Honey, Vinegar & Athlete’s Tongue

honeycomb

One of my most fond childhood memories is eating fresh pecans with my grandparents. It seems like that always had fresh pecans. It was because, until recently, they had multiple pecan trees in their small, suburban yard. I remember the excitement & anticipation as we cracked open the pecans and dug out the treasure inside and hurriedly popped the “meat” into our mouths as fast as we could. Sometimes, however, in our rush we would fail to remove all of the bitter encasing of the nut, and our faces would turn sour. If you haven’t had that experience, it is one of the most awful tastes you will experience. It’s something you will not forget quickly.

As I was reading another blog post yesterday, I had a similar sensation. The article was well-written and very informed. Yet, when I began reading the comments, I felt my mouth becoming increasingly bitter. It was like getting another bite of those pecans, which we had not taken the time to clean thoroughly.

One great philosopher & theologian once said, “Man who stick foot in mouth repeatedly get athlete’s tongue.” While I say that with humor, the essence is true. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). Yes, we all make an occasional mistake and speak things that we regret later. However, if we repeatedly speak in ways that are cynical, exaggerated, belittling or boastful, we will eventually become the product of our own fruit. We, ourselves, will become a cynical, arrogant fool before we realize it. Paul said, “a little leaven leavens the entire lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6). It creeps up on you before you realize it.

Open Mouth – Insert Foot: Guilty As Charged

This is especially true for those of us in the Messianic Restoration. We can’t help it. When we finally understand the implications that Jesus (nor his disciples for that matter) did not come to establish a new religion called “Christianity,” but sought to reform the biblical religion of Judaism as the long awaited Jewish Messiah and all of the implications that come along with that — when we finally “get it” — it’s like someone has finally pulled out the box top of the puzzle we have been working on for all of these many years and waived it in front of us just long enough to get a glimpse of our goal. And from there, we frantically start throwing the pieces of the puzzle together and make more progress in one hour than we have in the last five years of looking at it and scratching our heads.

It’s not like we have a perfect snapshot of the entire, finished puzzle. However, we at least know that the pieces we were using for the grass actually belong in the trees, or vice versa, and have somewhat of an idea of how this hodgepodge of pieces was intended to be arranged. It’s just natural to start telling people that their pieces don’t fit together and don’t look anything like the box lid.

But I think there is a better way. I think that we need to work on our own section of the puzzle without having to re-arrange anyone else’s pieces. And when people see the beauty of how the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together in our lives, they can’t help but to take notice and begin wondering why their section of the puzzle is disjointed and filled with mismatched pieces, and begin to ask questions that may help guide their decisions on how they connect the pieces they have been given. Jesus said it this way, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). St. Francis of Assisi paraphrased this by saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”

In regard to our saying “too much,” Hillel says, “do not make a statement that cannot be easily understood, on the ground that it will be understood eventually.” (Avot 2:5) Rabbi Abraham Twerski, in his commentary on Pirkei Avos, sums this up in effect by saying, “Don’t say anything to anyone they are not ready to hear.”

So… Through much personal failure, I have learned that silence is golden, until I know I have a receptive soul. It has kept me from “dumping” on people and pushing them away. It has actually, made people come to me asking to know more about my faith and practice.

I Can’t Hear You When You’re Shouting

Personally, I think the Messianic Restoration is a powder keg near a hot flame. I think that all the world is waiting on is for Messianic believers to really start living out our faith (i.e. majoring on the majors, and minoring on the minors), and there will be a major spiritual revolution that will sweep across our land. But the world will never see that until we prove that we are genuine disciples of the Master through our love for one another (John 13:35), rather than our castigations of one another. And if you disagree with someone and would like to persuade them toward your line of reasoning, there are better ways to do it than berating them.

The old saying that “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is true. I really have no idea whether it is true in the sense of literal flies, but I know it to be true in its analogy to human nature. It has proven itself time and again. Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) said it this way, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

If there is one lesson I have learned from people like Boaz Michael (“still learning” is actually a better description) is to be gracious with others, respect others, listen to others, and love those who don’t agree with you.

The Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, one of the gadolim (great ones) of Judaism, clung to the passage in Psalm 34 which says, “What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:12-14). It became the hallmark of his life and his life’s work, and eventually became his namesake as the Chofetz Chaim, the “Desire of Life.”

James, the brother of our Master, gives us this analogy:

“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:2-12)

The Greatest of These

The bottom line is that “people really don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Our love and good deeds (the actual living out of the mitzvot — “commandments”) will speak more than anything we could ever say in trying to convince anyone of the how we see things. It is our fruit that people see, rather than our roots. And if our fruit is rotten, what appeal is there in that?

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Engrafting or Replacement – Part 2

grafting image

In my previous post, I began examining where the Gentile dominated church began to ignore Paul’s warning in Romans 11 of becoming arrogant in their engrafting into the covenant people of God.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. (Romans 11:17-21, ESV)

Although Paul had foreseen this problem arising among non-Jewish believers and placed his admonition in writing, his predication became manifest in the church of the late second century, despite his rebuke to the early believers. Oskar Skarsaune notes that during the lifetime of Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 C.E.) this problem had already arisen, and only grew by compound measure in the years following. The increasingly Gentile Christians began to look at themselves as not merely being engrafted into Israel, the covenant people of God, but replacing and superseding her.

Skarsaune reduces the situation to the following:

But whereas in Paul the Gentiles are added to the true Israel of Jewish believers to share in their inheritance, in Justin it is the other way round: the few Jewish believers are added to the church of the Gentiles to share in their inheritance…While in Paul the Gentiles share in the promises given to true Israel, in Justin the promises are transferred from the Jewish people to the church of the Gentiles. This church replaces the Jewish people. It takes over the inheritance of Israel while at the same time disinheriting the Jews…. In this way, Christians of the second century were never able to assert their election in Christ without at the same time lashing out against the Jews. 1

But we must ask ourselves why this line of antagonism came into being. While there were multiple factors involved, I would like to address two. Skarsaune astutely observes that

the Jew had the religious and cultural security of hundreds of years of unbroken tradition. The Christians were newcomers with no prehistory, and they were painfully aware of it. The rabbis handed on a tradition of scriptural exegesis which could claim the authority of generations of excellent teachers, reaching all the way back to Moses on Mount Sinai. They had perfect command of the entire Old Testament, and they could argue their point from minute details in the original Hebrew text. And there was a basic consistency in their approach to the Bible: they not only recognized the Torah as divine, they also observed it.

The Gentile Christians were at an obvious disadvantage on all points. In many respects their interpretation of the Bible was startlingly new. They found meanings in biblical verses that no one had found there before. And they could quote no recognized tradition or authority to support them. Worst of all, they had no direct access to the original text, and their knowledge of the Old Testament was often limited to selected passages and proof texts. 2

My first point is what Skarsaune labels as the “inferiority complex of the younger—the much younger—brother.” 3 One can easily see this as a reasonable factor in the antagonism of non-Jewish believers against their counterpart. It is often the case when one person with natural abilities, knowledge or influence is alongside another with inferior abilities, a resentment from the one of lesser abilities often drives them to antagonize the other party in an attempt to prove their equality. They have to reduce the other person in order to boost their own self-worth or esteem. In our historical example, the Jews did have the upper hand over the non-Jewish Christians in relationship to Scriptural knowledge and exegesis. They also enjoyed a command of the actual language of the Hebrew Scriptures (the church fathers would continually enlist Jewish tutors to teach them the Holy Tongue in order to study the Scriptures in their original language) that was far superior to even those who could understand the Hebrew text.

And as far as the Jews were concerned, Skarsaune reminds us that “there was a basic consistency in their approach to the Bible: they not only recognized the Torah as divine, they also observed it.” This is where a contrast began to be apparent between the Jews and the Gentile Christians. Whereas the Jews continued in their living out the precepts of the instructions given to them by the God of Creation at Sinai, the non-Jewish believers, feeling unbound to these instructions in any kind of literal way, began to find contempt for those who adhered to their plain intent. For the act of “doing” had become a spiritualization. To the non-Jewish Christian, the plain meaning of the commandments began to be pushed to the wayside as inapplicable, and a more mystical, allegorical interpretation began to emerge as a seemingly superior one.

It is typically understood that the distinctions of the commandments for the Jewish believers and the non-Jewish believer are clear from both the Jewish (i.e. the “Noahide” laws of Judaism) and the Christian (i.e. the “Council of Jerusalem” in Acts 15) perspectives. However, in Justin Martyr’s dialogue with Trypho, a Jew who does not recognize Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, we get a glimpse of the current Jewish perspective viewing Christianity within its original framework, being a sect of Judaism, rather than a new and separate religion. Trypho reprimands Justin and other Christians by asking, “how is it that you Christians, who claim to worship the God of the Bible, do not observe his law?” 4. Even though Justin and most of his Christian brethren were non-Jewish, Trypho expected to see at least some semblance of the commandments being evident among them. In this we have the first evidences of how the “spiritualization” of the commandments damaging the witness of Christians among their Jewish brethren.

This brings me to my second point. Because of the sheer numbers of non-Jewish believers over Jewish believers pouring into this new, Messianic sect of Judaism, much of the original context of this faith became lost. Therefore, “the church of the second century came to think of itself as essentially Gentile, a non-Jewish entity set over against the Jewish people as such5 At this point, the church begins to lose its original, Jewish identity and creates a new one as somewhat of an antithesis to the Judaism which has been passed from Moses to Joshua, from Joshua to the Prophets, from the Prophets to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, and then from Jesus to his disciples. We begin to have a disconnect between the followers of the Jewish Messiah and the historical biblical faith. Not only do we see this, but we see a new “people of God” claiming their “chosenness” over and above the covenant people of God. We see the development of a theoological system, by which the non-Jewish church claims the covenantal blessings that belong to the Jewish people, while leaving the covenantal curses for the Jews. Rather than remembering that non-Jewish believers have been brought “into” the existing family of God according to Ephesians 2, the predominant concept was that the non-Jewish believers were now the “new” people of God, and had replaced the disobedient, hard-hearted, stiff-necked Jews. This is Replacement Theology, a subtle theological strain which still infects our churches today.

  1. In the shadow of the temple : Jewish influences on early Christianity. 2002 (267-268). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press
  2. Ibid. (p. 265-266).
  3. Ibid. (p. 265).
  4. Ibid. (p. 270).
  5. Ibid. (p.268).

Faith Meets Technology: New iPhone “Confession” App

Confession App logo

It appears there has been a “marriage in heaven” between faith and technology. The Apple iPhone has a new “Confession” app, approved by the Roman Catholic church (this would probably akin to a hechsher in Judaism).

appshot1appshot2

It appears that this virtual experience will allow a penitent to completely bypass the clergy. I asked a Catholic friend of mine his thoughts about the app, and this was his response:

Well, I think that anything that encourages Catholics to open themselves to the Grace afforded by Reconciliation is a good thing. I’m really surprised by this though. But since the apps purpose isn’t to provide Reconciliation, but only encourage and guide one through the process… I do think it should be free.

Now, as for the Sacrament of Reconciliation itself, I have 2 thoughts.

I don’t think that absolution comes through Reconciliation, only the Father can truly forgive us.

I do, however, think confession is good for the soul and it helps us as humans to have a counselor to help us acknowledge our faults. The penance that comes after Reconciliation gives us the means to be mindful of the times we have fallen short.

Well spoken.

Read more here and here.

Application site is here.

Engrafting or Replacement – Part 1

Justin MartyrThe other day I reviewed the excellent work, In the Shadow of the Temple, by Oskar Skarsaune. Today, I would like to elaborate on a few of his thoughts in regard to the place of Jews and Gentiles in the people of God. In looking at the development of Christianity in the years after the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Skarsaune observes some changes that begin to develop around the time of Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 C.E.). He notes the ever-increasing Gentile influx and subsequent sway over what has been to this point a sect of Judaism, and uses the writings of Justin Martyr (and others) to show how there began to be a rising arrogance and intolerance among non-Jewish believers for their Jewish brethren.

With regard to how non-Jewish believers began to view Jews and Jewish believers at this time, Skarsaune notes that the dialogue between the believing Gentile and the non-believing Jew grew to an intensity which had yet been unsurpassed in the history of Israel’s self-criticism. Skarsaune shows a change from what he labels “Jewish self-criticism” to “anti-Jewish slogans” in the dialogue against unbelieving Jews. Whereas the Church Fathers use many of the same words as the prophets of old in their condemnation of Israel’s failings (directed at the unbelieving Jew’s failure to recognize the Divine voice yet once again), there is a marked change from the prophetic voice which longs for repentance, and the condemning slander of voices such as Justin Martyr.

All this changed radically when this way of preaching penitence to Israel passed into the hands of Gentile Christians without this deep sense of solidarity with Israel. In their hands, these harsh Old Testament words to Israel became a weapon to discredit the Jewish people as disbelieving by nature, while the Gentile Christians exalted themselves as more willing to believe and obey God. 1

He shows evidence of this through the following quote from Justin Martyr:

If you [Jews] will confess the truth, you yourselves cannot deny that we [Gentiles] are more faithful than you in relation to God. For we, having been called of God by means of the mystery of the cross, which is so despised and full of shame; and (suffering) punishments even unto death for our confession and obedience and piety, … we, I say, endure all things lest we should deny Christ even in word. But you were redeemed from Egypt with a high arm and a visitation of great glory [there follows an extensive enumeration of all the wonders  worked by God for the benefit of Israel during the desert wandering]. In spite of all this you made a calf, and eagerly committed fornication with the daughters of the aliens, and committed idolatry, and did so again afterwards when the land had been entrusted to you with such great power.… You are convicted by the prophets, even after Moses’ warnings, of having gone so far as to sacrifice your own children to demons, and of having, in addition to all this, dared so much against Christ, and still do dare. (Dialogue with Trypho 131.2—133.1) 2

Skarsaune comments by saying

For in Justin the enumeration of Israel’s sins is no longer meant to be a call to repentance and return to God. In Justin it has become something quite different: Justin takes the biblical record of Israel’s sins to mean that the Jews have a natural inclination toward disbelief and sin, while on the other hand the Gentiles have a natural inclination toward belief and obedience. The ruthless Jewish self-criticism contained in several passages in the Old Testament—unparalleled in the ancient world and one of the finest fruits of mosaic and prophetic teaching—is misused by Justin as if it were some kind of ethnological description of the peculiarities of the Jewish people. 3

We can see the correctness of his observation. No longer is the apex of the message repentance, but only vilification. To understand how this turn of events takes place, we have to get into the minds of those believers within this time period. Although we have no absolute way of do so, I believe Skarsaune does an excellent job at connecting the dots. He notes the following:

In the second century one observes a marked change. The Christians of Gentile origin by now far outnumbered those of Jewish origin. Gradually, this fact came to influence the concept of the church. In Justin Martyr, the church is an essentially non-Jewish entity. It is made up of believing Gentiles, and over against this church of the Gentiles Justin places the Jewish nation as essentially non-believing. The border between believers and non-believers tends to coincide with the border between Gentiles and Jews. True, Justin knows of Jewish believers. But whereas in Paul the Gentiles are added to the true Israel of Jewish believers to share in their inheritance, in Justin it is the other way round: the few Jewish believers are added to the church of the Gentiles to share in their inheritance.

This shift of perspective had far-reaching consequences. While in Paul the Gentiles share in the promises given to true Israel, in Justin the promises are transferred from the Jewish people to the church of the Gentiles. This church replaces the Jewish people. It takes over the inheritance of Israel while at the same time disinheriting the Jews. One might express this development by using Paul’s image from Romans 11. In Paul, God has cut off some of the branches of Israel’s old olive tree, and in their place he has grafted some wild branches—the Gentiles. In Justin, God has cut down Israel’s olive tree, and in its place he has planted an entirely new tree—the church of the Gentiles. Onto this tree he has grafted a few branches from the old tree—those branches are the believing Jews.

Once Christians began to think this way, they would naturally pose the question of election as an either/or alternative: Either the Jewish people or the (Gentile) church is the inheritor of the Old Testament heritage. No one in antiquity fostered the idea of God having two peoples; it had to be the church or the Jews. In this way, Christians of the second century were never able to assert their election in Christ without at the same time lashing out against the Jews. 4

Skarsaune’s observations are adept. Although we haven’t seen any proof, per se, in his summary we can see a logical progression in which the spiritual superiority and arrogance of non-Jews is becoming a serious issue. The identity of the “people of God” is in question, and in order to define this term, someone has to “win” this title.

More to follow…

  1. In the shadow of the temple : Jewish influences on early Christianity. 2002 (262). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
  2. Ibid. (p. 262-263).
  3.  Ibid. (p. 263).
  4. Ibid. (267–268). Emphasis mine.

Day of Fire frontman Josh Brown now Messianic

Day of Fire album

Anyone who has known me any length of time knows both my passion for music, and my eclectic tastes. I may be listening to classical music one day, hard rock (Christian, of course) the next, and chassidic the day after. I first heard about Day of Fire from one of my employees back around 2003. I was immediately gripped by their driving guitars, haunting melodies and raw vocal delivery. Although front man, Josh Brown, sung for the Lord back then, he has a different melody today. Here is a little background on the band before I expound:

The Alternative-Rock act Day Of Fire got its start in 2002 when vocalist Josh Brown, ex-frontman of Full Devil Jacket, returned to the music scene. Brown has gone into rehab after severe bouts with drug abuse; he began writing songs again with guitarist + songwriter Gregg Hionis and the pair began playing in their hometown of Jackson, Tennessee USA, enlisting the help of guitarist Phil X, Chris Chaney, bass player from Jane’s Addiction and drummer Gary Novak.

The band’s self-titled debut album was finally released in late 2004 on Essential Records; the 11-track set broke into the top 30 of the U.S. Christian Albums chart and the single “Fade Away” reached the #27 position on The Mainstream Rock Tracks.

Following the recruitment of guitarist Joe Pangallo, his brother Chris Pangallo on bass and drummer Zach Simms, Brown and Hionis recorded and released Day Of Fire’s sophomore effort, “Cut & Move”, in mid-2006; they supported the record on the road with bands like Pillar and Decyfer Down and the CD eventually peaked at #14 on the Top Christian chart. The two albums sold more than 150,000 copies combined.

Day Of Fire (band shot)

Today, Josh Brown is playing music to a different beat. After playing a show with Third Day and Toby Mac in 2004, he met up with an old friend who began to share with him some concepts of Torah with him. Over the next six years, he began re-reading the Bible and wrestling with some of the Torah thoughts presented to him that night after the concert. He came to a conclusion that as a believer, he should be keeping the Sabbath and God’s commandments, stating:

“I don’t keep the Sabbath and the commandments of God because I have to do these things to accept the mercy of God and what Yeshua did on the cross. But I do these things because I love the God that wrote these commandments. That’s why I do them. Because I love Him and I want to know Him more. And I realize the only way I am going to know Him more is by doing what He has prescribed in the Bible for me to do. And as I do them more, I get to know Him more, because He really is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

In 2010, Josh Brown spent eight days living in his sukkah and celebrating his first Succot (Feast of Tabernacles) where he also performed his first Messianic concert.

Want to know the whole story? You can listen to the interview here.

Special thanks to Messianic Directory for this info.