clouds of glory

Is It For His Glory?

There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.

Numbers 15:16

The Torah says there is to be only one law for both Jews and aliens sojourning with the Jewish people. On the surface, this appears to be a simple statement, but when we dig deeper into biblical studies and interpretations, it becomes a complicated issue.

“One Law and the Gentiles”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shelach
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

Be careful not to become involved in quarrels with your friends. Arguments will only create distance between you and others.

The most effective approach to avoid needless arguments is to master the ability to remain silent. You don’t have to say everything you think of saying. At times there is an actual need to clarify a specific point and it’s appropriate to speak up. But a large percentage of arguments come from making comments that don’t need to be made.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
quoted at Aish.com

When I read the commentary at FFOZ about “One Law and the Gentiles”, I immediately wanted to jump on it as yet another classic example of the ongoing debate within various branches of Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots, and Evangelical Christianity. Then I thought about how such debates can be damaging and when I should ignore such temptations. Then again, I’ve also learned that sometimes you have to speak up for what you believe is right.

The trick is to find the right topic and the right timing. That isn’t always easy and in fact, there are times when no matter how well you craft your message, it’s going to provoke a hostile if not violent response:

“And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!”

Acts 22:20-22 (NASB)

Of course, this is a pretty extreme example. Most of our online debates, arguments, and trolling don’t come anywhere near actual riot conditions. On the other hand, why do we fight at all?

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to several pastors and asked them, “How many of you have received a nasty email in the last six months?” Every single person in the room raised their hand—including me.

Let me be clear; I believe the majority of people are civil and respectful in their online dialogue. However, there remains a vocal minority who insist on remaining unpleasant both in tone and word. And these unkind words come from many who self-identify as Christians, who somehow believe that malice is an acceptable form of communication.

Which raises a question: Why do so many Christians persist in being mean?

-Pastor Michael Hidalgo
“When Did Christians Get So Mean?” June 9, 2014
Relevant Magazine

Pastor Hidalgo went on to say:

Many of us have the luxury of not having to look beyond the small world we create for ourselves. We attend churches, listen to talk radio and watch news programs that only serve to affirm our previously held beliefs. We have fallen asleep in the insulated comfort of accepted, collective thinking. We live among those who think like us, look like us, talk like us, and we assure ourselves we are right and others are wrong.

It may do us well to break out of these enclaves we create for ourselves.

churchI worship in an “enclave” where my “previously held beliefs” are not at all affirmed, so I can’t expect to be insulated within a comfortable cocoon as the Pastor suggests most Christians may be. In fact, I’ve tried to nudge some of my fellow-Christians out of that cocoon, and while they haven’t “gotten mean” or anything like it, some didn’t really understand that there could a life for a believer outside of their own highly-specific context, especially a valid and sustainable Christian life.

More’s the pity.

I think that’s what triggers a lot of the “yelling” online, because the blogosphere isn’t a cocoon, it’s the wild, wild west, where anything can and usually does happen, and any opinion can be expressed with impunity.

But an opinion may or may not be “truth”:

We forget that every venomous word we speak or write to others is an assault on the heart of a man or a woman made in the image and likeness of the Almighty.

Some, no doubt, believe they need to stand up for truth. A few believe standing up for truth demands they attack those who seek to distort the truth. But this is not the case. If the truth is spoken without grace it is not true at all. It turns out we can be right about a lot of things, but if we do not have love we are dead wrong.

So on the one hand, we must stand up for truth, but on the other hand, the way we do it is very important, for even if we are actually “right” about what “truth” is once in a while, if he have to do a hatchet job on another human being to defend that truth, then we’ve defended truth at the cost of denigrating a person created in God’s image.

Pastor Hidalgo suggests that our first response to another person with whom we disagree is to listen. That’s not easy to do when, particularly on the web, upon detecting something “wrong,” we’ve been conditioned to stop receiving information and to start sending it in abundance. We’ve been taught that we have free speech rights and that we possess the truth, and we have not only the right but the responsibility to shove that truth down everyone else’s throat until they choke on it.

Then we’ve won.

Hooray.

But why are we really supposed to share the truth of the Bible? To sanctify the Name of God, to spread His Name throughout all the earth, to illuminate people with the Good News of Messiah.

But as I said, Paul found out on an endless number of occasions, that no matter how you listen and how well you craft your message, there will always be times when you and your message will be rejected, and there will always be people who are so convinced of the truth and rightness of their own message, that they cannot possibly give you a fair hearing. In fact, the minute you start saying anything contrary to their version of truth, they’ll start bombarding you with their own, and eventually when they realize you’re never going to change your mind and agree with them, they’ll boot you out and start “badmouthing” you to all their (virtual) “friends”.

Well, that’s the classic scenario anyway. It doesn’t describe all of the possible responses to disagreements in the world of religious blogging, so please don’t start taking all this personally. I’m probably not even thinking about you at all.

graceThis is obviously a continuation of what I’ve been writing about for the past week or so. What is the answer to surviving not only a community of faith in the local church but the extended world of faith on the Internet? I’m sure there must be an answer. Pastor Hidalgo summarizes that answer with a single word: “grace.” I think in the ideal, that’s probably the right answer, but most of us aren’t “ideal”. That’s why this life is a journey of struggle, exploration, and experience, not just reading the Bible and being programmed to be Christ’s perfect little disciple.

The Bible isn’t a record of how people got “perfect” once they heard about God, it’s a chronicle of how God was and is gracious with a whole planet full of damaged, imperfect, grumpy human beings across thousands upon thousands of years of history. God has promised us a better way to be human beings, but dangles “perfection” in front of us like a carrot, with the guarantee of a good meal only if we faithfully hang on long enough:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NASB)

This stuff hasn’t happened yet, no matter how much some Christians believe it has (or wish it had). We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. We want to “know God” perfectly and to have His Word written on our hearts (and not just in our Bibles), but the finger of God has only just started moving, and it’s having to chisel through lots of stone in order to get at the heart that’s supposed to be tender flesh.

The problem is, we don’t want to be tender, we want to be stony. Tenderness can be hurt but rocks are pretty tough. We like being tough. We like being right. We like making the other poor, dumb fool be wrong. It makes us feel better about ourselves.

No, I’m not saying you shouldn’t take a stand. I take a stand often enough, both here on this blog and at church in Sunday school. But it matters how you take your stand. If expressing truth, however you understand it, involves insulting or embarrassing another person, you’re probably doing it wrong. I know. I’ve gotten it wrong often enough, including quite recently.

light-in-my-graspI actually agree with FFOZ’s commentary on One Law and how Torah does and doesn’t apply to Gentile believers. I even agree that the FFOZ author wrote the article in a measured and respectful manner. I know that regardless of all that, the message will cause “all the wheels to fall off the cart,” so to speak, for a number of folks who have a very different opinion on the matter, and for some of them, their self-esteem and self-image are tightly dependent on believing their opinion is universally correct.

But that’s how most of us operate. We personalize disagreement and conflict rather than realizing God hasn’t called us to be the best bloggers in the religious world. He’s called us to be the best representatives of His Good News to the world, religious and otherwise. How do we do that? By arguing? By being right all the time? Most of us are wrong most of the time.

Truth is knowing when to speak and when to be silent. Truth is knowing when to talk and when to listen. Truth is the ability to hang on at the right times and to know when to let go.

Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery): Junior, give me your other hand! I can’t hold on!

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford): I can get it. I can almost reach it, Dad…

Professor Henry Jones: Indiana. Indiana… let it go.

Professor Henry Jones: Elsa never really believed in the grail. She thought she’d found a prize.

Indiana Jones: And what did you find, Dad?

Professor Henry Jones: Me? Illumination.

-from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Professor Jones’ quest to discover the resting place of the Holy Grail ended up in the loss of the grail, yet he didn’t consider it a loss at all. What he found wasn’t a treasured object, a valued prize, or even immortality (by drinking water from the grail). He found illumination from God.

Yes, this is fiction and there was never such a thing as the “Holy Grail” but besides being a good adventure story, there’s a lesson in values here.

Kazim (Kevork Malikyan): [to Indy] Ask yourself, why do you seek the Cup of Christ? Is it for His glory, or for yours?

That should be a question we all ask ourselves before we speak up in Sunday school class, or put our fingers on the keyboard to either write a blog or respond to someone else’s.

Rabbi Avraham Mordechai of Gur explained that the nature of a person with humility is not to be stubborn about his own opinions and wishes. He is compliant and will easily give in to the opinions and wishes of others. The other spies were all very distinguished and important men. Moshe feared that Yehoshua might concede to their opinions and be swayed by them even though he felt differently. Therefore, Moshe especially prayed for Yehoshua not to be negatively influenced by the others.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

When a question of Torah ideals is involved, one must not budge. That is when it is appropriate to resist. When dealing with basic principles, remain steadfast and do not allow others to sway you. One needs wisdom to know the difference between situations when it is proper to give in to others and when it is not. For this we need the Almighty’s assistance.

Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Shelach
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
quoted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz on Shabbat Shalom Weekly
Aish.com

Addendum: Yesterday, I read a commentary about Pastor John MacArthur’s parenting advice to a Christian parent of a gay child. In tomorrow’s “morning meditation,” I respond.

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8 thoughts on “Is It For His Glory?”

  1. “The Bible isn’t a record of how people got “perfect” once they heard about God, it’s a chronicle of how God was and is gracious with a whole planet full of damaged, imperfect, grumpy human beings across thousands upon thousands of years of history.”

    Yay! I agree, but so many don’t get this!

    “I actually agree with FFOZ’s commentary on One Law and how Torah does and doesn’t apply to Gentile believers. […] the message will cause “all the wheels to fall off the cart,” so to speak, for a number of folks who have a very different opinion on the matter, and for some of them, their self-esteem and self-image are tightly dependent on believing their opinion is universally correct.

    Although I admit I’ve never spent a moment in a “One Law” paradigm, to even consider an idea of no distinction between how Torah applies to Jews vs Gentiles is baffling to me since the Torah itself states certain application to one group of Jews and not another, and has specific applications for sojourners. Fast forward to the writings of the men who were actually dealing with this issue of how Gentiles fit in and I cannot find any support for saying Gentiles are obligated to the Torah as a Jewish person is. In fact, it’s so much the opposite that the gentile Church has assumed no one is obligated to the Torah!

    I think we’ve been so programmed to insert ourselves into the narrative (i.e., where it says Israel, we insert “God’s people” and thereby discount /replace Israel) so that when we realize the Torah hasn’t been “done away with” we assume we’re the people who need to keep it as Jews do.

    For me, it completely misses the point of what our inclusion is all about. I still contemplate these things, but I seriously wonder why Gentiles are so willing to forgo our unique identity and blessings and instead attempt to covet the Jew’s calling and identity.

  2. Agreed. Christianity (and I include certain Hebrew Roots groups here) has historically been invested in leveling the playing field between Jews and Gentiles in the community of Messiah, mostly by removing Jews from Judaism, but lately by inserting Gentiles in traditional Jewish practice. Either way, you end up denigrating the Jewish people and eliminating God’s specific selection of them at Sinai. They end up replacing Jews with Gentile Christians in all of the covenant promises of God to Israel (watering down or removing the mitzvot of God in the process) or marginalizing the Jewish people by forcing Gentiles into the identical Jewish/Torah paradigm.

    The FFOZ short article One Law and the Gentiles (requires free registration to read the full article) is an excellent summary of the issue, and the IAMCS position paper One Law, Two Sticks presents a more expanded view of the Two-House and One Law debate from a Messianic Jewish standpoint (though I read a recent commentary stating some felt Tim Hegg was mischaracterized in the paper).

    Regardless of where anyone is positioned on this issue, it is important to stay informed and not to imagine those on the opposite side of the aisle are automatically “evil” just because they have a different opinion.

  3. I agree with what the pastor said about the chosen cocoon. Don’t you think that groups choose to create an, “under siege,” mentality in order to consolidate their control? But then the cocoon can sometimes be like a Club Med vacation; an all-inclusive cordoned off area where one has no desire to go outside.

    My only caveat on one law is that is it really clear that torah says, “those who sojourn among us.” Too many are trying to tell those who do not sojourn among them what to do. I don’t tell the neighbors’ kids what to do unless they are in my house.

    Not mentioning names, but a family just got booted out of an IAMCS congregation for holding a Friday night torah study/discussion in their home involving both Jews and gentiles that was originally blessed by the leader, but I gather the egalitarian environment was too attractive. It’s not theology; it’s political maneuvering, shifting alliances and $$$$. The real position paper is the fruit.

  4. Chaya, it seems like you have exactly one reason for disagreeing with any ministry…whether or not you perceive them as being greedy. The main point of my blog wasn’t IMACS or One Law. I only mentioned this debate to draw attention to the things we do to separate us and divide us and stir the pot, so to speak. It’s why I don’t post comments (very often) on certain other blogs, because the main focus of those blogs (one in particular) is to react to every offense and to accuse every opponent, that is, everyone who disagrees with the blogger’s position, of being “bad,” “wrong,” or “exclusionist.” Read this blog post again, Chaya. What am I saying?

  5. Hi James. You wrote “The trick is to find the right topic and the right timing. That isn’t always easy and in fact, there are times when no matter how well you craft your message, it’s going to provoke a hostile if not violent response.” and I understand what you mean, but in the other hand, it is written: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 4:1-2 (New International Version – NIV), so it’s always somehow difficult to manage these situations. I think that the key to act according to this passage is having “great patience and careful instruction”.

    PS: How is your Dad doing?

  6. That’s my point. It is always difficult to manage these situations, which is why you always have to ask, “why am I doing this…for God, for just to build up my own ego.” Now of course, every smart mouth out there with a religious ax to grind says “it’s for God’s glory” but knowing human beings as I do (including me), I can’t always trust that. I think this is just another example of how we struggle to perform the will of God in the face of our own flawed human nature.

    Thanks for asking. Dad’s doing quite well.

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