Tag Archives: controversy

Hurtado on the “Conversion” of Paul

The Jewish PaulI finally got around to reading Larry Hurtado’s blog post The “Conversion” of Paul and found it illuminating. Here are the two most telling paragraphs:

But it’s a genuine question among scholars whether Paul understood himself as having undergone a “conversion,” at least in the sense that the word typically has. He didn’t move from irreligion to a religious life, from being a sinful man to virtue. And he didn’t change his God, or denounce his ancestral religious tradition. Instead, he expresses the strong conviction that the God he had always sought to serve showed him his blindness in opposing the Jesus-movement, revealed (Paul’s word) Jesus’ high/unique status, and summoned Paul to a special mission that he believed would usher in (or at least promote markedly) the consummation of the divine plan of world-redemption.

So, some scholars prefer to characterize Paul’s shift in religious orientation as a prophet-like “calling” rather than a “conversion” (as influentially proposed by Krister Stendahl). Others, such as Alan Segal, contended that “conversion” was appropriate, as the term can include a change from one version of a religious tradition to another, such as a Roman Catholic becoming a Baptist. So, Segal urged, Paul shifted from one understanding of what his God required to another very different one, and from opposition to the Jesus-movement to aligning himself with it.

Anyone who has read this blogspot for very long knows I don’t consider Paul (or Rav Shaul if you prefer) a convert, but rather someone who received a “Prophet-like” calling (to use Hurtado’s phrase) to become Rav Yeshua’s (Jesus Christ’s) emissary to the Gentiles.

What’s really cool though, is Hurtado, a well-known and respected New Testament scholar, holds a view of Paul that you would hardly find preached in most normative Christian churches.

I still find it surprising that what the Church teaches (and I’m using the word “Church” in the broadest possible sense) is so at odds with the continuing research being done on the New Testament in general and on Paul specifically.

I suppose one explanation could be that, Christian (and Jewish) tradition about Paul being what it is, the average Christian sitting in the pew on Sunday wouldn’t tolerate a radical update to his/her doctrine. In order to make supersessionist/replacement theology work, Paul had to convert from the Judaism of his day to early Christianity. Most Jews and probably even some Christians believe that Paul even founded Christianity, converting it from a branch of ancient Judaism to a wholly Gentile religion.

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

Hurtado’s reply to one of his readers continues to establish his views on the Apostle, complete with Biblical citations:

Well, Michael, to go by his own testimony, Paul/Saul remained a devoted Jew, even in his ministry as “apostle to the nations” (e.g., Philip 3:4ff; 2 Cor 11:21ff.). But you put your finger on the historical phenomenon that I’ve worked on for over 30 yrs now, offering the best answers that I can find to the various component questions. Paul’s own statement (Gal 1:13ff) is that he shifted from opponent of the Jesus-movement to proponent when “God revealed his Son to me”. So, he accepted the exalted status of Jesus as thoroughly compatible with his commitment to the uniqueness of the God of Israel precisely because he was convinced (by a “revelation”) that this one God had himself exalted Jesus and now required him to be acknowledged and reverenced. In short, if God approved, who was he to withstand it?

In 2 Cor 3:7–4:6, Paul’s description of fellow members of Israel who don’t perceive/accept Jesus as “Lord” pictures them as having a veil over their minds. But “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16).

We have to form our notions of what “Jewish traditions and biblical monotheism” could include based on the evidence, not preconceptions. And, as I showed in my 1988 book, One God, One Lord (3rd ed., 2015), “ancient Jewish Monotheism” could accommodate some amazing things.

Moreover, Paul was and remained a Jew, and so even the remarkable view of Jesus that he accepted must be included as one of the developments initially within 2nd temple Jewish tradition.

Coffee and BibleI’m probably just recycling things I’ve written in the past, but frankly, I learn more about what the Bible is actually saying by studying scholarly works rather than listening to a Pastor’s sermon or going to Sunday School.

I wish I could make blogs like Hurtado’s  “required reading” for all churches everywhere, but, in my  opinion, many or most Christians don’t want to actually learn anything new. They are quite content to have their theology “settled”.

Dr. Michael Brown Wasted Tim Hegg’s Time and Mine

I hadn’t intended to, especially since Keith had already done such a good job of it, but I ended up listening to the Line of Fire debate between Dr. Michael Brown and Tim Hegg on Does God Require All Believers to Observe the Torah with the intention of writing a review. Different sources continued to urge me to listen to the podcast and so I finally found myself one evening clicking the link.

I wish I hadn’t but maybe not for the reasons you think. I knew that Dr. Brown often took on controversial subjects in his interviews and debates on his radio show, but I’d forgotten how adversarial and contentious these dialogues could be. Dr. Brown obviously had an agenda from the start and I believe it was a mistake for Mr. Hegg to agree to debate him. After listening to less than thirty minutes of the exchange between them, I decided I never wanted to go within a mile of Dr. Brown or, given the current state of telecommunications, have any sort of direct link to him regardless of our relative geographical locations.

Let me explain.

Keith’s review, which I cited above, is absolutely correct in saying that Mr. Hegg, who is probably the leading proponent of the One Law/One Torah position for Gentile believers, seemed not to be able to communicate his viewpoint in a clear, straightforward manner. I listened to Hegg fumble with answers, not be able to focus on responding to a very specific, direct question, and wander all over the Bible, almost rambling, in an attempt to answer each of Dr. Brown’s queries.

I’ve met Hegg on a number of occasions and have found him to be a generally well-educated, intelligently spoken, knowledgable, organized individual. I don’t agree with his basic interpretation of the Bible, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect where he’s coming from.

However, when on Dr. Brown’s radio show, Hegg seemed totally out of his depth, as if he were a first year theology student suddenly thrown into a debate with the heads of his department and asked to defend doctrinal positions which he barely comprehended. Hegg was a mess.

Tim Hegg
Tim Hegg

To be fair though, it was abundantly clear that Brown was using all of the standard tactics to put Hegg off from the second the show went on the air. Brown defined the parameters of the debate, he asked leading and misleading questions, he verbally painted Hegg in a corner, he talked over him, and repeatedly interrupted him, even when Brown said he would give Hegg full rein to state his position. Invariably, Brown would interrupt Hegg in mid-sentence, saying yet another station break was coming up and that he was only seeking clarification for the sake of his listeners.

I have a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology with fifteen years of post-graduate experience before changing careers and in my current employment, I report directly to the Vice President of Marketing. I know when someone’s trying to pull a fast one and manipulate not only the “interviewee” but the audience.

If I had been Hegg, I would have been deeply frustrated and embarrassed. He never had a chance to have a fair hearing regarding his beliefs. That may have been part of the reason that Hegg seemed so confused. He could never finish a complete thought.

To be fair in the other direction, Hegg, even at the beginning when there wasn’t as much pressure, didn’t seem to know how to form a short, simple, complete answer. I don’t know. Maybe he wasn’t used to a radio interview format. On the other hand (again), while Brown said this was supposed to be a “friendly” conversation rather than a debate, the way Brown went after Hegg was anything but friendly. Brown didn’t seem to be interested in finding out what Hegg believed, he seemed, like many entertainers, to want to produce the maximum drama for his radio audience. I don’t care if he does have the word “doctor” in front of his name.

Conclusion: The debate was a waste of time. Listening to it was a waste of my time and participating in it was a waste of Hegg’s time and probably his peace of mind. Like I said, I don’t agree with Hegg, but I certainly didn’t agree with Brown’s tactics, either. And from what little theological information Brown produced on his end, I had to conclude that he misunderstood the nature of the New Covenant and sadly has a classically Evangelical misunderstanding of what “fulfillment” is actually about (from my point of view).

Nothing in this “interview” changed my mind about Tim Hegg one way or the other but although I’ve had a sort of respect for Dr. Brown over the years based those few things I’ve heard of him, my estimation of the man sank to new depths based on this one hearing of his radio program. I can only imagine that Brown’s audience listens to his show for the same reasons the fans of Rush Limbaugh listen to his.

Rush Limbaugh
Rush Limbaugh

It isn’t about learning or education and it isn’t about trying to get to the truth on the so-called “Line of Fire” show. It’s all for the sake of entertainment and ratings, usually at the expense of the dignity of another human being. If Dr. Brown had bothered to take to heart the teachings of the Rabbis who speak of upholding the dignity of others, even if you believe your opponent is guilty of a terrible error, he probably would have conducted a very different interview. But then, he’d probably be out of a job if what his employer and his listeners want is to embarrass someone week after week. It’s about (metaphorically speaking) drawing first blood.

But the difference between Brown and Limbaugh is that Limbaugh doesn’t claim to serve Jesus Christ, the Savior of humanity, the one who gave his life for the redemption of many, even while we were still enemies. Limbaugh doesn’t claim to be a disciple of the Prince of Peace and the King of the Jews. Dr. Brown says he does.

More’s the pity.

But then again, behaving like a Christian and upholding such ideals wouldn’t make for a good radio show.

Addendum: I suspected that Tim Hegg wouldn’t just walk away from Dr. Brown’s radio show without some sort of subsequent response. Turns out Hegg has a radio show of his own and on the Rob and Caleb Show, presumably because ”several people asked if Tim (could) expand on some of the ideas he was posing but was not able to finish,” Hegg will appear on the Thursday, August 28th program at 2 p.m. (PST) which will be replayed the same day at 6 p.m. (PST) to answer and expand upon what he was trying to say on Brown’s show. I suppose if I were Hegg, I’d do the same thing.

This Can’t Be It

That-s-all-folks“Fear is the parent of cruelty.”

-James Anthony Froude

I’ve tried to be fearless in pursuit of God and chronicling my journey along the way. I can pretty much put up with name calling and people disagreeing with me. What I can’t tolerate is being the source of pain for other human beings, and yet no matter what I do or say, I end up hurting someone. I don’t think you can really blog in the religious space without stepping on toes, but we were commanded to love one another, not to step on each other’s toes.

Far from pronouncing judgment and condemnation and trying to constantly correct others, Yeshua taught his disciples to be peacemakers, merciful, meek, humble, patient, and longsuffering, even under persecution (Matthew 5:1-10). Rather than boasting about being right, we should seek to do what is right.

-Boaz Michael
“Becoming a Shaliach,” pg 95
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile

I’ve come that close to shutting down this blog on more than one occasion over the differences between being right and doing right, but never closer than I have with today’s “meditation.” I had a email “conversation” with a friend who both (without his realizing it) triggered the desire to close up shop and then encouraged me to keep on going. I won’t go into the details, but all kinds of misunderstandings can happen when we rely on the Internet for communication. I’m thankful that God is patient and that He gave me the time to reconsider my original course of action.

The image at the top of this missive was the one I originally selected and I decided to keep it because one: I love Looney Toons, and two: as a reminder that the show must go on.

You are not required to complete the task, you are not free to withdraw from it … but be aware that the reward of the righteous will be given in the World to Come.

-Pirkei Avot 2:21

strengthSo the sages say I can’t give up, even when I want to, even when I don’t think I’m doing such a good job, even when any blog post I create can be sharply diverted from its course by someone commenting off topic. I guess like Bugs Bunny and company, as well as everyone in show business has traditionally said (and as I said above), “the show must go on.”

But as I wrote yesterday, I need to spend a lot of time at the feet of my Master, learning, studying, meditating, and pondering on his words and his teachings. If what I do isn’t about serving God and showing love, then it’s not worth it at all. I need you, my readers, to understand that. I think a lot of you do, but there’s always the potential for the more “controversial issues” in the religious blogosphere to get in the way, especially through comments and conversation.

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:5 (NASB)

Even when I express frustration at what happens at church sometimes, I am absolutely not placing myself above the church or criticizing other human beings in the church. We’re all running madly along the edge of a razor blade anyway, desperate to not fall one way or the other and be sliced to ribbons on the blade of our own folly.

For man is born for trouble, As sparks fly upward.

Job 5:7 (NASB)

This much is true, but I’m reminded that in some corners of Judaism, the Divine in each of us can be seen as “sparks” and these “sparks” always desire to fly upward to rejoin their Source, the Holy One of Israel. This same train of thought states that we are all put into this life to search for very specific “sparks,” the shards of Divinity “with our name on them,” so to speak. It is our task to uncover these sparks to send them upward again. The world is in disguise, covered with mud, and blood, and worse, but that’s not how it was created and that’s not how it’s going to end up. Beneath the disguise is something beautiful. Beneath the masks of ugly, base humanity we wear, we are beautiful people made in God’s image. All we need to do is learn how to uncover the world and ourselves to see the beauty that God built into Creation and into us.

bugs-bunnyIf that is my mission, then as you can see, I have little time to focus on “negativity.” If I’m tempted to take pot shots at someone else or some organization, I should take the Master’s rather sarcastic words from Matthew 7:5 to heart.

The blog post I originally intended for today was difficult to write and I couldn’t think of a single portion of scripture that seemed to fit. After some reflection and no small amount of influence from the Holy Spirit, this “replacement” for today’s “morning meditation” is more in touch with who I believe I am in Messiah.

It’s funny how something as simple as a childhood memory can remind you of what’s really important. Thanks, Chuck Jones. You’ll never know how much of a hero you are, and through your artwork, humor, and a scrappy little “wascally wabbit,” how much you showed me that being down doesn’t mean being out. On with the show, this is it.

Overture, curtains, lights
This is it, you’ll hit the heights

Tonight what heights we’ll hit
On with the show this is it


Paul’s Sunday Shavuot

first-fruits-barleyThe period from Passover to Shavu’ot is a time of great anticipation. We count each of the days from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu’ot, 49 days or 7 full weeks, hence the name of the festival. The counting reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavu’ot: Passover freed us physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavu’ot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality. Shavu’ot is also known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day; however, Shavu’ot has no particular similarity to the Christian holiday of Pentecost, which occurs 50 days after their Spring holiday.

Shavu’ot is not tied to a particular calendar date, but to a counting from Passover. Because the length of the months used to be variable, determined by observation, and there are two new moons between Passover and Shavu’ot, Shavu’ot could occur on the 5th or 6th of Sivan. However, now that we have a mathematically determined calendar, and the months between Passover and Shavu’ot do not change length on the mathematical calendar, Shavu’ot is always on the 6th of Sivan.

– “Shavu’ot” at Judaism 101

The date of Shavuot is directly linked to that of Passover. On Passover, the Jewish people were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh; on Shavuot they were given the Law and became a nation committed to serving God. Shavuot is celebrated in Israel for one day and in the diaspora (outside of Israel) for two days. Reform Jews celebrate only one day, even in the diaspora. Karaite Jews and Christians believe that Shavuot always falls on a Sunday, while mainstream Jews follow the teaching of the Talmud, which holds that the holiday commences immediately after the “counting of the omer,” or 50 days after Passover.

– “Shavuot” at New World Encyclopedia

Last Sunday, my Pastor’s sermon from Leviticus 23 was on Shavu’ot/Pentecost. Like many Christians (and I had no idea Christians believed this before a few days ago), he believes that Shavuot must always fall on a Sunday for the following reasons:

The word “Sabbath” in this verse is assumed, by some, to be the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which has been deemed to be a “special Sabbath.” Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to assume that the first instance of “Sabbath” in Leviticus 23:15 indicates the special Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Aviv (or Nisan) 15—that is, the day after the Passover, Aviv 14. In thinking this way, their count of the Feast of Weeks would begin on the day after the 15th, which is the 16th. Many, if not most, Jewish rabbis begin the count here.

However, in Leviticus 23:16, it says, “Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath….” There are not special Sabbaths during each of the seven weeks during which the count is made. However, there are seven regular weekly Sabbaths. Therefore, the fifty-day count ends on Sunday, the day after the seventh weekly Sabbath (which is Saturday). That makes the first day of the fifty-day count to be a Sunday as well. So Shavuot = the Feast of Weeks = Pentecost always falls on a Sunday, although some believe that it can be on any day of the week, depending on the year.

– “How do you calculate the timing of Shavuot or Pentecost?”
at TedMontgomery.com

churchesI have no idea who Ted Montgomery is or why he’s considered an authority in this matter (and he should update his website design to something that doesn’t just scream, “1998!”), but what he has on his site is basically the same explanation Pastor gave in his sermon.

If he’s right, then Shavuot/Pentecost always occurring on a Sunday would have a great deal of meaning in Christianity and bolster the Christian tradition of having the official weekly worship day on a Sunday. I don’t know enough about it to have much of an opinion, but one of my personal “laws” (and I think almost everyone has this “law”) is that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

When I looked up the dates for Shavuot at Chabad.org, the holiday doesn’t always fall on a Sunday according to their calendar. In fact, this past year, since Shavuot is celebrated two days in the diaspora, Shavuot was observed on Wednesday, May 15th and Thursday, May 16th. Next year, it will also be held on a Wednesday and Thursday, but in early June.

How the dates for Shavuot are calculated depends on when you start counting. If it’s always on the first day after Passover, the day of the week Shavuot occurs will vary. If it’s always on the first day after the Saturday Shabbat, then it will always be on Sunday. Before last Sunday, the only way I heard that it was to be calculated was how Judaism traditionally recommends. Christianity, it seems, always comes up with little surprises for me.

I know that Christians, including my Pastor, will tell me that the calculation for the “Sunday-only” Shavuot/Pentecost is purely Biblical and thus, it doesn’t matter what Judaism and the Rabbis have to say about it. On the other hand, this observance was given to the Children of Israel well over a thousand years before the birth of Christ, so I’d have to give the Jewish people some “props” in how they choose to understand the Torah on this matter.

According to Pastor in his sermon, in Acts 20, we see Paul anxious to get to Jerusalem as soon as possible. Pastor tells us that this is because he wanted to arrive in time for Shauvot, but he asked an odd question. Why should it have mattered to Paul? He wasn’t a farmer. Shavuot is (or was) all about offering the first fruits of the wheat harvest to God at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. What was the big deal for Paul?

Pastor’s answer was not so much about the Jewish Shavuot as the Christian Pentecost. Because of the giving of the Holy Spirit in the original Acts 2 event and its meaning as the “birthday of the Church,” Paul wanted to get back to Jerusalem to commemorate the Christian side of the coin, so to speak, as opposed to observing one of the three pilgrim festivals that all Jews are commanded to attend in Jerusalem each year.

shavuot_two_loavesIt is true that based on Leviticus 23:15-22, it doesn’t seem as if Paul would rush right back to Jerusalem in order to offer a personal wave offering of two loaves of bread along with the lamb and drink offerings. But then again, in the same sermon, Pastor said that the offerings recorded in those scriptures weren’t personal offerings but were offered for the entire assembly of Israel, so Paul wouldn’t have had to be a farmer  with a personal sacrifices to offer to desire to be present at the Temple. He just had to be a Jew.

We see in Acts 2 that thousands upon thousands of Jews from the diaspora were present in Jerusalem for Shavuot. Could they have been responding to this?

“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God (emph. mine).

Exodus 23:14-17 (NASB)

You can find similar language commanding Jewish people to appear at the Temple in Jerusalem for Shavuot in Exodus 34:21-24, Numbers 28:26-31, and Deuteronomy 16:9-12. I’m not saying that the Acts 2 event had no meaning for Paul and that it didn’t add a tremendous dimension to Shavuot for Paul and the other Jewish apostles and disciples, but it would hardly be disconnected from the commandments of God for the Jewish people and Jewish obedience to the Torah of Moses. There’s no reason to believe the Christian conceptualization of Pentecost would have unplugged the festival from the Jewish Shavuot.

After all. Pastor acknowledged in his sermon that one of the names for Shavuot is “Z’man Mattan Toratenu” or “The Time of the Giving of the Law (Torah).” In his sermon, he affirmed that it is quite Biblical to believe that, given the timing of the Exodus from Egypt, that the Children of Israel could have been at Sinai for the giving of the Torah on the traditional date for Shavuot.

For Paul then, the linkage between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Spirit would have been inescapable and been seen as a dramatic illustration of God’s continual graciousness to the Jewish people as a light to the world and as the means by which Israel and the nations would be redeemed.

While I strongly believe that the coming of Jesus, his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father represents a revolutionary event in the course of human history and the plan of God for both the Jewish people and the people of the nations, it was and is also the predictable, prophesied, and logical extension of God’s plan across time, not a radical departure shifting from God’s “plan A” to “plan B.”

The past several blog posts where I mention my Pastor, I know it seems as if I’m really butting heads with him, so to speak. While we don’t always see eye to eye, I have great respect for him and I thought last Sunday’s sermon especially was informative and illuminating. In fact, the highlight of my church attendance every Sunday is his sermon. As you can see, he provides me with a lot of food for thought.

ShavuotI know why Christians count the Sabbaths from Passover to Shavuot as they do. The symbolism relative to Pentecost and Sunday is exceptionally compelling given Christian tradition. I can also understand why Judaism would calculate it differently based on disconnecting the Jewish Shavuot from the Christian Pentecost. On the other hand, that doesn’t make the Christian calculation right and the Jewish calculation wrong (or vice versa). Even if Shavuot/Pentecost occurs annually according to the Jewish calendar, that hardly devalues the meaning of the holiday for believing Jews and Gentile Christians. Christians just don’t have to work so hard to disconnect Pentecost from its original and ongoing meaning in Judaism. If there will be a Third Temple as both Pastor and I believe, then those offerings will once again be upon the altar in Jerusalem in Messianic days.

Why was Paul in such a hurry to get to Jerusalem before the festival of Shavuot? We can’t derive his exact intent from the text of Acts 20. However, reason, history, and the Torah tells us that he needed no other reason than because he was Jewish. If he had other reasons, then we will learn those after the time of Messiah’s return, may he come swiftly and in our day.

Unpopular Righteousness

unpopularThe ascent of the soul occurs three times daily, during the three times of davening. This is particularly true of the souls of tzadikim who “go from strength to strength.” It is certain that at all times and in every sacred place they may be, they offer invocation and prayer on behalf of those who are bound to them and to their instructions, and who observe their instructions. They offer prayer in particular for their disciples and disciples’ disciples, that G-d be their aid, materially and spiritually.

-Today’s Day
Hayom Yom: Iyar29, 44th day of the omer
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

There is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the Torah.

-Ethics of the Fathers, 6:2

I had a great idea for a blog post last night before I went to bed. It communicated what I thought we all should be talking about with each other, not only on our blogs, but face-to-face, in our emails, in our phone calls, in every way possible…the communication and communion of holiness.

But then I went to sleep, and when I woke up, it was gone. I’m disappointed because the drive to write it is still within me. But now, I can’t give it expression.

This morning (as I write this), I read Derek Leman’s blog post What is Popular on a Messianic Blog?. I try to steer away from being identified as a “messianic blog” because it limits the audience I attract and fails to communicate that the message of Messiah is for all people, not just “messianics,” and for that matter, not just for “Christians.” The message of the love of God for humanity is for…humanity.

But Derek has a point.

Hands down, and no surprise, the winner of the numbers game is controversy. My leading blog post of the past year was an expose I did on Jim Staley, a Two House and Hebrew roots teaching pastor in Missouri, called “The Messianic Wall of Weird, #2.” And when Ralph Messer wrapped a pastor in a Torah scroll, told the pastor he was royalty in God’s eyes, and promised this bizarre misuse of a sacred object in Jewish life would restore this pastor from his problems, that blog post got a ton of readers (“Ralph Messer is Not a Messianic Jewish Rabbi”). A few critiques of Tim Hegg I have written have drawn many readers, but also lost me many readers, as some fans of Tim Hegg did not appreciate the criticism I threw his way. Of course, we should not be surprised that controversy is popular.

Controversy (especially if negative and more so if tied to a popular figure or current event).

My response to Derek’s missive was to compare this sort of “popularity” to a car accident with horrible human injuries, or NASCAR, where the attraction is the “hope” that there’ll be a massive pile up of cars traveling at high rates of speed, visions of body parts flying about the landscape fairly dancing in the minds of the fans.

OK, that’s probably a little harsh and I don’t doubt I owe an apology to many NASCAR fans out there.

But I also think I’m correct in that what draws a large, vocal audience tends not to be topics of substance but topics of controversy, especially if it’s ugly and there’s an opportunity to “spill blood,” in a virtual sense.

rock_starBut now I’m the one straying into the realm of controversy. See how tempting it is?

Tim at Onesimus Files posted a link to a highly “popular” blog post called When Rock-Star Preachers Spew a False Gospel published at Charisma News. The topic of “rock star preachers” is of interest to me because of my recent comments on “Biblical sufficiency” related to Part 1 and Part 2 of my commentary on John F. MacArthur (no, MacArthur’s not a “rock star preacher,” quite the opposite).

Drama is like blood in the water and we are all sharks looking for the next feeding frenzy.

But is that the way God wants us to be?

The Chofetz Chaim writes that because we are so involved in worldly matters, we lose our sensitivity to the great amount of joy we can potentially experience when performing a mitzvah (good deed). He offers the analogy of a man who was granted an audience with a powerful ruler. Imagine that the ruler is greatly impressed with the man, and has the conversation recorded in his personal diary. What a thrill! Upon returning home, the man’s face would glow with elation as he retells his experience to all his friends and neighbors. Even if he’d previously been worried over personal problems, he’d quickly forget them! Over the next years, whenever he’d meet others at some gathering, his successful meeting with the ruler would invariably be the topic of conversation.

Says the Chofetz Chaim: If this is the joy of someone who found favor with a mortal (who will eventually die and whose glory is short-lived), all the more so should we feel joy when we doing something which finds favor with the eternal Creator of the universe. Even afterward, when recalling the good deed, we will feel a glow of pleasure. In fact, the Torah (Deut. 28:47) stresses that we should feel more joy in serving the Almighty than from all other pleasures that exist.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #813: Being in the Almighty’s Favor”

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13:34

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

I suppose I could be criticized for choosing specifically optimistic and encouraging examples of scripture to place here, but then again, if you value the Word of God at all, you shouldn’t ignore them, either.

kindnessWhy do we do good? For the benefit of those around us. This is what God desires. However there is another motive. Each mitzvah we perform, each morsel of food or drink we give to a homeless person, each child’s skinned knee we put a band-aid on and kiss, each smile we give to a person we’re visiting in the hospital, not only helps the lonely and injured and not only helps the loneliness and injury within us, but it brings us closer to God.

We do good because only God is good (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). Only God is One (Deut. 6:4). Only by loving God can we love anyone else in the way God designed us to love (Matthew 22:34-40).

I could quote at length from the comments section of some “religious blogs” the transactions of believers who do not seem to be loving each other at all. Occasionally, I try to introduce the voice of reason and yes, of love, but I don’t know if it does any good. On the other hand, it’s difficult to ignore some of these venues. There are people out there who feel they have been badly hurt (and some of them really have) by a “church experience,” and in reaction, they say harsh things about all Christians in churches (and sometimes about Jewish people in synagogues). Reading some of their material is like watching someone terribly injured and bleeding while trapped in the wreckage of a disastrous car accident (and I’ve written about this before). It’s horrible to look at but I can’t turn away. I want desperately to help, but I don’t know how to get them out of the ghastly mess.

(I should say that I wrote this particular blog post several days before my controversial missive but this one was scheduled to be published while I was away from home.)

What do you do when someone is hurt, has been hurt for a long, long time, and yet doesn’t want to be helped? What do you do with people who totally identify with being hurt, who are defined by being hurt, by being victims, and yet don’t want to let go of the pain, even when they know that if they did finally, finally let go, they would be much better human beings…the people God intended them to be?

Is there “power” in playing the victim role? Absolutely. Look back to what I said before about “popular” blogs. Controversy, pain, “blood in the water,” arguments about who is a “true believer” and who is an “apostate” rule the religious web. Everything else, righteousness, holiness, goodness, devotion…all that stuff is boring. Who wants to read it? No one.

Well, that may be an exaggeration, probably a gross exaggeration. I suspect a “silent majority” of people do read about righteousness, holiness, goodness, and devotion, and absorb it into their beings like a starving child voraciously consumes a glass of milk. It’s just that most of them don’t talk about it, don’t comment on blogs, don’t demand to hear more, don’t speak out dynamically, don’t become impassioned, at least in any way we can see in the blogosphere.

As you’re reading this, I’m at First Fruits of Zion’s Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. Through the miracle of scheduling blog posts, I can write this “last week” and have it become visible on the web Wednesday morning. I hadn’t intended to have new “mediations” be published while away from home, but as I said above, something is driving me to write about what we never talk about, or at least what is never “popular” to talk about.

doing_goodIt could be argued that something is only popular if it produces positive results within its audience and controversy rarely does that. Certainly the common definitions for the word “popular” include “regarded with favor, approval, or affection.” Can controversy be regarded with “affection?” On the other hand, look at what’s “popular” in our world today. Consider the TV shows with the highest ratings. What about movies, music, celebrities? Are these popular things and people always examples of righteousness, holiness, goodness, and devotion, or are they mere reflections of the moral state of our society? I suggest we try to do what is “unpopular.” As people of faith, we must go against the general grain if it violates what we are taught by our Master and Teacher.

The commentary for Pirkei Avot 6:2 states:

Why the roundabout, “negative” wording of the mishnah? Why not simply say “True freedom is attained through Torah”?

Man is a finite being, and everything he possesses and is capable of achieving is likewise finite in scope and extent. It would, therefore, follow that there is no such thing as a free human being. Not only do the proud, the envious, the ignorant and the greedy live in their own prison, but even the most emotionally stable and content individual, blessed with the most plentiful resources and leading the most uninhibited of lives, is still subservient to his own inherent limitations.

Thus, our mishnah opens with the statement, “There is no free individual.” But one who occupies himself with Torah, subordinating his mind and self to the wisdom and will of the Almighty, transcends this most basic nature of every created thing.

Torah defies the unbridgeable gap between the finite and the infinite. It is the wisdom and will of G-d, articulated in terms that the human being can comprehend, relate to and implement in his life. One who submits to the servitude of a life devoted to Torah experiences the freedom that eludes the most “independent” of men.

We also learn something important from Paul:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17

white-pigeon-kotelToday, I’m attending a conference dedicated to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of those gifts as I see it, is fellowship and community within the body of Jewish and Gentile believers. One might even say that I am participating in “echad” or a sense of “oneness” within the body of Messiah, though it contains many dissimilar parts.

We are commanded to love one another. I think that means we should love each other even if we don’t always like each other. I know I’m not always likeable, but I pray that God finds me always loveable, through His abundant grace and mercy. And if He can love me, He can love anyone. That means I should love anyone, too.

And showing love, more than any act of superficiality or ceremony is what it is to be righteous and holy to God. May the injured find healing in Him.

A person with humility is able to accept misfortunes and suffering. The arrogant person, however, is not able to tolerate these events.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

“To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”

-Charles-Louis de Montesquieu

133 days.