All posts by James Pyles

James Pyles is a published information technology and textbook author and editor. He also has a passion for theology and strength training, as well as reading and writing science fiction and fantasy. He has several new short stories being published in early 2019 and is currently working on his first full-length novel. Find out more at http://poweredbyrobots.com/ and visit his Amazon author's page at https://www.amazon.com/James-Pyles/e/B001IQXL38

Israel is Jewish – Part One: Is There a “Palestine?”

Israelis protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Prime Minister official residence in Jerusalem on July 25, 2020. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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This morning I lamented how I consider the Black Lives Matter organization and movement as antisemitic and anti-Israel, based on the erroneous belief that Israel is an apartheid state and an occupier of Arab (Palestinian) land. Since the riots and protests began here in the U.S., I’ve been searching for a way to express how wrong that is, but for a lot of reasons, I haven’t been able to get a handle on it.

Then after receiving an email from a Jewish friend of mine who lives in Israel, and reading the contents, I realized why. The topic is huge and multidimensional. I’d never cram what I want to say into a single blog post, which is why it will have to be a series. I have no idea how it will end, but I do know how it will begin.

It will begin with this idea that there is and always has been this “thing” called “Palestine” that somehow supersedes the Biblical and historical land of “Israel.”

Let’s start with Palestine. Where did it come from?

According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

Palestine, area of the eastern Mediterranean region, comprising parts of modern Israel and the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip (along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea) and the West Bank (the area west of the Jordan River).

Oh really? How did that happen? The same source says:

The word Palestine derives from Philistia, the name given by Greek writers to the land of the Philistines, who in the 12th century bce occupied a small pocket of land on the southern coast, between modern Tel Aviv–Yafo and Gaza. The name was revived by the Romans in the 2nd century ce in “Syria Palaestina,” designating the southern portion of the province of Syria, and made its way thence into Arabic, where it has been used to describe the region at least since the early Islamic era.

I don’t completely trust the Encyclopedia Britannica because they’re dancing around the facts. When did the Romans rename ancient Israel “Palestine” and why? They don’t say, so I had to look elsewhere.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library:

A derivative of the name Palestine first appears in Greek literature in the 5th Century BCE when the historian Herodotus called the area Palaistine. In the 2nd century CE, the Romans crushed the revolt of Shimon Bar Kokhba (132 CE), during which Jerusalem and Judea were regained and the area of Judea was renamed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian Palaestina in an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel.

Bingo! The Romans deliberately renamed Israel as “Palestine” to insult and demean the Jewish people and the Jewish right to their own land. We also understand from those two articles, that “Palestine” didn’t always exist as an Arab nation and in fact, wasn’t a nation, Arab or otherwise, at all. Not until it was “invented.”

Okay, I get it. Nations are invented entities. Once upon a time there was no such thing as the United States of America, and if you go back in time far enough, anything you call a country didn’t exist.

Before I go on, let’s revisit the Jewish Virtual Library article:

Though the definite origins of the word Palestine have been debated for years and are still not known for sure, the name is believed to be derived from the Egyptian and Hebrew word peleshet. Roughly translated to mean rolling or migratory, the term was used to describe the inhabitants of the land to the northeast of Egypt – the Philistines. The Philistines were an Aegean people – more closely related to the Greeks and with no connection ethnically, linguistically or historically with Arabia – who conquered in the 12th Century BCE the Mediterranean coastal plain that is now Israel and Gaza.

Did you get that? “rolling or migratory” people. And “Aegean people – more closely related to the Greeks and with no connection ethnically, linguistically or historically with Arabia – who conquered in the 12th Century BCE the Mediterranean coastal plain that is now Israel and Gaza.”

So “Palestine” isn’t and never has been an “Arabic” nation…ever. Those original people were more related to Greeks, but does that mean “Palestine” is Greek? No, that’s nuts. The root for what some people now call “Palestine” came into being because that area was conquered about 3,300 years ago.

But what about before then?

According to the Aish.com article Evidence of the Jewish People’s Roots in Israel:

Now, the Bible pictures an Israelite-Jewish population and government there starting in the 12th century BCE and continuing until the end of the Bible’s history about 800 years later. But how do we know if this is true? As scholars, we can’t just say, “The Bible tells us so.” We need to see evidence that could be presented to any honest person, whether that person be religious or not, Jewish or Christian or from some other religion or no religion, or from Mars.

Yes, exactly, and that’s the hard part. I could cite Jewish and Christian sources all day long, but at the end of the day, critics could say those sources were so biased that they’re telling lies. I could call the sources who say that a Jewish Israel never existed the same thing. So what now? Let’s see if this article’s author Richard Elliott Friedman has an answer:

In the first place, the land is filled with Hebrew inscriptions, so I begin with that. These are not just an occasional inscription on a piece of pottery or carved in a wall. Nor should we even start with one or two of the most famous archaeological finds. Rather, there are thousands of inscriptions. They come from hundreds of excavated towns and cities. They are in the Hebrew language. They include people’s names that bear forms of the name of their God: YHWH.

Click the link to get the entire context, but the point is that not only do we find artifacts from ancient times that testify to a Jewish Israel, but from the lands around it. Ancient nations and people groups recognized the Jewish people as having occupied and possessed Israel for many hundreds if not thousands of years before anything like “Palestine” was manufactured.

The people at LiveScience.com believe that:

When scholars refer to “ancient Israel,” they often refer to the tribes, kingdoms and dynasties formed by the ancient Jewish people in the Levant (an area that encompasses modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria).

They presuppose that somehow, nations like Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, plus the increasingly unlikely “Palestine,” can undo, unroll, or unwrite the existence of both ancient and modern Israel, the Jewish Israel.

The article goes on to say:

Scholars draw largely on three sources to reconstruct the history of ancient Israel — archaeological excavations, the Hebrew Bible and texts that are not found in the Hebrew Bible. The use of the Hebrew Bible poses difficulty for scholars as some of the accounts are widely thought to be mythical.

If you don’t believe in the Hebrew God and His miracles, naturally the Bible isn’t going to be considered an authoritative source. I mentioned that before.

But to continue:

The earliest mention of the word “Israel” comes from a stele (an inscription carved on stone) erected by the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah (reign ca. 1213-1203 B.C.) The inscription mentions a military campaign in the Levant during which Merneptah claims to have “laid waste” to “Israel” among other kingdoms and cities in the Levant.

The article concludes:

In the millennia afterward, the Jewish diaspora spread throughout the world. It wasn’t until the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 that the Jewish people had a homeland again.

You might consider this source a tad more objective, since it’s not Jewish, which is why I included it.

Just for giggles, I read a Quora.com source asking “Does Palestine exist, or is it Israel?”

A lot of people responded since, after all, it is a hot button topic. One person named Shira Barabi answered on February 9, 2019. Please note that English is probably not this person’s main language:

As a israel , Palestine does not exist.

The civilians of so called Palestine are arabs who live in Israel.

This whole concept of another land for the arabs started in 1948 , after Israel declared independence. We had a civil war and won. Actually , we won several wars between us and the surrounding arab states.

So , why is Palestine still a concept? After being ” founded ” in 1988 ( that’s right. 40 years after israel was formed ) there has been total chaos for owning that little piece of land. Obviously , if you choose to take israel’s side then you’re a heartless Zionist that kills innocent children.

Believe it or not , but I live next to an Arab village ( I am a Jew-Moroccan so we settled here ) and every time there’s a terror attack that hurts innocent citizens there are fireworks and parties until the sunrise. Seeing that as a little child made me lose empathy.

We fight for a home constantly. Nobody wants us obviously and we have to fight for the little we have. I still find it petty for the Arabs to want it so badly and be willing to kill so many for it while they obviously have quite a few of their own.

We have offered many peace arrangements to this so called state that doesn’t even have a territory and they were sadly all dismissed. How can we get to peace when they want to eat the whole cake?

I personally think this conflict is absurd. How can people keep calling an official state another name? How is this even normal? Can you imagine calling the USA another name just because some citizens of a minority decide that they want it all to their selves? Can you imagine negotiating with such an absurd group? That’s why I can’t take Palestine supporters seriously. Take a flight to Palestine , I dare you. You will soon find out that it’s Israel.

Let’s embrace what it is. A little country surrounded by enemies and STILL surviving. Thriving! Sadly to the rest of the world , we have god on our side. we were raised in an environment where we were hated. We always had. There is only israel. As it is on all the documents. As it is on the Bible. As it is until the day the world will go down in flames.

That’s not scientific or historical or authoritative, but I kind of like it so I put the quote here.

Going back to evidence, if it does exist and it’s uncontroversial, why does anyone doubt?

Both The Times of Israel and Arutz Sheva chronicle Arab efforts to deliberately destroy artifacts supporting the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, the very center of religious life for Jews in the City of David.

A 2017 piece from The BESA Center begins:

The existence of a living Jewish people in a functioning Jewish state threatens the very raison d’être of Islam, which came into being to render Judaism obsolete. For that reason, Arabs and Muslims will never accept Israel as the Jewish State.

So there are nationally, ethnically, and religiously based reasons for many people to object to admitting that the land of Israel is Jewish and not Arabic, that religiously it has been the only nation established by the God of the Hebrews rather than being Islamic.

“Progressive” Europeans, Canadians, and United States citizens, among others, are such a gullible breed. Historically, the world has used the Jewish people as the cause of pretty much everything bad and they are still at it. I guess that’s why it’s so easy for them to believe that Israel is an “apartheid state” and “occupiers” when the evidence is plain that they’re not. Also, according to an image I posted this morning, the British really did establish a Palestinian state. It’s called “Jordan.”

I’ve given you enough to digest for the time being. I welcome comments, but I keep a tight rein on what I do and don’t allow. I’m okay with disagreement, but personalizing conflict here is not permitted. I don’t know what Part 2 will be like exactly. I do know that when Black Lives Matter claims the “Palestinian people” are victims of racism just like African Americans and other people of color, if they’re basing that claim on historical evidence, they are not just wrong, they’re bigoted.

For more, go to The Jewish Journal and Tablet Magazine.

Israel is NOT an Apartheid State or an “Occupier” : A Beginning

This is a topic that’s been burning a hole in me for a long time. Now, because the whole Black Lives Matter antisemitism is taking off (no one dares question their bigotry for fear of being called “racist” … go figure), hate of Jewish people and Israel has resurfaced with a vengeance. I’ve wanted to do a detailed study of exactly why the allegations against the Jewish people and Israel are false, but a number of different factors have gotten in the way. I saw the image above on twitter. It’s a beginning.

The Presence of Justice

blm boise
Photo credit: KIVI Staff – Black Lives Matter protest in front of the Idaho State Capitol

There’s quite a push in social media and in the news regarding phrases like “silence is concent” and “silence is violence.” In other words, if you are white and you don’t say something about “systemic racism,” and a very specific something, then you are accused of giving tacit approval to racism in general and violence against people of color in particular.

I don’t know about that. The Bible has a lot to say about times when it is better to be silent rather than speaking out of emotion or impulse. Make no mistake, there’s a lot of emotion and impulse in both social media and the real world.

Having Jewish family members, my traditional focus relative to justice is the battle against antisemitism, and, after all, bigotry is bigotry, right? Would not the words I’ve written on this blog for so many years apply to the current situation?

Apparently not.

It seems that the same people who are demanding justice over the death of George Floyd are also attacking Jewish synagogues and businesses. Apparently, Jews in America are being equated with Jews in Israel, which the protesters consider oppressors to the “Palestinians.”

I won’t go into how erroneous that notion is because it’s a very long article all by itself. It does, however, speak to part of the reason why I don’t have a “default setting” of siding unquestionably with the protesters and against police officers.

Am I a racist? No, not as I evaluate myself, but given terms like “systemic racism” and “silence is violence,” I can imagine some folks out there would assume I am. Reading this, they will assume I am because, as I said, I don’t give at least some expressions of protest (the violent expressions that destroy property and hurt and kill people) my undying, absolute support.

Also, some celebrities, such as Rosanna Arquette (although she said this nearly a year ago) suggest that in order to support these protests, support justice, and shun racism, I must not only be ashamed of myself as a white person, but I must hate my “whiteness.”

Okay, so maybe she’s an edge case and most white Americans who are protesting don’t despise themselves (though watching a lot of these people kneel at the feet of people of color seems less like justice and more like subjugation). Some white Americans are pretty upfront with saying they suffer from white guilt, but the response seems to indicate that’s just another kind of privilege.

There are all kinds of opinions about the role of white people in these protests, and some people of color view white protesters as following a trend, albeit a much needed one.

We are encouraged to read books on systemic racism, promote black causes, support black businesses, and otherwise showcase the works of people of color.

As an aside, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America recently issued a statement of support for Black Lives Matter, with some highly specific suggestions about what its membership (and any science fiction and fantasy reader actually) can do to support artists/writers of color. That’s not a bad thing, and SFWA has been pretty supportive of artists of color anyway, but at the end of the day, these are still all suggestions and its up to the conscience of every individual in how we respond.

And then there are the police.

Tons and tons of people are calling to defund the police in their communities, and the city of Minneapolis has voted to get rid of their police force altogether, eventually replacing it with…well, I don’t know with what because they don’t seem to have a plan yet.

As a white person, for the most part, I’ve had reasonably good experiences with police officers. In the 1990s, I was an investigator for Child Protective Services in Southern California and I worked with multiple law enforcement agencies. Some were really very community friendly, and a few were a pain in the neck.

But if I were a black person, my experience might be a very different one. I mean, black parents have to teach their children at a very tender age what it is to be black in America, which includes how to behave around police.

But it’s become much worse than that. Right here in my own little corner of Idaho, a little white girl learned to be afraid of the police. Fortunately, members of the Kuna Police Department helped her get past her anxiety.

I did see on twitter that when a young black girl was approached by an officer, she immediately raised her hands. As it turns out, the officer just wanted to say “hi”. A lot of people think the child’s fear was caused by police brutality in the first place, or maybe it’s become a learned behavior in the black community. Maybe too, the recent emphasis of depicting all police officers as racist and violent has something to do with it.

And some of it is just plain silly, such as the call to remove Chase the Police Dog from the Paw Patrol cartoons and books (my granddaughter loves them).

So, as you can see, there’s a lot to digest let alone respond to.

After posting a few of my past blog articles to social media and getting no response (I don’t know why I expected any), I figured that was that. What was I supposed to say that hasn’t already been said? We’ve had Black Lives Matter protests in downtown Boise. I didn’t feel compelled to attend. Oh, they were really peaceful, except that one dumb 18-year-old guy accidentally discharged his handgun into the ground. Yes, he was white, and yes, he was arrested.

sanchez
Credit: KTVB News

Interestingly enough, Boise City Councilwoman Lisa Sanchez wrote a letter to the kid’s parents saying his privilege protected him, and if he were a person of color, things would have turned out differently. Maybe they would have.

She signed her letter:

Lisa Sánchez, Brown woman who chose not to have children for fear of their abuse and murder by white people.

While I don’t doubt her experiences and feelings are real, as a politician and Boise city leader, she might have tried to say something that would de-escalate anxiety and tension rather than the opposite.

Having said all this, I still wasn’t going to craft a response to the “silence is violence” supporters, that is, until I read an op-ed piece written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, the former basketball player and actor). He did a very good job at getting me to be able to listen to his anger and described very well (to the best of my ability to understand, with me not having a lived black experience), how black people and white people are going to respond differently to the death of George Floyd.

Addendum: I suppose I should comment about this because, yes, when black people are angry, and they say white people are bad, I do have a problem not taking it as a personal insult. That’s my problem, I suppose, but after all, I do have trouble making it through everyday halfway sane without having these pundits adding to it. I know there is heinous injustice in the world, but I’m trying very hard not to hate myself on command.

He ended his missive with:

What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.

Now I would guess, given the article’s larger context, that he meant justice for people of color and not judging them for angry and even violent responses.

But what does that look like?

On one level, it probably means something like reforming the nature of police work across the board, although, as I suggested above, not all police departments are the same, so their responses in violent and crisis situations probably won’t be the same.

Police officers who commit crimes do need to be brought to justice, and perhaps a more stern justice since they broke the community trust and violated their oath as peace officers.

Sooner or later, the protests will die down, and the caldron of America will cool off again, going from a boil to a simmer…that is until next time.

In the 1997 film Air Force One, Harrison Ford playing (fictional) American President James Marshall delivers the line “Peace isn’t merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.”

In Bruce Springsteen’s music video for Born to Run he says “Remember, in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.”

In the 1999 film The Matrix, Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, says:

I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.

Maybe that’s all there is to it. We just begin without necessarily knowing where the road will lead or what the journey will be like.

Perhaps we should always have these protests before us, just to make sure we’re still paying attention. When they go away, and they probably will, in our rush to return to our “old normal,” sweeping George Floyd and COVID-19 aside, we’ll go back to sleep and pretend nothing’s wrong.

I chose to write this on my “religious blog” rather than my writer’s blog because you have no love, or truth, or justice without God.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? –Micah 6:8 (NASB)

I’ve seen so many opinions, but even those activists who are believers seem to have sidestepped what we really need, not just as white people or black people, or even as Americans. Is God not the God of all people everywhere? Didn’t the Apostle Paul say that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?” (Romans 3:23).

I’m not going to tell you how this will end, but I will tell you how we can begin, all of us. By making teshuvah, repent of our sins, which should also be a continual process, for our sins are always before us.

I kneel in the Presence of the Almighty during prayer, but don’t necessarily feel compelled to do so in the presence of people. However, if someone else feels that their path of repentance requires kneeling before people who they feel they’ve somehow hurt, who am I to say they shouldn’t. The important thing is to do so not out of a misplaced sense of guilt or shame, but because we truly do seek to do justice, love kindness, and have a humble walk before our God.

In the end, everybody wins because the Presence of God is the presence of justice.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 8:31-39

Addendum: I just read a Fox News article (yes, I know what some of you are going to say) referencing a New York Times Op-Ed piece written by Mariame Kaba who really means she wants to abolish (mostly) the police. Her perspective is that, given more resources, particularly good jobs, housing, and so forth, the root cause of crime will be greatly reduced and people will just naturally learn to cooperate and become more community minded.

Apparently, she doesn’t believe what I quoted above from the Apostle Paul. Also, this comes to mind:

Rebbe Chanina, the assistant High Priest, says: Pray for the welfare of the government. For without fear of it, people would swallow each other alive. –Chapter 3, Mishna 2

I’ve Been Dreading Easter

Sad to say, but true. Well, not exactly sad. On the other hand, maybe.

I mean, I’ve had a lot to say about Easter over the years. The last time I went to Easter, or rather “Resurrection Sunday” services, I hurt my Jewish wife so much, I swore I’d never go again. It wasn’t something she said, but the morning I was about to walk out the door to go to church, the look of hurt in her eyes was absolutely profound and devastating. Ultimately, it’s part of why I walked away from church.

I would have kept my promise, too.

But then, last May, my wife and I convinced my Mom to move from Southwestern Utah up to near where we live in Idaho. Dad died a few years back, and with Mom’s progressing dementia, we weren’t able to easily meet her needs, especially nearness to family, across a nine-and-a-half hour drive one way between Boise and St. George.

One of the things I promised Mom if she’d move up here is that I’d find a nice Lutheran Church nearby and take her to services every Sunday.

And I did.

I managed to survive Christmas somehow, but as Spring approached, I realized that my promise to Mom would conflict with my (unspoken) promise to my wife.

Then COVID-19 happened (thanks, China). Now Mom is pretty much a prisoner in her room at her independent living home. Her meals are delivered to her, but between macular degeneration and dementia, she has nothing else to do but watch television. She doesn’t have a computer (and couldn’t operate one if she had it), so no video conferencing. All we can do is phone her.

So, with the churches closed (and some local governments making it illegal to even have drive-in Easter services), I don’t have to take Mom to Easter services. With her memory deficits, I don’t know if she even realizes today is Easter Sunday.

More’s the pity.

Look, I’m sure my wife would understand if I took Mom to Easter services. Heck, the one Sunday I was pushing a (paid) writing deadline, she even volunteered to take Mom to church (which is supposed to be a no-no for a religious Jew). Although, I wouldn’t get the same benefits from Easter services (I still prefer Passover, although my wife hasn’t elected to have a Seder in our home for years), my Mom would, which is why I’d go with her.

No, I can’t and she can’t.

With the above-mentioned draconian limitations on Christian worship, and people being buried in mass graves in New York City, it’s beginning to look more and more like another Holocaust.

I realize now that with the virus being used as an excuse reason for severely erasing limiting civil liberties, that, my personal discomfort with Easter services aside (after every Passion Play, there’s a pogrom), it’s still a privilege to celebrate the resurrection.

In the shadow of approaching totalitarianism in America (is that too dramatic?), we must still believe that He is Risen, He is Risen indeed.

Is It Always Bad To Be Yoked?

yokes
Image found at Wikimedia.org and is owned by Cgoodwin. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

I was surprised to discover that I haven’t written here since last August. I had intended to write a series of articles based on the material presented by Chosen People Ministries Scott Brown.

I attended a full day discipleship training class, and since Brown is a Messianic Jew (however you choose to define the term), I was curious. It was free and it was on Saturday (I was interested in Brown’s apparent lack of Shabbos observance), so I went.

As my previous essay indicated, the study was inspiring.

I’m recovering from some sort of stomach bug so I’ve got some “down time” this weekend.

Thumbing through Brown’s study material, I came across a page that I found disturbing, especially when presented by a man who evangelizes young Israeli Jews every winter in New Zealand (their warm months).

He started that part of the lesson with some historical perspective. Remember, this is about making disciples. He said that “The Rabbi’s set of teachings was called his yoke (of Torah)”

Then he said that just about every use of the word “yoke” in the Bible has a negative connotation.

Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? –Acts 15:10

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. –Galatians 5:1-2

Except this one:

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” –Matthew 11:29-30

Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotes come from the NASB translation and the emphasis is mine.

Next, Scott described discipleship as a yoke equating it to labor. The juxtaposed this labor with Yeshua’s (Jesus’) yoke that gives rest. He cited John 21 and Hebrews 4, specifically verses 9 and 11 to illustrate said-rest.

I know he was talking to a bunch of Lutherans so he was appealing to his audience, but a number of other Bible verses (notice he was only quoting the New Testament) popped into my head, chiefly Psalm 19:7-14:

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

There are any number of other Psalms and Proverbs praising the law. If I had taken that quote from a Jewish Bible, the word you read as “law” would likely be “Torah.”

No, I’m not advocating a sort of Torah observance for Christians, but no matter how many times I encounter it, I never fail to be amazed by the dissonance the church creates when it comes to “the Law.” Even though it was instituted by Hashem (God), even though He fully expected His laws and precepts to be obeyed by Israel, and even though He punished Israel for disobedience to the Torah, by the time we get to the beginning of the book of Acts, “the law” is bad.

I once asked a Baptist Pastor why God created the law if it was a bad thing. He immediately answered that it was to illustrate to the Jewish people how impossible it was to keep. I guess this was one of the setups for Jesus being later born, killed, and resurrected, in order to show how, compared to the Torah, his yoke was light. Far fewer expectations (supposedly).

See my series of reviews to find out why the New Covenant doesn’t replace the Torah or anything else.

Every Sunday without fail I take my 87-year-old Mom to church and sit with her. She’s a life long Lutheran, so I found a nearby church. The people are nice and the Pastor’s sermon’s aren’t bad (though I don’t always agree with everything he says). I take notes, but I don’t speak with him or anyone else about my opinions. I don’t even write about them here.

But at church today, Pastor was fired up about the start of the Advent season and the month long lead up to Christmas.

Even when I was going to church for myself, I always avoided the Christmas service for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the crowds.

I don’t have that luxury this year. Mom will want to go and I’ll be taking her. Then it hit me that she’ll expect to go to Easter services too, which presents even greater problems.

I have to say that in a created universe, there’s no such thing as coincidence, so I can only believe that God is working on something in me by having me be in that church.

However, one of the consequences is learning to keep my mouth shut. Occasionally, my poker face slips, especially last week when the Youth Pastor took over sermon duties. Maybe that’s why I’m there, to realize that my religious opinions don’t make me a better person.

But within my private thoughts, I will still maintain that God didn’t switch from plan A to plan B and replace Israel with the church.

Hopefully, I’ll come back sooner this time with another “chapter” on this commentary.

Oh, here are twenty positive quotes about the Torah.

Sanctification Isn’t An Event, It’s A Process (a really, really long process)

intent
Replica of a diagram found in Scott Brown’s “Intentional: A Disciple Making Catalyst” material

As I write this, I can hear the Shabbos tunes my (Jewish) wife is playing on her iPad. Seems appropriate, although quite frankly, neither of us are observing Shabbos in any sense.

Several weeks ago, I attended an all day Saturday workshop at the Lutheran church where I take Mom. It was presented by Scott Brown of Chosen People Ministries. Scott lives in New Zealand and his ministry down there is called Celebrate Messiah. It specializes in evangelizing to the tons and tons of backpackers New Zealand gets every summer (and since it’s south of the equator, it’s actually winter there right now).

Actually, “Celebrate Messiah” specializes in evangelizing Israeli backpackers, of which there seems to be a lot. I told my wife this (and she’s not Christian or Messianic) and she pretty much just sneered. It was the sort of look I’d expect from the Rabbi of our local Chabad or really, a lot of Jewish people, even secular Jews.

But I’m not writing this missive to talk about that.

Notice the drawing above. I did my best to replicate it from the material Scott handed out at the workshop. It was called “Intentional: A Disciple Making Catalyst”. I can’t say I agreed with everything he said, but he made some good points, including the one illustrated in the diagram I’ve posted.

It was the clearest explanation of the “Christianese” terms “justification,” “sanctification,” and “glorification” I’ve ever heard, making the information very accessible to me, and I’ve been a believer for over 20 years.

It was also a great explanation about why I still screw up.

Really, there have been times I’ve been convinced that the Holy Spirit didn’t take up housekeeping inside of me and that I wasn’t actually a Christian. There were times when I considered that maybe the Calvinists were right (they’re not) and that God simply didn’t “choose” me to be saved. If that were the case, nothing I could say, do, or believe would ever reconcile me to God.

Oh, actually this is also a really good explanation as to why King David could commit adultery with a married women, get her pregnant, murder her husband, and then lie about the whole thing until confronted about it by the Prophet Nathan, yet still be considered a “man after God’s own heart.”

But let’s take a look at Scott’s source material first. All Bible quotes are from the NASB translation unless otherwise specified.

Spirit

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… –Romans 5:1

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. –1 Corinthians 12:13

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise… –Ephesians 1:13

Soul

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. –Philippians 2:5, 12, 13

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. –Romans 12:2

Body

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. –1 Corinthians 15:51-53

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven… –2 Corinthians 5:1-2

I’m not a big fan of citing short passages of scripture to make theological points, but this is what Scott presented with his diagram.

It explains why we can indeed be “saved,” as traditional Christians say, but still keep “backsliding” into sin.

Before coming to faith, traditional Christianity considers people as slaves to sin. We just can’t help ourselves from sinning if, for no other reason, we don’t know the difference between a sin and being able to please God. We may not be in it just for ourselves, and we may give to charity, be good parents, be kind to small animals, and help our neighbor shovel snow off of his driveway in the winter (I live in Idaho, your mileage may vary), but we are still sinners, isolated from God.

Upon becoming believers, devotees and disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ), as the diagram and the scriptures say, we are dead to sin and alive for Christ:

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. –Romans 6:5-7

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. –Ephesians 4:20-24

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. –Colossians 3:9-11

In other words, the person who was a slave to sin was symbolically buried in the tomb with the dead body of Jesus through baptism, and the person who rose out of the tomb/waters with Rav Yeshua is a completely different individual, one who is a slave to our Master and not sin.

Does that mean we can’t sin? Absolutely not. But then why do we sin if we aren’t a slave? Two reasons. The first is that we still have free will and can choose to sin. But then, you’d think it would be a no brainer to choose not to sin. The second reason is that our neurology, our habits, our behavioral patterns are still locked in our brains. If a guy likes to look at porn before he becomes a believer, even after the conversion, he will still tend to be attracted to porn.

In his presentation on people he has discipled, Scott referenced numerous men who had big, big problems surfing porn. I’m not picking on men. I’m sure that women who become believers still have all of that “fleshy” stuff in their behavior patterns as well.

So what to do?

Scott said it’s not just a matter of behavior modification. After all, a secular person can modify their behavior through various means and they’re still secular and in their sins.

For the believer, it seems like a war between their neurological behavior patterns and having the “mind of Christ.”

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. –1 Corinthians 2:14-16

There was one thing Scott didn’t mention, and perhaps it was because he was talking to a roomful of Christians (though a significant minority seemed to be “Messianic” and a few even sung the beginning of the Shema). In his focus on Christ, he forgot about Rav Yeshua’s source material:

Behold, days are coming – the word of Hashem – when I will seal a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah; not like the covenant that I sealed with their forefathers on the day that I took hold of their hand to take them out of the land of Egypt, for they abrogated My covenant, although I became their Master – the word of Hashem. For this is the covenant that I shall seal with the House of Israel after those days – the word of Hashem – I will place My Torah within them and I will write it onto their heart; I will be a God for them and they will be a people for Me. They will no longer teach – each man his fellow, each man his brother – saying, “Know Hashem!” For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest – the word of Hashem – when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.” –Jeremiah 31:30-33 The Stone Edition Tanakh

I’ve previously written about the New Covenant and the Gentile as well as how Gentiles actually have no formal covenant relationship with God. I know, controversial stuff, right?

The only conclusion I arrived at is that we are adopted in by God, not through any covenant, but by God’s sheer mercy and grace to the human race as a whole, that is, the nations of the world, all who turn to him through our devotion to Rav Yeshua.

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” –Matthew 28:16-20

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. –2 Peter 8-9

Actually, this wasn’t something God invented with Jesus. It was his plan all along:

Also, a gentile who is not of Your people Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name’s sake – for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm – and will come and pray toward this Temple – may You hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and act according to all that the gentile calls out to You, so that all the peoples of the world may know Your Name, to fear You as [does] Your people Israel, and to know that Your Name is proclaimed upon this Temple that I have built –1 Kings 8:41-43 The Stone Edition Tanakh

Hashem has reigned: Let peoples tremble; before Him Who is enthroned on Cherubim, let the earth quake. Before Hashem Who is great in Zion and Who is exalted above all peoples. Let them gratefully praise Your great and awesome Name; it is holy! Mighty is the King, Who loves justice. You founded fairness. The justice and righteousness of Jacob, You have made. Exalt Hashem, our God, and bow at His footstool; He is holy! Moses and Aaron were among His priests, and Samuel among those who invoke His Name; they called upon Hashem and He answered them. In a pillar of cloud He spoke to them; they obeyed his testimonies and whatever decree He gave them. Hashem, our God, You answered them. A forgiving God were You because of them, yet an Avenger for their iniquities. Exalt Hashem, our God, and bow at his holy mountain; for holy is Hashem, our God. –Psalm 99 The Stone Edition Tanakh

I am Hashem; I have called you with righteousness; I will strengthen your hand; I will protect you; I will set you for a covenant to the people, for a light to the nations; to open blind eyes; to remove the prisoner from confinement, dwellers in darkness from the dungeon. –Isaiah 42:5-7 The Stone Edition Tanakh

In fact, this last passage is very similar to the haftarah Rav Yeshua read in the Nazareth synagogue (Isaiah 61:1,2 [see Septuagint]; Isaiah 58:6):

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. –Luke 4:16-20

But what’s all that have to do with Scott’s diagram?

I believe that the process of us being sanctified is ongoing. Certainly, we haven’t been glorified yet because Rav Yeshua hasn’t returned and we haven’t gotten our glorious, immortal physical forms yet.

New Covenant times have cracked the door of reality but aren’t actually here. Thus having the “Torah written on our hearts” (I’m not sure how that works for a Gentile given our non-covenant status or the fact that we are not obligated to Torah in the manner of the Jewish people or Israel) is in process but not complete. We are in the long-lasting process of sanctification, which only makes the struggle with our “flesh” more difficult.

Scott was clear on the point that the old man is truly, irrevocably dead. Struggles with sin are not a fight between the old man and the new man (or woman). Our old nature is gone forever, according to Scott, but our old patterns and habits (the flesh) are still present. Being sanctified is ongoing and will continue until the prophesy in Jeremiah 31 is realized. No wonder this stuff is hard.

Still, I take comfort in reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, which I just completed as part of my annual cover-to-cover Bible reading:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. –Romans 8:1-11

Actually, the entire chapter encapsulates Scott’s remarks and my renewed understanding.

Bottom line. We have something to shoot for. The struggle with being human, the habits of a lifetime, the difficulties that continually assail us as mere mortals is real, but the goal isn’t just to modify our old behaviors, but to live out the fact that we are in the process of becoming new human beings one day at a time.

There’s hope.

Oh, this is all derived from only part of one page in Scott’s material, so I’ve got plenty of data from which to craft additional more blog posts. This is only the beginning.

And Now For Something Completely Different

If you are a science fiction fan, I invite you to pop over to my other blog “Powered by Robots”. I was recently interviewed by Will Martinez of Dark Fringe Radio about my SciFi short story “The Recall.” I haven’t had the nerve to actually listen to it yet, but anyone who wants to can go for it. Let me know what you think.

EDIT: My wife was listening to this, and I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVhE7_AUtNI