Lessons Learned from Chris Pratt Praying for Kevin Smith

chris pratt
Photo of actor Chris Pratt from a 2015 article published by Elle Magazine

Earlier today, I read an article at Aish.com called Chris Pratt, Keep Praying or “When did prayer become a dirty word?” by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz.

You probably know actor Chris Pratt from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Jurassic World or even the television show Parks and Recreation. In addition to his success in the world of entertainment, he’s a Christian, which must be tough in the world of entertainment.

He came to garner a special type of attention though when he “tweeted” on twitter that he would be praying for actor/director Kevin Smith after the latter’s recent heart attack.

As far as I can tell on both Pratt’s and Smith’s twitter feeds, Smith never responded to Pratt’s well wishes, but plenty of other people did, and not very kindly.

According to Rabbi Abramowitz’s article, some of the “Twitterati” issued the following responses:

  • Doctors and nurses save lives, not prayer.
  • There is NO proof there is a higher power. Zilch.
  • We all know God isn’t real.
  • Praying is utterly worthless. Just an easy way to pat yourself on the back while making you warm and fuzzy inside by actually thinking your prayers affect the plan of a divine sky daddy that’s supposedly omnicient (sic) and omnipotent.
  • Thank the surgeons and modern medicine. Your magical sky fairy had nothing to do with it I assure you.
  • A claim that prayer heals is dangerous. It results in needless deaths every year around the globe.

R. Abramowitz’s article continues:

In fairness, there were many who came to Pratt’s defense, including screenwriter and director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), who wrote, “There is nothing wrong with sending someone positive thoughts & prayers. But when this is coupled with inaction when action will benefit the situation, it’s empty. … (N)o one expects Chris Pratt to shoulder doctors out of the way and perform heart surgery on Kevin Smith. Nor does Kevin need Chris to pay his medical bills. So I think his prayers are appreciated, and about all he can do.”

Gunn gets it. It’s one thing to object to “thoughts and prayers” when it’s in lieu of action. But if “thoughts and prayers” are all one has to offer, then objecting to it is nothing more than a mean-spirited attack on another person’s faith.

Beyond this core point which pretty much says it all in terms of a response to the online anti-prayer pundits, the Rabbi went into the Jewish basis for prayer which may or may not particularly resonate with Pratt.

What can I say that can add anything to what R. Abramowitz wrote? Probably not much except that this is merely the latest (cheap) shot anti-religious and generally leftists folks have taken at people of faith. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t agree with you” or “I don’t believe in God” and another thing entirely for people to become angry because you express your faith in a kind and supportive manner.

It seems, referring back to the bulleted list above, Pratt’s critics jumped from A to Z assuming he meant that only prayer could heal and that there was no need for doctors, which is a position only some very sketchy edge cases in fundamental Christianity espouse.

There have been men and women of faith ever since the Garden and for nearly as long, there have been critics who have discounted that faith. If you don’t believe, fine and dandy, but again looking at the bulleted list, why all the anger?

I don’t know if Pratt has read R. Abramowitz’s missive and I’m pretty sure he’ll never know mine exists, but if I could say something to him, I’d tell him “thank you,” even if Kevin Smith didn’t.

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Shabbat, Purim, and What Makes You Happy

Purim

I was reading this week’s column by Rabbi Kalman Packouz and found a few points that might actually apply to those of us who are “Hebraically-aware Gentiles.” He was discussing Purim (which begins this Wednesday evening at sunset) and Happiness, but I’ll start with something about Shabbat.

R. Packouz’s Dvar Torah for this coming Shabbos is based on a small portion of Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Growth Through Torah (which I own and highly recommend):

The Torah states:

“Six days you shall work and on the seventh day, it should be a complete rest sacred to the Almighty” (Exodus 31:15)

What does it mean “a complete rest”?

Rashi, the great commentator, tells us that rest on Shabbat should be a permanent rest and not merely a temporary rest. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the former Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of the Mir Yeshiva, clarifies that a temporary rest means that a person has not really changed his inner traits, but he merely controls them on Shabbat. He still has a bad temper and has a tendency to engage in quarrels, but because of the elevation of Shabbat, he has the self-discipline not to manifest these traits. The ultimate in Shabbat observance is that a person should uproot those negative traits which are contradictory to peace of mind on Shabbat. One needs to uproot such traits as anger and the tendency to quarrel with others. Only then is your rest on Shabbat a complete rest.

It is not sufficient for a person just to refrain from the formal categories of creative acts on Shabbat. Shabbat is the gift of peace of mind. This is not considered righteousness, but an essential aspect of Shabbat. Only by being a master over your negative emotions can you have true peace of mind.

I know the Shabbat can be one of the many “touchy points” between Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic and Hebrew Roots communities. If you are of the belief (as am I) that all of the parts of the Torah apply exclusively to the Jewish people and only certain portions can be said to apply to the rest of humanity, then you are left with the question of what should a Gentile do for Shabbat (if anything at all)?

I know all the arguments (I think). Hashem sanctified (made Holy) the Seventh Day and “rested” on it (God doesn’t get tired so He doesn’t “rest” in the conventional sense). If the Sabbath was created well before the Torah was given, how can it be a “Jewish-only” thing?

But then there’s the fact that the Sabbath is a sign of the Sinai Covenant which was indeed given exclusively to the Children of Israel. Yes, the “mixed multitude” was there, but in receiving the Covenant, they became permanent residents within Israel and on the third generation, their descendants were absorbed into the tribes. No, there’s no leverage for saying Gentiles received the Torah at Sinai as well.

However, Isaiah 56:1-8 famously declares that “foreigners who keep from profaning the Shabbat…will be made joyful in Hashem’s House of Prayer” (Holy Temple in Jerusalem).

So how do those two contradictory viewpoints resolve?

It’s been suggested that how a Jew and Gentile approach the Shabbat has fundamental differences. A Jew observes the Shabbat while a Gentile merely recognizes its holiness. But what does that mean?

R. Packouz’s Dvar Torah may have given us an inadvertent clue (it’s doubtful he was writing to people like me). In his commentary on Purim, he spoke of the “secret to happiness,” saying in part:

People often think that the secret of happiness must be some hidden Kabbalistic mystery or exotic activity. The truth is that it’s simple and easy to understand. It’s something every person knows, but just doesn’t focus that he knows it.

Happiness is the pleasure you have in appreciating what you have; it is looking at the glass as half full. It says in Pirke Avot 4:1 (“Ethics of Our Fathers” — found in the back of most Jewish prayerbooks), “Who is the rich man? He who is happy with his portion”. There used to be a common motivational sign during the Depression hanging in businesses in the United States: “I was sad that I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.”

Happiness is not dependent upon material acquisition. There are plenty of people who have what you desire and they are not happy.

In my opinion, we “Hebraically-aware Gentiles” were never given the full set of Torah observances were the Jews (Acts 15 backs me up), so a lot of us have gone through what I call “Torah envy.” We want what the Jews have and some folks out there go right ahead and claim it for themselves through one process or another.

But according to the Sages, who is rich? He (or she) who is happy with their lot. That is, it’s very possible to be happy and not have everything someone else has and in fact, even if you had it, that possession might not make you happy.happyGoing back to R. Pliskin, the character and nature of any given Jewish person doesn’t change on the Shabbat. The person with a bad temper still has a bad temper. However, in honor of the Shabbat, he/she choses not to express it (in Judaism, some believe Hashem grants the Jew an additional “soul” on the Shabbat). Even more, you can use the sanctity of the Shabbat to learn to permanently “uproot” negative traits and generally become a better person over time.

If the non-Jew was not given the Shabbat relative to all of the specific observances, we can still choose to honor God as Creator of the Universe (and all human beings were created by Hashem) by “elevating” ourselves and choosing to be a little happier than we are the rest of the week or even choosing to become better people over time. We can take the life we’ve been given (not everyone can be Jewish) and appreciate what we have been granted by God rather than bemoaning our state as a non-covenant people. After all, through our devotion to Rav Yeshua and by his merit, we have been granted many of the blessings of the New Covenant without being named recipients.

What’s not to like?

“Happiness is not doing what you enjoy, but enjoying what you do.”

-Anonymous

Book Review: “Ten Parts in the King”

ten parts

When Pete Rambo asked me to review the book Ten Parts in the King which he co-wrote with Albert J. McCarn, I didn’t think much of it. I’ve reviewed a number of books on this and other blogs over the years, so I figured it would be just one more. Once it arrived in the mail, I pretty much ignored it until I had the bandwidth to give it a look. Then I realized that the topic and I weren’t going to get along very well.

The book isn’t available at Amazon, but according the summary at Key of David Publishing:

Ten Parts in the King offers an explanation for the Torah Awakening among Christians, linking it to the prophecies of Israel’s restoration. Every part of Scripture, from Moses to the Prophets to the Apostles, points to the restoration of both parts of Israel: the Jewish House of Judah, and the non-Jewish House of Israel, also known as Joseph and Ephraim. The Jewish people have been the visible portion of the nation for millennia, but now in the latter days the House of Joseph/Ephraim is becoming visible as Christians embrace the Hebrew roots of their faith. For millennia, these Two Witnesses have provided testimony of God’s sovereignty, faithfulness, and desire to fulfill His covenant promises of redemption. Without both witnesses, the testimony of the Creator and the fulfillment of His redemptive plans remains incomplete.

In other words, it was written in support of what is called Two-House Theology, the idea that those people who are not Jewish but who are believers and attracted to the teachings of the Torah are or must be the figurative or literal descendents of the “ten lost tribes of Israel.”

I like to think of myself as a fair reviewer, but as I was reading, I wondered how was I going to be impartial about a topic with which I disagree?

I took copious notes while reading, the majority of which I’m not going to use in this review. If I did, I might as well write a book of my own.

Much of the book builds a case for the literal existence of the “lost ten tribes” not only in the distant past, but during the time of Jesus and into today. The explanation for what the authors call a “Torah Awakening” among non-Jewish believers is that such a population is naturally drawn to the Torah due to being “Israel.”

The book makes a strong distinction between being Jewish and being “Israel” stating that all Jews are Israel but not all Israel is Jewish. But then who is non-Jewish Israel?

To cut to the chase, the answer is presented on p. 138:

So how does one get to be part of this New Covenant? This is where our Christian training is of such great value. We enter by faith in Messiah Yeshua, by the grace of YHVH his Father. It is not by works or by any act designed to attain our own righteousness, but by appropriating the free gift of God which Christians call salvation, and which Jews call redemption. Once we attach ourselves to the King of Israel (Yeshua, Son of David and heir to David’s throne), then we become his subjects and citizens of his kingdom. That means we become Israelites, regardless of our ancestry. (emph. mine)

That sounds suspiciously like “Christians are spiritual Israel” which I’ve heard before both in the Church and within Hebrew Roots communities.

The authors insist this isn’t a form of Replacement Theology or Supersessionism since they are not replacing the Jews but rather standing alongside of them as part of Israel. And yet, the only qualification for being an “Israelite” and thus inheriting all of God’s Covenant promises to “the House of Judah and the House of Israel” is to be a Gentile who professes faith in Jesus Christ.

So now all Christians everywhere are Israelites. But what about the rest of the world?

On page 95, it says that:

As we shall see in our investigation of the New Covenant, YHVH did not extend salvation to any other nation than Israel. More specifically, when he declared the New Covenant, he stated that he would make it with the House of Israel and the House of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12). Therefore, whoever will avail themselves of this salvation must somehow become affiliated with the nation of Israel.

That seems to totally ignore all of God’s promises of the redemption of the non-Israelite nations of the world and God’s concerns over all the people of Creation. After all, God created all human beings in His image and Adam, Havah (Eve), their children, and Noah and his children all were considered precious by God before the time of Abraham, and of Issac, and of Jacob.

Also consider:

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from His people.”
Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath and holds fast My covenant;

Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

-Isaiah 56:3, 6-7 (NASB)

If, as the authors suggest, only Judah and Israel are considered by God, how are we to understand this prophesy? After all, Israel would not be considered foreigners or strangers, so the object of the prophesy must be another people group and, as verse seven states, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” (emph. mine).

Even during the time of Jesus, Gentiles were, with some restrictions, allowed to bring sacrifices to Herod’s Temple, and in his dedication of the Temple, King Solomon (I Kings 8:41-43) also addressed the prayers of “foreigner who is not of Your people Israel,” so it is not only possible, but within God’s plan to minister to all the nations of the Earth.

Also considering Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, and Revelation 22:1-5, “Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.” If it’s just the House of Judah and House of Israel, then where does “every” come from?

I could say a great deal more. After all, I did take several pages of detailed notes, but I think I’ve hit the key points. While it is obvious that the authors put a great deal of time, energy, and research into crafting this text, in the end, if your basic premise is off base, so too will be your conclusions.

My personal opinion is that God has a plan for the redemption of the nation of Israel (and in this case, the modern expression of that is the Jewish people) and the rest of us, that is the non-Jewish/non-Israeli/non-Covenant nations of the Earth through God’s New Covenant promises to the Jewish people and our devotion to Rav Yeshua, Jesus Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant.

You don’t have to be Israel for God to love you and plan to redeem you. Yes, it all flows through Israel as central in God’s plan, but as the light to the world, Israel’s King is available to the rest of us if we are so willing.

So does all this mean I think the book was horrible? No. Like I said, it’s obvious Pete and McCarn put a lot of effort into it and the text is a work of their hearts. Certainly if you really want to find out what adherents to “Two-House Theology” believe and why, this will tell you in great detail. Perhaps, in spite of my review, you’ll even be convinced (and I sort of wonder if one of the reasons Pete sent it to me was to see if I could be convinced).

On the other hand, the book also has serious problems in terms of having to rather creatively interpret who and what “Israel” is in order to figure out how the non-Covenant nations can also acquire the blessings of salvation and the resurrection to come without being of “the House of Judah” and “the House of Israel.”

You can learn more about this book at Pete Rambo’s blog and the book’s website.

The Unchosen

I wrote this as a fictional story on “Powered by Robots” but one of my readers, ProclaimLiberty suggested that it might be an appropriate reblog here for those “Messianic Gentiles” who may feel spiritually or theologically “abandoned” within this movement.

Powered by Robots

leaving church Image found at beliefnet.com

“I’m sorry Norman, but as long as you continue to sin, you are not welcome in this church.”

Norman Walker had been attending First Church of the Baptism for over a year now. At first Pastor William “Billy” Hubbard was excited that someone in his twenties wanted to attend. Over half the current membership was over fifty and they needed to be able to reach out to the next generation. Most of the younger people who worshiped on Sundays were the children or grandchildren of the aging parishioners. They just weren’t bringing in very many young converts.

“I love her, Billy. We’re going to get married.”

“It’s not only a matter of getting married to Chrissie. You have to repent of your sin with her. In fact, you should probably either move out or have her live elsewhere until after the wedding.”

“I can’t do that…

View original post 1,114 more words

Book Review: 5 Minute Torah by Darren Huckey

5 minute torah
Found at the Emet HaTorah website.

Darren Huckey asked me to review his book 5 Minute Torah: Messianic Insights Into The Weekly Torah Portion which was published last fall, and to that end, mailed me a copy. It really lives up to its title.

Good Things

This is a terrific beginner’s Torah study for Messianic newbies. Beyond a short introduction, the entire book consists of a brief study of each parashah (portion) of the annual Torah reading. No matter when you buy the book and start studying the portions for each Shabbat, you can dive right in.

Although advertised as a five-minute study per Torah portion, to me they were about two-and-a-half minutes but then I read fast and, after many years of study, a lot of the material seemed pretty familiar. Darren didn’t pull all of the commentaries from his own knowledge, but rather relied on the published insights of such sages as Rashi, Rambam, Ramban, as well as some Chassidic interpretations. The Bible translation used is the ESV which isn’t my favorite but you can’t have everything.

All in all, as I’ve said, this is a very good beginner’s Torah study guide for the non-Jew in the Messianic community (or Jew who has absolutely no background in Torah study perhaps having spent most of their religious life in the Church) or mainstream Christian to start out with. It’s completely approachable and easily digestible.

Darren also points the reader toward calendars for the current Torah cycle including those that reference the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) as well as the Torah, Prophets, and Writings.

Concerns

Since Darren stated that he used specific sources for his commentaries, I’d have liked to have seen those sources cited for a number of reasons. First off, there are many opinions in the world of the Jewish sages that have been collected for hundreds or even thousands of years and not all of them agree. In Christianity, disagreement among theological authorities is seen with worry but in Judaism it’s pretty much the norm and dynamic tension is much better tolerated. But for the someone completely new to Torah study, I think it would help to know who said what. Those sorts of brief citations can be commonly found in my copies of the Chumash and Tanakh.

Also, in a published work, there are customary methods of identifying information that is not original but created by another authority. Typically, authors or organizations want to be acknowledged when their material is being used by someone else.

Finally, since this is a beginner’s guide, the reader might want to know where to go next after they’ve progressed beyond what is offered in this resource, so those citations could have been used as road signs pointing ahead, so to speak.

The only other thing I can think of is that Darren, at the very end of his book, could have added a few pages of “where to go next” for more involved Torah study resources, Messianic and otherwise. I know when I get my hands on a hot resource that whets my appetite, I want to start reading a lot of other stuff and I think Darren is well-positioned to offer such guidance to his audience.

I’m also putting this review on Amazon.

How is Messianic Judaism “Trending?”

the crowdMy stats say this blog has a little over 900 followers and while that doesn’t put me anywhere in the same neighborhood as TechCrunch, it does mean that at least potentially, a few people out there are visiting and reading my content (and thank you for doing so, especially since I don’t post here nearly as frequently as I have in the past).

In answering a comment on my previous missive, I found myself wondering about the current state of Messianic Judaism (or whatever you want to call it) and whether or not it is growing, shrinking, or just holding steady. That is, how is MJ “trending” in terms of population?

It’s the sort of question I’d love to dig into but I haven’t the faintest idea where to go to find valid numbers. I know there are probably individual Messianic organizations that likely keep track of their numbers, but I can’t think of any one central repository that could tell me if MJ is gaining or losing ground.

Why should I care?

Because I wonder how many people there are out in the world like me.

I once belonged to a private Facebook group made up of Christians who are “unchurched.” The term “unchurched” usually means people who don’t go to church, but in this context it describes Christians who remain in the faith but who no longer attend a formal congregation. Usually they meet in small, home groups because “church” in one way or another, no longer suits their needs.

I left that Facebook group when I saw them using the Bible to somehow justify that large, organized bodies of believers isn’t supported by scripture. Of course, I had to bring in Temple worship, plus the system of synagogues that existed during Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) “earthly ministry” which even Rav Yeshua attended.

I got a lot of blowback and I know how much fun that is from maintaining a presence in the religious blogosphere for so many years, so I dropped that association like an angry rattlesnake.

I have lots and lots of reasons for not being involved in any sort of faith community anymore, some are relative to theology and doctrine and some are personal. One has to do with being intermarried to a Jewish spouse and how my affiliation with organized Christianity (including the Messianic movement) impacts her. No, she’d never say I couldn’t worship as I see fit, but we’ve been married nearly thirty-five years and I can tell how my “praying with the enemy” (metaphorically speaking) affects her.

Every once in a blue moon I catch myself missing such congregational meetings, but in the end, the liabilities involved still outweigh the benefits.

How many others who have previously been regularly involved and integrated into some sort of formal Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots group have since dropped away to march to the beat of their own drummer? Believe me, I can see why folks would fall away, either to go back to the normative Church or to attend no congregation at all, but how can we find out about them?

Of course this begs the larger question of the state of Christianity. Is the normative Church shrinking? If so, then maybe a shrinking Messianic movement (though I have no idea if it is shrinking) is understandable in that context.

A quick Google search wasn’t particularly illuminating.

The Washington Post published a January 2017 article called Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving but Thom S. Rainer’s blog (President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources) posted a September 2016 blog post titled Five Reasons Churches are Dying and Declining Faster Today. ChurchLeaders.com produced a December 2017 article that was way too long but reported mixed trends depending on location and church size, and The Gospel Coalition created a March 2015 “fact checker” that seemed to say conservative churches weren’t growing as fast as they once were but were still growing, while “mainline” churches which had strayed away from “Biblical Christianity” were on the decline.

However that’s normative Christianity, not Messianic Judaism.

So does anyone really know how MJ is doing and if so, what’s your source of information?

"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman