain future.[4]

R.C. Sproul has said that “truth is reality as God perceives it.” Let’s make sure our children understand the world according to the story that God tells.


[1] Hauerwas, Stanley. Vision and Virtue (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981) p.2

[2] Peterson, Eugene. Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) p. 6

[3] Webber, Robert. Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008) p. 16

[4] Ibid

Why Does God Save Us?

I’m not sure if I’ve blogged about it, but I often speak about the reality that God wants His people to bear His image to the watching world. In fact, I think this is one of the reasons that God is so jealous for His image; He has taken no form other than us and in Messiah we are to reflect His image to the world.

The way we become accurate reflecters is, having been justified, we subsequently grow in sanctification, imitating with ever more accuracy our Lord Jesus Christ (“Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children.” Eph 5:1).

A young child imitates his parents by watching them. I’ve seen a picture from my childhood that left a significant impression on me. I must be 3 or 4 years old and my dad is standing at the bathroom mirror shaving, while I’m standing on the toilet lid next to him also scraping shaving cream off my face with an empty razor.

The question is how do we “watch” God in order to imitate Him? The answer is His commandments. The church has universally taken the position that the Law of God is the expression of His character, and as such when we obey the laws of God, we imitate His character. When we read the Gospels we see an example of God incarnate walking out His laws in a fully human yet fully divine manner. This is what it means for Jesus to have “fulfilled” the law. First, Jesus embodied the law, secondly He lived according to it perfectly. This is the example we are to “watch” and imitate. Follow Jesus and labor to keep the law in the same manner as He did.

I was tickled this morning to run across a verse that makes this entire concept explicit. Psalm 105 is a recounting of the wondrous deeds of God on behalf of His people. It ends with an explanation of God’s purpose in working on our behalf:

So he brought his people out with joy; his chosen ones with singing.
And he gave them the lands of the nations,
And they took possession of the fruit of the people’s toil,
That they might keep his statutes and observe his laws.
Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 105:44-45 ESV)

Did you notice the significance? The psalmist tells us that God did all these wondrous deeds “in order that” His people might keep his statutes and observe his laws! Why is that our mission? Because when we imitate/reflect God’s image we will be a “city set on a hill.”