Does the Love of God Teach Us?

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A Facebook friend recently posted an insightful comment that provokes a discussion: Does God’s love teach us the difference between good and evil? The answer to the question is much deeper than the query itself: it is obvious that at a certain level, the experience of God’s love teaches us simply by virtue of His presence. We see who He is, and we are overwhelmed by His grace toward us as undeserving sinners. It is the orientation point that properly aligns our relationship with God and man; it is the central value from which every other aspect of the Judeo-Christian experience flows.

But we have to ask, “What is the nature of this love—what are the boundaries that shape its character?” And here is where the Torah comes into play. It describes who God is—what He means when He says, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Jesus, of course, is the ultimate and perfect interpretation of the Torah; but even when taking the approach of His earthly life into account, we can still be deceived into falsely ascribing certain characteristics to God’s love when we deliberately divorce it from the Torah. This is how we have arrived at a place where a homosexual truly believes that ‘loving’ his gay partner is godly; that abortion up to and even after birth is not only a right, but a moral imperative; that it is shrewd and perhaps even righteous to avoid our social, ethical, financial, parental, educational, professional, and ecological responsibilities, even to the point of oppressing others; and that ‘self-care’ has become our highest value.

A textbook example was displayed on the ABC series The Bachelorette Sunday night (7/15/19; I do NOT normally watch this show, but happened to catch this clip and was intrigued by the discussion of morality—on a show that has none.) Apparently, the suitor was concerned about the bachelorette’s relationships with the other suitors. He stated that while he understood that they had both sinned in this area of their lives previously, he had committed himself to honoring God’s instructions going forward—to not have sexual relations outside of marriage. He said he would leave the show if she was not similarly committed and had sex with any of the other suitors (keep in mind that both of these people claim to be Christians).

Her response? “…you're questioning me, […] you're judging me and feel like you have the right to when you don't at this point.” “You don’t own me. You’re not my husband.” “I have had sex…yeah. And Jesus still loves me.” As is so often the case, she used the story of Jesus forgiving the woman who was caught in adultery to justify her behavior (John 8:1-11); what was even worse is that the gentleman either did not have the knowledge, the moral resources, or his wits about him enough to remind her of the end of the story, where Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-38 describe how the Holy Spirit works inside of us to write the Torah on our hearts in the New Covenant: through our relationship with God, He changes us internally to reflect the morality of the Torah. But many Christian teachers today are saying that the Sinai Covenant (and the Torah which is central to it) was made obsolete by Jesus’ death on the cross; if this is true, there would be no value system to internalize—but this is exactly what they are suggesting in their presentation of the Gospel.

They say that God gave Israel a bunch of rules that nobody could keep except for Jesus, who died so that we wouldn’t have to obey them anymore; now, all one needs to do is believe in Jesus, and God will forgive us and allow us to spend eternity with Him because He loves us and gives us grace no matter what we’ve done or will ever do in the future.

This presents an insanely confusing message to our society, which Generation X, the Millennials, and GenZ are rejecting wholesale as complete hypocrisy. By denouncing the Torah’s continued validity, we have cut ourselves off from understanding God’s love as the transformational power it actually is, selling God’s grace toward us as a ‘golden ticket’—a license to worship our own appetites. Yes, Jesus reconciles us to God through His atoning death, His resurrection, and subsequent eternal high priesthood, which by default eliminates the need for blood sacrifices and the human priesthood called for in the Torah; but this simply allows the Holy Spirit to indwell us in order to complete the transformation of our nature that God has always desired from the very beginning. His ultimate goal is to restore us to His image—to reestablish us as His representatives in the earth. We need to be re-connected to the Torah to allow God’s love to achieve its full transformational effect; but if we decry the Torah as the revelation of God’s holy nature of love, we frustrate and hinder God’s work in us.

This forces us to see the Torah from a different perspective: instead of a body of rules creating a debt that must be paid, the Torah is a picture of God’s righteousness, which is being worked into us by the Holy Spirit. Whereas the Torah shows our lack of righteousness, it also shows what we are becoming because of God’s love being made manifest in us—and that’s a comforting thought!

So, does God’s love teach us? Yes, but only when we understand how His love is defined by the Torah.

To Eat or Not to Eat: That Is the Question

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My life has been radically changed the last few months—I mean, truly revolutionized. On January 1st of this year, I started reading Breaking the Stronghold of Food by Dr. Michael and Nancy Brown, which recounts their journey of each losing 90 pounds in eight months, their struggle with food addiction, and practical steps for recovery. I already respected Dr. Brown as a very balanced theologian who 'gets it'; I believe his heart properly reflects God's intention for the way we should live our lives, and that he is truly sincere in his aspiration to Biblical Faith. When he and his wife came out with their testimony, I couldn't believe Dr. Brown was ever fat!

My own story is fairly common among people in my age group: I was an immutably lanky teenager—I was one of those people who could seemingly eat whatever I wanted and never had to worry about it. When I graduated high school, I weighed 145 pounds. I gained some weight through my college years, attributing the increase to the development of my adult body, and I think I was around 175 or so when I got married in 1994. But after my last daughter was born in 2007, my metabolism apparently slowed down, I quickly got fatter and fatter, and my health went down the drain just as rapidly: I always had been susceptible to respiratory diseases, but I truly became terrified to be near anyone with a cold or flu, as the symptoms would sometimes linger for three months or more; I had several attacks of gout (which I relieved with cherry juice and other foods containing anthocyanins); I had frequent migraine-level headaches that would incapacitate me for hours; even though I had intermittent digestive issues from childhood, these got worse when I got fat (probiotics helped, but were not a cure); I had continuous joint pain that made it difficult to move, and I had to push through the constant pain to do anything that I enjoyed or was simply required to do; the tissues in my neck, face, and tonsil area had swollen so much that it was constricting my airway, making it nearly impossible for me to sing, and causing unbearable snoring at night that my wife had to endure.

I thought these symptoms were just problems of getting older, but then I went for a physical in June 2017. Surprisingly, my blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure were only at the high range of normal; but at that time, I weighed in at 235 pounds. I had elevated ALT enzyme levels and after an ultrasound, I was diagnosed with fatty liver. Earlier on in the year, I had decided that the Atkins school of thought made some sense (the idea that eating fats is not the issue, and that excessive intake of carbs was the root cause of why so many people are obese). So, I had increased my consumption of meat while eliminating my ingestion of 'big carbs' (sugar, potatoes, rice, bread, pasta, etc.) After the physical, I increased my intake of dandelion root, which helps the liver metabolize fats, and this helped a little with my increasing stomach trouble. But this haphazard approach of high meat protein, high-fat with 'medicine' to help burn off some of the fat did nothing to help me lose weight—in fact, I gained even more throughout the year (see the collage below for my progression). I also suspected possible 'low-T', and bought some longjack powder (which tastes terrible, by the way, and did nothing). All of this reached a boiling point when I began to truly have shortness of breath after doing simple tasks, and would almost black out bending over to tie my shoes. I was scared, and knew I needed to do something.

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Then Dr. Brown began to talk about his book and the journey it described on his Line of Fire radio show, and I was intrigued. I was never one for New Year's resolutions, but over the winter holiday season I decided I would read Mike and Nancy's story, hoping it would be a springboard into some sort of journey to good health. As I immediately devoured it, the LORD convicted me that I had developed an addiction to food. I realized that I was eating all the time: when I was bored, tired, stressed, depressed, angry—anything could trigger my 'need' to grab a bite. I was looking to food for comfort and to gratify my desires rather than finding my satisfaction and provision in the LORD. Beyond all the health problems and obesity, this was the root cause for me, and I had to address my idolatry head on.

I repented before the LORD, and asked the Holy Spirit to cause me to transform my desires. I then partnered with the Holy Spirit by intentionally making the following changes:

  • I immediately stopped all snacking between meals, holding myself strictly to eating only three times per day
  • I completely eliminated all junk and pre-packaged foods from my diet other than a small dessert serving on a special occasion such as a birthday or holiday: no chips, crackers, pretzels, cookies, ice cream, candy, etc. I no longer eat convenience foods—even those that are marketed as organic or 'healthy'.
  • I transformed my plate from a majority-meat dish with a starch and vegetable to a majority-plant based, low-calorie, high-nutirition meal with meat, dairy, and 'big carb' starches GREATLY reduced in quantity (wheat has virtually been eliminated—see below). Meat is now at best an accent food; most of my meals are vegetarian if not vegan.
  • (These first three changes were the most critical to my success)
  • I have eliminated all processed flours with the exception of chickpea or other bean flour, which I use in VERY SMALL quantities. While I am trying to reach my weight loss goals, I have eliminated all bread including any non-bean/chickpea pasta, and I have gone mostly gluten-free.
  • While I still eat grains and starches like corn, rice, and potatoes, I have reduced my intake to less than 10% of all my calories consumed. Furthermore, I try to eat whole grain rice and purple- or red- skinned potatoes instead of white potatoes (steamed to retain nutrients rather than fried or even boiled).
  • I have erased all added sugar from my diet, eating only natural sugars that are present in fruits. I use only fruit and stevia (a naturally sweet, no-calorie herb) as sweeteners.
  • I have GREATLY REDUCED my intake of oil, using only enough to coat the bottom of a pan to keep food from sticking. I vastly prefer to eat whole foods (olives vs. olive oil, fruit vs. fruit juice, nuts vs. nut oils) as the body uses the dietary fiber from these foods to slow or bypass the absorption of calories and sugar contained within them.
  • What small quantity of meat I now consume is among the list of clean meats prescribed in the Bible: my diet is now 'kosher-style.'

The LORD gave me the discipline to push through the temptations, and following these steps, I have lost 70 pounds from when I began the diet in January to the time I am completing this writing (6/30/18)—so I am thinner even than the picture at the bottom right in the collage. I have gone from pushing a size 40 waist to nearly a size 32 (my size 34 shorts are loose on me now.)

More importantly, all the conditions I listed previously have disappeared completely (though I have yet to return to the doctor to confirm a lowering of ALT levels): the joint pain went away two weeks into the diet; inflammation is completely gone; headaches are history; I have had no stomach problems after the first week; I have had a HUGE surge in energy; the swelling in my facial and throat tissues has been eliminated—I can sing with no issues, there are no coughing or choking fits, and my wife says I no longer snore; where I could not bend over to tie my shoes, I now have full mobility; I have no shortness of breath; I only got a cold once during this time—the symptoms were very mild and went away in THREE DAYS instead of three MONTHS; and so far, no gout or precursory symptoms have appeared (I do not expect I will be dealing with this again)!

All of this was achieved with very little exercise—the vast majority of my lifestyle change has been diet alone. This is very important for people who are obese and in pain to understand. Most of us are NOT healthy enough to exercise—a person has to lose a certain amount of weight through dietary changes before they can begin an exercise regimen in order to avoid damage to their body due to the strain of all the excess tissue. This is very achievable: HALF of my weight loss occurred in the first 30 days of my new lifestyle without any exercise at all. As I began to feel better, I slowly increased my exercise level to keep the calorie-burning engine chugging down the tracks; but I still only have a 20-minute workout period with a stationary bike and a pull-up bar. Nancy Brown posted on Facebook in our support group that she doesn't exercise to this day, and still lost 90 pounds in eight months on the diet alone. Her testimony was inspirational to me and was the key factor in my decision to try their way of eating. 

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Mike and Nancy Brown followed Dr. Joel Fuhrman's Eat to Live as their pattern for a new way of eating. After reading the Brown's book, Dr. Fuhrman's book, watching the documentary Forks over Knives (available on Netflix), and studying what the Bible says about food, I arrived at a hybrid eating style that obviously has been very effective for me: a mix between plant-based and kosher-style to arrive at the majority plant-based diet I described earlier.

Is it difficult? In some ways, very much so. I always loved all kinds of food, and I enjoy trying new things, so switching to a majority plant-based diet was not a struggle for me; but those who 'hate green food' would have a much harder time adapting to this way of eating. I will say that when I changed my plate, my sense of taste improved—EVERYTHING tastes 'more': strawberries are sweeter, the little bit of meat I eat tastes better with less seasoning—and I can even sense the subtle differences between the greens that I eat. Furthermore, I don't really miss the way I used to eat. I'm satisfied with my meals and don't get too many cravings. If I do crave food between my meal times, I drink green tea with stevia for a low-calorie stimulus.

But I will not lie: the first week of this lifestyle was not fun. I had terrible stomach pain with diarrhea (I took some astragalus root tea which helped get this under control), headaches that were so powerful I could not move, some uncontrollable tremors, and overwhelming fatigue; but by the second week, all this went away and my energy went through the roof. My body was getting rid of all the toxins it had accumulated from 'bad fuel'. 

Also, this lifestyle is labor-intensive: with veggies, LOTS of prep work is involved—it just comes with the territory. Fortunately, I have always loved making my own food and worked a stint as a short-order cook; so the ability to experiment with new recipes and knowing how the ingredients will react to each other and to different cooking styles was a huge advantage. Those embarking on this journey who don't know a santoku from a pairing knife will have a new learning experience, however. Practice makes perfect! (A few new kitchen gadgets went a long way as well—but you can do this on a budget).

More than anything, though, my experience has left me with a genuine burden for people who are suffering from obesity and disease. I have come to believe, as Dr. Joel Fuhrman and many others have, that the preponderance of disease in Western society could be cured or prevented through eating at least a majority, if not completely, plant-based diet. Now, to be clear, based on Biblical passages like Romans 14, I do not judge a person as sinful or ignorant based on their dietary habits; but if we examine what the Bible says on the whole about food consumption, we need to ask ourselves some questions with regard to the way most of us eat (especially in America).

So often, we are praying that God will heal us from disease, but if we ate the way God originally designed us to eat, many of these diseases would not manifest in the first place. I'm not trying to take a legalistic approach here—not every disease has been brought on by a poor diet; and certainly I do not condemn a person who is dealing with a debilitating or terminal malady with a cause they do not understand and who may have limited options for remission. We live in a fallen world, and sometimes things just happen as a result of the general sinful state. Instead, I'm trying to be Biblically consistent with God's commandments and His promises. One of the promises God gave to the Israelites was that if they kept the covenant (of which the Torah was central), they would not have the diseases of the Gentiles. Today, much of Christianity dismisses the Torah as a bygone method for achieving salvation; some Christians believe it is even wicked to regard the Torah as applicable or virtuous! (Read my article Paul Misinterpreted? for more information.) These people completely misunderstand the purpose of the Torah: instead of a means of salvation, it was God's instructions to His people, declaring His character and standard of righteousness. God's instructions were for the people's good—they weren't meant as an arbitrary, stifling denial for the sake of purgation.

This is best evidenced in the kashrut, or dietary laws. The reason why God included these from the very beginning was to protect His people from disease, enabling them to live in the freedom of health. I personally believe this is what Jesus was getting at when he spoke to Jewish leaders in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. Note that even though Mark 7 says, "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean", Jesus did not say, "So let's go out and eat large quantities of pork to celebrate!" He was not saying that every type of creature is good or safe for us to eat; what He meant was that eating food does not separate you from God—so the kashrut laws are not about sinfulness. Here's what the Bible says about food:

  • we were created in the middle of a garden and placed there to work it (Genesis 2:4-17)
  • the green plants were given to us initially as food (Genesis 1:29)
  • after the Flood, animal products were sanctioned by God, but no blood was to be eaten (Genesis 9:1-7)
  • in the Torah:
    1. While certain farming practices are regulated (i.e. the land must rest in the seventh year [Ex. 23:11, Lev. 25:4], leave the edges of your field for the poor and the widow [Lev. 23:22, Deut. 24:19], don't reap fruit trees until they have been established for five years [Lev. 19:25], etc.), there are no prohibitions on vegetable or fruit consumption: only meat products have regulations attached.
    2. blood and 'straight up' fat consumption was prohibited (the rabbis determined that the normal amount of fat that 'marbles' through meat was still acceptable, but the lining of fat attached to the meat is prohibited from consumption and is trimmed before the meat is cooked) (Lev. 3:17, 17:14, 19:26, Deut. 12:16-25, 15:23, Acts 15:20,29, Acts 21:25)
    3. Of land mammals, only meat coming from those that are both ruminants and which have a split hoof may be eaten (Lev. 11:1-8, Deut. 14:6)
    4. Of marine animals, only meat coming from creatures with both scales and fins may be eaten (Lev. 11:9-12, Deut. 14:9-10)
    5. Of insects, only the grasshopper family may be eaten (*insects with jointed legs for hopping; crickets are a point of debate) (Lev. 11:20-23)
    6. no reptiles may be eaten—the rabbis have determined that this includes every kind of reptile (Lev. 11:29-31)
    7. all clean birds may be eaten, but no specific list of clean birds is given; only unclean birds are listed in Leviticus 11:13-19 (the bat is included because the Hebrew word means 'flying creatures that are not insects'). Based on this list, which includes most birds of prey, scavenging birds, flightless birds, and stork relatives, the rabbis included all these kinds of birds to be unclean. (Lev. 11:13-19, Deut. 14:11-18)
  • gluttony is a sin (Deut. 21:20, Prov. 23:2, 20-21, Prov. 28:7, Rom. 13:14, Gal. 5:22-23 [self-control], Phil. 3:19)
  • food in and of itself is not what makes you defiled, however (Matthew 15:1-20, Mark 7:1-23)
  • common courtesy should be the rule (Romans 14:1-15:13)

I would encourage everyone to ask themselves the question, “If God asks His people to behave in a certain way in the Bible, why would I want to figure out some way to do something different?” We need to truly understand that God loves us and has our best interest in mind—it’s not about penalties and punishment; it’s about the freedom to walk in the rewards that come from doing the right things. 

The Times, They Are A-Changin’: a Message from the Passing of Billy Graham

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I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few days pondering the life and story of the great evangelist Billy Graham. Along with many others around the world, I was glued to the televsion for his funeral—it was an incredibly fitting memorial to the man God chose to bring the message of salvation to so many over the last near-century. I have the fortunate privilege of living in the Charlotte area, about 35 minutes away from the Billy Graham Library; I have visited the library on several occasions, and it, too, is an ongoing, powerful testimony of God’s work through this wonderfully available family.

I believe that Billy Graham represented the best that Evangelicalism has to offer—and he lived it to the utmost end of God’s calling for him. If anyone is an example of authentic Christian character, he and his wife Ruth carried that testimony as moderns among the great ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1-2). You can go see it for yourself at 4330 Westmont Dr, Charlotte, NC 28217. 

Billy’s daughter Ann Graham Lotz caught my attention during the funeral when she compared her father to Moses, leading many to salvation and to the border of the Promised Land; she inferred that Jesus’ return would be the ‘Joshua’ that would follow Billy’s death. Now, I’m not sure that I would make that analogy fit completely—because I wouldn’t equate the Promised Land with heaven; I also wouldn’t place Billy on quite that big of a pedestal, nor that broad of a role, and further because I don’t think we’re ready just yet for Yeshua to come back. But I, too, believe that Billy’s death has some significance outside of the simple passage of time in this still-fallen world, and particularly for the American, Western Church that Evangelicalism represents. 

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”Moses, My servant, is dead.” These are the words from God that snapped Joshua son of Nun to attention as he quickly realized that the mantle of God’s leadership had fallen upon him. “Be strong and courageous!” If there is a message here, and if Billy Graham is to be compared to Moses, it is Jesus in His Church who is the ‘Joshua’. Our culture has changed; and while the mission has not, and the truth of God’s Word has not, we can no longer operate under the same mode d’emploi. Gone are the days when we look to an ‘expert’ who hears from God to point us in the right direction (this way of thinking was never God’s plan for the Israelites from the very beginning, by the way—which had disastrous results for the first generation of the Exodus); instead, we must hear Him ourselves. We are no longer standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai in fear and trembling saying “you talk to Him for us and tell us what He says” (Exodus 20:18-21); the veil of the Temple has been torn, and the fire of the Holy Spirit has come down to rest on our heads. (Acts 2) It’s time to take up the mantle. Gone are the days when we can simply say of our lost neighbor, “If I can just get him to church”, or “if I can just get him in to see Billy Graham, he’ll get saved!” No, we are the Church; we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world that God flows through. (Matthew 5:13-16) We are members of a body under His direction as the head. (Ephesians 5:23)

Furthermore, we no longer live in a culture that has even a basic understanding and familiarity with Judeo-Christian history, theology and life. The Bible will always be true, and the phrase ‘if it [the Bible] says it, I believe it’ remains a motto we ourselves can live by; but proclaiming what the Bible says simply from an emotional appeal is no longer good enough to be impacting on the full 75% of the American population that claims to reject its words. (http://news.gallup.com/poll/210704/record-few-americans-believe-bible-literal-word-god.aspx) The words sin, salvation, sacrifice, etc. have no application anymore; they have simply been watered down, at best, to a generic shade of meaning. We have to start from the beginning: we have to provide an understanding of WHY the Bible can be trusted as the only source of truth in a world that insists that all ways of thinking are equally true—we have to distinguish ourselves from those who would claim that all good things come from ‘the universe’ or ‘the human spirit’; we have to be all-inclusive, showing the faithfulness of God to and through the Jewish people—not just in the ‘Old’ Testament, but here—now—today—in order to show HOW God’s love and promises are available to anyone in Jesus Christ; and we have to live the truth of the Gospel in love and holiness the way Billy Graham did—which made an impact more than anything he ever said!

Billy preaching in the wake of 9/11

Billy preaching in the wake of 9/11

Billy Graham modeled most of these things in his methodology of preaching the Gospel, but it is time for us as the Church to go even further.  Bob Dylan’s The Times, They are A-Changin’ is more apropos today than in 1963 when it was written. 

Billy Graham’s death marks the end of an Evangelicalism that can simply bank on its hearers generally believing the message is true. It must be backed by answers, action and love as Billy Graham modeled for us in his life. But I pray that it marks the beginning of a Church at large that responds directly to the active, living Word of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit, acting as ‘America’s Pastors’ to our families, friends, co-workers, fellow students, and neighbors. Far more than a call to believe the right doctrine, which is just scratching the surface, we must engage God ourselves and release His life to those around us. 

Many are saying that Billy Graham’s passing will spark a new revival, and certainly there is a window in which people will be thinking about the impact of his life; but I would challenge us all to step up. You are part of God’s Plan A, and there is no Plan B. Be strong and courageous!

Responding to Our Youth

This article is a response to “59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why” written by Sam Eaton on Faithit.com.

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I’m going to respond to the issues raised by this article point by point; some of which have validity, others demonstrate the reasons why Millennials are often condescended to by earlier generations, and a few are simply asking the wrong questions completely. So, here we go...

1. Nobody is listening to us.

Inclusivity, listening, caring about people for their intrinsic, God-given worth, and passing the baton to future generations are all part of God’s intent for His Church—and it is not happening enough. A culture of top-heavy, ‘expert’-run congregations has increasingly left EVERYONE out in the cold—not just Millennials; and believe me, those congregations who do not allow ‘the laity’ to bring to the table what God is doing in them will eventually die. Singles under 25 should not be relegated to chair-folding duty with an option for youth group leadership upon exceptional service. Having said this, marching down the street with signs in one’s hand while yelling loudly, demanding to be heard is not the way to win friends and influence people. A life exhibited by leadership in love, service, an understanding of the truth of God’s Word, and dedication to the advancement of the kingdom of God does. 

On the hard side of this, not everyone will recognize or care about what God is doing in and through you—and so you have to make a choice. Who says you have to be accepted into a congregation that doesn’t want you? Sometimes, we need to take a bold step of faith and go out on the limb whether others hold our hand or not. When I presented clear Scriptural evidence to the National Director of the Association of Vineyard Churches (not the current director) about the need for an outreach to and kinship with the Jewish people (where they already had an Islamic ministry of a similar nature), he essentially asked me to leave the Vineyard and align myself with those who shared my beliefs. So I did.  A warning, here, however:  make sure it isn’t you. Make certain that you are standing on the ground of Biblical faith, and ask others who are truly investing in you to validate what it is you’re seeing and saying. Anybody can go off half-cocked; make sure you’re motivated by the message of God—and you can prove alignment of that message with His Word. Otherwise, you may need to spend some time searching the Scriptures, in prayer, and in fellowship with some seasoned believers in order to allow the LORD to bring you to a Biblical perspective.

2. We’re sick of hearing about values and mission statements.

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Now, here’s where I have to put it to you no holds barred: The Jewish and Christian faiths are built on a canon of absolute truths God Himself defined in the Bible as the central foundation for relationship with Him. Those values and mission statements should be a congregation’s way of saying how they interpret those central points, which should give you an idea about what’s important to that congregation. In fact, these statements—which in the early years were called creeds, were the very thing that held the Christian family together through the ages, despite our many differences between groups. So, rather than criticize those who have labored to put into written codification what they believe, you should study these documents as well and perform a self-diagnostic to see how you line up—or how well a particular document lines up with Biblical faith—just be sure you understand Biblical faith enough to even begin an analysis; otherwise, you have no room to question or complain in the first place.

Now, there is a difference between a well-crafted Statement of Faith and an American corporate-style mission statement; and this is where the contemporary Western/American Church has gotten into trouble—when they try to be trendy and ‘relevant’ (and maybe the latter was what the author was disparaging—but it didn’t sound that way to me). They’re often trying to get rid of that ‘religious mumbo-jumbo’ (‘mambo-jambo’...?) that the author talked about in his article, ending up with some weak message that completely lacks definition and is therefore useless. The author is absolutely correct that the central core of both Judaism and Christianity is “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone (or, is One); love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and strength”, and “love your neighbor as yourself.” But what does that mean? No word in the English language today is more loosely defined than love. Now more than ever in any time of history, we need to further define ourselves Biblically.  

3. Helping the poor isn’t a priority.

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Our secularist, Marxist school teachers have conditioned us to believe that every state of malaise is a humanitarian crisis that can only be solved through student activism; and since the 1960’s, the local congregation has been raked over the coals if it does not have a full-on homeless ministry (or at least a food pantry). The facts are that in the United States, Mormons and rich, conservative, white Protestant Evangelical Christians give more to the poor than anyone (in Britain, Muslims have only recently surpassed Christian giving within the last few years). Christians as a worldwide whole far outgive every other religion per capita, followed by Jews. (BTW: the author said our [church?] system is ‘utterly American’. I’m an American; what’s wrong with being an American?) 

Yet the Shabbat service was not designed primarily as a social outreach project;  instead, it is supposed to be the crowning moment of a day of rest designed to remember our Creator—a family get together where we communally experience the active, living presence of God, study the Bible, and put our arms around each other in fellowship.

Of course it is inarguable that charity is a core value of both Judaism and Christianity; this is demonstrated throughout the Bible, and God Himself has given us direct orders take care of the poor, widows, and orphans of our community. No doubt about it. The original Sunday ‘love feast’ was a time where the Church could meet the needs of the poor among them and pray for the sick, with the central feature being a meal that all would share.

I’m glad that you are burdened by this issue; here is an opportunity for leadership by Millennials in the Church. You be the one who creates the next Compassion International or Samaritan’s Purse. You be the one who runs the food pantry ministry, who opens the homeless shelter, and who tirelessly garners the donations necessary to keep these things running. I’m not being snarky here; this is not a criticism—it’s a call. You have just as much potential as anyone else to be used by God. Don’t wait for the Church to sanction your idea, or criticize those who aren’t where you are on this issue—simply forge ahead. My friend Shelley Makohon stepped out and boldly became a mentor at Love Life Charlotte, a pro-life ministry that is dedicated not just to stopping abortion but to invest in the lives of those poor young girls who are faced with that choice. Shelley is making a difference in lives every day. She didn’t wait for everyone to be on board with her decision, and she does not look down on others who don’t do the incredible things she does. Another friend, Case Warnemunde (a Millennial, BTW), created an organization that mixes the arts with charity work, providing publicity for burgeoning musicians and artists while using the money generated for charitable causes. His motto is “Live Love Loud”. Follow his example—be creative.

4. We’re tired of you blaming the culture.

Part of the reason for the American Church’s obsession with eschatology is that we have seen our society steadily reject the Judeo-Christian values our country was founded on, exponentially increasing with the countercultural revolution of the 60’s to a place where we don’t even recognize the America we live in today. We are seeing alignment between the geo-/sociopolitical state of the world and eschatological prophecy in an unprecedented fashion, along with a sharp rise in both antisemitism and hatred toward Christianity. So, it is absolutely natural for believers to explore the possibility that we could be in the final years of premillennial history. Regardless of whether this decline is simply a fulfillment of prophecy, a lot of blame for losing the culture unfortunately lies with Western Christians ourselves because we have failed to be an influence in the lives of our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

Despite our declaration of religious freedom in America, we never dreamt that the culture would actually choose against God to create a post-Christian society. We have followed the Constantinian societal mindset where it was assumed that the vast majority of people were Christian and would attend church as a matter of course. The professional clergy model that we borrowed from the pagans led us to use the church service and the ‘pastor’ to impress the Good News into the souls of the wayward minority rather than shouldering the burden that should be ours in the first place.

Even though the forces of secular humanism have stolen our voice and continue to indoctrinate our children toward atheism and socialism to this very day, we STILL act as though ‘all I have to do is get them to church’. Even the very nature of the article I’m responding to was written from the perspective of how to get Millennials ‘back to church’ rather than how it is that we can ensure that Millennials—and the rest of our society—have a firm understanding of what it means to follow Christ with their lives. As the popular phrase goes, “better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”.

Rather than simply blaming the culture, I agree with the author’s statement that we should explicitly teach people how our lives should differ from the rest of the world; I vehemently disagree that the way to do this is to forget about eschatology, apologetics, Biblical authority, and traditional values as the author suggests. The solution here is to increase our understanding of how these topics intersect with our world: we need to put hands and feet to the truths of our faith and show where the rubber meets the road.

5-10. The “You Can’t Sit with Us” effect; Distrust and misallocation of resources; We want to be mentored, not preached at; We want to feel valued; We want you to talk to us about controversial issues (because no one is); The public perception

These six points are all related and can be addressed with one subject: as the Western Church became more and more Gentile-oriented, we adopted the pagan framework for religious structure: instead of a family-nation, organic, grassroots, multi-faceted, holistic, multi-generational, apprenticeship-style model of the New Testament, by the fourth century the Church became a scholastic, philosophical, professional, homogenized, institutional, traditional, distant, and authoritarian entity that separated professional clergy from laity, who were completely outside and disconnected from the real, active, living presence of the Father in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. The clergy became the spiritual ‘producers’, and the laity became ‘consumers’.   

Even after the Protestant Reformation, the vast majority of congregations are designed with a single man in charge who is called a ‘pastor’ or a small group of politically motivated ‘elders’ who have often treated their congregations as personal duchies to be managed rather than as families to be nurtured.  Rather than encouraging congregational participation, our current model promotes spectatorship where the laity (the audience) sits in attendance while the ‘experts’ (the worship team and the ‘pastor’) dispense spiritual experience.

So the lion’s share of the congregation’s activities and ideas are tightly controlled by the leadership, and the laity is expected to fit nicely within that paradigm or be marginalized. Lest we believe this the Biblical way to provide leadership, consider Jesus’ words on the night of His arrest, as His disciples continued to squabble over which of them would be the greatest:

Samaritan's Purse worker attending a survivor of an Ecuadorian earthquake

Samaritan's Purse worker attending a survivor of an Ecuadorian earthquake

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

—Luke 22:25-27 (parallels in Matthew 20:25-28 and Mark 10:42-45)

Jesus was not comparing preaching to service here—it’s about having deference for one another—to look out for others’ interests above our own. 

Solution:  the Church needs a radical reformation to return to Biblical faith.  Though I believe Biblically-defined love is at the heart of the issue, smaller groups like house churches help to curb some of the sinful tendencies we gravitate toward in larger groups:  

  • House churches are more familial; they are centered around fellowship and inclusion rather than a defined program.  The central worship gathering is not segregated by ‘age-appropriate’ activity; all ages and genders participate in a common focus.
  • Everyone has value—there is an opportunity for every person to share their gifts, to participate in discussion, and to be known by everyone else in the group in a far more intimate way than in watching the back of someone’s head during rock concert worship.
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  • Rather than a prepared, canned sermon, Biblical discussion can take place at a participatory level, where every person can be part of the dialogue.
  • If the group gives money to a central fund, it is far more transparent, and the group can collectively decide where to give the money rather than it being swallowed in overhead.
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  • Outreach ministries can be of a para-church form, and members can give to, volunteer for, or start their own ministries at their discretion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; if several house churches in a locality are networked, relational connections can be made so that the para-church ministry is ‘shared’, and interested members can cooperate with that ministry collectively rather than each congregation re-inventing the wheel.
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Part of the answer involves a paradigm shift back to the understanding that we are the Church, not the building. The Constantinian model allowed for big, in-house welfare programs, because the Church was joined at the hip with the state, so much of the tax money was drizzled out to the poor.  We no longer have that luxury; and let’s face it—most large congregations are using their money trying to pay for the mortgage on their building or for future expansion rather than on ministries that change people’s lives and minister to real needs in the community. If you start a para-church ministry, it is the Church who is doing it, because you are the Church.

Again, here is an opportunity for Millennials to show some real leadership—rather than rejecting the Church outrightly, be the agent that works for the new Reformation; go down in history as one of the folks that helped the Western Church return to Biblical faith!  

Conclusion (includes 11-12): Stop talking about us (unless you’re actually going to do something); You’re failing to adapt; It’s your move

There’s not a whole lot that anyone can do to change the current climate of ‘church’, but I can tell you this: Biblical faith, love, true leadership, energy, and success are all contagious—and if you put all those together, it’s like a freight train. When God begins to move through your obedience, people will notice and be attracted to what He’s doing and join in the effort. I would have this advice:

  • Learn to see the Gospel as a conflict between God-worship and self-worship: Biblical selfless love vs. self-orientation (self-gratification, self-glorification, self-preference, self-reliance, and the like). The entire Bible is illuminated when you see it from this perspective—and this concept is the key to understanding Biblical faith.
  • De-polarize: stop looking at everything from an us vs. them vantage point.  It’s not the Millennials vs. the Church, Democrats vs. Republicans, etc. Even though the Church has been lost for centuries in many ways, there is a lot to learn from traditional Christianity—don’t immediately discount what has been handed to us from our forebears.
  • Become prayerful. Do you live every day in God’s presence? Are you hungry to hear His voice and live in His truth? If the answer to these questions is no, you may not be on the road to Biblical faith. My book, The Upside-Down Kingdom, can help you get started on this journey.  If you are on this path, diligently seek to hear God’s direction for you as to where you should serve. Perhaps He’s not asking you to join a traditional church at all, but join in something new.
  • Be a leader—forget about criticizing others and don’t worry when others criticize you. Follow God instead and let Him determine what you’re supposed to be. It’s your move!

A Needless Crisis

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I have recently been saddened to hear of the controversy between Israel and Poland over the bill introduced in the Polish legislature to ban the phrase, "Polish death camps". As a Judeo-Christian Zionist and also an American son of Polish heritage, I have a vantage point from both sides of the issue. At the heart of the controversy is the language in the bill that would actually "fine or jail people who blamed Poland or Poles for Nazi atrocities committed on its soil during World War II, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp." (Washington Post, Jan. 28) 

Education and Diaspora Minister Naftali Bennett inflamed the discussion with his remarks: "It is a historic fact that many Poles aided in the murder of Jews, handed them in, abused them, and even killed Jews during and after the Holocaust..." and encouraged the idea that Polish culpability should be taught to the next generation of Israelis. (DW.com, Jan. 28)

As of this writing, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Morawiecki are in discussions to ease the tension that this incident has created.

Naturally, the Israelis are concerned that this bill creates a road leading to a place where Holocaust denial is not only legalized, but mandated in the very nation that still houses the monuments of horror from the Shoah. The death camps remain the only lasting evidence as the last generation of Holocaust survivors passes into history—and certainly, this must not change.

Poland has seen a surge of nationalism in the wake of the Muslim invasion of Europe, and it seeks to preserve its culture, heritage, and reputation, rightfully insisting that it was Nazi agression that built these camps, not the Polish nation. This bill is a direct reaction to Barack Obama's reference to "Polish death camps" even as he gave a medal to a Polish resistance fighter in 2012 (New York Times, May 30, 2012). Poland is increasingly weary of being partially blamed for Nazi crimes—and understandably so.

As a Judeo-Christian Zionist, I am among those who believe that Israel has a right not only to the land specified by the Balfour declaration, but for its borders to be expanded to the Biblical definition: from the Nile to the Euphrates, and from the Mediterranean to the Jordan and the three Transjordan tribal lands. I fully support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish state; I love the Jewish people, and most definitely agree that the Shoah should be remembered in perpetuity. I understand the desire for Jews to have the world perceive the Shoah as an event singularly borne of genocidal hatred of Jews by the Nazis to which the world was at least apathetic if not compliant until it was too late to do much about it. This is mostly true; but if anyone else has the ability to lay some claim on the Shoah for their own suffering, it is Poland.

Even if there were thousands of Polish anti-Semites leading up to WWII who actively assisted the Nazis in the murder of their Jewish neighbors (a very liberal exaggeration), this pales in comparison to the number of Poles who were massacred alongside the Jews. Half of the 6 million Jews who died in the Shoah were Polish citizens; 2 million non-Jewish Polish citizens were also butchered in the same facilities. If they are to be called "Polish death camps", it is because 5 million Polish citizens died there—not because they were the engineers of the travesty. We forget that Slavic ethnicity was also on Hitler's extermination list—right under the Jews. Furthermore, another 250,000 Jewish and non-Jewish Polish citizens died together bravely and passionately resisting the German army, hopelessly outnumbered and pathetically outgunned, because they were actively betrayed by the United States, Great Britain, and the former Soviet Union culminating with the Council of Yalta. And whereas the Providential blessing after the war resulted in the prophetic rebirth of the free and democratic Jewish state of Israel, Poland's fate was to suffer under the oppressive boot of the former Soviet Union, languishing in poverty and fear as a Communist puppet—a minor bloc nation propped up for photo-op propaganda until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. So, like it or not, the Shoah is ours, too. This is why Pope John Paul II allowed the cross to remain at Auschwitz-Birkenau placed by well-meaning Carmelite nuns; while to the Jew it is an affront representing the history of Christian anti-Semitism, to Polish Christians it is a reminder of the millions of their people who died there as well.

Though I don't expect this message will be seen, I would encourage the Polish government to temper the language of this bill to be a simple declaration. Forget about this talk of fines and imprisonment—focus on the truth. Admit that a small percentage of Polish citizens indeed did assist the Nazis, and teach your sons and daughters to think differently. Polish nationalism is not a bad thing until it crosses the line to blanket xenophobia; the Muslim invasion currently affecting Europe is an entirely different element than that of the too-often maligned Jewish community that made Poland its center for a thousand years, contributing to the nation's culture, cuisine, language, and ethics. Please be educated—understand and teach the difference. Don't allow the movement for nationalistic pride to descend into hatred.

To Israel I would say that aside from the United States, there is no greater ally with regard for remembrance of the Shoah than Poland. No other Gentile nation has more stake in saying, "Never again". Rather than making a focal point of the hatred that was fomented by some, revisit the stories of those who defied Nazi aggression and smuggled Jews out of harm's way to freedom, often sacrificing themselves to do so. Recognize the truth that all groups contain bad apples, but be a repairer of the breach—do not for the sake of politics throw away a partnership with a nation that understands your grief like no other. Allow them to mourn their dead alongside of yours. While there is much healing work to be done by Christians for their persecution of Jews through the centuries, take the first step and express gratitude to the nation that, for the most part, allowed Jews to live peacefully among them for a millennium—it was a far different experience in neighboring Russia and around the countries of Europe.

This is a needless crisis that can be minimized if both parties can reach beyond their own interests. I pray that God will allow them to do so.

Caught in the Middle

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When a person is awakened to a pursuit of Biblical Faith (inevitably resulting in the desire to express that faith in its original Jewish context), there is at once a great sense of clarity and a feeling of loss: clarity in the understanding that one of those elusive missing pieces central to the puzzle of life has finally been revealed to them and lowered in place, allowing one to have an exponentially expanded view of the intended landscape; loss in the realization that many of those around them aren’t seeing the same picture they are, and that they can’t go where their friends and family may be anymore because the experiences they once had no longer have the same meaning—so there’s an automatic feeling of disconnectedness.

At the same time, particularly for Gentile believers, there is a natural hesitancy resulting from hiking in unfamiliar territory. We understand that we can’t go back where we came from, but what do we do? Many of the experiences and practices of Biblical Faith are uniquely Jewish; and it is very common to feel alien when exploring Jewish traditions and practices to glean Biblical meaning. For many of us, this is the first time we have felt like an immigrant.

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A great example of this is the celebration of winter holidays. Personally, I always loved Christmas: the sights, the music, the food, and most importanly, the celebration of Jesus’ birth. When I came to understand that Christmas is a holiday of mixed Christian and pagan practices, however, Christmas began to lose its appeal for me. Instead, I looked at celebrating Hanukkah—a historical and Biblical holiday (though not one of the Levitical ‘appointed times’) that Jesus Himself celebrated (see John 10). The awkwardness of this, however, is that in Judaism, Hanukkah is viewed to a degree as Israel’s Independence Day—and while I certainly can rejoice with my Jewish brothers and sisters that the Jewish people were once again saved from their enemies, and I am thankful that the actions of the Maccabees were crucial in paving the way for the Messiah to come at the appointed time, the celebration is still somewhat foreign to me—and even more so to my family members who have studied less than I have. (I mean, Shir Soul makes “I Have a Little Dreidel” as cool as it can be, but still...)

So what can we do to ease the difficulty of adapting to this new reality?  

  • Without taking away from the original intent of the observance, try to captialize on what is meaningful to you—particularly Biblical/spiritual themes. All of the Jewish holidays—Levitical or not—contain a number of elements that are relevant to Gentile believers. I highlight these points in the Holidays section of the website. Specifically for Hanukkah, relevant themes include: standing up for what is right in the face of opposition; having faith in God for deliverance from or grace through difficulty; Jesus being the Light of the World in the midst of darkness (John chapters 8-10); Jesus' declaring that WE are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-16; 2 Cor. 4:6); dedicating ourselves as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
  • Look for fun activities supporting the holiday through which your family can make lasting memories that are age-appropriate for your situation. I have incorporated a slightly modified version of spinning the dreidel that incorporates Bible trivia. This is perfectly appropriate, since the reason for the dreidel tradition was that studying the Torah was outlawed, and so the Jews masqueraded Torah study by spinning the dreidel and so appeared to be gambling. What's great about the version I deisgned is that it is scalable for any age group, so the whole family can play. Other options include a family outing for charity work (being the light of the world), making latkes, or eating sufganiyot (jelly or cream-filled donughts). I make a short theme out of each night that is able to be swapped depending on our schedule that year.
  • If there are traditions that have been meaningful to you in the past, incorporate portions of them into your observance. NOTE: we must be careful here not to re-introduce non-Biblical or nonsensical/irrelevant elements that we have purposefully left behind (I personally would not do Easter eggs at Passover or Firstfruits, a 'Hanukkah bush' or a 'mensch on the bench'). Examples of what I do include during Hanukkah:
    1. I am of Polish ancestry on my father’s side of the family; one tradition that was always very meaningful to me was the opłatek, where all family members are given large pieces of unleavened wafers with which to serve the other members of the family. As one goes around to each member, offering them to take a piece of the wafer, one prays a blessing over that family member or speaks an encouragment to them in the name of the LORD (and then vice-versa). This is a powerful ceremony and is perfectly in line with 'tikkun olam'—being a blessing as the light of the world.
    2. Luke 1 gives us clues as to when Jesus was born: because of the priestly course of Zechariah (1 Chronicles 24:1-19, Luke 1:5), we can determine that Jesus was born sometime around the beginning of Sukkot—which means that He was conceived near the previous Hanukkah; the part of the 'Christmas story' that is relevant to Hanukkah are the annunciations to Mary and Joseph. So, I read this portion of Scripture and discuss what this must have been like for them. Certainly, the angelic promise of what was to come was very exciting; but it was terrifying as well, requiring faith on their part that God loved them and would work things out for their good. This concept of trust in the face of adversity resembles the situation of the Maccabees well as Judith, whose story is often celebrated by Jewish families during the Hanukkah observance.
  • Study all that you can about the Feasts: the original Biblical prescription, how Judaism celebrates the Feasts today, and the prophetic meaning of each Feast in the calendar of redemption in order to familiarize yourself with the Biblical holidays and to be able to celebrate them in a meaningful and accurate way.

Adjusting to anything new inevitably comes with a period of uncertainty. Be prayerful, patient, and persistent; you will find that living and celebrating Biblically comes with great reward.

Happy Anniversary!

This year is the 500th anniversary of what is commonly believed to have started the Protestant Reformation; namely that on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg castle protesting certain beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church of his time. To understand what Luther faced with every blow of the hammer, we must understand that for the previous 1205 years 19 days, the entire universal Christian Church had been incorporated into the state, having full military backing to persecute any dissenting voice—which it did with great relish; for the latter 463 years 103 days, the Roman Catholic Church claimed authority over all of Western Europe, enjoining a political dance with its varied nations and rulers. In short, one did not simply express opposition to any opinion of the Catholic Church and expect to live very long. In fact, one could expect to be heinously tortured to death, all the while enduring the taunts of their Inquisitors promising eternal condemnation in hell with no chance of redemption regardless of whether they second-guessed or recanted their belief.

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Amazingly, Luther was not martyred; it was not long before Luther’s stand became a movement across Europe with a life of its own. As it should be obvious by the name, it was not the Reformers’ original intent to leave the Catholic Church, but to address its unbiblical practices. But like the nation of Israel, the Roman Church refused to listen to its prophets; rather than allow their message to quicken its heart, the Church increasingly hardened itself until its kingdom was taken away.

The burning of Anabaptists at Salzburg, 1528

The burning of Anabaptists at Salzburg, 1528

To be sure, the Reformers did not completely bring the Church back to the glorious design of its first century counterpart as Jesus and His disciples would have envisioned it: they created little duchies of their own, and persecuted any outsiders—including any other Reform sects with which they disagreed, just as the rest of the Church was doing; they thoroughly denounced and afflicted the Jews among them time after time; they played havoc with the canon of Scripture, despite their reliance upon it; their systematic theologies were based on contemporary European philosophical and logical constructs every bit as much as in a knowledge of the Biblical texts rather than a rediscovery of the Jewish context in which Christianity was born; they retained many of the unbiblical practices of the Romanized Church; they all but ignored the role of the Holy Spirit in producing a changed, dynamic, and victorious life; and gave credence (Calvinism in particular) to the subjugation of non-Christian, indigenous peoples around the globe as their imperialistic host nations sought new lands to conquer. Even after the founding of America, which was the most truly noble experiment in government of the people, by the people, and for the people, it was not until the conclusion of ‘Manifest Destiny’ that humanity truly began to realize the idea of religious freedom.

“from 1542 to 1546, which was the softer period of his [John Calvin's] government, we count 58 capital executions, 76 banishments and 900 imprisonments.” —Jean Tet, Histoire de la persecutions religieuse à Genève (Paris: Lecoffre, 1879), p. 473

“from 1542 to 1546, which was the softer period of his [John Calvin's] government, we count 58 capital executions, 76 banishments and 900 imprisonments.” —Jean Tet, Histoire de la persecutions religieuse à Genève (Paris: Lecoffre, 1879), p. 473

But for all the Reformers’ faults, Protestantism produced five important ideas (the Five Solae) that began to train the arrow back toward the direction of the bulls-eye (I will create another post soon to explain my position on these):

  • Sola Scriptura: the Bible alone provides authority for faith and practice. The original language used to formulate this concept implies that nothing else CAN provide any direction from God, which is debatable; therefore, as time went on, the Wesleyans developed the concept of Prima Scriptura, which states that any form of enlightenment is subordinate to Scripture.
  • Sola Fide: salvation from sin is by faith alone, through which God gives us grace. Good deeds do not atone for sin.
  • Sola Gratia: forgiveness of sins comes by grace alone, which God gives at His pleasure without regard to merit. A person cannot generate merit that God must recognize.
  • Solus Christus: Christ alone is our priest, in that He provides the only bridge between God and man. We can only have fellowship with God through faith in Jesus the Messiah. (This is different from the idea of the ‘priesthood of all believers’, in which every baptized believer is able to serve as a representative of God to the world.) Both concepts, however, serve to exclude a recognized class of priests for service of absolution, administration of sacraments, or for spiritual guidance.
  • Soli Deo Gloria: God alone is worthy of worship or veneration; neither Jesus’ mother Mary, nor saints, nor angels, nor any other being is meritable for salvation or help, and to seek any other is to commit idolatry.

These were very important steps in restoring the Church as a Bride without spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:27); however, even five hundred years down the road, much more needs to be done, especially since the decline of Biblical literacy in the West, the advent of post-modernism and a post-Christian society, and the maturation of moral relativism. Even in the last five years, there have been two pronounced shifts that have taken place—one within the Church, and one within society as a whole: the Church is steadily and increasingly rejecting its own beliefs, while seeking acceptance of the world’s value system; and the world is becoming both more opposed to and more violent toward both Christianity and Judaism. For all its efforts to be liked, the data shows the Church’s attempts are having the exact opposite effect.

This should come as no surprise; Jesus stated explicitly that anyone who followed Him would be hated by the world—in fact, people would believe they are doing God a favor by killing us (John 16:2). The apostles warned that in the last days before Jesus’ return, there would be a great falling away. News flash: we aren’t meant to be liked by the world system. So, what then—do we just roll over and let the world bulldoze us out of existence? Do we make enemies of the world's people, attempting to take geopolitical control over society by force? Well, that was what Constantine did, which caused the Church to careen away from its prescribed direction in the first place. But don’t we have a Great Commission that challenges us to make disciples of all nations? Of course we do—despite our living in a a world that hates us.

There is an answer; many are calling today for a new Reformation. Some are saying (and I have said) that we should complete the work that was begun by the Reformers 500 years ago. Call it what you will; what this really means is that we need to return to Biblical faith, and that's what I’m aiming for. Rather than rejecting the Scriptures as God-breathed truth, it’s time that we fully understand and embrace it for the gift of life it is. I produced a special article that appears at the main navigation point for my website entitled "Where Is God Taking Us?" detailing what I believe a return to Biblical faith looks like.

You’ll notice at the center of the article, there’s a diagram showing a comparison/contrast between Biblical values and the values we often see in the Church. At the top encompassing everything, of course, is the contrast between Biblical Faith vs. Traditional Faith (the traditions of men having superseded the Scriptures). It lists many of the wells the Church has drawn from in its pursuit apart from the Bible. Not that any of these are intrinsically bad, mind you—they’re just not suitable paradigms from which to run the Church. None of these represent God’s agenda for His kingdom.

The rest of the values form a circle, and each one is connected to all the others; but at the center is God-worship vs. Self-worship, because this is the central question of the entirety of Scripture: will we worship God or ourselves? It has been often said that you become what you worship; a person who worships God will exude His love in every direction—away from the self toward God and others. A self-worshipping person’s world is aligned in one direction—toward the self. It is a stance of taking: only looking to receive from God rather than to enjoy Him; striving to get as much as one can for one’s own benefit, to the detriment of others if necessary. Everything that is called sin in the Bible stems from the condition of self-worship, and it is God’s priority to transform us from having the nature of self-worship to become God-worshipers. This concept is completely different from how the Church presents the Gospel. In The Upside-Down Kingdom, I related the difference this way:

Constantinian Christianity asks us to mentally assent to a doctrinal formula, which states that we are sinners, that Christ died for us and was raised so we can go to heaven and be with Him someday. Not a bad formula, nor do I immediately disagree with the doctrine in the formula. The doctrine in the formula is just scratching the surface of what God wants of us, however. Look at the difference:
Biblical Judeo-Christianity, in contrast, asks us to commit ourselves to a shared life of God-worship called the Kingdom of God. We connect into the nature of God by Jesus, and we allow God to live through us, whereby His love and life pour through us out to the world. We receive His life in the transfer and are transformed into the people we were created to be. 

The remainder of the values forming the circle are perspectives that naturally flow out of Biblical truth and God’s selfless love.

  • Judeo-Christian (vs. Constantinian Christian): Simply put, this is a return to the foundational framework suitable for understanding Christianity as intended. God revealed Himself through the Jewish people; He sent the Messiah through the Jews; Jesus and all of His original followers were Jews, the Scriptures were written primarily by Jews for Jews—the list goes on and on as to why and how Biblical Judaism is connected to and is the foundation of Christianity. We cannot understand Christianity without looking at it through a Jewish lens; and when we do so, we find that Biblical faith looks a lot different than what a Gentile-based Christianity is practicing. This doesn't mean we have to be ethnically or culturally Jewish in everything we do, but we have to understand and apply the truth from the Jewish perspective to where we are.
  • Holiness (vs. Happiness): This doesn't mean that we can't be happy; we must merely change our perspective from being predisposed toward whatever benefits the self to whatever God says is right, just, good, and full of outwardly-focused love. It is living a life concerned about what God thinks rather than continuously positioning ourselves to receive maximum sucess and satisfaction. Those who understand this concept know that true happiness comes as a reward for righteousness.
  • Real (vs. Sensational): Humanity often tends to favor style over substance. It is very easy for us to look at our feelings, what is exciting, or the supernatural as evidence of God’s work or as a measure of our success. This is the case particularly in the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Word of Faith branch of Protestantism, but can also be found in many Jewish and Christian rituals: somehow thinking that keeping Jewish mitzvot or praying in Hebrew while wearing a kippah makes us more holy, or using Elizabethan English when we pray. Jesus said to be careful not to do good deeds for the purpose of being seen and honored by men (Matthew 6:1-18). Furthermore, when the disciples came back rejoicing that they had power over the demonic, Jesus focused their attention on the greater miracle—that they were written in the Book of Life (Luke 10:19-21). Similarly, Paul said in Galatians 5:22-23 that the fruit of the Spirit's work is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—not speaking in tongues, deliverance, healing, raising the dead, performing other supernatural miracles—even though God still does these today. When God is doing these things, we'll experience them; but it's time that we follow hard after God and His truth rather than after exciting experiences to fulfill us.
  • Family-Nation (vs. Institutional-Professional): The Romanized Church destroyed the framework providing a dynamic, organic life in the Kingdom by turning the Church into an institution with professional clergy. This removed ordinary people from participation and study, relegating them to the status of a spiritual consumer. Even though the Protestant version was more relaxed, they kept this format rather than reverting back to the Spirit-led, family structure of the early Church. It is time to return to this model, which will promote contribution from all members of the congregation rather than an ordained minister being the designated dispenser of truth.

Jesus said that the world would know we are His disciples when we love one another (John 13:34) and prayed that the Church would be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:6-26). Paul elaborated by stating that when we contend for the faith as one, the world sees this and is convicted concerning their own destruction (Philippians 1:27-30). Getting back to these simple truths is what is needed to complete the mission.  Join me in the Reformation!

Book Review: The Shack

NOTE: The following review is for the book only: I have not seen the movie, and so I don't know what the producers may have changed from the content of the book.

Production company:Gil Netter Productions/Windblown Media  Distributed by  Summit Entertainment   Release date March 3, 2017(United States)

Production company:Gil Netter Productions/Windblown Media

Distributed by Summit Entertainment

Release date March 3, 2017(United States)

The Internet exploded again a couple of weeks ago with the release of the movie version of The Shack, written by William Paul Young, the son of Canadian parents who were missionaries to New Guinea.  It is the story of Mack, a man hardened by tragedy:  in his youth, he was abused by a hypocritical father who was a deacon on Sundays and an angry drunk the rest of the week; as an adult, he endured the unimaginable heartbreak of his youngest daughter, Missy, being abducted and murdered by a serial killer.  One day, a few years after his daughter's death, Mack receives an unlikely message in the mail, presumably from God, to visit Him at the shack where his daughter was killed.  There he meets 'God', and his healing begins.

The phenomenon, if nothing else, has provided a perfect barometer measuring where every person lays within the Christian Church, which is in a state of civil war—whether we realize it or not.  On one side, there are those who value truth, structure, and holiness; on the other are those who pursue experiences, acceptance, and relationship.  For two weeks, verbal grenades have been lobbed across both sides, as has been increasingly typical over just about any subject these days:  the holiness crowd is claiming that William Paul Young is a universalist heretic while the 'love trumps all' group is declaring that this is the best book ever (some are saying it's better than the Bible), and that anyone who has a problem with it is oppressed by a demon of religion or a critical spirit.

Before I commented on it myself, I wanted to read it thoroughly.  Doing so would move my commentary beyond our normal attention span these days (it's no longer a news story), but it was worth it to get a clear, unfiltered perspective.  One thing is true: as a story, The Shack is an absolutely riveting read—I wish I were half that creative as an author (I'd certainly sell a lot more of my own material)!  I actually found that I liked parts of the book more than I originally thought I might; where the story bogs down is when the author tries to theologically explain everything Mack is experiencing—which is funny, given that so many people were saying he was not being theological—half the entire book is a theological treatise on the nature of God and His interaction with us!  (Could this be a lesson for me in my own writings?)

The true controversy—for me, at least—is that for all his theological musings and metaphysical machinery employed to try and make his views sensible, William delivered only one half of the Gospel.  Yes, what matters is our experiential love relationship with God—and He does love us beyond what we can ever imagine, and this love is brought out masterfully in the book.  But that relationship is predicated on the truth and the holiness of who God is and what He wants from us according to God's own definition found in His Word.  It is God's own story, not ours.  I didn't define Him; He defined Himself in the pages of the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ—and when we get away from that, we misrepresent Him, taking His name in vain.  Now to be clear, I certainly don't believe that Mr. Young is a New Age globalist secretly attempting to deceive us all into taking the mark of the beast.  I genuinely believe his heart is sincerely bent toward reaching people for Jesus Christ; I just believe he is genuinely wrong about who God is compared to how He defines Himself in the Scriptures.  In our culture, people have come to regard art and opinion as the very definition of reality; and so I am concerned that people will take this book and place it above the Bible (some already have).  When someone is looking for God in The Shack, they come across a very different paradigm than what they would find meeting Him face to face.

So what are the specific things I found that led me to this conclusion?

The first real problem that I found with The Shack is that, despite the author's specific statements to the contrary, he represents God in a completely tritheistic way. This god is not the God of the Bible—Mack is interacting with three separate individuals: Elousia1, Jesus, and Sarayu2.  In William Young's defense, the language of the Christian Church with regard to the Trinity lends itself to this kind of thinking; but it's a non-biblical concept nonetheless.  He then tries to cement the concept with a lot of metaphysical gobbledygook about unity.  I will for the moment ignore that William represented two of the Trinity's persons as female, because I would otherwise spend the rest of my article on this subject alone.  While the Bible is clear that man, both male and female, are created in the image of God, and therefore God has both male and female qualities, I will remind the reader that for the 4,100 years of history during which the Bible was written, God only defined Himself as male, and the only bodily manifestation He has ever had was that of a Jewish man named Yeshua from Nazareth.  And don't tell me it's because of some ancient patriarchal bias against women:  every one of the societies surrounding Israel at the time—who treated women far worse by our standards than the Israelites did, I might add—had goddesses as part of their pantheon.  Only Israel's God defined Himself as male.  So suddenly, now, God needs to define Himself as female?  This is William's opinion—Elousia said that God represented Himself as male during that time because the world needed a father more then.  I think we need fathers even more than ever now!  A genderless God may be politically correct—but it is not how God defines Himself.

Another hangup is the idea that there is no hierarchy in the Trinity.  We need to be clear about this:  from the standpoint of equality, authority, substance, etc., this is true. However, the author depicts the unity between the members of the Godhead as a 'circle of relationship' instead of a chain of command. (pp. 122-123) Throughout the Bible, though, it is clear that EVERYTHING God does originates with the Father and is accomplished through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Always.  So while this does not indicate 'rank', there is a hierarchy—a linear order to the roles that they have chosen.  An interesting observation that I made in my own book is that we as humans are created as one being with three basic parts—a soul, a body, and a spirit; and that we are in the image of God.  Everything we do originates in our soul and is accomplished by our body through the energy of life from our spirit.  In my view, this is a composite picture of what the Trinity looks like and how God acts in the world.

The problem is not hierarchy itself; it is what man does with hierarchy.  If hierarchy is completely bad, which Mr. Young asserts, does that not also mean that God's higher position from us is evil as well?  Amazingly, as we'll see in a moment, William believes it means exactly that.  I don't think he thought that one through…

A further related point of contention is an all too common misrepresentation of the nature of Jesus brought on by the adoption of dyophysitism at Chalcedon.  Dyophysitism is a fancy way of saying that Jesus is both human and God, but as completely separate experiences; the outcome of which is that Jesus is painted as having done nothing as deity while in human form—and in The Shack, Jesus has limited Himself to only His experience of humanity in our current state forever.

I agree that in many ways, God has chosen to limit Himself for the sake of agape love (i.e. He chooses to work with us inside our experience of time because He created us to live within that context, and He allows us true choice within His predestination); but the nature of Jesus is such that his deity and his humanity are both fully expressed from the moment of His Incarnation through eternity (the ancient Oriental Orthodox concept of miaphysitism).  Jesus is fully God and fully man at the same time in the same way that God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit at the same time.  So conversely, God does not choose to be the Father or the Son or the Spirit; neither does Jesus choose to be human or divine.  God is all these, and Jesus is both human and divine simultaneously.

There will forever be a mystery to the complex unity of God that we cannot comprehend with mental gymnastics.  We may never understand how this works; but the definitions that God gives for Himself are fairly clear:

  • God is echad.3 This a complex but indivisible unity of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  Not three individual people, but one God whose three sentient and distinct parts do not exist apart from one another
  • Everything God does flows from the Father through the Son by the Spirit.
  • The Son was incarnated for us men and our salvation using the DNA of the line of King David according to God's decree in the Tanakh, and was placed in the womb of Miriam (Mary), a young Jewish virgin, as the Jewish Messiah—our perfect sacrifice for sin and our Eternal High Priest—and so His deity and His humanity became united forever.
As an aside, just think about this for a moment—I know it's hard to comprehend and may be offensive to some people, but God became a Jew. (Fortunately, Mr. Young cast Jesus correctly as a Hebrew man; but Jesus was a practicing religious Jew as well!) He didn't become an African-American woman, a Chinese lady with a Hindi name, a Celt, or a Slav (even though I am both of the latter, and that would have been really cool)—no, He came through the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Judah.  We don't know all of His religious practices, but He at least wore tzitzit and followed many customs of the Pharisees and/or the Essenes—at least enough to be considered a rabbi. This is how He defined Himself—I didn't choose it for Him in my own imagination.  So why are there so many Christians trying so hard to prove that anything Jewish is anti-Christian with some outrightly hating the Jews?  Anyway—moving on…

Where was I?  Oh, yes—sin, holiness, obedience, and the Law of Moses.  William Young's loathing of hierarchy naturally predisposes him to a negative bent on these topics.  The author's perspective produces a logical trail taking us to a destination far away from God's intent, and this conclusion is exponentially more dangerous than his characterization of the Trinity.  From the moment Mack leaves 'Papa' to meet Sarayu in the garden, things take a downward spiral.

On pp.134-138, Sarayu has a discourse with Mack about good and evil.  She rightly acknowledges the perils of moral relativism and correctly identifies the self as the errant center of our moral sliding scale; furthermore, she agrees that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a real event and the place where mankind was separated from God.  But then, instead of declaring the reason of man's corruption as being his disobedience to God's instruction, she says the real tragedy was that the …spiritual was…torn…from the …physical…?  Yeah, I don't get how that relates, either.  This difficult explanation is very quickly abandoned with a discussion on what must be done about this; Sarayu simply says we have to "know God enough to trust 'God' (not sure if He's a he, a she, or an it at this point) and learn to rest in God's inherent goodness—which, rather than being defined by the Law of Moses and the person of Jesus Christ according to the Bible, was instead represented by the loosey-goosey values of love and light.  Even where these concepts are valid in the Scriptures, they have to be to be further defined—they CANNOT be understood outside of God's definition of righteousness in His Word.  Nowhere in this discussion was mentioned the necessity of sacrifice—and certainly not priesthood, because the author believes that hierarchy and therefore law are evil results of our 'seeking independence'; the logical trap of his error refuses to allow him to mention the word obedience in any positive fashion.  Sarayu says that we define good and evil, not God.  There is only relationship, no rules, no 'performance' we must make.

In fact, we apparently should not bother emulating Jesus.  When Mack next has a conversation with Jesus in Chapter 10, Jesus instructs Mack about the concept of asking, 'What Would Jesus Do?':

Good intentions, bad idea.  Let me know how it works out for you, if that's the way you choose to go…Seriously, my life was not meant to be an example to copy.  Being my follower is not trying to 'be like Jesus', it means for your independence to be killed.  I came to give you life, real life, my life.  We will come and live our life inside of you, so that you begin to see with our eyes, and hear with our ears, and touch with our hands, and think like we do.  But we will never force that union on you.  If you want to do your thing, have at it.  Time is on our side."

Now I understand what William is getting at here in terms of abandoning self-worship to allow God to live His life in us—but 'being like Christ' is exactly that—so I am not following the logic here.  Whatever happened to Philippians 2:3-13?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Or Ephesians 5:1-2:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Or 1 Corinthians 11:1:

And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.

At best, this discourse is a very poor way to explain what God's desire is for us here; but it is not surprising, since expectations for our obedience are taboo in the author's worldview.

In the next chapter, Mack is confronted by the personification of Wisdom4, a beautiful Hispanic woman who essentially puts Mack on trial for the inner judgmental thoughts he has about everyone else, forcing him to admit he is not fit to judge anyone.  This sets up Mack to forgive everyone, and to ask forgiveness for his own sins.  Overall, this is not a bad sequence in the book.  However, the Bible declares that there is only "one Lawgiver and Judge", and that is God Himself, not Wisdom; again, our author would never be able to place God Himself in this role, because he is committed to the idea that God requires no obedience, and therefore does not judge anyone.

Sin and hell are concepts that are dealt with here; William surprisingly has good insight into the concept that sin is declaring independence from God (self-worship); and hell is simply be the consequence of one's own choice to remain in that independence as a self-worshiper.  But the author does us an injustice here; the Bible is clear that God decrees a time where grace and the rescue from self-worship will end.  At the Great White Throne Judgment—the fulfillment of the Jewish Levitical 'appointed time' called Yom Kippur—every person ever created from Adam and Eve to the last human being to be born will be bodily resurrected to stand in judgment for their deeds—whether they are Christian or not.  (Rev. 20:11-13) ALL will be found guilty, for we "all have sinned, and have fallen short of the glory of God."  (Rom. 3:23) THEN, another book is opened—the Lamb's Book of Life.  The sentences of those whose names are found within are commuted to Jesus' punishment that He endured on our behalf.  All those who are not found in the Book of Life are cast into the lake of fire, their self-worship continuously and eternally consuming them as flames that are never quenched and like worms that never die.  (Rev. 20:14-15, Mark 9:47-48)  In The Shack, Wisdom says that "judgment isn't about destruction, but about setting things right."  The Bible says it differently:  the Greek of John 3:16 ends with, "…that they may not be [violently] destroyed, but have life forever."  The destruction of evil is required—it is demanded—in order to set things right.  That's why Jesus had to die in the first place: if any of God's creation was to survive the destruction that God must pour out on all evil, a ransom had to take place!

With this notion, we come to the source of the problem, the controversy over which has been raging since the Apostle Paul preached the Gospel to the Gentiles.  Starting on p. 201 and going to p. 208, Mack is back eating with the three deities, and asks the question, "What do You expect of me now?"  This prompts a shocked silence from the group, as expectations of obedience are the cardinal sin in our author's world.  Sarayu senses another teachable moment here and says,

"…Humans have a tendency to restructure language according to their independence and need to perform. So when I hear language abused in favor of rules over sharing life with us, it is difficult for me to remain silent.  […] why do you think we came up with the Ten Commandments?"  Mack responds, "I suppose, at least I have been taught, but it's a set of rules that you expected humans to obey order to live righteously in your good graces."  Sarayu countered, "if that were true, which it is not, then how many do you think live righteously enough to enter our good graces?"

Of course, the true answer to the obviously rhetorical question is, "no one except Jesus." Sarayu goes on to provide an answer that I myself even teach in my own book—but she's only half right in the telling:

"Actually, we wanted you to give up trying to be righteous on your own. It was a mirror to reveal just how filthy your face gets when you live independently." [Mack says,] "but as I'm sure you know there are many who think they are made righteous by following the rules." [Sarayau's reply] "But can you clean your face with the same mirror that shows how dirty you are? There is no mercy or grace in rules, not even for one mistake. That's why Jesus fulfilled all of that for you—so that it no longer has jurisdiction over you. And the Law that once contained impossible demands —Thou shall not… —actually becomes a promise we fulfill in you."

This is 95% right so far; but the conversation yet to continue is the most dangerous and deceptive idea that has ever been allowed to creep into the Christian credosphere. And it is not new; this idea stems from a misrepresentation of the Apostle Paul's writings and has been going on from the moment he wrote them.  (Those of you who know me know exactly where I'm headed with this…)

"But keep in mind that if you live your life alone and independently, the promise is empty. Jesus laid the demand of the law to rest; it no longer has any power to accuse or command.  Jesus is both the promise and the fulfillment."  [Mack's reply] "Are you saying I don't have to follow the rules?" "Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful."  "You can't be serious! You're messing with me again," moaned Mack. "Child," interrupted Papa, "you ain't heard nuthin' yet."

"MacKenzie," Sarayu continued, "those who are afraid of freedom are those who cannot trust us to live in them. Trying to keep the law is actually a declaration of independence, a way of keeping control." "Is that why we like the law so much – to give us some control?" asked Mack.

"It is much worse than that," resumed Sarayu.  "It grants you the power to judge others and feel superior to them. You believe you are living to a higher standard than those you judge. Enforcing this, especially in its more subtle expressions like responsibility and expectation, is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. And contrary to what you might think, I have a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse."

"Whoa!" Mac suddenly realized what Sarayu had said.  "Are you telling me that responsibility and expectation are just another form of rules we are no longer under?  Did I hear you right?"  "Yup," Papa interjected again.

There is a whole basket of half-truths, false accusations, and mischaracterizations of motive in here; and the conflict over this paradigm marks the greatest divide of the Christian Church today.  Our author is half right in stating that the Law was originally given as a mirror; but the Law is also God's definition and the eternal standard of His own righteousness—again, none of us defined this for God—He defined these things for Himself in His Word.  Over and over again in the Scriptures—both 'Old' Testament and 'New'—we are told that we are expected to be holy as He is holy. 

Leviticus 20:26  [after a list of specific things revealed as sin] You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

Eccl. 12:13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O Man, what is good and what the LORD requires of you:  to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Romans 8:12-13 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.  For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

1 Peter 1:15-16 …just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

I'm already on my way to writing a book with this post (which was not my intention), but let me unpack this basket by presenting some Biblical truths that may be news to many people:

  • Just because the law serves as a mirror to reveal our sinfulness to ourselves in order to drive us to God does not mean that God never meant for us to obey the law. The Scriptures teach us that the Holy Spirit moves us to obey the Law through the process of sanctification, which is a partnership: God has provided us with His standard of holiness in the Law of Moses and the person of Jesus Christ; when we encounter a situation where there is conflict, we say, “Yes, LORD”, and that self-worship nature—that rebellious spirit against God, which our author is calling ‘independence’, dies just a little bit more. That promise and fulfillment can't happen outside of God's standards and His expectations of us. This is why the Law is still needed.
  • God's righteous standards by which He has defined himself have not changed—and will never change—from eternity past to eternity future. When Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law, he was talking about the requirements for sacrifice, penalty, and priesthood.  Hebrews 7 tells us that when the priest is changed the law had to be changed also; this was not an elimination of the whole Law, but of the priesthood, as he himself is the perfect eternal sacrifice and eternal High Priest.
  • The words of the Apostle Paul in the New Covenant Scriptures stating that we are no longer under the Law are specifically directed toward a widespread 1st-century error where He was countering teaching that demanded full proselyte conversion of Gentiles to a Pharisaic order in order for them to be saved. Read my article on this issue in order to gain more understanding.
  • The automatic assumption of our author's worldview is that a person attempting to obey the Law is looking to obtain salvation by the Law, or that they are using the Law as a bludgeon to make themselves look better than other people. This is not necessarily the case. If a person is a self-worshiper, then yes—they will attempt to use the Law as a method of self-justification; and this is what Jesus reacted so strongly to with the Pharisees who opposed Him. But a God-worshiper will allow the Law to do its job—to drive us to God not only for forgiveness when we blow it, but for the strength to do what He asks us to do. And He always asks us to do what is impossible for us.
  • Truth and love are not opposites. Insisting on the truth of God's Word does not mean that one is opposed to God's love. What does 1 Corinthians 13 say about the relationship between the truth and love? "Love rejoices with the truth..." Love doesn't ignore the truth for the sake of acceptance, convenience, or compromise.
  • Yes, there can be personal and even subjective elements of our relationship with God; indeed, if a personal dimension is missing from one's relationship with God, this is a sign that something is wrong. However, our relationship with God can only be founded on the bedrock of definition he gave himself—a relationship only based on His terms, which are the same for everyone, universally expressed in the Bible.

The answer to our longing is not to create a god who is a genderless, multicultural buddy who eliminates every moral goalpost when we miss a kick. No god outside of YHVH, the God of the Bible, is suitable for us to have a relationship with, no matter how warm, loving, and accepting that god of our making might be.

Recently, a student asked a question to Ravi Zacharias (a Christian apologist and speaker with perhaps the most genius of any Christian thinker in our day),

Do you think it's a fundamental necessity for one to call oneself a Christian, or to subscribe to any other religion if they do live a life that Jesus proposed—if one lives with love; if one lives personally ego-less and loves God and loves their neighbor, must one have to call themselves a Christian or ascribe to the dogmatic Christian "proper" beliefs in order to live such a good life?"  Ravi replied, "[...] There is a sequence in the Christian faith that is very unique; the sequence is this: redemption, righteousness, and worship. It's not just logical, it's chronological. You cannot alter that sequence.  In other words, righteousness is never talked about until one is first redeemed; and worship is never enjoined until one is redeemed and righteous—for who shall ascend to the hill of the LORD but he who has clean hands and a pure heart? (Psalm 24:3-34) [...] So I say to you, your desire to lead a good life, to love, to be benevolent, and all of that is wonderful; but the source of that is in the person of God Himself who gives you that absolute; and it always starts by forgiveness—and that's what leads to redemption, then to righteousness, and then to worship That's the chronological sequence and the logical sequence of the answers of Christ."

I would change this slightly, based on my understanding of worship, which is that worship is our response (composed of faith and obedience) to the recognition of our position with relationship to God motivated by His love for us.  So when we see God's love for us, we respond in worship by accepting His great sacrifice on our behalf, which produces our redemption; our continued desire for relationship with Him motivates us to enter a partnership with Him that produces righteousness in us.  The point is, there is a sequence—redemption leads to righteousness, and true God-worship is the driving factor for both.

Redemption does not eliminate righteousness—it upholds it and produces it in us.  Rather than removing the moral goalpost, God works with us, strengthening our kick and increasing our aim—and loving us in the process.  I am fond of saying that God does love us no matter who we are, and no matter what we've done; but He also loves you too much to leave you there.

This matters because rightoeusness is who God is; it is the very fabric of His character.  If we are unconcerned with righteousness, we can have no fellowship with God who is righteousness. This is what the Apostle John was getting at in His first general epistle:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. —1 John 2:3-6

Jesus paid the penalty for our breaking of God's Law; He did not destroy the Law with His death.  Furthermore, even though the penalty is satisfied in Jesus' death, this does not mean God no longer cares about His Law.  Even Paul says in Romans 6, "should we go on sinning that grace may abound?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" And the writer of Hebrews tells us, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." (Hebrews 10:26-27) That's scary—but it describes the attitude of the theology contained in The Shack.  If we believe that somehow God erased His expectations of us defined in His law, this leads to relativism (the belief that morality is relative to circumstance), which then leads to universalism (that all moral paths are equally valid).  While I don't believe William Paul Young is a universalist, his beliefs are taking him—and his readers—down that path.  Far from being hateful toward those that subscribe to this paradigm; it breaks my heart to see someone deceived into believing that God is ok with an unrepentant heart—I don't want to see anyone stand before God thinking that He was unconcerned about their sin.  Our attitude needs to be one of reverence for God's holiness and worship of who He is.

I'm not going to sway anyone from reading this book, watching this movie, or accepting every teaching within its pages as a good representation of the Gospel. It is, after all, a fictional book. And again, my concern has nothing to do with how the author shows that God loves us, and how He meets us right at the source of our need; if I had been creative enough to come up with the plot for this story, but used good theology about God and His holiness instead, the story would have come out not much differently (Jesus would have been the one to meet Mack face-to-face, and there would have been discussion about how holiness, sacrifice, obedience and forgiveness interact). But I have written this commentary to provide you with some answers when someone says, "Oh, hey—have you read The Shack?  It revolutionized my life and the way I think about God!"  I pray that far from lobbing grenades, we'll have the opportunity to discuss the subject matter honestly according to God's Word.

Footnotes:


1Taken from El, the generic Hebrew word for deity, and ousia, the Greek word for 'essence' or 'substance'. So Elousia would be a slapped-together hybrid term for 'God-substance'.

2Sarayu is a Hindi word meaning 'wind' or 'holy river'. It is also another name for the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity. She is the wife and energy of Vishnu, a main Hindu deity.

3The cardinal number 1 in Hebrew; though as in English, the word is often used to describe a collective, like one bunch of grapes, the choir sang with one voice, etc. It is in contrast to yachid, which denotes absolute singularity.

4Wiliam wisely tiptoed around the controversy surrounding the personification of Wisdom being equivalent to the Holy Spirit; Wisdom is referred to in the feminine, but says she was 'among the first of God's created works'—which, if taken literally, would exclude her from the Godhead, given that God is not created; the Holy Spirit was already present at creation. Unlike her portrayal in The Shack, however, she is not the Judge—only God holds that right.

Are Christians Obligated Today to Observe the Sabbath?

Photo from Wikipedia entry on Dr. Michael Brown

Photo from Wikipedia entry on Dr. Michael Brown

I listened to a portion of Dr. Michael Brown's Line of Fire radio program last Thursday on whether Shabbat (the Sabbath) is still binding on Christians today.  I have great respect for Dr. Brown; he has done far more of 'the hard work' than most people to 'show himself approved' (tongue-in-cheek; see 2 Tim. 2:15 KJV), earning a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages, serving as an adjunct professor in numerous theological seminaries across the country, and dedicating the majority of his life to the proclamation and demonstration of the kingdom to the Jew first and also to the Gentile—this is a man who has a lot of intelligence and experience under his belt and has used his talents for the glory of God.  However, (we all saw the 'however' coming) while I thoroughly agree with the spirit in which Dr. Brown approaches relationship with God, and though I end up arriving at a lot of the same conclusions as Dr. Brown with regard to interpretation of the Torah (at least where priestly mitzvot are concerned), I have a fundamentally different perspective that differentiates me from both traditional Protestant Christianity and Messianic Judaism on this issue and pushes me toward the Hebrew Roots Movement (though I don't quite go that far).

The main question is really this:  do we believe there are two 'peoples' of God, or one?  Those that would say there are two separate entities of God-worshipersnational Israel and the Churchwill have a totally different foundational point of reference from myself with regard to interpretation, application, and perhaps even the purpose, of the Torah.  Because of this, our journeys to the conclusions we reach are entirely disparate.  I would like Dr. Brown—and all of us—to consider the following points surrounding his program yesterday:

1.  In the general exchange of dialogue from both sides, it seemed to be forgotten that we are all one in Messiah.  In these types of conversations, it is very typical to hear the idea that God has a different standard for Jews than He does for Gentiles—that He never required Gentiles to obey the Law anyway, and so only Jews need to obey the Torah.  The standard mantra is that "Acts 15 settled the issue." Some (IMPORTANT: not ALL) Messianic Jews believe that in the Millennial Kingdom, the Jewish believers will occupy a special status and reign over Gentile Christian believers as a result of their being the 'Chosen People' of God.  Dispensational Protestants believe that the Church will have been Raptured and in heaven during the Millennial Kingdom; but that after the Tribulation, Jesus will reign along with the Jewish believers who were saved during that time and will re-institute the sacrificial system of the Torah, thus moving from 'the age of Law' to 'the age of Grace', and then back to a dispensation of Law again during the Millennial Reign.  Both ideas promote a separation between Jewish believers in Messiah and Gentile believers in Messiah.  Let's look at the background and what the Scriptures say.

Unbeknownst to most people, when the Exodus occurred, the crowd that left Egypt for the Promised Land was actually a 'mixed multitude' (Exodus 12:38).  Many Gentiles journeyed with the Israelites, identified themselves with them, and decided to essentially remain as permanent resident aliens, attaching themselves to the nation of Israel culturally and religiously.  While they remained on the outer rim of the Covenant, having no property or inheritance, and having less rights than native-born Israelites, they were afforded the opportunity—and given the responsibility—of participating in the Covenant by keeping most of the same standards in the Law (Lev. 24:22).  These people were called the ger; Ruth the Moabitess embodied their spirit when she said to her mother-in-law Naomi, "where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God."  This is contrast to the nochri, who wanted nothing to do with Israel, and were considered at best antagonistic neighbors, and at worst, enemy invaders.  When we see foreigners sharing in the Covenant, it is the ger who are participating, and when we see them excluded, it is the nochri.

Over time, during the Second Temple period, the Pharisees changed the idea of the ger slightly to mean a person simply living among the Jews who was somewhat favorable toward them. If the person obeyed what were called the 'Noachide Laws',1 they were separate from the nation, but could interact with Jews and were called a ger toshav. Post-Second Temple Judaism still recognizes Gentiles as such in the designation 'Righteous Among the Nations'.

When the 'Jerusalem Council' was convened in Acts 15, the treatment of the Gentiles who trusted in Jesus as the Messiah came directly from the Pharisaic understanding of the ger toshav. What is fascinating to me is that in their letter to the Gentiles, the Apostles stated that "…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…" yet, there is no mention of prayer or seeking God on the issue. Interestingly, Paul later contradicts the ruling of the Jerusalem Council in Romans 14 when he says that a Gentile Christian can eat anything in the marketplace, including food that is sacrificed to idols. Furthermore, earlier in Chapters 9-11, Paul throws out a bombshell that revolutionizes the entire framework: essentially, he says to the Gentile: "Guys, you don't realize what God has done for you here. You are no longer just a ger toshav or even the original idea of the ger—you have been made full citizens of the nation of Israel, grafted like wild branches into a native-born olive tree. He cements this understanding for us in his letter to the Ephesians:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.   —Ephesians 2:11-22

So it should be very plain to us that now, in the New Covenant if not before, what is good for the goose is good for the gander—what applies to the Jew applies equally to the Gentile believer. Aside from ethnicity, there is no difference between us. Now the question remains, "Does the Law still apply to any of us?" It seems pretty obvious that Paul is declaring the Law to be set aside in Christ—but not so fast! This brings us to our next point.

2. As an ethnic Jew and great supporter of Israel, Dr. Brown is most certainly not intending to be supersessionist2 in his perspective; however, he came across as such when he used the typical Christian argument of "give me a New Testament Scripture that absolutely commands the Gentile to observe the Sabbath." If we believe that ALL Scripture is God-breathed, why do we insist on dismissing any command that does not have a New Testament proof-text? Being the only Scripture that Jesus and the disciples had, does the Tanakh not stand in its own right? Now of course, I believe—according to Hebrews 7 among many other passages—that the perfect sacrifice and eternal priesthood of Jesus fulfills completely the priestly functions of the Torah, thereby RADICALLY changing our application of Torah observance (See my full treatment of this issue here). This is why Christians can be justified in seemingly ignoring those mitzvot which are priestly in nature—that is, anything having to do with rituals and observances keeping us fit to approach God or legal punishments for the lack thereof, including kashrut laws, tefillin, kippahs and tallits/tzitzit, rote prayers, handwashing, circumcision, blood sacrifice, stoning people to death, pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year, etc.3 Rather than being an absolute replacement item, The New Covenant is like an adapter that fits over the First Covenant, changing some of its practices, but not its promises or meaning (except perhaps to enhance them). It is only because of the death and resurrection of Jesus that we can claim this; otherwise, we would still be obligated to practice every mitzvah verbatim. Instead, we point to Messiah and show that He is our means of access: not one yodh or stroke of the Law has passed away—the priestly mitzvot are continuously being fulfilled in Him—and by default are "…set aside in His flesh with its commands and regulations" as Paul says in the Ephesians passage above.

Rather, we are now uninhibited in our pursuit to understand the true meaning of the Torah: "Hear, O Israel, YHVH is our God, and YHVH alone. So love YHVH your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." And our Messiah explains that the second greatest commandment is like the first: "...love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." As Micah 6:8 declares, "He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the LORD requires of you: but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." It is these moral values of the Torah that are part and parcel of our relationship to God and others; everything else is subtext. The other commands—including the priestly mitzvot now fulfilled in Yeshua's sacrifice and priesthood—may serve to further illustrate the moral values and outworking of the two greatest commandments, but at best, they are an overflow of our practice to love God and love people. This is why so many have capitalized on the Ten Commandments: they are a perfect summary of the Torah's values that God is working into us.

Dr. Brown continuously asked in his radio program for a specific New Testament text—given the evidence we have explored, while the following relates to the Torah as a whole rather than specfically to the Sabbath, I would submit that the following is that passage:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death [priestly mitzvot and punishments thereof]. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

An obligation, you say?  To live by the Spirit of God.  And what does this provide for us in the New Covenant?  Here we must turn back to Jeremiah 31:31-34, the foundational passage which Jesus refrerred to in the Passover when He declared the New Covenant in His blood:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” —Jeremiah 31:31-34

The companion passage to this in Ezekiel 36:22-38 says, "I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws". This is the greater Torah, folks. Bouncing back to the New Covenant, what does Paul say the fruit of the Spirit—the result of the Spirit's work in our life—encompasses? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. These are the values of the Torah to which we have an obligation as we press ourselves into the indwelling Spirit of God.

3. So what about the Sabbath specifically?  The next question would be, is this part of the priestly mitzvot that have been fulfilled by the death, resurrection, and priesthood of Christ, or is the Sabbath still a mitzvot that is binding on us?  Dr. Brown conceded that the Sabbath is a gift instead of a duty, and he agreed with his callers that it was instituted before the Law of Moses (though the behaviors and punishments for disobeying these were first listed in the Law), and that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  Now, given these elements, we can come to an understanding of God's heart on this subject.  We understand that the general principles of the Sabbath are to provide rest for the physical human body, to practice corporate worship of God, and receive fellowship with the Body of Messiah in the gathering of the assembly.  These principles easily fall under the mitzvot to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself—to which we are obligated.  What has changed in the New Covenant are the commands and punishments relating to death and duty, and particularly to the rabbinic interpretations of such things.  Our LORD modeled this behavior for us when He was physically here on the earth.  So we should keep Shabbat in the way that it is intended:  if we are dinking around worrying about flipping a light switch, counting our steps to ensure we do not go beyond the prescribed distance, fearing to drive a car because it might be 'kindling a fire', thinking that somehow God will be displeased with us and strike us dead or other such things, we have missed the point of Shabbat entirely and I would even say we have violated the mitzvot to rest!  Love the LORD, enjoy His Shabbat, and fellowship with your brothers and sisters.

God instituted Shabbat on the seventh day of creation and has not moved it or annulled it in any way since that time.  He is very clear throughout the First Covenant Scriptures that Shabbat is important to Him—not as a priestly mitzvot of the Law but in principle (see especially Isaiah 58).  Despite Paul's comments in Colossians 2:16-23 (which most Christians use as a simple excuse to change the subject), there is no record of any New Covenant believer anywhere who did not celebrate Shabbat—including Paul himself.  I would contend that Paul's remarks are not about whether to celebrate the Sabbath, but with regard to how we celebrate the Feasts.  Look at the passage:  everyone stops at the first verse and moves on; but Paul condemns the priestly mitzvot as having no value—nowhwere does he say that we should not rest, gather together, or worship God on this day!  

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

My question would be this: being that we worship YHVH, the Jewish God, the God of creation who is the LORD of Shabbat and who instituted it Himself, why would we be at all interested in doing something different than what He asks of us? Dr. Brown's summary of the conversation is that we should take a Romans 14 attitude with regard to celebration of Shabbat; I would agree that this is true regarding how it is we do so—but I would admonish all believers in Christ to consider God's intent surrounding Shabbat and strive after that. My issue is that when we simply declare that we are "no longer under the Law"—misinterpreting Paul's intent when he said these things, we foster an attitude among Gentiles that anything Jewish has been done away with, and that we are no longer accountable for the way we behave. Don't believe me? Look around at what the Church is saying and what it has become. This is why Peter addresses Paul's writings in his epistle as he speaks of righteousness and abstaining from following our own sinful desires:

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. —2 Peter 3:14-18

If we have been saved from death and have reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, if we worship God in all His glory, we are obligated to do what He says. Fortunately for us, His yoke is easy and His burden is light; He came that we might have abundant life, not so that we would be counting mitzvot, continuously living as slaves of fear and death, nor that would indulge the self-worship nature and fall from the grace that we have obtained from Him. Shabbat Shalom!

1  The Noachide Laws were a set of behaviors that were taken from Genesis 9, specifically verses 4-6; the Pharisees interpreted this as being a covenant that was given to the Gentile world as opposed to the covenant of Moses.
2  Supersessionism is the belief that the New Covenant (Christianity) nullifies or supersedes the First Covenant (Judaism).
3  (Yes, I am familiar with Scriptures like Zechariah 14 and Ezekiel 38. The question with these has to do with the physical presence of Jesus as the king among us, His ruling over the nations "with an iron scepter" [Psalm 2 and Revelation 2] and the nature of the sacrifices involved.)

I Beg to Differ (Sort of—as Politely as I Can)...

While those of us who celebrate Hanukkah were enjoying the holiday last week, the Vatican came out with a very interesting document that was shocking to some, delightful to a few, abhorrent to many, still insignificant to others: they said that "that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews (Section 6, point #40)." The driving reason for this is because the Jews worship the same God as Christians, and because "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (quoting Romans 11:29); and so the very loose implication is that they are (or eventually will be) included in the New Covenant, and so don't need to be targeted for conversion.  Not helping the banter that would shortly ensue was a somewhat misleading headline which read, "Vatican Says Jews Don't Need Christ to be Saved."  (Following this title is a quote that I did not find anywhere in the original document.)

Instead of launching into a tirade, ripping this apart for what should be some very obvious flaws, I need to stress what a noble thought this was.  This document represents an about face to the Catholic Church's position on Judaism; it states that it is a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, but even though that document was groundbreaking in its reconciliatory attitude toward Jews, this current document is nothing short of miraculous.  Who would have ever thought that the same Church which declared the Jews as 'Christ-killers' and criminals guilty of deicide would suddenly consider them to be partners in the covenant as the people of God to bring light to the world?  The sentiment is incredible—and not coincidental.

Earlier this month, Orthodox Rabbis released a similar statement announcing that "...Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations."  (You can pick up your jaw from the floor now.)  For the past twenty-some-odd years, I have prayed that the LORD would bring reconciliation between all the different denominations of Christianity and Judaism.  The reformation is now happening.  It may not look like much yet, but God is bringing His people back together.  

Now, to be sure, there is a divide happening as well—but it's not necessarily defined along sectarian lines; the fissure is occurring between those who worship YHVH and those who ultimately worship themselves—between false believers and true ones.  The true Body of Messiah is made up of people from every tribe and tongue; all denominations, both Jew and Gentile, will be represented in the New Jerusalem in the presence of God.  As this reformation unfolds, however, we have to make sure and guide our responses to align with God's Biblical plan.  The enemy is continuously seeking to derail what God is doing; of course, he can never ultimately thwart God's plans in the scheme of history, but for individuals, he can delay or even destroy the work of God in their lives, and we must be careful not to aid him by the things we say and do.

...Which brings me to my response.  If you've spent time reading anything that I have written, you know that I have a lot of things to say concerning the Romanized Constantinian Church, and particularly with regard to Roman Catholicism.  There is a lot of distance that has been traveled between the early first-century faith and what the Catholic Church has become today; most of which was trod from a position of hatred against the Jews—a direct and deliberate rejection of the Jewish Biblical context and subsequent incorporation of pagan holidays, rituals, concepts, language, and doctrines.  The varying Orthodox and Protestant divisions of the Church, while perhaps less overtly pagan, have certainly not returned toward a position resembling Biblical practice, and some groups have continued an anti-Jewish or even anti-Semitic stance. But this is not necessarily what I am dissecting here; no, in fact, other than the Vatican's conclusions, I was actually rather impressed with the language of the Catholic document; if you read my book and many of the articles on this website, you'll find that my position is similar in many respects.  Furthermore, my criticisms of all branches of the Church—and of post-Second Temple Judaism for that matter—do not equate to a hatred for any of these groups; rather, I love them all and want to see us all cross the finish line in celebration of our relationship with God.

To that end, I have to point out some things:

  • If, indeed, "One cannot understand Jesus’ teaching or that of his disciples without situating it within the Jewish horizon in the context of the living tradition of Israel; one would understand his teachings even less so if they were seen in opposition to this tradition," and "…there can only be one history of God’s covenant with mankind, and that consequently Israel is God’s chosen and beloved people of the covenant which has never been repealed or revoked…", then we must understand and insist that not only has the Church not replaced Israel, we have been grafted into it. We are not the new people of God; instead, we have been adopted into God's original family.
  • Given this, our charge is to carry on the values of our family. If we cannot understand Jesus' teaching outside of the Jewish context as the Vatican's document proclaims, why would we wish to insert our own? The document—and history—admits that the church departed from the context of Judaism and conformed to Gentile pagan values; if we worship the Jewish Jesus, the revelation of the Jewish God, defined by and lived out through the Jewish people, would it not behoove us to study and retain His Jewish values? Should we not destroy the Asherah poles and put away the Ba'als of our self-worship, instead of continuing to remain where it is comfortable and familiar? I believe I have been tasked to this effect as a voice in the wilderness, calling the Church to return, preparing the way of the LORD. Not just Catholics, but all segments of the Church.
  • Because we are one family, Paul declared his anguish over his ethnic brothers: "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kin according to the flesh." This was not because they are eternally separated, but because the New Covenant belongs first to the Jew and also to the Gentile—indeed, by the end, Paul's prophecy is that all his brothers will accept Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah. But how will they hear unless we proclaim Him?
  • In spite of the language acknowledging these things, and the goodwill that both provide, both the Catholic document and the Rabbinical statement imply that to be Jewish is to be different than Christian. This is not so! Perhaps in our current expression this is the case, but the evidence shows that we have all departed to a degree from God's direction for His people. Understanding that there are two thousand years of history, tradition, and prejudice to overcome, and that change will or cannot be instant, and knowing that variations in belief will always exist, nevertheless, should we not work toward reuniting the family rather than figuring out how we can simply exist and tolerate one another as separate partners?
  • The central piece of the discussion—so carefully and ironically avoided, the pink elephant in the room whom no one wants to see, is Jesus. (Well, He's not really a pink elephant… you know what I mean.) If, however, as the Jewish tractate proclaims, that Christianity is indeed the willed divine outcome of God, what if the Christians are right concerning the Messiahship of Jesus? It is proven against all efforts to the contrary that the acceptance of Jesus as the promised Messiah is a very Jewish thing to do (those of us who do accept Him, of course, would say this is the most Jewish thing one can do). Consider Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 9:6-7: "For to us a child is born. To us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, on David’s throne, and on his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from that time on, even forever. The zeal of YHVH of Armies will perform this." Also, (Yirmeyahu) Jeremiah 23:5-6: "Behold, the days come, says YHVH, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name by which he shall be called: YHVH our righteousness." So regardless of any debate over the Christian doctrines of the virgin birth, Trinity or Christology, the Tanakh is clear that Messiah is both a human king of the line of David and YHVH Himself. Despite the well-meaning attempts to respect each other's positions, it is not anti-Jewish by default to believe in a divine Messiah.
  • There is no loss of Jewish identity or practice that comes with acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah—the New Covenant is Jewish in nature! (Jeremiah 31:31-34). There is not one Jewish practice that one must quit in order accept Messiah. To echo the quote of Rabbi Jacob Emden in the Rabbinical document, Jesus brought home a corrected and fuller understanding of the Torah that His contemporaries were lacking, which is this—drawing from the Shema itself: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Everything Jesus did was an illustration of how to apply the Torah to the situations of everyday life—objectified in values like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Could it be that Jesus was right in His understanding of the Law, that the most important aspect of our relationship with God is to worship Him by loving others in contrast to engaging in competition over the fulfillment of mitzvot?

Rabbi Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) praised what God had done in breaking down the wall of separation between Gentile and Jew; and he looked forward to the day when we would truly be one in Messiah.  He did not advocate for a separation in any way, as the Roman Catholic document implies.  When Paul spoke, there was no such thing as 'Christianity'; he believed that worshipping Jesus was as naturally Jewish as Passover.  I'd like us to return there.

There were a million different reactions from people to these attestations, both positive and negative—ranging from accusations of a New Age globalist plot to precursor of the Messianic Reign.  While I beg to differ with some of the theology and conclusions these documents reach, I choose to believe this is an opportunity—to right some wrongs, to heal some wounds, and to obtain a better perspective.

I would call on my Christian brothers and sisters from all branches of the Church to examine their rituals, traditions, beliefs, and language. Study the history of the Church. Stack these things up against the Bible and see how much of it reflects God's intentions.  I almost guarantee that God will be asking us to make some changes.  I also would ask that, contrary to the inference in the Catholic document separating Judaism from the physical land of Israel, that we consider the covenants and understand the integral nature of Israel and her earthly inheritance.  The two cannot be separated.  

One of my dreams would be to see an ecumenical letter of repentance, asking the Jewish people for forgiveness for all of the atrocities that have been committed against them in the name of Christ.  There have been many acts of extraordinary kindness and love by Christians toward Jews as well; and our friend Mike Evans has done a wonderful job showcasing these at the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem; however, repentance is also needed.

To the Jewish community, I would plead that you accept Christianity as more than a partner in tikkun olam.  I boldly, but humbly ask that you recognize Messianic Jews as belonging to the Jewish community, given that there are those even here in America who do not even worship God and yet are accepted as Jews. I also ask that you treat those Christians who love you, who believe that you truly are God's chosen people, who fight for your national existence, and declare the worship of your God as the ger, the permanent resident aliens who have attached themselves to your nation.  We are as Ruth, who proclaimed, "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God my God." Thirdly, I would invite you to read the B'rit Chadashah (the New Covenant Scriptures).  Compare them with the truth of the Tanakh.  Make your conclusions on the basis of respectful dialogue, research, and conviction by the Holy Spirit of our heavenly Father, who teaches us all things.

Lastly, to my Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish friends, I would say:  the LORD Himself has caused the warming of relations between the members of His family.  He has drawn us to Himself and has caused us to explore some areas that we have not seen for 1900 years in some cases.  Change does not usually come overnight.  Let us remember to fix our focus on the central commands of the Torah—to love our God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  As our Messiah taught us, let us beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (and I would add the Ebionites) who would revel in their self-righteousness and pompous attitudes.  If we err, may we err on the side of courtesy, forgiveness, and love.  It is not our job to break the bruised reed or snuff the smoldering wick, but to welcome our family home.  I would encourage the study of Hebrews 7 to counterbalance the misinterpretation of Paul's writings rather than attempting to make him recant things he clearly said, no matter how difficult they seem.  Instead, we must interpret them in light of his context and the narrative that he was trying to convey.

It is no coincidence that the entire world is revealing their hatred of the Judeo-Christian family; above all, this should give us a clue that there is something special between us—a commonality that we share.  We have an opportunity to fulfill our mandate in response to our God as the Chosen People, the holy priesthood, a royal nation, and light to the rest of the world.  I'm ready—let's do it!

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

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As I observe the endless chatter surrounding nearly every subject these days, I am continuously amazed at how polarized we have become; it has been proven true to me on many occasions that we humans are beings of extremes.  When we observe an excess or an error in one area, we tend to swing, like a pendulum, past the balance of truth in the middle clear to the other side of the issue—and when we reach the apex of that conclusion, having decided we can't stand it anymore, we swing right back to where we started.  It's as if we suddenly lose the ability to think past the narrative.  Furthermore, in our hunger to draw battle lines in our tug-of-war of ideas, it seems that the more 'tolerance' we appeal to in our society, the more vitriolic our speech becomes.  There are subjects that are definitely worthy of scorn and ire; but even in our anger, we shouldn't destroy the house to kill a fly.  I found these things to be true even when reading this very long article by Walid Shoebat about the virtues of the Catholic Church and the Septuagint, compared to what he perceives are the errors of the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements, Martin Luther and essentially the entire Protestant Reformation.

Mr. Shoebat's opening claim in the article is, "TO BE MESSIANIC IS TO BE CATHOLIC." (The all-caps are his, not mine.)  By this I believe He is stating the idea that the Roman Catholic Church is the most authentic and/or original form of Christianity in existence; he does subsequently say that "none in the Hebrew Roots Movement or even the Messianic Evangelicals can connect to the true Hebrew Roots."  This is an incredibly broad-sweeping assessment; while the Catholic Church itself certainly claims it is original and that the Orthodox Churches split from them, Mr. Shoebat is apparently forgetting that the Catholic Church did not officially exist as it is until 1054 A.D. at the Great Schism in which the Roman Pope and the Eastern Orthodox churches excommunicated each other. In the centuries before this, the Church was warring amongst itself in factions over varying issues which shaped orthodoxy, eventually spinning off the Oriental Orthodox churches in the sixth century.  Of no small note is the fact that the Church seems to have been relatively unified until Constantine 'the Great', whom Mr. Shoebat defends in his article, became the first Imperial patron of the faith.  Whether one loves him or hates him, nobody can deny that Constantine is the source of major revolution in the Church.

To be sure, Mr. Shoebat addresses some very valid points:

It is true that many within the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements have clung to post-Second Temple Rabbinic Judaism as the standard against which we should measure the Jewishness of our Christian faith.  This is indeed ironic given that the rabbis themselves acknowledge that this form of Judaism is in fact descended directly from the teachings of the Pharisees, the very group that set themselves in opposition to Jesus' teaching—and that the New Covenant text is clear that John the Baptist, Jesus, and the leaders of the early church were not great fans of Pharisaic teaching, either.  This is not, however, because the Pharisees were Jews, nor even because of their theology per se—Jesus and all the aforementioned were themselves Jewish, and many from the party of the Pharisees became followers of Jesus both before and after Jesus' death and resurrection.  Rather, it was the legalism and the self-righteousness of the Pharisees which Jesus and the early church opposed.  It is these values that we should continue to oppose, no matter in which belief system we find them—even our own 'traditional' forms of Christianity.

Contrary to Mr. Shoebat’s position, while modern Rabbinic Judaism no longer completely resembles Biblical Judaism, Christianity does even less so.  It has, in fact, by its own admission, adopted many pagan beliefs, rituals, forms, and concepts of language.  Nowhere in the Scriptures does one find the papacy, the priesthood or even a clergy/laity distinction, doctrines concerning the veneration of Mary beyond simply being 'honored among women', having perpetual virginity, or being assumed into heaven, Purgatory, transubstantiation, the Catholic concept of sainthood, Sunday worship, or the holidays the Church celebrates.  Even the Protestants kept some of these unbiblical practices, not even realizing that they are of pagan origin.

This was done primarily because the Church turned its hatred of legalism and self-righteousness into a hatred of the Jews.  Period.  One only has to read Constantine’s Letter to the Churches surrounding the Council of Nicaea, John Chrysostom’s Adversus Iudaeos, the Council of Laodicea, or Martin Luther’s On Jews and their Lies to get a taste of the venom which has been spewed against the ethnic brothers of our own Lord, the Jewish Messiah.  So, to say that Catholicism is Messianic is utterly ridiculous at best, and an affront to every Jewish person.

What amazes me in my own studies on this issue is how quickly and how far the Church became removed from the understanding that it is no less than God's perfect will that He revealed Himself as a Jew, covenanted Himself to the Jewish people and established His name in the capital of Jewish civilization.  Seemingly overnight somewhere in the third century, the church was transformed from having a Jewish legacy to espousing anti-Semitism.  While post-Second Temple Judaism has moved away from the Biblical center which should be our focus, Romanized Christianity has done far more so in every way except the Gospel story itself; we have a much further distance to walk than does any Jew.  The goal of my own website and book series is to educate the church to traverse this distance in a hopeful return to a Judeo-Christian expression of the faith; and Judaism, even post-Second Temple Rabbinic Judaism, has much to teach us in getting there.

Another related point over which I will not labor is Mr. Shoebat’s defense of the Catholic view of Biblical symbolism.  He argues that the Catholic faith is deeper and richer than Protestantism because it reads into literal events a supernatural or symbolic meaning.  Sometimes we can extract a deeper meaning from the text; in other instances, however, two swords are just two swords (Mr. Shoebat used the story where Peter presented two swords to Jesus on the final night before Jesus’ crucifixion as an example).  What is absolutely certain, however, is that a reading of the text from a Biblically Jewish context is the best way to derive its meaning; the Romanized Church threw away its best tool for understanding the intricacies of Scripture when it rejected the Jewish foundation of Christianity and substituted a pagan context instead—any symbolism in the Bible must be derived from understanding the Jewish idea and applying it to our circumstances—not making semi-educated guesses based on pagan oracles or Greek philosophy.  The Bible was written by the Jewish God for the Jewish people using Jewish hands concerning a Jewish Messiah.  To apply a different context is misguided at best, and heretical at worst.

The greatest point of merit in Mr. Shoebat’s article is his treatise on the Septuagint, a Greek translation from the original Hebrew that was done in-between 300 and 250 years before Jesus’ birth.  It was reportedly created for the Library of Alexandria when Israel was a part of the Ptolemaic Empire after the death of Alexander the Great; most likely it was done because the vernacular of the day was Greek—and more and more Jews were speaking and writing in Greek during this time period.  It stands opposed to the Masoretic Text, a Hebrew version of the Tanakh compiled by post-Second Temple Jewish rabbis around the end of the 1st century A.D. mostly in reaction to the Christian use of the Septuagint and their success in arguing from it.  The Septuagint is obviously older than the Masoretic Text, although it is around 400 years older, and not 1000 years older as Mr. Shoebat claimed in his article.  It is indeed the version (or an excellent translation of the version) of the Scriptures from which Jesus and the Apostles quoted authoritatively.

When the Masoretes (obviously the group of rabbis who created the Masoretic Text) compiled their edition, they knowingly altered some minor points of the text to further the Pharasaic narrative; moreover, they also excluded several books or portions of books from the canon that were previously regarded as sacred Scripture, such as the books of Enoch and Wisdom, both of which were quoted by New Covenant writers.  This is why, unlike many of my Hebrew Roots, Messianic, and Protestant friends, I do accept the Roman Catholic canon list as primary, and I additionally accept certain books from the Eastern and Ethiopian Orthodox canons as deuterocanonical.  However, Mr. Shoebat has omitted from his article three important truths:

    Mr. Shoebat does explain that Jerome attempted to use the Masoretic Text as his basis for the Latin Vulgate (which he completed in 405 A.D.), but he leaves out the damning evidence that he ignored the advice of his contemporary and friend St. Augustine and actually used the Masoretic Text, only referring back to the Septuagint where segments of Scripture were unclear with regard to the translation; so the Roman Catholic Bible still in use today is largely derived from the same manuscript as many of the Protestant versions which Mr. Shoebat disdains--only the Orthodox Bible remains based on the Septuagint (along with a few others like the World English Bible).

    Aside from those points the Masoretes deliberately changed—which are indeed significant in their implications, the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text differ very little anyway, with the exception of the natural differences between Hebrew and Greek; a comparison side-by-side of the majority of content in these manuscripts reveals a negligible change in meaning, and nothing of grave theological importance.  So if one leans on the Septuagint as primary, understanding that the Masoretic Text was composed in reaction to the Christian message and was adapted to preserve the Pharasaic Jewish cultural narrative, one loses nothing, and instead gains a Hebrew cultural understanding of the text that may have been lost when the Septuagint was translated—which was the reason Jerome used the Masoretic Text in the first place.

    When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, they pointed to an even earlier proto-Hebrew source from which both the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text sprang, validating points of each rather than discrediting one or the other.  My opinion is that the Dead Sea Scrolls should be used as the textual basis of comparison, followed by a reliance on the Septuagint, and finally looking at the Masoretic Text for any Hebrew meaning that may further illuminate the text.

While it is true that there are modern-day Ebionites among us (Ebionites were an early group who believed Jesus was the Messiah, but believed Torah was the way to salvation; they denied the Trinity and Paul's writings)—and we most definitely should counter any heretical message among us by educating people with Biblical truth, I was shocked by the overall tone of Mr. Shoebat’s scathing article.  Not all persons aspiring to connect to their Hebrew Roots are ‘sacred namers’ or legalists looking to reduce the Christian life to the dutiful observance of petty rabbinic mitzvot; and I am not sure where Mr. Shoebat obtained the statistic that 80% of all Messianic congregations deny the Trinity—I know such congregations are out there, but I don’t personally know any Messianic Jews that believe anything other than that Jesus is God the Word made flesh.  Even Mr. Shoebat’s stance toward Martin Luther and Calvinism is dripping with gall; and he insults the majority of my ancestry by saying that Europeans have essentially corrupted Hebrew by virtue of 'having difficulty' pronouncing the Hebrew letter ayin as a guttural stop.  I don't know—I'm pretty good at picking up language patterns.  Perhaps Mr. Shoebat should demonstrate so that we handicapped Europeans can give it a try...

I understand that things make us angry from time to time, and that occasionally we just lose it—I am just as guilty as Walid.  Generally speaking though, the Bible proclaims that our speech needs to be "full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (Colossians 4:6) This is not just having the right answer; it is understanding how to approach people with our words.  Proverbs 15:1 declares, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."  I would appeal to all my Jewish and Christian friends, no matter what 'camp' they fall into, to consider the Scriptures and history for themselves, and to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal truth rather than lining up behind a battle line.  I actually agree with many points that Mr. Shoebat was attempting to make in this article; but there's no way he will convince a Hebrew Roots person with this kind of attitude.  Particularly when it comes to those who are part of the Body of Messiah, we should appeal first, rather than to blast and ask questions later.  We each have positions, and the truth is out there; I realize we're just trying to proclaim what we believe God has revealed to us.  But let's all do a little bit better to try and get along, yeah?

Christianity—Falsifiable?

Yet another response to an article I read...

Christianity, the World's Most Falsifiable Religion by C. Michael Patton on his blog, Credo House

"...But the more I research, the more I find it to be the case that Christianity is the only viable worldview that is historically defensible." --C. Michael Patton

"...But the more I research, the more I find it to be the case that Christianity is the only viable worldview that is historically defensible." --C. Michael Patton

Every once in a while I come across an article that I should be happy to support, but in reading it I find that there are problems which cause me to declare a caveat to others who might read it.  This article claims that Christianity is the ONLY religion in the world that is falsifiable—that is, that it has events that can be tested empirically.

First, I would say that the author is stretching the use of the term falsifiability in this case, because not all the affirmations of Christianity are falsifiable.  Some of them most certainly are:  Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, He grew up in Nazareth of Galilee, He lived an extraordinary life, and He was crucified by Pontius Pilate on April 7, 30 A.D.  After His death, His followers asserted that He was resurrected from the dead, and gave their lives believing so.  These are facts.  They are falsifiable.  But the evidences of His resurrection, the miracles He performed that were written about in the Gospels, and His ascension into heaven cannot be proven empirically and so they do not fit this category.  The witnesses for these are compelling and reasonable, and the testimony of His followers is so great, so fully disclosed, and so thorough that they would convince a jury—and I believe them all.  But they are not falsifiable until Jesus returns bodily as He promised to do.  I fully believe He will—but these points are not falsifiable until then.

I think the reason why Christianity is not 100% falsifiable as of yet is because it requires us to depend on God—to seek Him out—to cry out in the middle of our storm and await the answer. The reality of our experience comes when He actually meets us there.  While Christianity is empirically sound enough to provide a launching pad for our faith, it is in the miracle and the rub of our relationship with God that makes us different; otherwise, we have no advantage over Buddhism, Hinduism, or even Islam—save perhaps the ethical values our faith proclaims.

Secondly, the author is only talking about the core declarations of the Gospel story in his article upon which  Evangelical Protestants hang their hats; there is a larger secondary body of claims belonging to the Christian religious system that, while historical, is not defensible, let alone falsifiable.  Many of the Orthodox and Catholic traditions surrounding the Virgin Mary, sainthood, the priesthood and papacy, the Eucharist, the Mass, and church holidays—including the date assigned to the birth of Jesus—are either total fabrications or are taken directly from various pagan religions and amalgamated into the faith.

These two issues are not what gives me the greatest pause, however. The author makes a completely silent omission which serves as an example to prove one of the most significant points of my teaching over the past three years.  Judaism is ALSO historical, defensible, and archaeologically so.  It serves as the foundation and context for Christianity; if it were not true, neither would Christianity be.  Apart from polytheistic pagan fertility religions, Judaism is the most ancient, historically rooted, falsifiable religious system in the world still in existence today.

Whether the slight was intentional or not is not the issue:  if it was deliberate, it is because the Christian Church purposely divorced itself from its Jewish roots in the 4th century A.D. and has not looked back. The prevailing attitude toward Judaism since that time is that the Church has replaced the Jewish people as the 'new' Israel—and unfortunately, many Christians are still happy to adopt this position, despite the Biblical admonitions against it (Genesis 12:3 and Romans 11 among many others)—not to mention that Jesus and His disciples never suggested any intention of leaving Judaism to start another religion:  Jesus came to inaugurate the New Covenant within Judaism.

Even if the oversight was completely benign (as I hope it is, and I will give the author the benefit of the doubt), this article is indicative of the masterful job that the 4th-century imperial establishment did in erasing the Jewish foundation from the Christian consciousness.  Christians are taught, for all practical application, that Christianity has swallowed up Judaism: in the mind of the average Jay Q. Christian, Father Abraham had many sons, and they all were good little white boys who went to church on Sunday and sang, "Jesus loves me, this I know..."  I will go out on a limb and say the author omitted Judaism from his comments because most Christians believe the Jewish 'Old Testament heroes' were actually Christian, rather than seeing Christianity as a continuation of the relationship between God and the Jewish people while widening His family to include the rest of the world.  

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The disconnect is so great that even non-believers are confused:  this rather ignorant and ridiculous Internet meme is an illustration...

Over the past 100 years, we have dumbed down the Gospel and made it so 'relevant' to our very non-Jewish culture that it no longer makes sense—to us, or to the outside world.  Among such values within the church as the clergy/laity boundary and the Protestants' singular focus on 'saying a sinner's prayer', the Church has failed to translate the actual Biblical story.  Most people in the Western world are unfamiliar with the basic tenets of Christianity, let alone the connection between Judaism and Christianity; but even within the Church, if they are taught about the Judaism of Biblical characters at all, little Christian boys and girls are taught the Jewish identity of Jesus and His followers simply as a footnote—that Jesus fulfilled all 'that Jewish stuff' Christians don't pay attention to in the 'Old Testament' with His life, death and resurrection—and then we all moved on.  Why don't we ever show the origin in its true Jewish context?  Even though it's a simple thing, in response to the doltish meme, here is how we got to names like Jesus, James, John, Peter, and Andrew from the originals:

Transliterated Hebrew/Aramaic names and how they got to their English counterparts
Yeshua transliterated to Greek Iesous transliterated to English Jesus
Yeshua directly transliterated to English Joshua
Shimon directly transliterated to English Simon
Kefa transliterated to Greek Petra transliterated to English Peter
Adam translated to Greek Andreas transliterated to English Andrew
Yochanan transliterated to Greek Ioannes transliterated to English John
Ya'akov directly transliterated to English Jacob
Ya'akov transliterated to Greek Iakobos translated to Gaelic Seamus transliterated to English James
Mattityahu directly transliterated to English Matthew, Matthias (variant)
Natani'el directly transliterated to English Nathaniel, Nathan
Bar-Tal'mai transliterated to Greek Bartholomaeus transliterated to English Bartholomew
Yehuda translated to Greek Thaddaeus imported directly into English Thaddaeus
Yehuda transliterated to Greek Ioudas translated to English Jude
Sha'ul transliterated to Greek Saoul/Paulos transliterated to English Saul/Paul
Bar-Nabas directly transliterated to English Barnabas
Tau'ma directly transliterated to English Thomas
possibly Pinchas* substituted in Greek Philippos transliterated to English Philip

*The name Philip is the only one of the original apostles chosen by Jesus to bear a name of Greek origin in the Scriptures (some of the companions of Paul bore Greek names, however). This could be either because Philip's Hebrew name is untranslatable in Greek, and so people chose a phonetic equivalent (in which case his true name was most likely Pinchas), or translated from Hebrew (this would mean his name was Parash--but this would be uncommon), or that he was a Hellenistic Jew or even a Greek convert to Judaism--though this is not brought out in the New Covenant text.

Sometimes, even a small change in perspective can open up a new world.  The vast majority of Jews who have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah report that before their acceptance of Him, they didn't even realize Jesus and His followers were Jewish; when they came to see the Jewishness of the 'New Testament' and its relation to the Jewish story chronicled in the Tanakh (the 'Old Testament'), everything clicked—they finally understood God's plan of redemption through Him.  But, as I have said before in many other writings, how can we expect Jews to accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah when we portray Him as having died to replace Judaism, then celebrate His resurrection by a festival named for a foreign fertility goddess (Easter)—on which we consume the most unclean animal we can find (from a Jewish perspective)?  Take the present traditions of Christianity and match them to the Biblical example.  Do we find a falsifiable, unbroken history?  I think not.

Lest you believe I am saying that Judaism is pure as the driven snow with regard to maintaining an unbroken history, even the Jewish Encyclopedia agrees that the Rabbinical Orthodox Judaism of today is directly taken from the teachings of the Pharisees, who became the dominant influence in Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D.  Several deviations from Biblical Judaism have resulted from this shift; but Christianity has farther to go in returning to the Biblical center than does Judaism.

So, it can truly be said that Judaism is actually the MOST falsifiable religion in the world, followed by the core Gospel story of Christianity as an extension.  This true portion of Christianity is Jewish in origin, but Judaism is NOT what Christianity has become.  This article is a symptom highlighting the need to bring the story back to its original Biblical Jewish context—only then is it truly defensible to a questioning world.  

No 'Third Great Awakening' Without Repentance

This blog post references the following video:

Third Great Awakening Coming to America

It’s been a while since this came out; and I have been meaning to respond to it, but got busy with a project at work and subsequent vacation; so I am now just getting around to this…

Dutch Sheets, an internationally famous Christian author, teacher and speaker, recently revealed a prophetic dream a friend of his had (detailed in the video above and its associated article) which led him to believe that a Third Great Awakening is coming to America.  Now, I am not a critic of Dutch or his ministry; he wrote a book on intercessory prayer that I really respect and think is a classic volume every Christian should read.  Having said this, when I saw what Dutch was saying about this Great Awakening, I became concerned—not because I disbelieve what he says was dreamt, but perhaps over how it was interpreted.  In the article, a Revolutionary War flag was referenced containing an evergreen tree and the words ‘An Appeal to Heaven’.  I was a bit disturbed by the mention of an evergreen tree, because in my studies of recent years, I knew that the evergreen is a long-standing symbol of pagan idolatry; and the words, ‘An Appeal to Heaven’, are often used in the Babylonian pagan ‘mystery’ religion to invoke the favor of the Queen of Heaven—that is, Ashtoreth or Easter.  Because Dutch was saying this was comparable to Abraham’s covenant with God, I looked in both Genesis and Jubilees at the passages concerning the covenant and found nothing about an evergreen--the tree under which Abram met God was the oak at Mamre. 

Somehow I missed where the article very clearly references Genesis 21:33; but a user on Facebook who was reading my comments was kind enough to show me the reference in the article, and attempted to prove that the evergreen is a sign of God’s providence:

Genesis 21:33 "After making their covenant at Beersheba, Abimelech left with Phicol, the commander of his army, and they returned home to the land of the Philistines. Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he worshiped the Lord, the Eternal God."  (The tamarisk is an evergreen tree common to the Middle East.)

So, wanting to be more thorough, I looked at the context of the Scripture reference and the history and use of the tree.  Dutch’s basis for comparison was to the covenant between God and Abraham and its allegorical application to the covenant over America between God and the first arrivals at Jamestown who hoisted a cross on the beach.  Now, it should go without saying that we must never apply a Scripture out of context; a covenant with Abraham (or Israel by extension) does not necessarily have ramifications outside of the original circumstances, even though George Washington did indeed invoke this symbol as a plea to God for victory over the British at Boston.  However, as is shown in the passage above, the events surrounding Abraham’s planting of the tamarisk tree was not his covenant with God—it was a covenant with Abimelech.  In my research about the tamarisk tree, I found that I was correct in placing it as an object of worship in the pagan religions of the Canaanites, Philistines, and Babylonians.  So if Abraham was planting this tree in honor of God, we have a real problem, because this means he was equating YHVH with Bel (Ba'al) and Easter (Ashtoreth).  However, there is another reason that tamarisk trees were planted: they served as the gateway to a person's property--and I believe this was the reason Abraham planted the tree. However, this nullifies its association in Dutch's dream...which brings me back to my original sense of foreboding. 

George Washington’s intent notwithstanding1, the thought that immediately popped into my head when I saw the flag was, “This represents idolatry.” This thought made great sense to me because America has always been a land of mixture. (Constantinian Christianity had been a mixture of New Covenant Judaism and pagan religious tradition long before the colonial period—but to jump down that rabbit hole is an entirely different discussion.) Yes, we have a grand legacy of Christian influence from the day Christopher Columbus realized his discovery of the New World, and from the moment the Pilgrims conceived of setting off across the ocean in search of a life of religious freedom. God has used this legacy for His purposes; America has been a light to spread the Good News of Jesus to literally every corner of the earth. But these voices and this motive were not the only ones. From the very beginning, we have also been a nation of mixture.

The Babylonian ‘mystery’ religion I referenced earlier is interwoven into the principles of Freemasonry to the point where the practice of Freemasonry itself is an exercise of that religion; many people are not aware that nearly all the Presidents of the United States were Freemasons, including George Washington.  My family and I just returned from a short trip to Mt. Vernon and Monticello, which turned out to be a very timely accessory to this article; I was reminded again how the spirits of compromise, mixture, and idolatry were woven into the fabric of our nation from the very beginning.  Like the Roman Empire from which our nation ultimately gains its heritage, ours is a nation with feet made from iron and clay.

Jefferson, while most likely not a Mason due to his disdain for secret societies, was openly a Unitarian Universalist; he was a secular humanist but was fond of Masonic ideas—having been influenced by Enlightenment philosophers, and was equally fascinated with Roman paganism and its symbolism in architecture.  Our tour guide at Monticello even admitted that the images on the crown molding used in the entrance hall and parlor of our third President’s home were Roman pagan symbols which held profound meaning in Jefferson’s life.  When laying the cornerstone for the University of Virginia, Jefferson commissioned the Freemasons to perform the sacred rites over the stone; the band played ‘Hail Columbia’ (Columbia is another personification of the ‘mother goddess’—equivalent to Ashtoreth, Isis, Venus, or Easter).

This is not exclusive to Jefferson and Washington.  Universalism, the core principle of Enlightenment thinking, tainted expression of the Christian faith during this time period to include a universal application of Christian concepts.  Howard Trivers, an essayist writing in the Virginia Quarterly Review at the time of our bicentennial said that the major sources of the American idea “are to be found in the English heritage and tradition, the Christian tradition, and the 18th-century philosophy of the Enlightenment. These three sources are not separate; they are interrelated and in practice intermingled.”  Simply put, a person influenced by the Enlightenment most likely believed that the God of the Bible is a universal god—that is, rather than truly believing the Word of God at face value concerning the person and nature of YHVH God, they believed Christianity was simply an Englishman’s form of expression for deity, and that their national and cultural forms were better because they produced advanced technology, civility, and order for society. 

Through our nation's history, we have simply lived out the natural, logical thread to which Enlightenment religion leads us.  I would suggest that we return, not to ‘the covenant’ of our ancestors, but to the covenant that was made with Israel in the blood of Jesus Christ to which we are grafted in (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Matthew 26:27-29, Romans 11).  Not an ‘appeal to heaven’—to Nature and to nature’s god—not a natural, divine principle or a universal god (as Enlightenment philosophers would often say) under the banner of Ba’al worship, but to the one True God, YHVH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who alone made heaven and earth.

Furthermore, our national sins cannot be ignored. 

Again, compromise for the sake of convenience was the driving value of our Founding Fathers with regard to the issue of slavery.  Both Washington and Jefferson made strong statements demonizing slavery, yet both were slaveholders till the end of their days.  Their argument for not taking a stronger stand to push for the abolishment of slavery was that it would drive the nation apart.  They decided to leave the problem for another generation, which did tear the nation apart and cost the lives of 620,000 men and the wounds of hatred and discrimination from which we have never fully healed.

Right from the start, where there was a hunger for God, there was a thirst for gold; where there was a love for the LORD, there was a lust for land; where there was salvation preached, slavery was the reality.  We Christians, as a whole, have stood by and watched the exploitation of people and our land for money and called this the American Dream.  Our treatment of the Native Americans, our exercise of slavery and racism, our commitment to profit over character and the breakdown of the family through our embrace of multi-billion dollar corporate values, the use of the Gospel by some as a means for gross financial gain, the sacrifice of our children through abortion on the altar of sexual ‘freedom’ and convenience, our compromise of Biblical values for the sake of acceptance and inclusion—to list them all would be far too long for this article—all boil down to the idolatry of self. 

I am not saying there will be no Third Great Awakening; what I am saying is that there will be no Great Awakening without repentance.  God is calling us out of the idolatry of self.  He has poured Himself into this nation in an unprecedented way—only Israel has had a greater calling and history of being used by God in the advance of His kingdom.  We have a choice before us:  to simply let the American Christian legacy become a footnote, or to press into God and allow Him to shine through us as the Light of the world.  For us to catch hold of what God is doing requires us to get serious about the state of our affairs:

  1. We must choose this day Whom we will serve.  We have the ability to decide whether we will follow the dictates of the self, or whether we will worship YHVH.  Psalm 33:12-15 says, "Blessed is the nation whose God is YHVH, the people He chose for His inheritance.  From heaven YHVH looks down and sees all mankind; from His dwelling place He watches all who live on earth—He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.
  2. We must make good on our commitment to this choice.  Rather than providing lip service, we must repent of our idolatry and focus our lives on the worship of YHVH.  I believe Isaiah 58 captures our current state perfectly.  If we expect God to take notice and move to heal our land, we must be serious--we can't just wave our hand at God in some sort of second-hand acknowledgement and expect Him to hear us.
  3. We must stop altering or ignoring the Word of God, allowing 'mixture'—that is, idolatry and compromise, to affect the proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel.  We cannot continue to allow those who claim to call upon the name of YHVH to insist that His moral standards have been abolished.  While the means of communicating with God have certainly changed due to death, resurrection, and the Eternal High Priesthood of Jesus our Messiah, God's moral standards written in the Law of Moses will never change.  To think this way is to trample upon the grace and forgiveness we have received in Messiah, and we cannot expect others to take sin and righteousness seriously when we ourselves do not.
  4. We must adjust our thinking and allow the LORD to bring us into a new season.  God is calling us to abandon many ideas and practices we grew up with in the church, and to adopt new, more Biblical practices.  This will require us to be objective, less reliant on 'expert' teachers to tell us what God is saying (and what is right and wrong), and to become more dependent on the active, living presence of God and His Word. 
  5. We must be committed to reaching our family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors with the Good News of Jesus the Messiah.  We have lost this nation because we abandoned our responsibility to be an influence where we live.  No longer can we invite a friend to church and let the 'experts' do the job of evangelism; we must be ready to give an answer for the hope we have.  What reason would a non-believer have to attend a church?  We live in a post-Christian nation.  We will have to adjust our relationships, because we may be the only 'Jesus' people will ever see.  Our lives will have to back up our beliefs to be taken seriously.
  6. We must prepare for persecution.  As Americans, we have never faced persecution because our nation has had enough Christian influence to always curry the favor of the people and the state.  This is no longer the case.  At least for a time, we will see a sharp up-tick in anti-Christian sentiment, and we should be prepared for the possibility that our country will never be the same.  We need to remember that it is prophesied that only Israel will be a YHVH-worshipping nation at the end of days.  This does not mean there will be no followers of Jesus around the world, certainly, but Israel will stand alone as the nation "whose God is the LORD (YHVH)".
  7. We cannot rely on political solutions to bring America back to God.  I would hope that the last two decades of political leadership in Washington have taught us all that our hope is not in American government.  God alone is our King, and only our Messiah can bring the shalom peace that we crave.  Fortunately for us, "the government shall be upon His shoulders..." and "...of the increase of His government there shall be no end."  While good laws make a good society, and those laws that are based on Biblical principles will always bring order, health, and benefit to our nation, and while we should always advocate for these laws as long as we have the privilege of casting a vote, we should commit ourselves to God's plan provided in the Great Commission rather than spending our energy to strong-arm through Moral Majority or pushing to get "our candidate" into office.  We have been systematically been disappointed by every administration in a great many years anyway.

This is the end of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.  —Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

1I do believe that George Washington was sincerely a Christian person, an instrument whom God used to set America in motion for His purposes. However, like many of the kings of Israel and Judah, his understanding of God was not pure, resulting in worship that was compromised. As the Scriptures say about king Azariah of Judah in 2 Kings 15, "...he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there."

Tikkun Olam and the Kingdom of God

The latest concept to cross my path while studying Judaism in terms of its connection with Christianity is the ancient but recently popularized notion of tikkun olam (literally meaning “world repair”).  Having been a member of congregations that were a part of the Association of Vineyard Churches for over ten years, I immediately recognized the connection with great excitement—this is describing the kingdom of God!  While neither phrase “tikkun olam” nor “the kingdom of God” explicitly appears in the Tanakh, the concept is fully represented and forms a central piece of both the First and New Covenants.  Tikkun olam is used in the Mishnah, and Jewish tradition tells us that the Aleinu (one of the thrice-daily prayers in Judaism) in which tikkun olam is mentioned was authored by Joshua—and no wonder: he was witness to the original pronouncement by God in which His kingdom was first mentioned in Exodus 19:

“…Although the whole earth is Mine, you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…” (Exodus 19:5b-6a)

Here is the translation of the Aleinu:

It is for us to praise the Master of all, to render the greatness of the Creator of the beginning; Who did not make us like the nations of the lands, and did not set us like the families of the earth. Who did not set our portion as theirs nor our destiny as all of them, for they bow to naught and emptiness and pray to a god who does not save.

But we bend, bow, and give thanks before the king over the king of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, Who spans the sky and founds the earth, Whose dwelling of glory is in the heavens above, and Whose manifestation of might is in the supernal heights.

He is our God, there is no other. True! He is our king, there is none besides Him. As it is written in His Torah: “And you shall know today, and take to heart, that (YHVH) Adonai is the only God, in the heavens above and on earth below. There is no other” (Deut. 4:39).

Therefore we put our hope in You, (YHVH) Adonai our God: to see soon the radiance of Your might; to remove all idols from the earth so that all false gods will be totally eliminated; to establish the world as the kingdom of God (takken-olam) so that all the people of flesh will call upon Your name; to turn to You all the wicked of the earth (indeed) all the inhabitants of the world will recognize and know that to You every knee will bend and every tongue vow. Before You, (YHVH) Adonai our God, they will bend and kneel, thereby rendering glory to the honor of Your name. And they all will accept the yoke of Your kingship so that You will reign over them soon and forever, for kingship is Yours, and forever and ever may You reign in honor. As it is written in Your Torah: “(YHVH) Adonai will reign forever and ever” (Exod. 15:18). And it is said: “(YHVH) Adonai will be king over the whole Earth, on that day, God will be One, and His name One” (Zech. 14:9).

Now there is an interesting argument about the origin of the concept, the opposing sides of which lie roughly along the lines between conservative and liberal Jews.  You’ll notice in the Aleinu that the phrase is not tikkun olam (to fix the world), but takken olam (build, establish [on a foundation] the world).  The debate is fascinating to me because we are having the exact same quarrel in Christian circles.  It goes something like this:

On the more conservative side, it is argued that we cannot “fix the world;” this is God’s job.  What we can do is proclaim His sovereignty, live by His mitzvot (that is, His commandments or precepts), stay away from evil, and teach our children to do all the same.  Our living by obedience and the proclamation of his sovereignty builds the foundation; but the world will be finally “established” (takken olam) when God comes to reclaim what is His. On the more liberal end of the spectrum, this is not enough.  The world is in desperate need of “fixing”; social injustice, prejudice, greed, and all other sorts of evil run amok across our globe.  As the people of God, it is our duty to right these wrongs where we have the means; furthermore, for some, this value of tikkun olam is the highest value in all of Judaism—even to the exclusion of the rest of the Torah.

 The Christian version of this dispute naturally pulls Jesus into the discussion: did Jesus come into the world literally as an atonement for our sins, or was He an agent of revolutionary social change?  Is it our duty simply to live good lives and preach the Gospel, waiting for Jesus to return and make everything right, or do we grab the forces of evil by the horns and wrestle them to the ground for the sake of a more peaceable, civilized society?

The answer to these questions, obviously loaded for emphasis intended to lead us to the proper conclusion, is “yes.”  We have (as humans have a tendency to do) made this an “either/or” choice instead of a “both/and” statement.  Takken olam and tikkun olam are related and interdependent; no amount of our attempts to “fix the world” have any merit or effect without establishing those efforts under the sovereignty of God (and I would add the necessity of connection to the presence of God as well).  In the same token, it is precisely our submission to the sovereignty of God that compels us with the desire to “fix the world” in the first place.

The Judeo-Christian story tells us that this world was ejected from the shalom (peace, wellness, life, and absolute harmony wrapped into one) of God’s kingdom when our earliest ancestors chose to rebel against God in self-worship at the Garden of Eden.  Since that time, the longing of both God’s heart and our hearts was to see that kingdom restored.

Finding favorable hearts in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, God raised up the people of Israel and established them as the root—the base people in which the kingdom of God would be made manifest.   It was always His intention to include the rest of the world in His kingdom, as the Aleinu asserts; and God called His people to be “…a light to the Gentiles.”  He gave them the Feast Days as a roadmap of His redemptive process; He gave them the moral part of the Law to reveal His own character and to set a standard marking Israel as His kingdom people; and He gave the priestly part of the Law to provide them a means of communication despite their sin.

He did these things because He wanted the whole world to see what it is like to be a citizen of His kingdom; to let us know that He would never stop pursuing us.  He knew, of course, that Israel would go off into idolatry and fail not only in being a light to the Gentiles, but by be being absorbed in darkness themselves.  So He found David, another man after His own heart, and made a promise to him that his Heir would sit on the throne of the kingdom of God forever.

When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.’ ” (1 Chronicles 17:11-14)

The prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel in particular) spoke of a New Covenant and a Messiah that would finally bring the complete restoration of the kingdom of God:

“…For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

“Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist. And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze; their young will lie down together; and the lion will eat straw like the ox. And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:1-9)

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD:

“I will put my Law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:26-28; from the fuller passage of Ezekiel 36:22-38)

The sages studied these texts and postulated who this Messiah might be:  He is obviously the Heir of David, but also He is Almighty God, the Everlasting Father.  How could this be?  Some believed there would be two Messiahs:  Maschiach ben-Yosef (the Suffering Servant who would wipe away the sins of Israel) and Maschiach ben-David (the Conquering Hero who would sit on the throne of his father David and restore Israel to supremacy among the nations in the kingdom of God).

Christians believe that Yeshua HaNazrit (Jesus of Nazareth) was the One spoken of by the prophets.1 He came proclaiming the kingdom of God was near, and according to the B'rit Chadashah, the New Covenant Scriptures, he healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead as a testimony to His message. He said this about Himself:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Of course, Jesus did not read the entire passage.  This was on purpose.  In his life, Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies related to Maschiach ben-Yosef, but not any related to Maschiach ben-David.  If Jesus had fulfilled the role of the Hero Conqueror without first completing His work as the Suffering Servant, no one would be admitted into the kingdom of God.  So, there are not two Maschiachim, but one Messiah who fulfills two roles.  For the shalom of the kingdom to return, and for all of mankind to have the opportunity to become citizens of that kingdom, the salvation provided by the Suffering Servant has to come first, followed by the judgment meted out by the Hero Conqueror.  Jesus fulfilled the first role, and promised to return and fill the second; but in between, there had to be time for the world to see and accept what God has done for us in the New Covenant.  This is why it has taken so long for Him to return.

One day, the last half of the passage in Isaiah from which Jesus read will be fulfilled as well:

“…and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.”

“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.” (Isaiah 61:1-9)

When Jesus returns, Scripture tells us in the Book of Revelation 2 that the armies of enemies of Israel will be destroyed, and Jesus Himself will reign from the Temple in Jerusalem for 1000 years, fulfilling the promises that were made regarding Maschiach ben-David. After this, all evil will be burned up in the lake of fire, and heaven and earth will be remade with the New Jerusalem positioned in the middle. This will complete the full re-establishment of the kingdom of God; takken olam and tikkun olam will both be complete. This brings us to today, and back to our original conversation. If Jesus is going to complete all the work that is necessary, and if all the earth will be remade, what is the point of our involvement in takken/tikkun olam at all?

  1. We are made in the image of God. As members of the New Covenant, the nature of selfless love that God has within Himself is being restored in us; therefore, it goes without saying that to engage in takken/tikkun olam is our natural way of life. It is what marks us as His people. Jesus said, “The world will know you are My disciples when you love one another…”

  2. Consequently, it is a testimony to the world presenting God’s character. This is what it means to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” While Christians believe that there is no longer a need for a priest between the people of God and God Himself, we are priests to a world who does not yet know Him; and we show this by engaging in takken/tikkun olam.

  3. We are the means by which God is increasing His kingdom. Anyone who will ever know the goodness of our God and have the opportunity to embrace Him will come to know this through their contact with us as we engage in takken/tikkun olam.

Shavuot is the Feast in which God kicked off takken/tikkun olam.  Orignially prescribed in Leviticus 23 as one of the annual Feast Days and one of the three main annual pilgrimage festivals where every Jewish man was to present himself to the presence of God as a God-worshiper, Shavuot holds an incredibly important place in the Judeo-Christian story:

  1. In the First Covenant, Shavuot is the place where the kingdom proclamation was first made, marking the Israelites as God's people. The Law was given on this day.
  2. In the priestly prescription for this Feast, the people were to count fifty days from Firstfruits3 (this is why in Greek and subsequently English, the Feast is known as Pentecost--lit. "fifty count"), and offer up two loaves of bread made from the field. This is symbolic of the people of God, having been made holy as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation by the offering of Firstfruits (Messiah Himself).
  3. The story of Ruth, often read at Pentecost, is an allegory of the 'marriage' that takes place between God and His people as He brings us into His kingdom. He Himself is our kinsman-redeemer.
  4. In the New Covenant, this is the day in which the Holy Spirit, Ruach HaKodesh, was released on the people of God, activating the New Covenant spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-28. The first Shavuot declared the standard of holiness in the Law and proclaimed the people of Israel as God's kingdom; the fulfillment of Shavuot in the New Covenant released the Holy Spirit who produces holiness in us and empowers us to live the kingdom mandate--engaging in takken/tikkun olam.
  5. Related to the story of Ruth, Passover and Firstfruits (fulfilled in the New Covenant by the death and resurrection of Jesus, respectively) were like the betrothal of God to His people; Shavuot is like the marriage ceremony.

So what constitutes tikkun olam?  There are all kinds of opinions across the spectrum of both Judaism and Christianity.  The general consenus is some sort of service related to social justice:  feeding the hungry, healing the sick, helping the poor, defending the oppressed, etc.--though this is wide-ranging.  Some even feel (not my opinion personally) that smoking medicinal marijuana is somehow related to tikkun olam!  

The key goes back to the original discussion between takken olam and tikkun olam.  Activities that are truly part of the kingdom of God come always come from a desire to establish the world under His sovereignty.  You can't have tikkun olam without takken olam!  Simple philanthropy does not count--one can be 'good' for the sake of being 'good'--motivated from a desire to appear philanthropic, to feel good about oneself, or to earn brownie points with God--but these do not arise from the desire to see God glorified and His kingdom advanced.  True tikkun olam comes from being filled with the Holy Spirit--the result of which is a life connected to the active, living presence of God, hearing His voice, doing His will as a citizen of the kingdom of priests--a holy nation dedicated to making Him known.

Such a life resonates with the Aleinu prayer.  Rabbi Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul of Tarsus) repeated an early Christian prayer, which is a direct application of the Aleinu to Jesus:

[Because of Jesus humility and sacrifice vv.1-8] "...Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11)

If one reads the last part of the highlighted section in Hebrew, it would say "...that Yeshua Ha Maschiach is Adonai."  Not just a lord of something, but YHVH--Adonai specifically.  No doubt Paul believed that Jesus was the God of Israel, the King of the Universe, with whom we participate in tikkun olam.  Happy Shavuot!

1Discussion about the Trinity (how God can be One God in three 'Persons') and Christology (how Jesus can be both God and human at the same time) are separate conversations that digress too far from the conversation at hand, so we'll leave this alone for now; but belief in the Trinity and a high Christology are required to accept Jesus--or anyone else for that matter--as Maschiach.

2The Tanakh tells us all of these things generally as well; the B'rit Chadashah (The New Covenant Scriptures) simply apply these concepts to Jesus specifically.

3The Levitical offering of Firstfruits was a grain offering that was taken the day after the Shabbat after the Passover meal during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The priest would wave the sheaf to the LORD, and this would declare that the rest of the field was holy. Jesus was resurrected from the dead on this day, and so was 'lifted up', declaring the rest of His people as a holy kingdom of priests. It was a consecration offering to make the field holy; Shavuot was a presentation offering showing what was made holy by Firstfruits; this is why the two are related and why the 'counting of the Omer' is based off of Firstfruits.

Came back to Israel because "...we wanted to?"

The newly, democratically-elected Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, recently spoke to a group of students at a 'Birthright' event.  While I certainly agree with the Prime Minister's statements, I was concerned about the tone of his remarks.  This is a very critical time for Israel, and their actions will determine what will happen next.  The video can be found here.

My comments to the video were these:

[Prime Minister Netanyahu's statements were] ...absolutely true.  But God is responsible for this, you know; give HIM the glory!  The Israelites were kicked out in 586 B.C. for idolatry with Ba'al and Ashtoreth according to the covenant; but God loves Israel with an everlasting love--He preserved and restored them as He promised.  In 70 A.D., the Jews were kicked out again--this time for idolatry to self worship:  the lust for power, position, and self-righteousness (pride) leading to rejection of the Messiah, Yeshua.  They missed the "time of their visitation".  But God loves His people with an EVERLASTING love--He preserved them, and is restoring them according to His promises.  This time, the opportunity exists for Israel to NEVER be removed from their land again!  A New Covenant, prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-38 was made through the blood of Yeshua.  He was the perfect sacrifice, and was resurrected to become the Eternal High Priest. 

Israel has a choice: return to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the New Covenant and be restored to the land forever, or attempt to eke out an existence by their own self-righteousness and pride.  This is not a matter of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps of the human spirit; God will not allow self-worship to reign in Israel ever again!  What did God say to Israel at Mt. Sinai? "I will be your God, and you will be My people."  In order to partake of the New Covenant, one must put their confidence in God alone.  It is only one's birthright if one worships the God who GAVE that right. 

Israel must follow the example of their ancestor David, whose rock and fortress was El Shaddai, not his own ability to throw a good stone.  While God has given His people great ingenuity, wisdom, knowledge, and fortitude, these were not given to inspire self-confidence.  The Iron Dome will not save them, nor is it that God will take action only when the Iron Dome fails.  It is God ALONE who saves.  ...Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,says the Lord Almighty."  (Zechariah 4:6b) 

On the encouraging flip-side, no back-door deal between Obama and Iran will undo the decrees of the King of the Universe; no coalition of Muslim terror groups can tear up the treaty God has made.  The UN is laughable; why do the nations plot in vain against the LORD of hosts?  But there is one thing that will delay God's promises.  If the current generation in Israel does not turn back to the LORD God, He will remove them again.  Just as the original generation of Israelites failed to reach the Promised Land because they refused to put their trust in the Great 'I AM', the current generation will fail if they do not return to God on His terms.  He loves Israel and will always preserve her; but He will permanently restore only the generation that does what is right by worshipping God through acceptance of the New Covenant.  He will not hesitate to remove them again; He has time to wait.  Will this be the generation of return?  We will find out...

The Poison of Offense

A person of importance in my life let me down the other day. Not only this, but he recently had the gall to lecture me on the virtues of faithfulness and trustworthiness – – character qualities which I certainly believe do not altogether escape me.  Naturally, I was upset by the incident and the hypocrisy paraded before me; what I didn't realize was how much this affected me.

Today, an opportunity arose where this person promised to help me with something.  As I thought about the prospect of this person's assistance actually occurring, negativity and sarcasm began to boil up from the depths of my soul; so much so that within a few minutes I actually began to feel physically sick.

Thank the LORD for his awesome mercy, his incredible love for us, his gentleness that targets us with such precision like salve to the wound.  "Listen to yourself," he quietly whispered, "he hasn't even done anything to you today, and yet you have already armed yourself against him, somehow assuming that he is deliberately making promises he has no intention of fulfilling."

My eyes widened and I gasped; I exhaled for what seemed an eternity as I began to understand the gravity of my error.  "Your offense is poisoning you."  Immediately I recanted my position of false superiority; I asked the Father to forgive me, for the Son to cleanse me, and for the Spirit's empowerment to forgive this person for previously abandoning me in my need.  Instantly I began to feel the tightness in my chest start to release.  I glanced over my right shoulder and I saw the enemy in my mind's eye, skulking and scowling in the knowledge that he had been found out, and that his hypnotic hold over my emotional state had been broken.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  What is it that causes us to hang upon every injustice we assume to suffer and to drive a benchmark through the event for all of history to witness?

Picking up an offense is one of the most seductive and dangerous forms of self-worship there is.  Based within our own faulty sense of justice and the limited perspective we have--seeing things only from our vantage point, we become completely confident in our ability to judge the motives and sensibilities of others while rejecting those same judgments as they apply to us.

The vast majority of us who were raised as Christians were no doubt forced to recite 1 Corinthians 13, whether in Sunday School, church camp, Christian school, or youth group.  Today, verses 4 and 5 resonate with me perhaps in a closer way than they ever have before:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Father God, I ask that you would impress this lesson on me; help me to hold it fast and close.  Holy Spirit, engrave this law on the tablet of my heart.  Release my heart from the poison of offense; cut the cancer of judgment away from my lips.  Heal me and help me to walk in your joy and your peace, being a conduit of your everlasting love.

...and at the PRAYER BREAKFAST of all places?

Orignially posted on Facebook, 2/5/15.

Wow. Our pretender to a pretend throne did it again; Obama's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast was actually masterfully done. I'm impressed by how he was able to take the truth and twist it in just such a way that he is not only supporting the New Age lie that all religions are equal, but comes off looking humble and conciliatory in the process! There are a few things that must be said in response to this: First, it must be acknowledged by Christians loudly enough so that the rest of the world hears us that Christian people throughout history have at times indeed committed terrible acts against each other and outsiders: dyophysites against monophysites, Christians against Jews, Christians against Muslims, Catholics against Orthodox, Catholics against Protestants, Calvinists against Arminians, the Amish, and Mennonites, Anglicans against Puritans, much of Western Christianity against blacks and Native Americans (many of these could be vice-versa). People bearing the name of Christ have tortured, beheaded, raped, disemboweled, burned people alive, enslaved others, etc. TRUE. Read your history. BUT, persons naming themselves as Christian DOES NOT mean they reflect the values of Jesus Christ or the values of Biblical Christianity. NOWHERE in the New Covenant Scriptures can you find a TRACE of evidence condoning this kind of behavior. When Constantine acquired Christendom and married it to the political machine of the state, he plunged it into a nightmarish alternate universe from which we are only now emerging. Secondly (and tied to the first), while Biblical Christianity does not condone this kind of violence, Islam which follows the Quran COMMANDS it. The things we are seeing from terrorist groups all over the world are the NATURAL outcome of the Islamic faith, NOT the exception. When a Christian makes a practice of violence, he/she does so in OPPOSITION to the Christian faith; in Islam, a person is violent in ACCORDANCE with their faith, and opposes their faith when being peacefully co-existent with non-Muslims. Thirdly, while many Christians (especially those in power) were violent through the ages, vastly more of them REVOLUTIONIZED the world. It was the influence of Judeo-Christianity that humanized much of the world's governing systems, that gave the world a conscience with regard to human dignity--especially toward women and children, that outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire and in America, that fought for freedom for the world's inhabitants against oppressors virtually everywhere, that spoke against the Holocaust and saved Jews to their own peril, that condemned the evils of Communism, that travailed in missions all over the world, feeding the poor, healing the sick, and educating and lifting those who had nothing, that fought for the life of the unborn, and on and on it goes. It is BECAUSE of Christianity that the American idea of religious 'pluralism' and freedom exists; nowhere in the non-Christian world do you find 'tolerance' of any kind. So, Mr. President, not all religions are equal; and while Christians certainly aren't perfect, our Scriptures say we are on a journey toward perfect holiness and love; and the majority of us are striving for that goal. Islam is rediscovering their dream of domination, violence, death, and destruction. Don't put us in the same universe--let alone on equal footing.

See the Original Video from the Prayer Breakfast here.  The part containing the content driving my comments begins at 8:00 and ends at 11:08.

A Yom Kippur Prayer

YHVH, Almighty King of the Universe, who alone is worthy of all allegiance and worship, thank You for bringing me to this glorious day.  You have loved me beyond all measure even when I made myself Your enemy through the self-worship in my heart.  You reached down and took the punishment of my sins upon Yourself in Jesus, the once-for-all perfect atoning sacrifice You provided for Your whole nation.  I thank you that you have permanently inscribed my name in the Book of Life.  Though I can never repay You for this, I give You myself as an offering of worship.  I thank You that Your Holy Spirit is producing holiness in me, causing me to reflect the values you displayed in the Law You gave to Moses.  Help me to love and forgive others as You have loved and forgiven me.  Conform me to the image of Yourself you created me to be—the one displayed in Your Word, Jesus, when He was here on the earth.  


I thank You that you I am now free to call You my Father and that I have been adopted into Your family as a son.  I want to know You more and to live continuously in Your presence; teach me to ever-increasingly hear Your voice.  Thank you that you are bringing the bread of our inheritance, the kingdom of God, to us every day.  Lead your people in Your way and Your truth.  Keep us from deception and from the temptations of our enemy; deliver us from the hand of the evil one in order to show the world that Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever.  I ask these things of you in the authority of the glorious, magnificent, and holy name of my Messiah and Lord, Jesus.  Amen.

A Voice in the Wilderness

I wrote the following in my dream journal, but this was less of a dream than more something God just said as I was waking up…

I was waking up to go to work and was feeling somewhat depressed because I am feeling all alone.  Ever since God has called me to Judeo-Christianity, had me quit the Vineyard and move out into the middle of nowhere, I have been isolated and feeling very useless.

God said to me, "Consider the ministry of John the Baptist."  By all of man's criteria, John the Baptist was an absolute failure:  a nobody of nobodies.  He lived in the desert, ate bugs, wore rags, never did any miracles that we know of, and simply called people to "…repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand."  Many people did respond to his message, yes; but all he did in response was mikveh them in the Jordan (that is, dunk them in a river for the preparing of their hearts for ministry).  There was no patented 12-step program for success, no book tours, no speaking engagements, no great outpouring of the Spirit, not very many lives changed for the Gospel, no hungry fed, no congregations planted, no platinum-selling worship album, etc.  Just dunking.  Lots of dunking.  As an Essene, he didn't get along well with the religious establishment, either (doesn't that sound familiar)…  The pinnacle of his success was to identify his second cousin as the Messiah of Israel, dunk Him in the river, and then point everyone in Jesus' direction.  Best quote?  "He must increase, I must decrease…"

Then he called out the puppet king of Israel for his affair with his brother's wife, which, of course ticked the king off.  The king had John put in prison, where John asked, "You know, I wonder if I made a mistake here…"  Jesus had to reel him back in by letting John know what was going on in Jesus' ministry:  the blind were seeing, the lame were walking, the kingdom was increasing, etc.  Jesus said, "Don't give up!"  A few days later, John was beheaded by the king (Mark 6:14-29).  That's it.

After I thought about all this, God said to me, "This is where I have you right now--a voice in the wilderness, calling for repentance and pointing to Me." 

Upon hearing about John's imprisonment, Jesus said to the people to whom He was ministering that John the Baptist was the greatest person ever to be born of a woman.  What was it that made him so great in Jesus' eyes?

Like many of the true heroes of the Scripture, John the Baptist's character was one of self-sacrifice.  Instead of wanting to capture the limelight, striving to accomplish an agenda, or compromising the truth to gain favor, John yielded himself to the Holy Spirit even to the point where it landed him in prison where he was ultimately beheaded.

God calls us all to live in such abandonment of self-worship; I personally believe that we will be unable to truly hear the LORD as we should until we fully understand and attempt to live this way.

And so until I hear further instructions, I shall come, day after day, into the belly of a nuclear plant surrounded by razor wire and armed guards, to do the mundane; and as I see the world spinning around me, I will call--as a voice in the wilderness--all those within my reach to repent to the LORD, because the kingdom of God is near.

The Dividing Line

The sand in the ground in front of me seems to be seeping away as a chasm is forming.  There are many people on either side, and there still is time to jump across from one bank to the other; but soon, the distance will be too great.

I’m talking about the dividing line that is solidifying between the two sides of the church—and there are only two sides.  People from every denomination of Christianity are represented on each embankment; this is not a schism that is occurring over faith tradition, but one that cuts directly to the core of what we believe.

Everywhere it seems, people are adopting positions that fly in the face of traditional Christian practice.  Just a few days ago, Vicky Beeching announced to the world that she is a lesbian; she is now, among Matthew Vines and many others, promoting the idea that God approves of a homosexual lifestyle.  Michael Gungnor recently blasted every Christian who accepts a literal interpretation of Genesis by saying “…NO REASONABLE PERSON…” can take it literally.  Ann Coulter called Ken Brantly “idiotic” and a narcissist for choosing to minister in Liberia, where he contracted the ebola virus.  The Presbyterian Church USA voted to participate in the BDS boycott of Israel, while many other denominations have recently reasserted supersessionism (the belief that the church has replaced Israel) and have virulently opposed Israel’s right to defend itself in the recent conflict in Gaza.  The overwhelming message of many churches today, through both music and teaching, is one of self-help and self-service, reflected in teachings like those of Joel Osteen; his book, Your Best Life Now, says it all.  And of course, nearly everyone remembers the controversy created when Rob Bell declared there was no hell. 

Accompanied by these sentiments is the idea that Christians should keep silent about virtually everything related to doctrine and morality:  I read an article recently—I believe it was written by Charlie Peacock*–that said something like, “the world wants a Christianity that shouts less at them from the mountaintop.”   In all corners of the world, both churched and unchurched persons alike are crowing the ‘virtues’ of passivism.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something along the lines of, “Well, you know, theology has its place, but when it boils down, beliefs don’t matter.  Love does.”  Anyone who dares to question whether an idea is headed in the ‘right’ direction is labeled divisive, critical, judgmental, a hater (or various names associated with hate), uneducated, or even stupid.  A recent statistic showed that only 10% of pastors are preaching what they know to be Biblical values because they fear this will alienate those who disagree.  A good summary of these feelings is pictured in an opinion piece that Rachel Held Evans wrote for CNN which described the reasons why Millennials are leaving the church; though it’s not just Millennials who feel these things:  the ideas of which I’ve spoken are pervasive among all age groups.

These talking points are certainly not new, nor are they news to anyone; the only thing recent about these debates is the increase in their frequency.  What may be news to some is that when analyzed at a basic level, the positions people choose in these disputes suggest an overarching, bottom-dollar question that is at the heart of everything we are:  Who do you worship?

Logically speaking, we are held to whatever standard meets our response to this question; most of us reading this article would immediately reply saying, “the God of the Bible.”  If we say something different, of course, then our foundation of truth can take a variety of forms based upon whatever we worship; but if we claim that we worship the God of the Bible, we have to consider the implications of what that means.

First of all, if we worship the God of the Bible, we of necessity must believe that the Bible is true.  Either the Bible is true and its God is who He says He is, or the Bible is false and the god we worship is something of our own making or discovery.  The Bible claims there is only one God—obviously the one described in the Bible; so from a Judeo-Christian standpoint, anything worshipped other than the God revealed in its pages is really a creation or projection of the self—which in turn is actually self-worship.  One cannot worship two masters:  either one worships God or oneself; one cannot do both at the same time.  To reject part of the Bible is to claim that God is partially lying to us and is not worthy of worship, so such a rejection is a de facto act of self-worship.

Secondly, we must understand who God is.  The God of the Bible is revealed as YHVH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel).  This was confirmed through the patriarchs, through Moses, through the nation of Israel, and if one accepts the New Covenant as Christians do, ultimately through Jesus Christ.  While the Bible clearly states in both the First Covenant (‘Old’ Testament) and the New Covenant (‘New’ Testament) that anyone can come to God and worship Him, He is known forever as the Jewish God.  Nowhere does the Bible de-Judaize Him.  Even in the New Covenant Scriptures, where the Apostle Paul goes to great lengths showing that Jewish religious practices will not save you, nowhere does the Bible claim that the definitive concept of God has changed.  Instead, it was the Romanized church who de-Judaized Christianity over a period of several hundred years under the influence of Emperor Constantine and his successors, ‘Christianizing’ the various European pagan religious systems and tried to apply the Bible to them. 

The Reformers attempted to undo some of the damage, but did not begin with the right context:  God remains conceptually Jewish, and if we worship the God of the Bible, we must do so with that understanding.  He is the King of the Universe, but He is not a universal god.  Any Biblical thoughts Christians have had about God were experienced by Jews before them; any attempt to take God out of His Jewish context results in the creation of a god of our own making.  He is not Zeus, Ra, Osiris, Ba’al, Odin the Allfather, Allah, Vishnu, Nirvana, Paramatma, the Great Spirit, the universe, nature, or spiritual energy.  He is always and forever YHVH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

This deviation from a Biblical understanding of God is a key part of understanding why we are experiencing the massive schism that is tearing the church in two.  There are certainly other factors which are influencing the timing, methods, and issues surrounding this schism, but one thing is certain:  those involved in re-making the Biblical God into something He is not are simply ‘Christianizing’ paganism all over again. 

So a dividing line has been formed:  will we worship the God of the Bible, or one of our own making?  It is my firm belief that God is calling His people back to a Biblical concept of Himself, and a Biblical practice of faith; this central question runs deeper than the vast majority of us realize, and massive adjustments will need to be made in order to keep in step with what God is doing.  A failure to do so may mean one suddenly finds themselves on the wrong side of the chasm with great difficulty in getting back…  The world would love a Christianity that does not shout at them from the mountaintop, which does not challenge them to worship the God of the Bible; but this is not what the world needs.  We need to stand boldly.  My prayer is that we will assess where we stand today.

*I searched all over to find the article I read and failed to find the article.  Great apologies to Charlie Peacock if he did not indeed say this...