Tag Archives: Rosh Hashanah

Apologies and Farewell to Church

If the Shofar is sounded in the city, will the populace not tremble?

Amos 3:6

The blow of a Shofar is a call to arouse us from the lethargy of routine in which we have been immersed and to stimulate us to teshuvah. But what if someone hears the Shofar and is not moved by it?

A village blacksmith’s assistant once visited a large city and sought out the local smithy. He observed that the workers there used a bellows to fan the flames in the forge. The bellows were much more efficient than the exhausting manual fanning which he did back in his master’s shop. He promptly bought a bellows, returned with great enthusiasm to his master, and informed him that there was no longer any need for them to exhaust themselves fanning the flames. He then set out to demonstrate the magic of the bellows, but alas, regardless of how vigorously he pumped, no flame appeared.

“I can’t understand it,” he said. “In the city, I saw with my own eyes the huge flame produced by the bellows.”

“Did you first light a small fire?” the master asked.

“No,” the assistant replied. “I just pumped the bellows.”

“You fool!” the blacksmith said. “The bellows can only increase the size of the flame when you begin it with a spark. When you have no spark or fire, all the pumping of the bellows is of no use.”

Like the bellows, the Shofar can only arouse us if we have in us a spark of teshuvah, just a rudiment of desire. If we feel ourselves unmoved by the Shofar, we had better try to light a spark of teshuvah within ourselves.

Today I shall…

…try to begin teshuvah, so that the service of the approaching High Holidays will have the desired effect on me.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Elul 26
Aish.com

I’m writing this on Sunday instead of going to church, though you won’t be reading this until Tuesday morning. Given what I wrote in last week’s “What I Learned in Church” blog and subsequent commentaries, I’ve come to the realization that I owe Randy and everyone who reads this blog an apology. Regardless of my reasons, I took my criticism of Randy’s sermon way too far and I probably shouldn’t have written anything public about it at all.

But that’s water under the bridge and the damage is done.

I emailed Randy on Shabbat after much consideration and prayer with my personal apology and asked him for forgiveness. As I write this, I haven’t heard back, and perhaps I shouldn’t expect to. In addition to writing him though, as I said, I need to make my apology public just as I made my criticism.

preachingAlthough I don’t think religious leaders should be “criticism-proof,” so to speak, they also should command a certain amount of respect, and just because we have a difference of opinion, even about the important matters of Biblical interpretation, the fact that we disagree doesn’t mean he did anything wrong. His sermon was well within the norms of Christian Fundamentalism and it is backed up by a great deal of research on his part. He has the right and responsibility to “feed his flock” with the “spiritual food” he believes is beneficial for them, and I have no right to stand in his way, not that I could really affect anyone’s viewpoint at church about his sermons.

But realizing what I’ve done and how often I’ve risked collapsing the Tent of David (with apologies to Boaz Michael), I feel that my time at Pastor Randy’s church has come to an end. It had been my hope that I would provide added value to discussions in Sunday school, my personal discussions with Randy, and anyone else who wanted to interact with me. Two years ago as I was approaching this path back to church, I had high hopes that I could live out Boaz’s vision as chronicled in his book, but I see now that instead of being a light in the church, all I’ve done (for the most part) was act as an irritant.

Even those few people who were interested in what I had to say, particularly about the New Covenant, once they fully realized what I was communicating, acted confused and hesitant. I guess I was asking far too much of the people around me and my basic theological foundation, which makes a great deal of sense to me, is a strange and alien land for most Christians, particularly Fundamentalists.

It’s my place to be an opportunity of sorts, an option, a door to another perspective, not a hammer hitting people over the head. Over the past two years, although I tried to make a niche for myself in the humble walls of that little Baptist church in Meridian, Idaho, I never truly found a place where I fit in. I look like everyone else and I go through the motions of singing the hymns and shaking hands during services, but what I understand about the Bible might as well be light years away from the people I’ve “fellowshipped” with.

Please understand, I bear no ill will toward Randy, the other Pastors, the board members, and the people I’ve worshiped and studied with. I regard them all with the warmest of feelings. That we disagree doesn’t mean I think they are bad or even wrong. We’re just very different and I have no desire to hurt anyone or get in the way.

I suppose I could still attend the church and just keep silent, but that wouldn’t work for two reasons. The first is that my very presence is likely to continue to irritate or annoy Randy because of the aforementioned offending blog post and my general disagreement with him. The second is I seriously doubt I could rein in my verbal and written responses to the sermons and Sunday school lessons, at least for very long. I’d be unhappy at my self-imposed censorship and when I finally opened my mouth, I could possibly say something unkind or at least unwanted.

I want it to be known that the only person responsible for these events and their outcome is me. It’s my responsibility to conduct myself as a true disciple of the Master both in church and everywhere else, both in my spoken word and in what I write.

Erev Rosh Hashanah is tomorrow at sundown (as you read this) and in the spirit of repentance and renewal, I must offer my sincere public apology to Randy, his church, and you readers, and also I believe it is the best choice now to end my sojourn at church.

The Results

It may sound strange, but in being inspired to return to church, in part by Boaz Michael’s aforementioned book, I’ve thought of my return to Christian worship as something of an “experiment,” and I don’t mean that unkindly or clinically. As I said before, I had hoped to be a light and to represent a particular viewpoint as illumination. Did I fail completely? Did I just waste the last two years of my life in church?

I would say not, although I think I gained more from the experience than the people at church gained from me. What I know about “formal Christianity” including the history of the Church as been quite lacking, and Randy opened all that up to me. He has an excellent command of Christian history and for a year or more, he guided me on a personal journey on what it means to be a believer, particularly from a Fundamentalist point of view. I also learned how friendly, kind, and generous the people around me were, and how patient and tolerant they could be to an “oddball” like me, especially Randy.

No, it was hardly a waste of time. I only regret that they could have as much of a benefit from my presence as I did being among them.

I can only hope that others like me in other churches have better outcomes in terms of the impact they have on their fellow congregants.

The Future

Once again, I’ll be without a congregation. What will this mean for my faith? I may not be going to church, but I haven’t left faith in God or discipleship under the Master behind.

HaYesod ResourcesWill I try to find another church to attend? Not at present. I don’t see it working out any better in another Christian venue than it did in the one I just left, and I have no intention of adding insult to injury, so to speak. Inflicting myself on another Pastor and another congregation will just make matters worse. I’ve heard stories about how well some Messianic Gentiles find it in some churches. They are invited to teach HaYesod and other related classes and, according to reports, the information is well received.

But that requires two things: the right kind of environment and the right kind of presenter. I know that the church I’ve attended just wasn’t ever going to be receptive of such a view of the Bible and certainly the perspective was not requested nor required. I was wrong to force it on anyone without being asked.

Also, since I know Randy’s views on what he wants taught at his church, the fact that I was speaking to anyone at all about my opinions was risking the integrity of the doctrine being taught and I can only guess from Randy’s point of view, represented “wrongheadedness” and even a potential threat to anyone who listened to me and took my words seriously.

So no, I’m not going to seek out another church. Even if an appropriate Messianic congregation was available in my area, as I’ve said numerous times before, I wouldn’t attend, at least regularly, out of consideration for my wife, who is Jewish and not in the least Messianic.

I’ve been talking with a friend about starting up a Torah study between the two of us. The only thing in the way is working out the timing in our schedules. Even he and I don’t see precisely eye-to-eye, but we have more in common than I have with most Christians.

I’ll keep blogging as usual, but this will be the last time I intend to mention Pastor Randy or anything about the church he shepherds. I wish them all success, peace, and the presence and blessings of God.

Since the New Year is upon us, I suppose this is the perfect time to retool my studies and rededicate myself to my understanding of what it is to be a Messianic Gentile.

Someone said in a comment on one of my recent blog posts that if “a Christian is truly repentant then he will extricate himself from an anti-Judaic religious system (i.e. Christianity) and cease to identify as a Christian.” I disagree. There are many fine Christians and many fine churches, including the one I used to attend, and they perform many kind and generous acts of “Torah” (though they don’t call it that), such as feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and loving each other. I’m not ending my relationship with them because they are not good and kind people, but only because I’m not a good fit for them (nor sadly, they for me) and I have no desire to continue to be an irritant in their presence.

walking outI know that some people like me there and maybe would even be surprised if they read this blog post, but most of them don’t really know me. If they did, I’m not sure what they’d think. It’s better that they don’t find out. God doesn’t love them or me any less because of our divergent perspectives. In the resurrection, if not before, He will guide us all to a better understanding of all truth in Him through Messiah.

May he come speedily and in our day.

May you all be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for a good year.

To Randy and his church, I again offer my sincere apologies, beg for forgiveness though I don’t deserve it, and offer my fondest farewell to you all.

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The High Holy Days for the Rest of Us

Some years ago, a prominent Protestant clergyman offered the suggestion that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur could very well be adopted as religious occasions for people of all faiths. He was intrigued by the predominance of the theme of universalism in the Days of Awe. Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot convey their respective messages of human freedom, of man’s duty as a moral being, and of the thanksgiving man owes to God, in the context of the historic vicissitudes and experiences of the ancient Israelites. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, however, are not related to any particular event in Israel’s past. They are, as Yehezkel Kaufmann characterizes them, “cosmic holidays” linked with the hopes and the destiny of mankind. The liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yon Kippur is indeed suffused with the spirit of universalism.

-Max Arzt
“The Liturgy: An Introduction,” p. 13
Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement

I suppose I’m crazy to post this, since most Christians wouldn’t even begin to “resonate” with the High Holy Days that are rapidly approaching. And yet, as Arzt notes, an anonymous Protestant clergyman of some prominence in a past era undeniably saw a more universal application to God’s judgment and mercy.

Isn’t that because God will indeed judge all the earth? Aren’t we all under His authority. Does He not have the right to elevate or to condemn? Did He not love Jacob, heir to the covenant promises, but hate Esau who was a descendent of Abraham and Isaac but not in line to receive favor as a Patriarch?

And yet at the end of days, God will judge the descendants of Jacob and Esau both.

The persecution to which R. Yehudai Gaon alluded is the injunction issued by Justinian in 553 C.E. against teaching the deuterosis, the oral interpretation of the Torah. Scholars had therefore assumed that when Judaism “went underground,” certain piyyutim replaced the prescribed liturgy and that other piyyutim of a more legalistic content served as a means of circumventing Justinian’s prohibition against teaching the Oral Law.

-ibid, p. 19

burning talmud
Burning volumes of Talmud

While many Christians today boast a love of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, we still bristle at the thought of the Oral Law, since it has long been a tradition in our own religious stream to love the Bible (and our own traditions) but disdain the traditions of other faiths, particularly Judaism. We may not physically burn volumes of Talmud anymore, but we continue to do so in our minds and hearts.

In America, Jews are free to practice their religious faith which includes Talmud study and worshiping according to the customs, but historically Judaism has survived, in part, by periodically going “underground” or at least maintaining a low profile. Some of the other Judaisms object to the behavior of the Chabad because they can be so “in your face” about being Jewish, and are very definitely “above ground”.

We like to remind people that America is a Christian nation (actually, it isn’t and never has been) but imagine how insecure that could make a Jew feel? Anti-Semitism isn’t extinct in America or any place else, it’s just waiting for the right environment in which to once again flourish.

It is generally agreed among scholars that the synagogue arose during the Babylonian exile and that it co-existed with the Temple in Jerusalem during the period of the Second Temple…

…Thus the Synagogue was well prepared to assume its post-exilic role as the center of Jewish education, worship, and communal welfare. That the people recovered so quickly from the traumatic effects of the destruction of the Temple was due to the fact that for some centuries before 70 C.E., the Synagogue had been a functioning institution with a reasonably well-established liturgy. The Rabbis tell us that God prepares the healing before the hurt (Song of Songs Rabbah, 4:5).

-ibid, “The New Year (Rosh Hashanah),” p. 43

I’ve maintained over the years that it was indeed the synagogue, the liturgy, and the Talmud that preserved the Jewish people in the centuries after the destruction of the Temple and the initiation of the longest exile they would ever endure, particularly after two failed rebellions against the Romans and the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) betrayal of their Jewish counterparts. Apparently a Gentile sub-population could not be sustained within a Judaism in exile and under siege by the powerful nations around her scattered people.

I recently discovered that a medieval French philosopher and theologian named Peter Abelard was considered the “only pre-Holocaust Christian who related to Jews as to fellow humans.”

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

That’s quite a statement and an indictment against collective Christianity, but it might not be entirely unearned. While I’m not the student of history I wish I were, I do know that as much as modern Christianity depends on the work of the men of the Reformation, its chief architect, Martin Luther, toward the end of his life, was no friend to the Jews.

According to Jewish Virtual Library, an excerpt from Luther’s work “The Jews and Their Lies” states:

What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:

First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly ­ and I myself was unaware of it will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.

If I had lived in those days and had been a devotee of Luther, how could I have possibly imagined that God loved the Jewish people, had plans to restore them to their Land, and was continuing to uphold His covenant relationship with them? How could I even believe the words of Jesus when he said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22)?

Rabbi Nachum Braverman writes, “On Rosh Hashana we make an accounting of our year and we pray repeatedly for life. How do we justify another year of life? What did we do with the last year? Has it been a time of growth, of insight and of caring for others? Did we make use of our time, or did we squander it? Has it truly been a year of life, or merely one of mindless activity? This is the time for evaluation and rededication. The Jewish process is called “teshuva,” coming home — recognizing our mistakes between ourselves and God as well as between ourselves and our fellow man and then correcting them.”

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from his commentary on Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)
Aish.com

This leads us back to the “universalism” of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Contrary to popular belief, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement is not an exceptionally depressing for fearful day for most religious Jews. My wife explained to me one year that it’s actually an opportunity to hit the reset button of our lives, to repair faults and faulty relationships, and to take advantage of an opportunity laid at our feet to become better people and build a better future.

Yom Kippur prayers
Yom Kippur Prayers

While there’s been a great deal of improvement in the relationship between Jews and Christians since the Holocaust, there is still a lot of underlying tension. There’s still a lot of “unexamined baggage” both Jews and Christians are carrying around about each other. To be fair and given recent events, there’s also a lot of baggage I’m carrying around about other Christians that needs to be examined and cleaned up one way or another. I suppose the fact that Rosh Hashanah begins This coming Wednesday the 24th at sundown with Yom Kippur following at sundown on Friday, October 3rd could provide all of us the opportunity to do better and be better than we have been so far.

I know I need something like this. Sure, we can repent and draw nearer to God and to other people any time of year, but when do we have an engraved invitation from God to do so?

I’ve heard D. Thomas Lancaster call Yom Kippur a “dressed rehearsal” for the final judgment. Even if, as a Christian, you feel assured of your salvation, that doesn’t mean you are perfect. I know it doesn’t mean I’m perfect, not even close. Rehearsals are opportunities to practice an important event to make sure you get it right before the real thing happens. That’s a pretty good reason for all faiths, and truth be told, all human beings to observe the universalism of the Days of Awe, for indeed awesome days are coming and when they arrive, if we are not prepared, we never will be.

Christianity still has much to repent for about how we think, feel, and sometimes treat the Jewish people, particularly religious Jews. What have you done that you need to repent of?

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Elul, All, Nothing, or Something

Question: I have been testing the waters, trying to get involved in Judaism. But I feel like I’m swimming in a vast ocean of unfamiliar concepts: Hebrew texts, legal nuances, culture, etc. I’m not sure any of this is for me!

The Aish Rabbi Replies: There is a misconception that many people have about Judaism, what I call “the all or nothing” syndrome. With 613 mitzvot in the Torah, things can seem a bit overwhelming. People take a look at traditional Judaism with all these different commandments and say to themselves, there’s no way that I can be successful at living that type of lifestyle, so what’s the point of looking into it or getting involved? Where to start? What to focus on? How to make sense of it all?!

That’s not the Jewish way!

“Judaism: All Or Nothing?”
-from the “Ask the Rabbi” column
Aish.com

Really? Not the Jewish way? Most Christians would disagree based on this:

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:8-13 (NASB)

I suspect we’ve traditionally misunderstood what James is trying to say to his readers, since he doesn’t seem to be saying that you have to keep the Torah perfectly. He seems to be saying that if you expect your observance to justify you before God, only then would you have to keep the Torah perfectly. However, if you observe the “royal law”, that is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18, Mark 12:30-31), and do not show partiality, you are not sinning and not counted among transgressors if you are not perfectly observant. Even if you are not perfect but you show mercy, then God will show mercy to you (see Matthew 5:21-22, Matthew 6:12).

So it would seem the Aish Rabbi is correct in that being an observant Jew doesn’t mean being a perfectly observant Jew:

Imagine you bump into an old friend and he tells you how miserable he is. You ask him, what’s the matter? He says, I’m in the precious metals industry. My company just found a vein of gold in Brazil that’s going to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

You say, that’s fantastic. Your financial problems are solved. What’s the problem?

He says, you just don’t get it. Do you realize that this is just one vein of gold? It represents such a tiny fraction of all of the unmined gold in the world. What do I really have, compared with what’s out there?

You say, are you nuts? Who the heck cares about what you haven’t found yet? What you’ve got now is a gold mine!

That’s the Jewish approach. Any aspect that you learn about, or can incorporate into your life, is a gold mine. What does it matter what aspect of Judaism you’re not ready to take on? In Judaism, every mitzvah is of infinite value. Every mitzvah is more than any gold mine. Don’t worry about what you can’t do. Even if you never take on another mitzvah, you’ve still struck eternal gold.

The best advice: Relax.

Christian Bible StudyWhat if when you first became a Christian (if you are a Christian), you believed you had to live a perfect Christian life (however you define such a life)? What if you believed you had to go to church every Sunday, had to attend every Sunday school class, had to be at church every Wednesday for whatever class or event was being offered? What if you thought you had to instantly understand terms like “justification” or “propitiation” or “agape” and if you didn’t know and do all you believed was expected of you, it would be the same for you as a Jewish person who didn’t literally observe the 613 commandments of the Torah?

Sounds pretty horrible, huh? Instant perfection or instant failure.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But we’re under grace, not the Law. We Christians don’t have to be perfect.” Ironically, that’s pretty much what the Aish Rabbi is saying, too. Except in Judaism God’s grace and His behavioral expectations for Covenant members aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s all part of the same package. It’s all God’s providence and love.

The love between God and Israel is unconditional. Even when Israel behaves in a manner that results in estrangement, that love is not diminished. Israel does not have to restore God’s love, because it is eternal, and His longing for Israel to return to Him is so intense that at the first sign that Israel is ready to abandon its errant ways that led to the estrangement, God will promptly embrace it.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 1”
Aish.com

In Judaism (as I understand it and I realize I’m making an overly generalized statement), God loves not because a Jew is perfect but simply because God loves and because He chose the Jewish people and the nation of Israel to be His own.

One of the things the Aish Rabbi says is:

The misconception that Judaism is all-or-nothing includes the false idea that a person is either “observant,” or “non-observant.” But that’s not true. In fact, here’s a secret:

Nobody is observing all the mitzvot.

Pretty shocking, huh? But that’s not all.

That’s because certain mitzvot only women usually do – like lighting Shabbat candles or going to the mikveh. Other mitzvot only men can fulfill – like Brit Milah. Others only apply to first-born children, such as the “fast of the first born” on the day before Passover. And only a Kohen can fulfill the mitzvah of reciting the Priestly Blessing.

So when we talk about the totality of mitzvot, we’ll never do them all anyway! So rather than get overwhelmed with the vastness of it all, better to be realistic about what we can do, and move forward in a positive way.

But that just means some people don’t do all of the mitzvot because not all of the mitzvot are intended for everyone, like the laws for the Kohen or the laws pertaining only to women (and as you probably already know, there are laws that apply only to Jews and not to Gentiles, Christian or not).

But that could still mean a Jew is supposed to be perfect in all the laws that do apply to him or her.

Let’s say, for example, that a person wants to try the mitzvah of prayer. We may go to synagogue and see someone immersed in intensive prayer for one hour. We cannot conceive of how we could possibly get to that point ourselves. That’s understandable, especially for one who is not fluent in Hebrew. So it’s a matter of knowing which prayer gets top priority – for example, the Amidah prayer.

The Amidah has 19 blessings, and it’s very difficult to concentrate for that entire time without being distracted, or one’s mind wandering to other things like shopping and checking your email. So the key is to take on a small goal: “I am committing that for the first prayer of the 19, I will not rush nor allow anything to interfere between me and these few words.” That goal is realistic and attainable, and one can begin to approach a high degree of intensity and concentration on that one prayer.

What this does is give a taste of the higher goal. All that’s needed is to extrapolate to all 19. This is much more effective than starting off by saying, “Today I’m going to pray the entire 19 with great concentration!” – and then after three words, you’re thinking about what’s for breakfast.

If it’s too lofty a goal, then at least taste it once. Break down a huge goal into bite-size steps that are realistic to achieve, and will give a taste of the full goal.

That’s a lot of text to say something simple. Start with just one, small mitzvah and work up from there.

But what does this have to do with Christians?

One point of relevancy, and I alluded to this above, is that we Christians need to have a better understanding of how Torah observance relates to Jewish life, since we tend to give observant Jews a hard time for not being perfectly observant. We also tend to view “grace” and “the Law” as polar opposites (like “Christianity” and “Judaism”) which, as I also mentioned, is not true.

But if, as most Christians believe, the Law has nothing to do with us, why do we care beyond those straightforward statements?

Dr. Michael Brown
Dr. Michael Brown

If you’ve been reading my blog posts for the past couple of weeks, you know there is an ongoing debate about whether or not God requires all Jesus-believers, both Jewish and Gentile, to observe the same Torah commandments in the same way.

If you listened to the rather uncomfortable debate between Dr. Michael Brown and Tim Hegg on this topic, you discovered that Mr. Hegg believes the answer is an unequivocal “yes” for everyone, while Dr. Brown thinks that no believer, Jewish or Gentile, has to observe any of the commandments (grace replaced the Law).

Frankly, I disagree with them both, but then the question is, what should Gentile Christians do?

Now that I have addressed the notion of “Torah on the heart” as a covenantal anticipation and partial fulfillment as promised to Jews, how may we envision it having an impact also on non-Jews who attach themselves to the Jewish Messiah? They do not become members of Israel or participants in the covenant per se, and they are not legally obligated by the Torah covenant. Therefore, something must become available to them because of their increasingly close proximity to the knowledge of Torah and its impact on those who actually are members of the covenant. In one other recent post, I invoked the analogy of gentiles entering the Temple’s “court of the gentiles” in order to offer sacrifices in accordance with Torah stipulations for gentiles doing so. I compared the symbolic sacrifice of Rav Yeshua to such sacrifices, but offered in the heavenly sanctuary by Rav Yeshua as a mediating Melchitzedekian priest. Such symbolism reflects the ratification of continual repentance, after which the forgiven offerer learns to walk in newness of life in accordance with HaShem’s guidance (e.g., the aspects of Torah that apply to him or her). In another recent post I addressed the notion of a gentile ‘Hasid and the appropriate reflections of Torah that may be applicable — in which a gentile might become thoroughly immersed in order to experience the same sort of spiritual intimacy with HaShem, and enter into the perceptive environment of the kingdom of heaven in its metaphorical sense in anticipation of its future physical realization. Thus non-Jews would experience spirituality from outside and alongside the covenant in the same manner as intended for Jews inside the covenant.

In such an environment the Shema may take on additional meaning, as a gentile reply and response to its pronouncement by Jews. As Jews say: “Shm’a Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad” (“Hear, O Israel, HaShem is our G-d, solely the One-and-Only HaShem”), followed by “Baruch shem k’vod, malchuto l’olam va’ed” (“Blessed is His glorious purpose — an eternal kingdom”), then gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua may reply: “Hear, O Israel, HaShem your G-d has become our G-d also, the One-and-Only HaShem” (“Shm’a Israel, v’hayah Adonai Eloheichem gam Hu ‘aleinu, Adonai Echad”), perhaps followed by Zech.14:9 “V-hayah Adonai l-melech ‘al col ha-aretz — ba-yom ha-hu, yihiyei Adonai Echad u’shmo echad” (HaShem shall be King over all the earth — in that day HaShem shall be [recognized as] One, and His purpose [as] unified).

But maybe I’m already looking a little too far ahead ….

-comment made by ProclaimLiberty
on one of my blog posts

praying_at_masadaThat’s probably a lot to absorb and it’s likely not all of you will relate let alone agree.

Coming at the question from another direction, a friend of mine pointed me to an article by John C. Wright called Christians in the Pantheon called Life.

A reader with the name Metzengerstein, which sounds like it might actually be a real name for once, writes and comments:

“It is an interesting fix we Christians find ourselves in. On the one hand we should like to argue that Capitalism is a better system than any other by virtue of its results and its preference towards voluntary action and organization over government coercion for arranging society.

“On the other hand, we are anti-materialists who would like to proclaim there are more important things in life than money, and that wealth can lead you astray. Even technological improvement and scientific advancement can lead us into a mindset of creating a heaven on Earth, rather than passing through a transitory phase in a strange land.”

I confess I do not see the paradox.

Click the link I provided above to read the rest, which outlines why there isn’t a contradiction between the Biblical expectations for Christian behavior and living in the world.

Learning what God expects of us is simple enough to grasp in a few moments and yet complex enough to take an entire lifetime to comprehend.

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (NASB)

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (NASB)

Seems pretty straightforward but within those simple statements is a world of meaning and learning.

In Christianity, we tend to expect that we are to understand everything in the Bible perfectly and live it out unerringly (which sounds very “legalistic,” the way most Christians see Jewish people). There are no mysteries or contradictions and that with the right interpretation (and solid doctrine), the meaning of God’s Word just unfolds right in front of you with little or not effort at all.

Except that’s not how most Christians experience the Bible if they’re at all honest in admitting it.

The reason I study the Bible through a somewhat Jewish lens is not to learn how to practice Judaism, but to learn to live with a certain amount of dynamic tension involving those little things that don’t seem to add up or that even contradict each other in the Bible.

I recently heard (read) a joke about Jewish people (I think it was in one of ProclaimLiberty’s comments) about “him being right, and the other guy being right, and you’re right, too.” From a Christian point of view, that all seems impossible. How can three different people hold three different opinions and yet all of them are right?

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

-attributed to Yogi Berra

Rav Yosef Cologne, the Maharik, wrote against a group of Rabbis who imposed their authority on their students and claimed that once someone studied under the authority of a rebbi he must behave submissively to that rebbi forever and may not disagree with his ruling. Maharik responded that even if one wants to claim that the former student remains submissive to his rebbi forever, that would only apply to halachos related to honoring a rebbi, e.g., to stand when the rebbi enters the room or to tear kriah if the rebbi passed away. If, however, the former rebbi is making a mistake in halacha the former students must raise the issue rather than silently accept the rebbi’s position.

-from Halachah Highlights
“Disagreeing with one’s Rebbi”
Commentary on Moed Katan 16
Daf Yomi Digest for Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Most Christians and even some Jews tend to see observant Judaism and particularly Orthodox Judaism as a straight jacket made out of lead. Once you’re in, you can never escape and there’s no such thing as “wiggle room”. Here we see (again) that Christian presumptions about Judaism don’t always hold water.

The lived experience of a Christian is actually more complicated and nuanced than one would imagine. Just reading John Wright’s brief essay reveals details that aren’t obvious to either the secular or Christian Gentile. The same can be said for observant Jewish life. Neither lifestyle exists as a single package that one acquires immediately like a birthday present, but rather represents a lifetime of experience, painstakingly gained bit by bit with each passing day.

TeshuvahWe’ve just entered the month of Elul in the Jewish religious calendar, which is the month immediately preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Derek Leman made some suggestions that could apply to both the Gentile and Jewish believer, but while there seems to be some overlap here for those of us to consider ourselves “Messianic,” it’s critical for us to grasp that we also have very individual duties and responsibilities to God that we are constantly seeking to master.

Frankly, my plate is full just in keeping up with all I need to learn on my journey of spiritual growth. I don’t have a lot of time to worry about what other Christians or what Jews are or aren’t doing.

If I’m to borrow anything useful from Elul, let me adopt a discipline of repentance, increased prayer, introspection, and seeking to draw nearer to God.

For more on the month of Elul, read Elul: The Secret to Change.

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

The Candles of Rosh Hashanah

Shabbat candlesWhen I got home last night after my meeting with my Pastor, the Shabbos candles were lit. I was pleasantly surprised. For the past week or so, my wife has been at the Chabad helping the Rebbitzen prepare for Rosh Hashanah. My wife didn’t stay for services, which somewhat disappointed me, but the fact that she lit the candles when she got home was heartwarming (and hearth warming).

Unfortunately, there’s a limit to what I can say to her about it without crossing barriers, so I have to keep my feelings to myself (don’t worry, I’m pretty sure she never reads my blog).

As I said, I visited my Pastor last night, basically to discuss Chapter Eight of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book, The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach. We actually started on topic but managed to drift into the definition and purpose of “the Church,” the collective body of Jewish and Gentile disciples of Jesus, the Messiah. Pastor’s opinion is that the New Covenant creates an entirely new entity, the church, and that Jews who become part of that New Covenant join a new entity and leave the older covenant, Sinai, behind.

But if newer covenants cancel older ones, then what about Abraham?

What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

Galatians 3:17-18 (NASB)

Nope. Newer covenants do not invalidate older ones.

Pastor kept trying to make his point about the New Covenant from Ephesians 2, but we were missing what it says in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, which is the only way to understand the Biblical “core” of the New Covenant:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NASB)

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.”

Ezekiel 36:22-24 (NASB)

abraham-covenant-starsI wrote a multi-part series starting here that charted the massively complicated course of the New Covenant in terms of what it does and doesn’t say about Jews and Gentiles. This is a very good example of not being able to adequately “prove” the particulars of the New Covenant using only the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament, which by the way, does not mean the same thing as “New Covenant”).

First of all, look at the object of the New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31 says it’s “the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” so basically, the Jewish people. But what is the New Covenant and how does it differ from the old, according to Jeremiah? Verse 33 says “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.”

I have no reason to believe that when God says “My law” that He means anything other than Torah. The difference is that instead of the Torah being externally recorded, it will be part of the internal Jewish motivation. Verse 34 says that they (the Jewish people) “will not teach again, each man and his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all will know Me…”

Today, Jewish people, and in fact all of us, “know God” because of the Bible, an external document that gives us the details of God’s holy standards for the Jews and the Gentiles who are called by His Name. True, the Holy Spirit was given to all believers, but we still have our internal, human nature that struggles against both the Spirit and against conforming our lives to Biblical standards. “After those days,” the Messianic Era, those who are part of the New Covenant, Israel and Judah, the Jewish people, and those of us who are grafted into the root through our faith in Messiah, will have that law, as it applies to each of us, written on our hearts, so that it will be “natural” for us to be obedient to God.

What I don’t see is that the content of the law or the differing roles of believing Jews and Gentiles will change in the slightest. It doesn’t say that in the text.

To support this, Ezekiel 36 says that because of God’s great name, which has been profaned among the nations (verse 23), God will renew Israel, so that the nations (the rest of the world) will know that God is God. Verse 24 continues saying God will take the Jewish people from the nations and return them to Israel. This too is part of the New Covenant, the redemption of national Israel.

So what do we know about the New Covenant. God will write His Torah, not on a scroll or on stone tablet, but on the hearts of the Jewish people, so that they will more perfectly obey His Torah. He will also redeem the Jewish people from their long exile and return them to their Land, to Israel. This is the New Covenant.

Quite a shift from what Pastor was talking about.

I’ve already written about how Gentiles become part of the New Covenant through Abraham, so don’t worry…we’re there, too. I tried to pull it all together in a final (or almost final) blog post called Building My Model which I think you’ll find is a pretty good summary of how the whole New Covenant develops.

the-divine-torahEphesians 3 is part of that description, but because my Pastor mentioned Ephesians 2, I’ll include links to my own interpretation of that chapter as well as an illuminating online conversation on Ephesians 2 and why it does not describe the swan song of the Torah. In fact, I recently said that it is impossible for the Jewish people to repent and to be redeemed by God without turning back to God and obedience of His Holy will through Torah observance.

But what does this have to do with Rosh Hashanah?

During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, religious Jews take the opportunity to hit the reset button on their lives, to take stock of the previous year and to repair any damage they may have done in their relationship with other people and with God. In the long history of enmity between Christianity and Judaism, we in the church have demanded that Jews distance themselves from the Torah (and thus from God) by burning Torah scrolls, volumes of Talmud, numerous synagogues, and sometimes Jewish people.

If the New Covenant includes and intensifies the older covenants rather than replacing them, then we Christians have some “making up” to do with the Jewish people. In our mistaken attempt to reconcile them with Christ by destroying Jewish observance, Jewish lifestyle, and Jewish people, we’ve been opposing rather than obeying God. If we Christians are serious about being part of the New Covenant, then we cannot inhibit the Jewish people from also being included. In fact, if they aren’t included, then we have no direct linkage, since Abraham is the father of all.

Last night, while I was out of the house, my wife lit the candles to commemorate the start of Rosh Hashanah. As a “good Christian husband,” what is my duty to my Jewish wife, given all I’ve just said? Part of my duty is to be delighted that the warmth and glow of the Shabbos candles once again grace the interior of our home.

L’Shana Tova Tikatevu. May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life and enjoy a wonderful new year.

Rosh Hashanah: Playing the Shofar For Our Father

shofar-rosh-hashanahAnd so we plead on Rosh Hashanah, Avinu Malkenu—our Father, our King. We know who You are, behind that stern mask, feigning objective judgment upon Your throne. You are the Ruler of All That Is, but You are also our Father, and a compassionate loving Father at that. Come here with us, hold our hands, see everything from our view down here. Feel our troubles and the pangs of our hearts as only a father can do. And then get involved with Your world and bless us with a sweet and goodly year.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“I Don’t Like Rosh Hashanah”
Chabad.org

A few days ago, while I was doing some reading, I had an idea for a “Rosh Hashanah” themed blog post. But I got busy with other things and now that I have the time to write it, the idea is gone. I searched my various online inspirations in an attempt to recapture what I had previously thought of, but no go.

But yesterday (as I write this) I did read my four-and-a-half year old grandson a book, written by Sonia Levitin called A Sound to Remember. Unfortunately, it was a library book and since it was due, I had to return it, thus I no longer have it with me to quote from.

The book seemed a little long and a little dry for my young grandson but he still cuddled next to me and paid rapt attention as I read the story of a boy, just past Bar Mitzvah age, named Jacov, a child living in a 19th century European village. Jacov was described as a “slow boy” who stuttered and who generally was the joke of both children and adults in his small town. But his ally was his teacher and friend, the Rabbi of the local synagogue.

The story begins several weeks before the start of the High Holidays. At this time, someone is usually selected to blow the shofar at the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services (custom says that a single individual is chosen for both of these honors). However, instead of the Rabbi choosing one of the elders of the synagogue or another person of esteem, he chose Jacov.

No one could believe it. Everyone tried to talk the Rabbi out of it. But the decision was made.

Jacov was terrified. What if he made a mistake? How much worse would he seem in the eyes of his neighbors than he already was if he made a mess of blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah?

The day came. Jacov’s parents beamed with pride as the young boy, shofar in hand, stood at the bemah ready to participate in the most important part of the service. The Rabbi called for the first blast. Jacov, who had been practicing diligently in preparation for this moment, blew with all his might, but almost no sound came out. The Rabbi called for the next blast. Jacov redoubled his efforts and the sound was a little better, but still hardly above a whisper. Jacov was red with embarrassment and trembling with shame. He just had to get the last call right.

The Rabbi shouted for the last blast but absolutely nothing was heard from the shofar. Jacov, in spite of all his efforts and determination, couldn’t make a sound.

The day was a disaster for both Jacov and everyone in the congregation. Angry faces “greeted” Jacov and his family as they left the synagogue that day. Jacov had no appetite for food and sat on his bed at home as that night’s darkness encroached, almost as dark as his depression at having utterly failed.

As I said, typically the person who blows the shofar at Rosh Hashanah also has the honor at Yom Kippur, but everyone in the village felt certain that the Rabbi would replace Jacov with a much more worthy individual. After all, who could be less worthy than Jacov?

But this was not the Rabbi’s choice. The Rabbi instead, made a secret agreement with Jacov and then took a quick trip to the city, which was unheard of for a Rabbi during the High Holidays.

Yom-Kippur-ShofarOn Yom Kippur, right before the blowing of the shofar, Rabbi made a statement that was the point of Levitin’s book and the text I wish I could quote.

He said that it is true that customarily, the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah should be loud and robust, but sometimes this is not what God wants to hear from us. Sometimes it is our whispers, our anguish, our small cries of the soul that honor God more. Who is to say that Jacov’s tiny and silent efforts weren’t as pleasing to God as another’s loud, clear shofar blasts? Rabbi was much more eloquent in his words than I am right now, and all of the people in the synagogue realized that at this time of atonement, they had failed their Rabbi, little Jacov and his family, and God by being so stern and unforgiving. To truly end the commemoration of this most holy day, they all had to seek forgiveness and make amends.

Then Rabbi revealed the reason for his trip and the purchase he made in the city: another shofar.

At the end of the service, both Rabbi and Jacov blew their shofars together, and no one could be certain which one (or was it both) was making the loud, clear sounds to remember.

Rabbi Freeman in his Rosh Hashanah commentary, tells a story of a Jewish farmer who had hired a teacher to live in his home with his family. In exchange for room and board, the teacher was to provide instruction for his children. However, with the approach of Rosh Hashanah, the teacher went into town to stay for the holidays so he could be close to the local synagogue. This left it to the father to “home school” his children for several weeks.

The father, usually such as “softie” with his children, found that he had to be overly firm to keep his children from taking advantage of him while he was teaching them their lessons.

Finally, on only day three of this exercise, one small child broke down in tears. Father may have played a good part as stern teacher, but he was still father at heart. He couldn’t bear to look at one of his smallest children crying. Looking down at the table to conceal his chagrin, he brusquely called the child over.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

Between his sobs, the child answered, “I want to ask my daddy…”

“Yes?”

“I mean my teacher…”

“Yes?”

“…so I can ask my daddy…”

“Right.”

“…that my daddy should ask the teacher…”

“So what is it?!”

“…that my teacher shouldn’t be so hard with us any more!!”

teaching-childrenThe story of the beginning of the New Year and the Day of Atonement is the story of our Teacher, our Master, and our Father and who we are as His children. Although most Christians probably don’t think there’s much for us to learn, since we accept that Jesus is our final atonement, there is a great deal we should pay attention to.

We are like Jacov, not very “quick on the draw,” so to speak. Earnest but immature. Eager to learn, but stumbling over the details. We know we are criticized and often deserve it, but we also can’t always control our natures and we make a lot of mistakes. If only our stern taskmaster, who asks so very much of us, would also be our loving Father, who can forgive abundantly.

We assume that once forgiven, we can do whatever we want. That we cannot fall from the hands of our loving Father. We often abuse the privilege of being “saved.” But what did Paul say?

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 6:1-2 (NASB)

I recently heard it said that as Christians we should live lives of continual repentance before God. That doesn’t mean we repent once, declare our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and then we’re covered forevermore, regardless of our behavior. It means we must be continually aware of our sins and our failures, continually confess them before the Father, continually regret our willful disobedience, continually make life changes designed to never again commit the sins we have repented of, and relocate our steps so we are walking on the path that God has set before us.

Even if we did that only once a year, say during the High Holidays, it would be a better effort at repentance than many Christians make.

Then, maybe we would appreciate that the harshness of our teacher is only a mask concealing the kindness and forgiveness of our loving Father, who is in Heaven.

If you are still asking yourself what possible relevance can the commemoration of Jewish festivals have for Christians, since this is all commanded in the Law (Torah), consider the following:

Question: Why do the Jewish people needs a covenant/Brit with G-d. Why do we have to be commanded to follow his Mitzvos? Why is the commitment necessary? Please let me know if you have any suggestions on further readings as well.

Answer: The Talmud asks your question, in a way. First, note that the Torah gives commandments to Gentiles as well, so evidently it is the Torah view that all humans need these. In fact, Adam, the first man, was commanded.

-from “Ask the Rabbi”
“Commandments and Covenants”
JewishAnswers.com

Without the basis of Torah, we Christians have no moral or ethical elements in our lives. This is no directive for Christians to behave like religious Jewish people, but God’s covenant with Abraham is our linkage to Christian covenant relationship with God. A significant subset of Torah is intended for the people of the nations who are called by His Name. Certainly the commandment to repent is not lost on us…or at least it shouldn’t be.

Wishing you a good and sweet new year.

When I Was Foolish…

When I was young, and foolish I used to argue with Christian missionaries (I later graduated to arguing with OJ fundies, and have since realized that is foolish, too.)

-DovBear
“Matthew and midrash?”
dovbear.blogspot.com

Well, I’m not young but I guess I’m guilty of being foolish. I’ve been accused of being too “thin-skinned” before, but I seriously don’t believe that God intended our primary means of communication to be arguing and bickering. Recently, I was (again) told that I don’t understand the educational value of discussing disagreements. In fact, I do. I just don’t understand personalizing conflicts. I’ve recently dismissed the idea that we can engage in any sort of Chavruta debate on the web, and fortunately, since I wrote that blog post, no one has tried to challenge me on it…exactly.

I know that in the controversial world of religion, and particularly the variants of Christianity that we find in Hebrew Roots, there is a lot of disagreement. That’s not really a problem as such, but when people are called out by name in the title of blog posts, or “Anonymous” commenters feel free to use profanity in referring to a fellow brother in Christ, then there is a problem. The problem gets worse when blog owners are confronted and yet deny that there is any sort of difficulty with the management of their blog or with their own ideas about what constitutes treating a fellow believer (let alone, any human being) in a respectful and loving way.

Telling me, “I’m saying it all in love,” doesn’t really cut it, since anyone can scream, and carry on, and spout the most disagreeable accusations and assumptions about another’s character and then say, “but I’m saying it (sometimes “it” is in ALL CAPS, which is really screaming “it”) all in love.”

My calendar says it’s day 28 (out of 40) of repentance. Elul ends at sundown on Sunday, and I feel in no way ready to encounter God, Tishei, or Rosh Hashanah (and certainly not Yom Kippur). Not that I really have to I suppose, since of everything I just mentioned, only God appears on the typical Christian landscape, and the concepts of confession, repentance, and renewal aren’t (for the most part) tied to a particular time of year.

Nevertheless, the habit of considering the High Holidays and living with a Jewish wife make the days of repentance impossible to ignore, and if I feel the need to write a third “meditation” in one day, then obviously I’ve got some last-minute house cleaning to do.

I’m a really big fan of forgiveness, but I seem to have forgotten recently that one can forgive a difficult and unrepentant person and still not reconcile with them. I’ve been trying engage such a person, not with the idea of ever-changing what we disagree over, but with the hope of improving the process of our communication.

It didn’t work.

How can I maintain even a tenuous fellowship with someone who, although nowhere near perfect, continues to behave as if every conflict and disagreement they encounter is caused outside of themselves, and without recognizing that they too contribute to disagreement and discord?

I can’t. More to the point, I really don’t have the time or inclination to, in essence, beat my head against a stone wall. For the most part, I’ve already given up going to specific websites or blogs that I know will just raise my blood pressure and yield no positive fruit. I had hopes for one, but now I realize that seeking peace with God and with my fellow human being isn’t going to be accomplished by continuing to pursue what is, by definition, an individual with an adversarial (at least online) personality.

I’m not saying that people can’t post a comment on my blog and disagree with me. Far from it. I welcome differing points of view. I do draw the line at personalizing disagreements and certainly “name calling” is way over the line. However that doesn’t mean I have to go “looking for trouble” either. In Matthew 6:34, Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” I think I’m going to take the Master’s advice and let trouble take care of itself. It doesn’t need my help.

I’ll certainly continue to visit and comment on blogs that I find uplifting and informative, but there’s enough craziness that happens in life just because it happens without me pursuing it and letting it aggravate me over what one of my instructors in Graduate school used to call “OPPs” (other people’s priorities).

If the High Holidays are for repairing and renewing relationships with God and other people, one of those relationships has to be with me. I think I’ll feel better about living in my own skin and be a better companion with everyone I connect with, if I follow a couple of pieces of advice from a sage advisor:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. –Ephesians 4:29-32 (ESV)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. –Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

The phrase “Charity begins at home” originated with Sir Thomas Browne but has been echoed by many others, including John Wycliff and Charles Dickens. In the same vein, I think peace, and particularly peace of mind begins “at home.” Sorry if this sounds a tad self-serving, but I’m going to focus on my peace of mind by thinking about things and associating with people who are honorable, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.” I think I’ll be a nicer person and more like the person God wants me to be if I pursue that course.

As DovBear might say, “when I was young (though not actually young) and foolish, I used to argue with people who argued for its own sake.” By God’s grace, I’m not going to do that anymore.

Please feel free to visit my blog and if you disagree with me (and I don’t really mind), it’s OK to talk about it with me. Just keep personalities out of it. However, I’m no longer going to visit places in the blogosphere that forsake the ways of peace because they absolutely need to answer the clarion call, someone is wrong on the Internet.

Nitai the Arbelite would say: Distance yourself from a bad neighbor, and do not cleave to a wicked person.

– Ethics of our Fathers, 1:7

Peace.