Tag Archives: silence

What I Learned in Church Today: Knowledge vs. Wisdom

Even a fool will be considered wise if he is silent; when he seals his lips [he will be considered] understanding.

Proverbs 17:28 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

There are instances when it takes courage to remain silent. It would be easier to speak up, but the right thing to do is to be silent.

Someone insults you. You can easily say something in return that would be the equivalent of a devastating knockout punch. You don’t say a word. Your silence is an expression of courage.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #463 “Courageous Silence”
Aish.com

After a short absence, Pastor Randy picked up his sermons on the Book of Acts today and Sunday School resumed its usual schedule. The sermon and topic in Sunday School was on Acts 19:23-41. You wouldn’t think a riot in Ephesus (the featured image above is supposed to be a riot) over the teachings of Paul and his associates on “the Way” and how the result of those teachings were cutting into the prophets of the idol-making silversmiths would provide me with much theological or doctrinal angst. Really, it should all be pretty straightforward stuff.

But there’s always something.

I provided the quotes above to illustrate how often I choose being silent rather than actually speaking my mind in Sunday School, because I might end up starting a small riot of my own. Not that I really want to, but because my opinions are so at odds sometimes with the people around me in church.

There was actually quite a lot I agreed with in how Pastor Randy framed his sermon. I think people of faith are at their best when the society around them/us challenges us, and we are often at our worst in a culture or nation that completely accepts us (we tend to get lazy and assimilate into the politically correct realm). Christians aren’t really persecuted in the United States. Try being a Christian in an African nation dominated by Muslims and then you’ll see what persecution is really like. Just because someone disagrees with you and calls you names doesn’t mean you’re being persecuted. That’s the limit of “persecution” most Christians in America experience today.

But then as Pastor was speaking and later on in Sunday School, I got to thinking about who I am in the midst of the local church. Pastor Randy and I had lunch about a week and a half ago, and in the course of discussing my recent blog posts, he asked me how I can call him “my Pastor” when I disagree with just about everything he says.

Actually, I’d been thinking about that, too. I don’t really disagree with 100% of what he says and I really do learn a lot, especially about Christian history, in what he says and teaches. But it is true that even my understanding of the core of the gospel message isn’t exactly the same as how it is taught by most Pastors, including Randy (To learn more, see my review of FFOZ TV’s episode The Gospel Message, as well as what I have to say about Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited).

ChurchOf course, during a sermon, one keeps quiet by definition but in Sunday School, I have to work on it. I know I’m risking being seen as a fool (and who knows, maybe I am) by even writing this when I should just keep my hands off the keyboard, but I don’t know if anyone else like me is recording their own Tent of David experience, and I figure someone should. So here I am.

There were a lot of good things that came out of both the sermon and the Sunday School teaching. But I did catch the Sunday School teacher engaging in what I might call “Christian Midrash” by his applying the phrase “the way” as recorded in Genesis 3:24 and Psalm 1:6 to how it’s used to formally describe the community of disciples of the Master in Acts 19:23. After all, the term “the Way” used to describe followers of Christ didn’t appear in the Bible until Acts 9:2. I spoke to the teacher before class to ask about his method of constructing his lessons and he gave me permission to bring the matter up during class. Not really sure it was worthwhile, but if we are to be critical of people in Messianic Judaism inserting meaning on one part of scripture based on earlier texts where it might not really fit, shouldn’t we extend the same “courtesy” inside the local church?

But the really big deal was the discussion on idolatry. Of course there would be tension between the ever-growing body of believers in and around Ephesus and the community that was supported by the worship of the goddess Artemus (Diana), and of course it makes sense to apply this topic to modern times and discuss the idols (anything we have in our lives that is more important than God) that we let rule our lives, but having just finished reading and reviewing Dr. Roy Blizzard’s book Mishnah and the Words of Jesus, I naturally thought of the following quote which I’ve previously cited:

Jesus has become an idol, if you will, our focus of attention, our focus of worship, and it seems that very few think of God anymore. Seldom do we hear anyone speak of the glory of God, his grandeur and mercy, the holiness of God, and the other many attributes and characteristics of God.

But remember, Blizzard also said this:

Please understand that I am not trying to lessen the importance of Jesus. What I am trying to do is emphasize that, in all the teachings of Jesus recorded for us in the gospels, his focus is not upon himself, what he is, what he is doing, or what he is to become. Additionally, Jesus has very little to say about God and, in particular, the Worship of God.

My point is that, in the teachings of Jesus, there is not all that much emphasis upward.

It seems in the process of promoting devotion to God through the Messiah, we’ve focused our entire attention on the Messiah, the doorway (“no one comes to the Father but through Me,” from John 14:6) and forgotten that the object was to “come to the Father.”

However, can we really say there are any other “idols” in the church? That seems like an odd question to ask. I suppose you might think of the Catholic Church or the Greek Orthodox Church, both of which use iconic symbols in their worship, but as Pastor Randy pointed out, anything that we put ahead of God in our lives can be considered an idol. Can Jesus be considered an idol if we focus exclusively on him and ignore God the Father? I don’t know. Some Christian songs that focus only on Jesus kind of bother me. The exclusive focus of some churches on the gospel as a plan of personal salvation without any thought to what else the gospel message says about what you are supposed to do with a “saved” life (the focus on Dr. Blizzard’s book relative to tzedakah) or the roles of Jewish and Gentile believers in preparing the world for the coming Messianic Age (often taught by the ministry First Fruits of Zion)…can any of that be considered an “idol?” Could “getting saved” and “getting other people saved” as our sole purpose in life actually result in our missing out of serving God in the other ways He actually intends?

The church I’m at right now is very study and very service oriented, but a lot of other churches aren’t. Am I supposed to bring stuff like that up in Sunday School? If I chose to introduce Blizzard’s or McKnight’s or Boaz Michael’s perspectives (as I understand them) to the discussion at hand, what would actually happen? Probably nothing good. And so, I keep silent, except in the one place I can claim any sort of ownership over which is this blog.

One of the questions in today’s Sunday School study notes asked:

How can God’s Word have a similar irritating effect on you or me, when the Holy Spirit uses it to affect us materially, or in our religious beliefs, or our pride?

The intended answer is “when the Holy Spirit uses the scriptures to convict us of our sins,” but my immediate response (which I never uttered) was, “when we find out the Bible says something different about God and people that church doctrine never teaches.”

No, I won’t be giving that answer. I only write about it here.

SilenceBut doesn’t that defeat the entire purpose of having a Tent of David experience? Probably, but offending people isn’t going to be very helpful in convincing people of an alternative point of view, so I suppose keeping quiet is the better part of valor. Pastor Randy reads my blogs so he’s quite familiar with my beliefs. I don’t doubt that I frustrate him terribly. I’m not trying to go out of my way to do so, but am I supposed to surrender my personal convictions on what I believe the Bible is saying or at least never write about them in a public forum such as the blogosphere?

I admit not knowing what to do. This form of communication helps me process the stuff that’s going through my head. I did allow myself to make one minor comment on exegesis and eisegesis in Sunday School (not calling it that, of course) and otherwise kept my mouth shut for the majority of class.

My opinion is that Pastor Randy is frustrated with me, in part, because he believes I’m an intelligent person but that I still don’t agree with how he teaches what the Bible is saying on a number of important subjects.

I’m sorry, I really am. I’m not trying to be a troublemaker. That’s why I have to remind myself of what the Proverbs say about silence and wisdom and how that’s reinforced in the comments of Rabbi Pliskin. I also have to remind myself that being considered intelligent by someone is a far cry from being considered wise. It might be better to practice silence in order to learn wisdom (a lesson I desperately need to apprehend). It would be ironic if that were my sole purpose in the local church, but then who knows what really goes on in the mind of God when He directs His attention to your life or mine?

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In Silence Like Sheep

Today’s daf discusses the halachos that apply to a person who has shamed his fellow Jew.

Rav Raphael of Barshad, zt”l, was always careful to see the good in every Jew. Judging others favorably was part of his very nature. Another important characteristic of Rav Raphael was that he was always happy when embarrassed by others. To him, this was the biggest favor that one can receive from anyone. The Ramak, zt”l, writes in Tomer Devorah, that since being shamed is likened to being killed, one who is silent in the face of humiliation has atoned for all of his sins. Like dying, even the worst sins are wiped away if one endures disgrace quietly.

The Ramak adjures people to take this to heart. “Everyone falls short in one way or the other and requires atonement for his failings. What is better? To suffer pain and illness—which cause a person to lose precious time from learning—or to be shamed? Enduring humiliation is a matter of having the right attitude and truly understanding that the humiliation has saved him from much worse. If one achieves this understanding he will not hold it against the person who shamed him. On the contrary, he received a gift from the one who embarrassed him.”

When people would come to Rav Raphael about having endured shame, he would explain the greatness of enduring embarrassment and that this had saved the person much worse troubles. When the person was consoled, he would laugh with pure joy and say, “How wonderful!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Silent Atonement”
Arachin 14

Periodically, I experience some rather impassioned arguments happening in the comments sections of various blog posts. I don’t mind and even encourage spirited debate, but there were moments when that “spirit” crosses the line into insult and harm. We cannot behave like this as disciples of the Master and this is clear disobedience of his commandment for us to love one another (John 13:34). I know what it is to get a “head of steam up” in an argument and to lose sight of what I’m trying to express and why. In that moment, all that really seems to matter is to prove my point and to show “the other guy” that they are in error. Sometimes it may seem really is important to point out an error made in understanding our faith, but at what cost? Is it worth promoting resentment and division in the body of Messiah? Must we always have the loudest voice?

When reading the commentary on the Daf, I was immediately captured by how much this seems to describe Jesus. I doubt the author meant to create such a parallel, but for the Christian, it is unavoidable.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. –Isaiah 53:7 (ESV)

And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent. –Matthew 26:62-63 (ESV)

How many of us would remain silent in such a situation? How many of us, even knowing what was at stake, would fail to vigorously defend ourselves against these unfair charges and attempt with all our might to avoid a death sentence and execution on the cross? And yet, in a way, we are commanded to do exactly that: to accept even death in silence, enduring everything for our Master’s sake.

But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. –Matthew 5:39 (ESV)

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” –Luke 9:23 (ESV)

Recall the commentary from today’s Daf which says that insulting someone is the same as murdering them (and I’ve written about this recently), and that enduring an insult in silence is as if you died and have atoned for all of your sins. I realize that Talmudic midrash is not to be taken as literal fact, but Jesus did endure his own murder in silence and in fact, his death did atone for the sins of the world. It’s all right there, if we’ll only pay attention.

We all like to say that we want to “be like Jesus.” For most of us, that doesn’t mean literally dying a horrible and torturous death for the sake of others, but it does mean enduring many insults for the sake of Christ. He even said this would happen to us.

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. –Matthew 10:21-22 (ESV)

So did James.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. –James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Can you see why the Jewish lens often illuminates the words of the Jewish Messiah, even without apparent intent? And yet there are those who are uncomfortable with the way I choose to view my Master, and some even insist that the Jewish perspective is not only worthless, but has long sense been wiped away and replaced by the singular and wholly “un-Jewish” Christian interpretation. However, I do not want even this point to be the cause of divisiveness between brothers in the Messiah. There is much value in offering consideration for one another for the sake of peace.

“They said of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai that no man ever greeted him first, even idol worshippers in the market” [i.e., Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was the first to greet every person, even idol worshippers] (Berachot 17). At the same location the sage Abaye advocated soft speech and words of peace to everyone, especially including idol worshippers.

“[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year… and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace.” (Shevi’it 4,3)

The rabbis taught: ‘We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace.” (Gitin 61a)

the-joy-of-torahAs a Christian, part of how I approach the ways of peace between me and Jewish people is to attempt to understand what Judaism means to a Jew, to the best of my meager ability. Taking joy in the Jewish people and in Judaism may be what the Jewish Messiah himself did as he gazed longingly at Jerusalem, anticipating the final salvation of Israel (Matthew 23:37-38). What he said began in sorrow and dismay, but will one day conclude in great happiness, as we see in the words of Rabbi Tzvi Freeman:

This is the meaning of a Jew and Judaism, the very meaning of the word: To live in a state of sustained wonder. To know that there are things beyond human grasp. That the very existence of anything at all is beyond knowing. And then to strive to know.

Let us endure much in silence and humility for the sake of our brothers and for the Messiah, that we may one day know what is beyond knowing, and shout in brotherly joy at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11).

You are the God Who works wonders, You manifested Your might among the nations. With Your powerful arm You redeemed Your nation, the sons of Jacob and Joseph, Selah. –Psalm 77:15-16 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Within the Sound of Silence

Alone in silenceA parable:

A father answers the questions of his child and they are happy together, in joyful dialogue.

Then the child asks a question, and the father must think deeply—not just for the answer, but to reach to the essence of this answer so he may bring it to the world of his child. For a long while, the father is quiet.

And so, the child becomes anxious and begins to cry. “Father, where are you? Why do you no longer talk to me? Why have you deserted me for your own thoughts?”

And then the father begins to speak, but this time it is the deepest core of his mind that flows into the mind and heart of the child. Such a flow that with this the child, too, may become a father.

The child is us. The time of silence is now.

When the spirit of Man is dark, when the flow gates of Above seem all but sealed, prepare for liberation.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory
“A Time of Silence”
Chabad.org

There’s an old joke that says the difference between a man and a woman is that a man can sit with his friend without them talking to each other for five minutes and not worry that his friend is angry with him. It’s meant to illustrate the different approaches to communication and relationship men and women seem to naturally take, but as with many such jokes, there’s a kernel of truth at the core.

But beyond a certain point, even the most stoic man or woman gets a little uncomfortable being with another person who isn’t talking to them at all. Certainly, if you are in a very close relationship such as Father and Son, you’d expect fairly frequent exchanges of thoughts, feelings, and ideas when you’re together. Sometimes when someone close to you isn’t talking to you, you can interpret the silence as anger or disinterest or even emotional abandonment.

We have one of the world’s most poignant examples of this at our fingertips:

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). –Matthew 27:45-46

How many times did Jesus say, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:29) and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)? Yet, it was necessary for there to be a temporary and devastating silence between Father and Son, in this case, for the sake of the entire world (and see Acts 13:32-33 for a parallel to the Rebbe’s words, “Such a flow that with this the child, too, may become a father”).

How about the silences between us and God? You may not be aware of all the times when God experiences your silence and your lack of attention toward Him, but you are acutely aware of when you desperately need to hear from God and instead, find only His silence. Like the child in the parable quoted above, and like Jesus on the cross, you may cry out in your loneliness and fear that God has abandoned you in your pain. But has He?

There is an old proverb that says “Sometimes silence is the best answer.”

Silence is generally something we try to avoid. We aren’t comfortable with it. Think about the awkward silences we’ve each encountered and how often our response is to say something. We have a need to break the silence and perhaps too often we ignore the actual need FOR silence.

from the Gathering Sparks blog.

Sometimes silence is part of the necessary response of God to us, not because He doesn’t care, but because we need to exist for a certain amount of time, in silence. We intensely want to hear from God when we are afraid, alone, or in pain, but at times, God only gives us what we need, and does so for our benefit.

Turn, LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
Who praises you from the grave?

I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes. –Psalm 6:4-7

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me. –Psalm 63:6-8

Sometimes we draw closer to God when we don’t hear from Him and when we, in our anguish, remember who He is and what He has done; when we in faith and trust, acknowledge His Kingship and Glory, though His voice is silent.

Then, when we do hear from Him, it is at the right time and from God’s deepest core, we are given the strength to overcome and to be liberated.