Saturday, January 27, 2018

Christianity Vs. Judism

I was asked a great question that I want to tackle today. The question is:

Where do you put philosophy as a belief system with current Judaism?

This is a great question, I appreciate those who ask me questions to tackle, and I think this question is very relevant to us. We have lots of people in American Christianity with European roots acting like they are subject to the entire Jewish law, minus the ones they don't want to. They eat bacon, but can't get a tattoo. Let's begin at what the Hebrew law is all about.

The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Torah by Jews, also known as the Pentateuch. They are attributed to Moses and contain the origin of all things and then specifically of the Israelites. The law was given to the Hebrews by God through Moses to separate His chosen people from the rest of the world. The chosen people are the Hebrews, everyone else is a Gentile. The law is huge, the core is the Shema, you shall love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. These are expanded on in the 10 Commandments and then the law grows to include the Holiness code, rules for conduct, sacrifice, how to live and so on.

The Hebrew people attempted to keep the law, but they couldn't because no one can keep the law, we are all sinful and break the rules. Along the way, the nation of Israel was separated into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). The north went into exile and became Samaria, the south remained Judah and they had the temple and retained the law, which is how Hebrews became Jews, from Judah. It was out of this group that Jesus came, He was a Jew and was the only person in the history of all mankind to keep the law perfectly. He had His followers, the 12 Disciples and they began the church after the Ressurection. 

In the beginning, everything made sense, it was a group of Jews who recognized that the Messiah (anointed one of God) had come and saved people from their sins. The Jewish Messiah came to the Jewish people and those people accepting Him as Savior were Jews, so it was all cool. Then came the day that non-Jews became Christians. So now with Gentile believers, the question came, do Christians have to become Jews to become Christians? Do we have to be circumcised, keep the dietary rules, the dress code, the cleanliness rules? Do we have to do the ceremonies, and what about the sacrifices, since Jesus was the sacrifice and that system no longer is required?

So, as Christians, do we have to keep the Old Testament law? Jesus said the law wouldn't pass away, but He would fulfill the law. Jesus showed us clearly how some was fulfilled, He broke with many of the conventions about the Sabbath. He touched a bleeding woman, clearing up that one, and declared all foods clean. What about the other long list, what about the 7th year of rest, the feasts, the clothing, hair and facial hair requirements? Jews were only supposed to marry other Jews, so what about Gentiles? Should a Gentile marry a Jew or a Gentile? The Apostles and church leaders got together in Acts chapter 15 to talk about the issue. They decided that the new Christians need to refrain from sexual immorality, blood and things that have been strangled. The rest of the rules we find written in the letters (called Epistles) which make up the bulk of the New Testament. These things include most of what we find in the 10 Commandments and summed up in the Shama. We are told to go away from lying, murder, adultery and fornication, course and rude talking, immorality, idolatry, anger, and hatred and most criminal activity. The New Testament does say that homosexuality is wrong, even though there is a big dispute about what that really entails.

The struggle with so many is that we attempt to apply parts of the OT to Christians today, but ignore other parts. We toss out the 4 tassles, mixed fabrics, and no goatees, but can't get a tattoo, it gets really convoluted. Do we have to keep the Sabbath, do we keep it on Saturday or Sunday and do we have to give 10%? The answer is no, the tithe was a temple requirement, and we don't have the temple now, the New Testament tells us to give to support the work of the Gospel and support the poor, but no standard amount is required. The best option is to start with Acts 15, so refrain from sexual immorality (sex is only allowed in the context of a husband and wife who are married), from consuming blood and from things that have been strangled. From there, look to Paul. Read Ephesians and it gives us a good list, after all Paul gives the list to people who didn't have a copy of the Old Testament, wouldn't know the OT law and he must tell them how to behave. The New Testament gives us all we need to know what to do, without having to dive into the Old Testament law.

This doesn't mean that the Old Testament law isn't valid, it's important and shows us the holiness of God. We learn about God, who He is and how Holy He is. We learn about who we are and how we are incapable of coming to God on our own. We can't keep the law. In the original question, I was asked how we are different from Modern Jews. This is a hard question to answer, because Judism has been seperated into so many different groups, and they have different beliefs, but the closest to the original Hebrew would be hassedic Jews.

The Jewish people today do not have the temple, and they do not currently have a system of animal sacrifice, but do try to keep the law, and celebrate the day of atonement, called Yom Kippur. They still try to be right with God through the law. 

In contrast, Christians no longer try to get right with God by the law, but through Christ. Let's take Paul's example and compare it to marriage. I don't treat my wife well, love and honor she cherish her so she will love me. She already loves me and I love her, so I treat her with love as a result of what I already have, but because of what I'll gain. We live to please God because of what we have already obtained, not because of what we get in the end. It's already obtained by our faith in Christ. We love Him because He first loved us. 

I'm sure there is more that can be written on the matter, but I think and hope this gets to the heart of things. Let's strive to obey the law of love in Christ, not because of what we will gain, but because we already have. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Theme for 2018. Time for a New Perspective.

Thinking about my theme this week, I was sitting in my office and pondering what I want do focus on for 2018. As I ponder, the tv in the main room is playing a song from the movie Trolls. I can hear the bubbly optimistic voice singing “if you knock-knock me over, I will get back up again”. Sure, I need to be more positive and focus on being optimistic, but I am reminded by the words of Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi. He reaches out to Rey and invites her to let the past die. He says, “let the past die, kill it if you have too”. He wants to let it all die, the Jedi, the Sith, the way things used to be and find out who he is supposed to be. I’m not going into a long diatribe about the movie, I just want to focus on this idea.

Spoiler Warning: Kylo killed his father, Han. He wants to kill Luke. He kills Snoke. He should have killed Huss, he does smack him around a little. He is now in charge, no more mask, no more wanting to be Vader. He lets go of the ambitions to be as great as his grandfather and he wants to be who he is supposed to be. Pretty noble. . . .for a dark lord of the sith. Ok, maybe it’s not noble, maybe it’s selfish and arrogant, but the reality is, he had this path he thought he had to walk, these shoes he thought he had to fill, this person he was supposed to be. He was pushed and pulled and if he didn’t measure up he was berated, so he killed the past. He did it pretty literally.

Now I have been working through some hurt in my life for the last 5 or so years. I have struggled a lot because I had this idea of who I was going to be and who I was becoming. Then it was gone, I was told I didn’t have what it takes to be who I wanted to be and I couldn’t stay in my position anymore because I wasn’t good enough. I was broken, so I left broken and attempted to pick up the pieces, but the more I gathered, the more I dropped. I had this idea of who I needed to become, but those I use to call partners and friends were now mocking me from a distance. I was called immature, a mistake, that I was unwise and financially irresponsible. The more that was said the more got back to me, and if I responded, those individuals would go on the defensive and accuse me of gossip and slander. I limped away to start over someplace else. I tried to get going in a new place with a new goal and aim, but it never worked out. My schedule didn’t allow me, so I made a change but ended up injured and needed back surgery. I offered, I reached out, but I was shut down. The door was closed. I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t measure up, I didn’t fit the bill, my failure was too great.

The past 5 years have been a series of failures in the path I thought was set before me. I started this journey at 15, and the road just stopped. I can’t make any progress. Instead, I just sat down and looked at the past, the road that brought me here that was filled with pain and hurt and disappointment. I’m angry and hurt and feel rejected and scorned. I know I’m never going to get an apology or be restored and resolution won’t come. The thorn is there, and God isn’t going to remove it. I have to remember that grace is sufficient, even though I don’t understand or like it. I can’t fix it and I can’t fix the past. The past is gone, it’s over and I need to let it die. Maybe I need to kill it. How? By getting off that road.

I’m not saying I’m done with the road I was on for most of my adult life. Yes, the road I was on was ministry, vocationally or even volunteer. I talked with a church here in town that was looking for a pastor who feels like they are called in a specific direction, which isn’t in my direction and I found I am ok with that. They are a good church but I’m not sure my particular style is the right fit, since I am much more traditional and a Sunday School guy. I’m finding my particular style doesn’t fit many places lately, since I’m a traditional Arthur Flake, Southern Baptist, Lifeway Sunday School guy, and every time a church tosses Sunday School aside for some other model, it makes my head want to explode. Maybe someday a church will call me and say “we want a traditional Sunday School guy to come help us out”, but for right now, that’s not my path.

I have to embrace my reality. I’m not moving away from Sioux City. When we came here in 2008, it was to stay until 2025 (my youngest will out of High School at that point). We just bought a house, we aren’t leaving. I’m not going to pack up my kids and move them to find a church job, and there are no church jobs in Sioux City that fit me. I’ve even offered to do them for free, but it didn’t work. The door was shut, and I suppose when you boil it down, God shut them. Maybe it’s not the right time, maybe I am just a bad person and God doesn’t want me screwing up His church. Opinions vary, I have been told that I don’t understand pastoring and I need to get out of church ministry and pursue a career in academics.

I will pursue a career in academics. I’ve already started classwork, I’m back in school, learning new things. I have a job working in the world, which is sorta educationally focused. I’m learning, going to a training, looking at conferences, I’m going to resume writing more. I’m not leaving my faith, although it suffered a great deal when church after church seemed to shut the door on me. I won’t throw my Seminary degree, license or ordination in the trash. I’m not going to quit church, although, in all honesty, I have considered it. I won’t become a bitter individual who wants to destroy those who hurt me, but the call to the dark side is real. The temptation to lash out in anger is real, so I need to let the past die.

Kill it if necessary. This means for me that I need to take those feelings and thoughts captive, reject them and let them die. My anger and bitterness, it’s not going away easy. I’ve tried for the better part of 5 years to get them to leave. I still have nightmares and dreams about my past, but it must die. I’m not emotionally healthy, I haven’t been in a long time. My failures have come as result of my emotional state. I need to let the past die. I need to get back up again. My focus needs to be on the future, where I am going and what I’m doing. Find a new road and stop looking forlorn at the deal end. That road is over, it’s over. It’s over. I’m not over and it’s time for me to get going, down a new road.

2018: The Year to Let the Past Die, Kill It If Necessary.