Category Archives: Repentance

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

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

How I Won’t Be Observing Yom Kippur

One of my favorite stories is of the house painter who deeply regretted stealing from his clients by diluting the paint, but charging full price. He poured out his heart on Yom Kippur hoping for Divine direction. A booming voice comes down from Heaven and decrees — “Repaint, repaint … and thin no more!” Yom Kippur begins Friday evening, September 29th! (It is the ONLY fast day that is observed on a Shabbos.)

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the anniversary of the day Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai the second set of Ten Commandments. This signified that the Almighty forgave the Jewish people for the transgression of the Golden Calf. For all times this day was decreed to be a day of forgiveness for our mistakes. However, this refers to transgressions against the Almighty. Transgressions against our fellow human being require us to correct our mistakes and seek forgiveness. If one took from another person, it is not enough to regret and ask the Almighty for forgiveness; first, one must return what was taken and ask for forgiveness from the person and then ask for forgiveness from the Almighty.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Aish.com

In general, observant Noahides can (but are not required to) commemorate those Jewish festivals that in some way relate to Gentiles and the overall spiritual missions that G-d assigns for them. There are some of the Jewish festivals that Noahides have more of a connection to, and they can honor these as special days (for example, with prayers and selected Torah reading): for example, Rosh HaShanah (the annual Day of Judgment for all people), and Sukkot (the annual time of judgment for the rainfall that each nation will receive, which is also characterized by the themes of unity and joy).

But you should be aware that these days are not to be commemorated by Noahides in the same way that they are commanded to be fully observed by Jews. For instance, a Noahide should not refrain from normal activities on the Jewish holy days or Sabbath, and should not perform those Jewish commandments that are religious only, and have no practical benefit for Noahides (for example, waiving the four species of plants during the Festival of Sukkot, or fasting on Yom Kippur).

The Jewish festival days of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, Yom Kippur, Purim and Shavuot have little relevance to Noahides, other than as reminders of constantly-relevant general Torah principles.

Taken from “Noahide Holidays” at AskNoah.org

With regard to Yom Kippur, which relates to the relationship between the Jews and G-d, Gentiles should not be concerned that they are lacking in any way in their opportunity at any time for successful repentance. The fact that only Jews were given Yom Kippur, the day that Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the second set of Tablets of the Ten Commandments, should only be a positive influence, in that perhaps it may inspire a Gentile to do his or her own needed repentance on any day of the year.

Taken from “Asking G-d to forgive for breaking a Noahide Law: Does this relate to Yom Kippur?”
at AskNoah.org

As you can see I’ve been doing a little bit of reading, particularly with the High Holidays rapidly approaching. There’s no real template for how or if the “Judaically aware” Gentile disciple of Rav Yeshua should observe such events. Certainly we are not Jews and we are not Israel (yes, I’m going to be criticized for those statements I suppose), but it’s difficult to ignore such an august occasion, especially when one’s spouse is Jewish (though not particularly observant at present).

I borrowed some information from a Noahide site to gain some perspective, but I’m not convinced the Noahide makes a suitable model for people like me. They don’t take into account the blessings of the New Covenant being conferred upon us due to the merit and faithfulness of our Rav.

Yet what else is there?

I do take some comfort, especially at this time of my life, in the statement that Yom Kippur can be a reminder that I can sincerely repent before Hashem at any time at all (of course, Jewish people can too). I’m also glad the Orthodox Rabbis who administer AskNoah.org recognize that Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot have applications to both Israel and the nations, so in some manner or fashion, we can partake in those observances as well.

As with my last several blog posts here, I continue to state that what you get out of your relationship with the Almighty depends on what you’re looking for.

If you are an observant Jew, it seems that your praxis is well-defined, which is part of what “grinds the gears” of some “Messianic Gentiles,” since our model seems less distinct. Maybe that’s because it’s too easy to mistake form for substance.

I think some of Paul’s letters, particularly Romans, touched on how some Jews (perhaps converts to Judaism who had Yeshua-faith) mistook the mechanics of Torah observance for an actual relationship with Hashem. I’ve seen it in some Messianic and Hebrew Roots groups in the past.

It’s easy to get distracted by praxis unless you have the correct perspective.

If the High Holidays are to mean anything for the rest of us, I think it’s true that they can serve as a reminder that God is accessible to us too. He’s always intended that from the very beginning. We were never meant to be left out in the cold or to be considered “sloppy seconds”.

As time goes on and I attempt to do even such minor things as listen to Christian radio, I realize that I don’t have very much in common with the normative Christian church. However I’d be lying and a fool if I said that I had nothing in common at all.

The church is full of good people, faithful people, people who have repented and continue to sincerely repent and to walk before Hashem. They do much kindness, express compassion in word and deed, are at the forefront helping victims of Harvey and Irma, putting their time, money, and effort where others only put their mouths.

Whether you call yourself a Christian, Messianic, or anything else, that’s what really matters, how you live out your relationship with Hashem through your devotion to Rav Yeshua. That’s what we should take with us into the Holidays. That’s what we should always take with us everyday as we walk with God.

The Devil Made Me Do It Redux

Over three years ago, as part of my “church experience,” I wrote this blog post illustrating how many churches (including the one I was attending at the time) emphasize the influence of an external tormentor who causes them to sin over their own personal responsibility. I highlighted the fact, using multiple examples, that the Bible emphasizes that we are accountable to God for our actions and that blaming HaSatan (the Adversary) is no excuse.

I was reminded of this again while listening to Christian radio this week. All they talk about is Satan, Satan, Satan, and how if we’re not careful, we’ll fall into one of his traps.

But what about the traps we set for ourselves? I don’t think our external Adversary needs all that much help when after all, most people are their (our) own worst enemies. Just food for thought.

calvin-and-hobbes-devil
Calvin and Hobbes

Christianity Drives Me Crazy

I thought about just adding this to the comments on my last blog post, but it seems to deserve a missive of its own.

KBXL logoI admit it. I’ve been listening to Christian radio on the commute home from work again. Specifically, there’s a fifteen minute radio show called The Gospel Changes Everything hosted by Pastor Josh Bales of a local church called The Well.

This week, he’s presenting a sermon series called The Life of God In the Soul of Man based on John 17:17-19.

First of all, I’m always dubious of a Pastor giving a week long sermon series based on two verses out of the Bible. Secondly, he tends to be one of those Pastors who puts a lot of emotion and emphasis in his voice, which always makes me wonder if my emotions are what’s being appealed to the most.

I won’t go into everything he said, but he did define the essence of Christianity as “Christ being formed in me.” What does that even mean? He paraphrased Rav Yeshua (Jesus), refactoring verse 19 to say, “Form me in their souls, Father.”

What?

Did our Rav actually say that? Did he appeal to the God of Heaven asking that he, the individual Jesus, be “formed” in the souls of his disciples? Again, what does that even mean?

By the end of the fifteen minutes, Pastor Bales didn’t answer the question (actually, he lost me when he said verse 19 was Jesus addressing the “church”). Of course, he’s got Thursday and Friday to go, but I suspect he won’t ever answer that question, at least in a way that makes any sort of sense to me.

This is why I don’t go to a church…well, one of the numerous reasons anyway.

I’ve got enough of a headache just now and this just makes it worse.

I’ve been reading through Paul’s epistle to the Romans as part of my (ideally) daily Bible reading, using the NASB translation. Even though I like this version of the Bible better than most others, it still is horribly biased against the Torah, positioning Jewish devotion to the conditions of the covenants vs. grace.

I wish there were a Bible that really interpreted the apostolic scriptures in a manner more authentically honest to the real intent of the Apostles, particularly Paul since he is the number one club Christianity uses to beat up ancient and modern Judaism.

To be fair, I don’t doubt that Pastor Bales and most religious leaders like him really believe what they say and see their interpretation as totally benign and even beneficial, not only to Gentiles but to (converted) Jews.

I’ve had this conversation a nearly endless number of times with the head Pastor of a little Baptist church I attended for about two years. I finally decided to leave (Wow, has it been three years already?) when the Pastor specifically criticized my theology and doctrine from the pulpit. He didn’t mention my name of course, but I knew he was targeting me.

Again, I’m convinced it was not out of malice and that he was just trying to set me straight in the most convincing way possible since I wasn’t going along with the program in our private conversations.

But it also convinced me that I belong in a church about as much as a cat at a kangaroo convention. I just don’t fit in or, as they say on Sesame Street, “one of these things is not like the other.”

I was reading Psalm 93 from the Stone Edition Tanakh and it made a lot more sense to me:

Hashem has reigned, He has donned grandeur; Hashem has donned strength and girded Himself, even the world of men is firm, it shall not falter. Your throne is established from old; eternal are You. [Like] rivers they raised. Oh Hashem, [like] rivers they raised their voice; [like] rivers they shall raise their destructiveness. More than the roars of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, You are mighty on high, Hashem. Your testimonies about Your House, the Sacred Dwelling, are exceedingly trustworthy; O Hashem, may it be for lengthy days.

Since this is a Psalm about Messianic times and how God’s majesty and grandeur will be recognized by all the people of the world, I’m not hesitant to apply it even to me. God is mighty, He is eternal, His House is Sacred, and He is exceedingly trustworthy. This is so much more straightforward (at least to me) than the confusing pronouncements I keep listening to on Christian radio.

I have no idea what normative Christians hear when they listen to these programs. What do they get out of them? What do they understand? How do they apply phrases like “Christ formed in you” to their lives?

the gospel changes everythingI wanted to ask Pastor Bales something like, “Christ formed in me. That sounds great. I’d really like that. Now what?”

He said it wasn’t what you did that made you a Christian but having Christ formed in your was the essential core of Christianity.

I wonder how that works?

For me, how a relationship with God works starts with continual teshuvah (repentance). Continual turning to God and away from sin. Continual prayer. Continual reading of the Bible. It’s easy to forget that and to put our religious lives on automatic pilot, just cruising through day by day.

Auto-pilot doesn’t bring you closer to God. At best it establishes a steady distance and at worse, that distance steadily increases until God either tries to snap you out of it, or He lets you go do your own thing, waiting until you screw up your life so badly, you call out to Him or abandon Him completely (for He will never abandon you, Jew or Gentile alike).

In the end, I can look to whatever resources I consider trustworthy to increase my understanding, but it still comes down to who I am and what I decide to do about my connection with God. Rav Yeshua is my only conduit since without devotion to my Rav, I have no hope and no promise. It is clear that only through God’s grace and mercy that non-Jews, through the merit of our Rav, are able to partake in the covenant blessings since we are not named members of the New or any other Covenant God has ever made.

Come nearer, God. Help my lack of faith. Heal me and I will be healed, save me and I will be saved for you are my praise.

The Prayer of the Nations to Our Father

praying aloneAs just about anyone involved in some form of Judaism or in the Messianic/Hebrew Roots movements knows, the High Holy Days are coming up on us fast.

Of course this season may not have the same application upon Gentile believers as upon the Jewish people. “ProclaimLiberty,” who often comments here, said (I think) that perhaps Sukkot might be the better time for a Gentile to make teshuvah given our understanding of Zechariah 14:16-19.

I’ve also been giving some thought to prayer, particularly after reading Rabbi Kalman Packouz’s commentary on Ki Tavo. The vast majority of what he’s written could as easily apply to the Gentile as to the Jew apart from his recommending the Artscroll Siddur.

Many non-Jewish Messianics use such a siddur for prayer and I have myself in the past, but there are a lot of pitfalls to avoid, such as any section that refers to the person praying as “Israel” or otherwise  to being Jewish.

After all, we’re not Jewish.

As far as I know, there is no such thing as a Messianic Siddur just for Gentiles and there’s a simple reason for that. Most Gentile Messianics worship corporately with Jews, at least in some congregations. It would make spoken group prayer impossible to manage if the Jews were using a siddur worded very much differently from the Gentiles praying nearby.

However, even one Orthodox Rabbi advises that Gentiles can use an Orthodox Siddur as long as they avoid employing any of the language or prayers specifically set aside for Jews.

He also says that Gentiles are exempt from the obligations for prayer applied to a Jew. He states that we (or at least Noahides) aren’t obligated to specifically worded prayers or particular times of prayer. He suggests that maybe the Psalms (from a reliable Orthodox Jewish publishing company…probably as opposed to how he considers Christian Bibles) would make a good “book of prayer” for Noahides.

Something similar (I think) has been suggested by the Messianic Jewish community such as how Gentiles are allowed to pray at the specific times of prayer but are not actually obligated to do so. In other words, we can adopt the praxis but it’s not commanded of us.

That’s not to say we should not pray or that God doesn’t expect us to pray. In Rabbi Packouz’s commentary for Nitzavim-Vayelech, he states in part, citing The Book of Our Heritage, that:

In the Providence section we proclaim our understanding that: 1) the Creator has a one on one relationship with every human being 2) God cares about what we do with our lives and sees and remembers everything 3) there are Divine consequences for our actions.

To bring a tighter focus on the main point, he says “the Creator has a one on one relationship with every human being.” If that’s true, then the Almighty has made provision to interface with and connect to every individual human being, including you and me.

Sometimes in the Messianic world, we Gentiles get so hung up on Judaism that we forget we also have a specific invitation to pray to God as Gentiles.

On another blog where I write fiction, my latest chapter in a time travel series sends one of my protagonists back to the time of King Solomon and the dedication of the Temple. The most relent portion of that for “the rest of us,” is this:

“Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.

1 Kings 8:41-43 (NASB)

It wasn’t since just the time of Rav Yeshua that Gentiles could communicate with God through prayer. It was an expectation from the very beginning. After all, who were Adam and Havah (Eve) and their children and their children’s children? Who were Noah and his family, and until being declared a “Hebrew,” who was Abraham?

I belong to a private Facebook group dedicated to “Unchurched Christians” or believers who have left the organized church but who continue to have a faith. The public website is Unchurching.com.

I’m not particularly involved in its content and joined mainly because I think it’s an interesting idea and also because not only am I unaffiliated with a congregation, I am likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

I was listening to Christian radio again on my commute home from work (I know…right?) and the Pastor was referring to a passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus was talking about the Church. The what? The sermon just reminded me of (in my opinion) what a massive disconnect mainstream Christianity has from what the Bible actually says since nothing called “church” existed in that place and time.

One of the Pastor’s points was that a Christian cannot subsist apart from the organized Church anymore than your hand could continue living if it were amputated from the rest of your body.

I don’t know about that. I have to believe continuing in relative isolation must be possible. After all, Richard Jacobson, who used to be a full-time Pastor in a church before quitting all of that and starting an online community for “Unchurched Christians” seems to believe otherwise, and more and more relationships are conducted online as we continue to rely on the internet for our extended social contacts.

Besides all that, God isn’t hiding. We don’t have to go to a church or synagogue to find Him. He’s there with us. If that weren’t true, He wouldn’t or couldn’t hear our prayers if we weren’t in a house of worship.

The one big flaw in my analysis, going back to Solomon, was his statement about a Gentile coming and praying toward the Temple, implying close proximity rather than merely facing in the direction of Jerusalem where ever you might be on Earth.

But I can’t help that and I do not intend to take Solomon quite so literally. Also, “church” isn’t the Temple, that is, the unique physical location where the glory of God appears physically.

God is accessible to us, Jew and Gentile alike. Yeah, I’ve said it before. We don’t belong formally to the Covenants, New or otherwise. We as non-Jews are wholly dependent on God’s mercy and grace, His desire and will that all human beings come to Him.

tears of repentanceBut that is His will, it’s what the Bible actually says, even though the vast majority of its content was written by and for the Jewish people.

While the High Holy Days may not have a direct application on the Gentile believer, Messianic or otherwise, it can serve us as a reminder that God also wants the people of the nations to make teshuvah and turn toward Him. What’s the harm if we actually accept His offer? In fact, what benefits might we discover the Almighty bestowing upon us if we do pray to our Father in Heaven?