A Favorite Post

The following link will take you to one of my favorite blog posts/articles ever. I first read it a long time ago (those of you who know me well will realize that I don’t know if it was 9 months ago or 3 years ago…but it was not recently), and I had the pleasure of forgetting about it and then re-discovering it again tonight.

I highly recommend you read and savor it.

My Favorite Recent Post on Community

I have become increasingly convinced that the whole of life is intended to be lived in community. I don’t mean the tie dye shirt, hemp underwear, and cow dung houses kind of community, although I am sure that could qualify. (I am also sure that a house made of dung would still be cleaner than anywhere I lived before I was married and taught how to clean.) What I mean is that written into our DNA is the need for other people to be let in on what is going on in our lives, including the embarrassing or even downright ugly portions. I would like to think that the past three years I have gotten a little closer to the way I am supposed to live regarding other people, although it is still unnatural for me.

Jobless Minister

Working and Resting…and Saving, well on everything

I highly recommend the article “Physical Work, Spiritual Health,” by Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth.

Here’s an excerpt:

All honest work can be done for the glory of God. As time passes and we grow in our understanding of God and the uniqueness of this planet, we reject more and more “laborsaving” machines. There is an old saying: If you are troubled, chop wood and carry water. This is wise advice. If you pray at the same time, so much the better. Begin to build an hour of work into your daily life. The result will be more life in your day. The flip side of work is rest. God commands all of us to take a day of rest each week, but how many of us take His advice?

Emerging

We are all emerging from something. I like the biblical metaphor of emerging from Egypt to Sinai and beyond. The process of becoming a former slave, part of a new people, and a person with a mission.

A pivotal question for us all to ask ourselves as we leave behind our past, is whether we will allow our past or our future) to define our present.

Sounds good, eh? However, when the rubber hits the road it becomes a different thing. For some of us that means letting go of bitterness over having been lied to in the past. Focus instead on the overwhelming amount of truth that was imparted to you. For some of us that means holding on to our identity as members of a flawed ancestry, rather than attempting to embrace a new identity that is not really our own.

The “emerging church” sparks a lot of reaction these days, and I have often said that I like a lot of the questions they’re asking though I cringe at some of the answers posited. I was glad to read someone from the midst of the emerging movement say that it is not enough to embrace disequilibrium, one must also cling to the healing nature of the Gospel message.

The emerging church is a place where people have felt the freedom to explore questions and experiment with new forms of lifestyle and corporate practice. Often these questions have been about the essence of the Christ-message, vocation, the nature and form of the church, cultural and philosophical analysis, and the present agenda of God in the world.

We should acknowledge that, for many of us, the door was opened to re-imagine faith and the church through pain, disappointment, failure, fatigue, burn-out, public or private humiliation, or a sense of personal alienation. …

At times I’m fearful that permission to be deconstructive has attracted personalities that are prone to criticism, angst, and melancholy. Some of us seem to avoid our unresolved personality issues, organic depressive tendencies, and relational difficulties by transference to a perceived “spiritual crisis.” Some among us need encouragement and support to face our personal difficulties more directly, rather than attributing so much of our struggles to ecclesiological or philosophical issues.

An Emergent Manifesto of Hope: Some among us, like the animals of the forest, have sensed a storm on the horizon…

My question is: will we embrace the transforming changes the Holy Spirit is working in our lives while still cherishing our history, or will we plant the seeds of our own brokenness in the lives of our children? Thereby forcing them or more likely their grandchildren to working through the same issues that crippled the beginnings of our spiritual walks.

Which Ones?

All the mitzvot [commandments] I am giving you today you are to take care to obey (Deuteronomy 8:1).
This Scripture actually describes God’s commandments in the singular (kol hamitzvah). The emphasis is not on following each one of God’s instructions as separate or distinct parts. Instead, they need to be viewed as a whole, as the Artscroll Tanach reads, “the entire commandment.” In other words, each part of the Torah is interconnected. Ya’akov (James) makes the same point as he reflects on this passage in James 2:8-12. This means we cannot treat Scripture as a dinner menu, selecting just those items which are most appetizing.

‘The Voice of the Lord’ on StudyLight.org

Have you ever reflected on this reality?  How do you decide which commandments in Scripture to obey and which to ignore?  Are there any that can be ignored?  Some people suggest that only those mentioned in the Apostolic Scriptures must be followed. However, this is misleading for several reasons, not the least of which is what we mentioned in the last post. The common assumption being that Jesus boiled the commands we have to worry about down to just the big two, but au contraire…there are actually considerably more in the so-called “New Testament” than in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Are God’s commands, whether they are in the first 2/3 or the last 1/3 of the Scriptures, intended to be burdensome?  As Paul would say, “Certainly not!”, they form His Owner’s Manual to Life. How many of us men have ignored the Instruction Manual too long when attempting to put together the latest furniture purchase that our wife has proudly deposited on the living room floor–in a box of course?  Guilty as charged! However, on a side note, I must say that I have learned my lesson and I religiously (pun intended) follow the instructions now.  It’s amazing how I only have to put the darn thing together once or perhaps twice before I have it right.  Whereas in the past…well, we won’t talk about the past, my blood pressure is doing just fine where it is, thank you.

Does this mean that if we can’t keep the whole of Torah we might as well give up and not keep any of it? That’s like the story of the bear who goes into the cornfield and fills his arms with ears of corn. As he leaves, he drops one ear. Dissatisfied with losing part of his haul, he throws down the rest and goes back to gather more. Again he drops an ear as he leaves the field. Again, dissatisfied, he throws away the remainder and returns to get more. He does this repeatedly. Eventually, he goes away hungry.

‘The Voice of the Lord’ on StudyLight.org

That’s right, though I too often hear this argument, “Why should I worry about everything the Torah says, I can’t even do what’s in the New Testament right?!”, it’s actually a completely ridiculous idea.  First of all, not to beat a dead horse, but there’s more commandments in the New Testament than in the Old.

Ok, if I don’t get to a new idea soon PETA is going to be picketing my blog.  Stay tuned, for a totally new idea…

Words for Torah

In Psalm 119:129-136 the psalmist uses seven different words to describe the Torah: today we look at the second word. It is “word/s” (devar). Psalm 119:130: “The unfolding of your words gives light;it gives understanding to the simple.”

Jesus Creed » Bible words: Word

It is great to read a traditional evangelical scholar focusing on Psalm 119! The reason I wanted to highlight this is that Scot McKnight has recognized the seven words used as synonyms for torah. Too often this reality is ignored when we Christians read the psalms.

We all ought to go through the Psalms and Proverbs on the lookout for the following words:

  • word
  • instruction
  • teaching
  • commandments
  • precepts
  • light
  • truth

I think it would revolutionize our concept of the way Torah (throughout Scripture) is supposed to interact with our day to day life. (I think it might change our understanding of a few other things as well, but I’ll look forward to hearing about that from you.)

Gazelles

Have you ever wondered why Jewish boys were prohibited from reading the Song of Songs until age 13?  I distinctly remember the first time I heard this as a young adolescent.  Guess what I went home to read that evening?  I also recall my disappointment…”is that all there is to it?”  Now, of course, I realize that a lot went over my head (isn’t God masterful?).

Rabbi Akiva said,

The entire world, all of it, is not equal in worth to the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel. Why? Because all other books in the Writings are holy, whereas the Song of Songs is holy of holies. (Sefer Ha-Aggadah, Section 136 – Song)

So while I have a more mature appreciation of Shir HaShirim these days, one phrase has continued to puzzle me–until today.

Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies. Song of Solomon 4:5 (ESV)

And then I ran into this fascinating insight on the Blue Cord biblioblog:

…He (Marvin Pope) notes that in Akkadian, anpu means “nose,” just as its cognate ap does in Hebrew. But in Akkadian, it also means “nipple.” Hebrew probably also had this meaning, but it is not preserved. So, just as the face of the gazelle slopes down to the nose, so does the breast slope down to the nipple. It is not only a wonderful image but a great play on words as well.

So there you go, you’ve always wondered and now you know.  I have a totally new appreciation for gazelles.

Avinu Shebashamayim

For those who regularly pray from the siddur, I believe you will find this of interest. I have often pondered the specifics of how The Lord’s Prayer fit in to the liturgy of Messiah’s day. Over on the FFOZ blog, Aaron Eby has made a compelling case that the Lord’s Prayer was prayed at the end of the Amidah in place of the standard conclusion known as Elohai Netzor.

The essence of his point is that Elohai Netzor was composed by Mar, son of Rabina, and taught to Mar’s disciples, as was the case with many Sages who used their own custom concluding prayer, and taught it to their disciples. As disciples of Yeshua, it would seem fitting then that we would conclude ha Tefillah with His prayer.

Labels

Much to the consternation of some of my friends (and the glee of others) I persistently describe myself as a “Calviminian”, and since I don’t want this post to be about those two venerable Christian positions, I’ll leave it to your imagination to decide what I mean by that.

However, and this brings to my point, which is more about what we mean by words we use, as opposed to what others understand when they hear the same labels. I read an anecdote on Prof. John Stackhouse’s blog today that struck me as sort of funny and sort of sad, but definitely as an accurate commentary on the status of language and labels today.

The story went like this:

A Presbyterian scholar had finished a public lecture and a questioner then spoke up: “Are you a Calvinist, then?”

The scholar was about to reply affirmatively, but then wisely asked instead, “Well, what do you mean by ‘Calvinist’?”

“I mean someone who worships a God who enjoys damning babies to hell.”

“O-o-o-kay,” he responded. “Then I’m not a Calvinist. But neither is John Calvin.”

I’d recommend the entire post, as it is a good reflection.

http://stackblog.wordpress.com/2006/12/30/geez-am-i-a-liberal-evangelical/

Who Was Yeshua?

It has often been posited on the web that we ought to be following Yeshua as our Rebbe. I absolutely agree. However, who exactly was Yeshua? Was he a Pharisee? Was he an Essene? Was he something else all together?

I seriously doubt Yeshua was a Pharisee.

Of course, just to make that statement is an anachronism–well, sort of. If Prof. David Flusser (of blessed memory) can be believed (and I think he can), there was no such thing as “Pharisees”; rather, the term was one of derision used by the adversaries of the Sages and their disciples. The one exception to this being that when writing in Greek, it seems that they did use the term “Pharisee” (witness, the writings of Josephus and Rav Shaul) to refer to themselves.

“This was the time [referring to the rise of the Karaites ] when the Rabbis began to identify with the Pharisees, without realizing that the word “Pharisees” never appears in the Talmudic sources as a general designation of the Sages (except when used by their opponents).” – Flusser, David. Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, p 27.

In other words, in the 2nd Temple period there was no monolithic, codified halacha, nor a single homogeneous group that rendered authoritative halachic decisions. Yeshua was not a part of the political party who rose to dominance in the wake of Salome Alexandra and John Hyrcanus. However, it is reality that the Pharisees heavily influenced the Sanhedrin and the general populace. As a result, Yeshua would have practiced halacha that was at times so intertwined with so-called Pharasaic halacha as to be indistinguishable.

We must be very careful when attempting to re-construct who Yeshua “aligned with” not to project historical attempts at categorization into the reality that Yeshua actually lived, breathed, ate, slept and walked in. At the end of the day, the line between assuming present day orthodox halacha as a norm and what I am calling for is a very fine distinction. However, I’m unrelenting on this issue, because that fine line is such an important one to observe.

The difference will be a deciding factor in whether our movement slides into legalism. It will be a deciding factor in whether our movement imitates our Master or those who rejected Him. Are we beit Yeshua or beit ben Zakkai ?

This is why I’ve been emphasizing maturity. The temptation to slide into a norm unless it obviously contradicts Scripture is so strong, yet deceptively non-confrontational. But that mistake would lead us down a path we don’t want to follow, just as Christianity has gone down a path of compromise one slight acceptance at a time.

The process of weighing and creating our own halacha as we carefully attempt to interpret Yeshua’s way of walking is a difficult but enormously healthy practice. And that practice ought to be re-worked every generation or two, lest it become codified tradition that the then current generation doesn’t internalize nor truly comprehend.

Some may say, we just need to teach our children to study the halacha that we form. But that ignores basic human nature. Ask yourself what has driven your own passionate re-evaluation of Scripture, of Yeshua, of all things associated with “Christianity”, “Judaism” and the Bible. It was exactly the situation that resulted from generations of believers who didn’t know why the traditions that surrounded them existed.

Let’s commit ourselves to passionately pursuing the imitation of Yeshua and His talmidim. Let’s commit to becoming His talmidim in our own right. But let’s always remember that there is no unbroken chain of custody from His direct talmidim, and hold our decisions regarding what it looks like to follow him in an open hand. Let’s model for our children the process of constantly weighing what the truths of Scripture mean about walking in the dust that Yeshua is stirring up on today’s highways.

Let me also admit here and now that this post is an overly simplistic attempt to address this seriously complex issue. However, hopefully this post will at least prompt positive questions and discussion, because the issue itself needs several books engaged in an ongoing conversation.

Torah, Tradition & Mezzuzot

The following is written in response to the blog of Boaz Michael, which I highly recommend, by the way). There have been a series of blogs concerning the publishing of an upcoming book on mezuzahs and an effort to procure kosher-certified scrolls to go inside of mezuzahs for your door post. Additionally, Boaz has been engaged in an on-going dialog with Russ Resnick from the UMJC about the place of Torah in the life of believers in Yeshua. Resnick and the UMJC think the Torah is for Jews only. Boaz and FFOZ believe the Torah is for all who believe (for all who believe are the sons of Abraham).

All of this is inextricably bound up with the place of tradition. Who defines it, who certifies it, to whom does it belong? Should Gentile-believers in Yeshua keep the Torah? If so, who are the proper authorities for determining what it means to not work on the Sabbath? If we put a mezuzah on our door post, are we beholden to do so in the same manner that orthodox Jews do? Orthodox Jews don’t even believe it is acceptable for a Gentile to keep the Sabbath, but require that if you honor it, that you also break it slightly in some manner.

The following are my thoughts on all this. Some of what I say will only make sense if you’ve read Boaz’ blog and the comments posted there.

I submit to you that the reason the “Sharpie guy” is no longer keeping the commandments is more likely that he had no community joining him in his practice rather than that he was “re-inventing the halachic wheel” or was un-jewish in his praxis.

The key to success is that we agree and have a larger community that agrees (at least more or less) with our halachah, not that we be rabbinically Jewish in our orthopraxy. There is such a fine line between thinking that it would be nice to have a kosher klef and thinking that it’s not ok to write your own. In fact, my guess is that it would be more meaningful and “kavannah-inducing” to labor over your own klef in love, pondering how to evidence your reverence for HaShem and His words, than to pay a steep price for one a sofer penned.

Perhaps we need a “One-Torah” halachah for writing a klef, that might not be a bad idea, but we need to remember that God never specified which of His words to write on our door, nor how to write them—the principle served by creating halachah around this practice is two-fold: 1) to aid in having a proper reverence for Avinu and for His Words, and 2) to aid in forming identity as mitzvoth-keeping, Yeshua-believing, worshippers of God.

We need tradition, indeed tradition is critical to the existence of a community—without it there is no community. However, the most important thing to remember about tradition is that it exists to serve principles, and it must always remain so. Traditions can and most likely should change from generation to generation, but the principles (mitzvoth, ordinances, etc.) remain the same.

In urging an affinity with rabbinic Jewish tradition surrounding how to keep God’s commands, we are one small step away from the UMJC’s mistake of seeking to be recognized as a legitimate Judaism–by Judaisms that reject Yeshua. Whatever their reasons today (which are more than understandable) historically they rejected Him. Jamie Guinn made a phenomenal observation in one of his comments, “They want to connect more fully with “Judaism”, we want to connect more fully with the root of Judaism.”

Why is it not arrogance when a Breslover disagrees in halacha with a Lubavitcher, but it is arrogance when a Messianic forms halacha?

There are plenty of stories of individual observant Jews responding positively to individual Messianics observing various Torah commands (tzitzit, etc.), but there are also cases of individuals having negative responses. The issue is not with the action of the doer, but with the heart of the viewer.

There is a historical reality that we must keep in mind. The goal we are seeking is to return to an authentic representation of Yeshua’s belief system and practice. Rabbinic Judaism is just as different an entity from the religious system practiced by Yeshua as is traditional Christianity. They both formed and defined themselves in opposition to the other, and in opposition to the sect of The Way.

There is just as much danger in appropriating modern Jewish halachah as a sort of default as there is in doing the same thing with evangelical tradition. Not a one of us would consider the latter, why are we so tempted to consider the former?

We were grafted into the root, not into one of its offshoots (rabbinic Judaism). We are seeking to partake of the rich sap from that root, not the fruit that one of its branches (a branch that rejected the historical Messiah…not the a-historical Jesus that Christianity has presented) has produced.

I am the first guy to recommend studying and benefiting from the Talmud and the midrash. It reflects in many ways the cultural milieu that Yeshua and his talmidim were formed and influenced by. Ignoring the ancient Jewish writings is a sure-fire way to misinterpret the 1st century writings of the talmidim.

The approval or understanding of greater Judaism ought not be our concern (at least not a guiding one). They will consider the writing of our own siddur arrogance as well. Is it? No.

Granted, the guy with a sharpie may have chosen unwisely in his attempt to walk out the command. But we need not go the other direction and lay significant value on a kosher klef either. A klef can’t be un-kosher. I must confess mine is kosher…so I’m not arguing against using one. Like Justin said, when it doesn’t violate Torah feel free, but let’s not mistake ‘feel free to use” with “this is the preferred method”.

In my opinion, it would be preferable for FFOZ to produce their own tiny scrolls for mezzuzot in a method involving kavannah, fear of God and respect for His word, then to seek rabbinically kosher one’s. Lest some mistake an effort to procure them (and subsequent premium price) as a need for the approval of those men. What we need as a movement is One-Torah halachah at a high level with local community elders providing specific guidance. Always teaching that tradition exists to potentiate the keeping of commandments as a people/community and serves the principle, rather than the commandments being bound to the tradition.