Tag Archives: cooperation

Working Together

And we are human, after all. Our humanly unique sense of self is partially framed and reinforced by our awareness of that self in relation to others. It’s only human nature to hope you might be in some way “better” than others — smarter, possessing of higher status, more resources, and greater physical attractiveness — even if that’s not always the case. From there, it’s only a short step toward actively seeking out the more negative aspects of others to feel better by comparison. And once we’ve begun to indulge in those self-gratifying judgments, it’s hard to stop. How else can you explain American’s fascination with reality TV? Next to Honey Boo-Boo and the Duggars, we all look pretty good, right?

Wrong.

Research has also shown that people who seek out and comment upon negative traits and behaviors in others are often highly anxious about those very same traits in themselves.

-Leslie Turnbull
from the article “Don’t Judge Me”
The Week

bullyingAccording to this magazine story based, supposedly, on research, it’s natural for human beings to be judgmental, it just makes us unhappy. I suppose that might mean that it’s not natural for a person to give the other guy or gal the benefit of the doubt and to judge them favorably.

However, in Judaism, it is considered desirable to judge others favorably:

Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a master, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every man to the side of merit (emph. mine).

Pirkei Avot 1:6

Now let’s expand our information base to include the Apostolic Scriptures, which also, I believe, qualifies as Jewish wisdom.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4 (NASB)

Also…

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3:14-18

James (Jacob or Ya’akov), the brother of Rav Yeshua (Jesus), writes that jealousy, selfish ambition, and arrogance are also natural for human beings, and he calls these qualities “earthly, natural, demonic.”

Not a pretty picture.

He advocates for behaving gently, reasonably, and treating others with mercy.

The Jewish PaulAs students of the teachings of Yeshua as they are interpreted for the Gentiles by the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul), we really need to be different from the world, behaving “unnaturally”, and as a “light to the nations” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Maybe it’s “natural” for us to be snarky and unkind to others, but as Ms. Turnbull’s article points out, we may complain the most about people who are the most like us.

So the next time you feel the urge to snark about the way your brother-in-law tries to dominate every conversation, spend a few minutes listening to yourself. You might just realize it’s time for you to pipe down, too.

Further…

Need more reason to curtail that instinct to be a hater? Consider this: Unjust criticism may be hurtful to others , but it hurts those who over-indulge in it even more. Just as those who spend a lot of time in the water fixate on the extremely rare shark attack while ignoring the much more prevalent (but still almost non-existent) threat of lightning on land, folks who over-focus on negativity will eventually only see what they spend time thinking about: the bad stuff.

So being judgmental and negative not only hurts us, it hurts other people, and our teachers, as we read them in the Bible, instruct us to not hurt others, but rather, to be kind and, as much as it depends on us, to be at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

Not particularly common in the blogosphere, even in the religious blogosphere.

I’m not writing to lean on anyone or masking my own criticism toward anyone else, but with all of the verbal and physical violence in the news and social media lately, it seems like there’s no place to go for a bit of peace.

cooperatingBut ideally, we should be able to seek out other disciples in Messiah for that peace, Jew and Gentile alike.

Not only that, but we should be able to work together, for although we represent a diverse population, and there are sometimes significant differences between Jewish and Gentile disciples, we do have something in common:

From the above closing words of the Acts of the Apostles [Acts 28:30-31] we can see that the Kingdom of God was the message that Paul and the other Apostles preached, a message of God’s Kingship in the person and work of Yeshua Messiah. The Bilateral Messianic Community was the body of believers who had accepted the message of the Kingdom of God and were to be the proclaimers of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

-Sean Emslie
“The Kingdom of God and The Messianic Hope: Bilateral Messianic Community and Kingdom in the Epistles and Revelation”
Toward a Messianic Judaism

When did we forget this and how can be get back to what we’re supposed to be doing?

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A Book Review By Invitation

My recent post/review of Boaz Michael’s Tent of David has really fostered some good discussion. Probably one of the longest and best discussion thread on any post on this blog. At times it has been spirited, but peace and grace have been the general tenor. Thank you!!

Leaders in the discussion have been bloggers James Pyles of “My Morning Meditations” and Ruth of Sojourning With Jews. Both are friends I have gotten to know over the last year in the blogosphere and though we do not see eye to eye on all things Messianic, we all desire truth and enjoy the pursuit thereof. Each of us has publicly wrestled with thoughts and understandings as we search the Scriptures (though I envy both for being more open with their hearts than I have been…).

-Pete Rambo
“You are invited….”
natsab.com

Hebrew Roots (HR) blogger Pete Rambo has issued a challenge to me (Ruth had to back out) to read one or more leading HR books (since Pete and I have already discussed Boaz’s book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile in the comments section of his review) and to “co-review” the book, he with his perspective on his blog and me on mine.

Pete generously sent me two books to choose from, both written by a gentleman named J.K. McKee who maintains a personal/professional website called TNN Online (Theology News Network Online). McKee’s rather lengthy Statement of Faith is also available on his site, so in addition to his About page, you should be able to find out all you need to know about him.

As far as Pete goes, he describes himself as a “46 [year old] recovering seminary trained pastor.” He also says:

During most of my life I have had a particular interest in eschatology (end times events/prophecy) and in understanding truth. (I used to be a conspiracy theorist… now, I am a conspiracy factualist… ) In my quest, I began to run into pieces of information that challenged my very conservative traditional Christian religious perspectives. Only when I began to pray earnestly for Yahweh to show me TRUTH did He move my focus from geopolitical events and onto a close scrutiny of what I now call ‘Churchianity.’ As I learned how far the Church had moved from the simplicity of the Book of Acts and the clear teaching of the Word, I became convicted of the need for a personal reformation.

Tent of DavidTo “bottom line” it, my understanding (and please correct me if I get this wrong, Pete) is that both Pete and Mr. McKee would fall into the theological/doctrinal category within Hebrew Roots of being One Law (and I’ve linked to a set of definitions created by Rabbi David Rudolph from his website MessianicGentiles.com).

The book Pete and I agreed upon (via email) to review first is McKee’s One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit. The book is about two-years old and so far has rather stellar reviews on Amazon with a total of nine reviews as I write this. Either the book is incredibly good, or the deck is stacked, or both.

Let me explain.

Since I’m also published author, though not in the religious or theological space, the publishers I’ve written for typically send me anywhere from five to ten “review copies” of my books once they go to market so I can pass them out to family and friends, asking them to write and publish reviews on Amazon.

This is a traditional marketing technique and the assumption is that the author’s family and friends or perhaps “fans” of his/her work will be more likely to write favorable reviews, elevating the book’s ranking at Amazon. Of course, at least from my experience, every time I’ve sent out review copies of one of my books and asked people I know to review it, it’s always a tad risky, since I want the reviewers to be honest and sincere, and there’s always a chance they’ll take exception to some portion of what I’ve written (if not the whole book). On the other hand, I don’t want anyone to be dishonest in writing their opinion of something I’ve created. If one of my books is to be praised, I want that praise to be authentic.

I say all this with the idea that the individuals who have reviewed McKee’s “One Law” book at Amazon may be those people who are already predisposed to like the content of McKee’s book (and his general theological bent) and thus write positive reviews.

I know one of the reasons I reviewed Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships is because I knew it would draw exactly two audiences: those who automatically supported his platform and those who automatically opposed it. I wondered if Mr. Vines would ever get a truly objective review of his work, so I made it my “mission,” so to speak, to do just that, setting aside as much of my own personal bias as was possible.

I intend to do the same thing here with the caveat (please pay attention to this part) that I am theologically and doctrinally opposed to the position that there is One Law, that is, a single and unified application of the Torah mitzvot that applies to all disciples of Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMoshiach) whether they be Jewish or Gentile (that application would ultimately be applied to all human beings since the Bible refers to how “every knee will bow, see Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10).

I have a history in “One Law,” and after coming to faith within the context of a Christian church nearly twenty years ago, I swiftly (long story) transitioned into a Hebrew Roots/One Law congregation (which billed itself as “Messianic Judaism”) and learned my basic understanding of the Bible and my faith there.

Without going into a long explanation, after some years, I finally was prompted to question all of the assumptions I naively accepted back in the day and spent nearly a year publicly exploring said-assumptions on my previous blog spot (to which I no longer contribute).

In the spirit of friendship and learning, I have agreed to Pete’s proposal but I could be considered what trial attorneys call a hostile witness in that my attitudes and beliefs regarding “One Law” are not supportive of the theological presuppositions it entails.

one law bookThe goal is as Pete states on his own blog:

In the process of our discussion, I mentioned to James via email that we ought to read and review/discuss a book at the same time…

One point to stress for all of us from the outset: the goal here is to learn and grow. We may be challenged, but we want to plan on good vigorous discussion that at the same time is peaceful and displays the fruit of the Spirit!!

That is, Pete and I will read McKee’s book and each of us will post our impressions/reviews on our respective blogs (and I also intend to post a review on Amazon). We will insert McKee’s book into a crucible and attempt, through our differing viewpoints, to tease out the essence of what’s been written, then present those findings to whoever chooses to read our blogs.

As Pete says, we both want to show that two people can discuss differing theological perspectives in a peaceful and cooperative manner, and avoid those emotional meltdowns that we all frequently have witnessed in the religious blogosphere. We aren’t (necessarily) trying to convince the other to change his mind, but rather are trying to provide clarity of thought and expression of our respective points of view.

I hope you will follow along on our two blogs and feel free to join in (politely and respectfully) on our discussions.

Korach: Learning How to Dance

korach-buried-aliveThere are two rebellions this week. First, Korach, a Levite, was passed over for the leadership of his tribe and then challenges Moshe over the position of High Priest. No good rebellion can be “sold” as a means for personal gain, so Korach convinces 250 men of renown that they must stand up for a matter of principle — that each and every one of them has the right to the office of High Priest (which Moshe had announced that God had already designated his brother, Aharon, to serve).

Fascinatingly, all 250 followers of Korach accept Moshe’s challenge to bring an offering of incense to see who God will choose to fill the one position. This meant that every man figured he would be the one out of 250 to not only be chosen, but to survive the ordeal. Moshe announces that if the earth splits and swallows up the rebels it is a sign that he (Moshe) is acting on God’s authority. And thus it happened!

The next day the entire Israelite community rises in a second rebellion and complains to Moshe, “You have killed God’s people!” The Almighty brings a plague which kills 14,700 people and only stops when Aharon offers an incense offering.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Korach
Aish.com

A fanatic is someone who redoubles his efforts while losing sight of his goal.

-George Santayana

You’d think after seeing the deaths of Korach and the 250 rebels that the rest of the Children of Israel would have been frightened enough to back away from speaking against Moses, Aaron, and ultimately God. Unfortunately, they seemed to have panicked and panic has no reason. Neither does fanaticism which is defined as “a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal, particularly for a religious or political cause or with an obsessive enthusiasm…the fanatic displays very strict standards and little tolerance for contrary ideas or opinions.”

Since I blog in the world of religion, I suppose that someone could come along and accuse me of being a fanatic when I defend a particular point of view and don’t acquiesce to another’s contrary viewpoint. But then I hope there is a difference between steadfast determination and being a fanatic.

Korach and the 250 didn’t back down and neither did the Israelite community until after over 14,000 people died. What does it take for the rest of us to look at a situation, know when to press ahead with our point, and know when to back away?

In describing in his commentary how not to argue, Rabbi Packouz lists nine points. One of them is:

Turn the argument into a discussion. Don’t defend a position; set forth an idea or problem to be clarified. People of good will who reason together can come to a common conclusion. Listen with an open mind. Be a judge, not a lawyer!

calvinism-vs-arminianismIn the blogosphere, it’s difficult to keep a discussion into spilling over the threshold of civility into an argument. A lot of religious people take a “my way or the highway” stance with the theologies and doctrines to which they adhere. My exploration into Calvinism vs. Arminianism is a good example of such a dialog. So far, no one has come along on my blog to take me to task for my viewpoint in that debate, but if I found the right venue for the discussion, I’m sure a “passionate” exchange would occur. There have indeed been such debates in the comments section of my blog in the past.

So how do we know when we are defending a position for our faith and for the sake of God as opposed to our own ego and bullheadedness?

This week’s Torah portion tells the story of Korach’s dispute with Moshe. The mishna (a teaching) in Pirke Avot 5:20, states that “Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will be of lasting worth and one not for the sake of Heaven will not be of lasting worth. Which dispute was for the sake of Heaven? That of Hillel and Shamai. Which was not for the sake of Heaven? That of Korach and his company.”

That’s part of the Dvar Torah presented in Rabbi Packouz’s commentary. Here’s something similar.

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

Acts 5:33-39 (NRSV)

I suppose this isn’t the first time this passage from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles has been compared to the Korach rebellion. The trick is to know our own motivation, which is harder than you may think. A good many people have been utterly convinced that they were arguing and even fighting for what is good and right, only to ultimately discover that their motives were totally selfish. Human beings are very good at self-delusion, sometimes with disastrous results.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”

Matthew 7:21-23 (NRSV)

Woman in the darkThat’s a terrifying thought. I don’t doubt that those of whom the Master speaks sincerely believed (some of them, anyway) that they were “fighting the good fight,” speaking prophesies in his name, casting out demons in his name, and doing many other powerful things in the name of Christ. What bitter disappointment will they suffer when they find they are completely rejected and in fact have been following the wrong path all along.

And how do I know for sure that the path I am following is the right one? How do I know if I will be among those accepted in the Kingdom or tossed out in the dark?

Remember, self-delusion is incredibly common with people.

The mishna should have said that the dispute not for the sake of Heaven was that of Korach and Moshe, not between Korach and his fellow conspirators! Why didn’t the mishna mention Moshe as the antagonist? Korach started the dispute for his own personal gain (not for the sake of Heaven) while Moshe was upholding the Almighty’s word and the Almighty’s honor (you can’t get more “for the sake of Heaven” than this!)

Why then does the mishna mention that a dispute not for the sake of Heaven is the one between “Korach and his company”? We might think that Korach and his company were united in their argument with Moshe. The mishna is telling us that each of the 250 was challenging Moshe for his own gain (remember, each one brought incense to see if he himself would be chosen as the Cohen Gadol, High Priest.) In truth, Korach and his congregation were in dispute amongst themselves as to who should be the High Priest.

The mishna points us in a direction, but the effort to maintain an understanding of our motives belongs to us. Every time we take a strong position, we must ask ourselves, “am I doing this for the Master’s glory or for my own?” When my opinion is challenged and I strongly defend my point of view, I must ask if it is for the sake of Heaven that I do this or only because I want to be “right?”

If confronted with the knowledge that I’m acting for my own interests, would I be willing to admit I am wrong? In such a discussion is it very wise to make such an admission. Rabbi Packouz comments.

No one is ever totally right. Find something to apologize for, to take responsibility for. The other person will feel better and may even own up to some mistakes of his/her own.

I spent nearly a year writing about my journey of discovery and ultimately had to admit I was wrong about my original “one law” assumptions that I had made years before and never questioned.

I don’t think that I made my assumptions solely out of self-interest or ego, but once my assumptions were confronted by others, my ego and the need to be “right” was definitely engaged. I can tell you that it is a difficult and painful thing to realize many of the attitudes and beliefs I held were incorrect, and letting them go was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

But if I didn’t let them go, especially in the face of overwhelming evidence and with the realization of the damage I was doing, especially in my home, the price to be paid would have been much, much more dear.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 14:8-11 (NRSV)

Waiting to danceThis is a good test for fanaticism, because a fanatic cannot be humble. It feels too “dangerous” to back down, too vulnerable to be silent about something that’s important. Rabbi Packouz suggests that being silent and, when talking, speaking with a soft voice are two ways to avoid arguing. If you can maintain your composure, agree with the points being made by the other person you feel are correct, and admit it when you know you are wrong (letting yourself even consider that you could be wrong is a step in the right direction), then it is very likely that you are not being fanatical about what you’re trying to communicate.

Then your mind and heart are most likely clear enough to determine when you are tempted to argue for the sake of your own ego or sense of vulnerability, and when you are standing up and being a voice for the sake of Heaven.

But you have to be sure to constantly be your own critic, questioning what you’re doing and why.

Leslie (Diana Muldaur – voice): “You seem quieter than usual tonight.”
Batman (Kevin Conroy – voice): “Every time I come here, I wonder if it should be the last time. . . Put the past behind me. . . Try to lead a normal life.”
Leslie: “Santayana says that ‘those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it’.”
Batman: “He also said ‘a fanatic is someone who redoubles his efforts while losing sight of his goal.'”

-from the episode “I Am the Night”
Batman: The Animated Series (1992)

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

-Troy Mitchell

I often question why I write this blog at all. What good does it do? Am I doing it to help build the Kingdom of Heaven or just because I like to see my words posted on the web? Blind certitude is something I can’t afford. I don’t think it’s something any of us can afford. This isn’t a matter of fighting to see who wins and who loses, but the pursuit of interaction and cooperation so that we can mutually seek out an encounter with God.

Our work involves trying to dance when others only know how to wrestle.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar

The lesson of Korach is that we need to learn not how to wrestle, but how to dance.

Good Shabbos.

110 days.