Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 2

However one views the Torah, there is an unavoidable issue. That issue is over what to do with the sacrificial system. The sacrificial system is central to the Torah. Not only were sacrifices an ongoing, daily activity, they were associated with so much of life: festivals, childbirth, disease, sins, thanksgiving, etc. To remove or ignore the sacrificial system from the rest of the Torah is to end up with something very different from what God originally intended. I imagine there may be some people (I haven't heard of any) who try to fulfill the sacrificial requirements, but it is widely accepted that God directed the sacrifices to be done at the Temple in Jerusalem, and has not directed otherwise. No temple, no sacrifices.

Each of the various approaches to the Torah that I outlined in my last post in some way deals with this issue. But however one deals with it, there needs to be an acceptance that we cannot fully keep it as it was intended. While those who completely reject the Torah's current relevancy don't have to address this issue, the other approaches need to do something with the implications of the loss of the sacrificial system.

This is all to point out that if we believe that the Torah has something to teach us today (as I do), it cannot be in exactly the same way as originally intended. Due to the Temple's destruction and the absence of the sacrificial system some things have had to have changed.

Religious, non-believing Jewish people deal with this by substituting a variety of religious traditions in the place of God's prescribed rituals. They think they are fulfilling the Torah – but they are not – they are simply pursuing something of their own concoction. Instead of seriously facing the implications of the loss of the sacrificial system, which can only be resolved through what Yeshua the Messiah has done for us, they have created their own religion.

Sadly many New Covenant believers look to a rabbinical model of Torah observance in their desire to fulfill Torah. It is sad because the "torah" they are fulfilling is not God's Torah, but a man-made one.

In order to fulfill God's Torah, we need to adequately deal with the implications of the loss of the sacrificial system, which we will seek to do next time.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 1

This week's TorahBytes message that was posted yesterday deals with a practical life principle addressed by the Torah. Dealing with such issues (which in this case related to personal property) raises the more general subject of how should New Covenant believers apply the Torah to our lives today.

There are several viewpoints, which I will list here. In future posts I will discuss these further and try to provide what I believe is the biblical perspective. This may not be an complete list, but it provides a general overview of various approaches to the Torah.

The All or Nothing Approach. This Approach sees the Torah as a whole. Either you seek to follow it all or you have to disregard it all together.

The Slice and Dice Method. This approach picks and chooses certain principles to accept and others to reject based on what the individual deems relevant to our day. Culture (or our understanding of culture) becomes the filter through which we apply Scriptural principles to our lives.

Old Means Old. This is an understanding whereby the Old Covenant is Old in the sense of completely finished with . There may be some lessons found in the Torah, but they are lessons similar to that which we may learn from history. There is no direct application to today.

The Spiritualization Approach. This view tends to see the whole Torah as relevant to all believers, but takes many of God's directives and spiritualizes them, usually in an attempt to find Yeshua and his salvation in them.

Categorization Approach. This is the view that there are clearly defined categories or law found in the Torah. This is usually described as Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial. The adherents of this view normally see the civil as no longer in effect and the ceremonial as fulfilled in Yeshua and thus is no longer applicable, while the moral is eternal.

The Eternal Torah. Proponents of this view assert that since God said it then, it still is in effect today and that's that.

Obviously my understanding includes some sort of application of Torah to today or else I would not have written what I did about property rights. But how we view the Torah's current relevancy is very important so that we follow God today in the way he truly desires, rather than create our own fabricated religion. More to come.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

TorahBytes: Finders Keepers - Not! (Ki Teze)

If you see your brother's ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to him. If the brother does not live near you or if you do not know who he is, take it home with you and keep it until he comes looking for it. Then give it back to him. Do the same if you find your brother's donkey or his cloak or anything he loses. Do not ignore it. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 22:1-3)

I can remember very clearly when I was young learning a very important principle regarding personal property. It was "Finders keepers, losers weepers." This was an easy-to-remember life principle. Just in case you are not familiar with this saying, it means if you found something someone lost, it was yours to keep. Of course if I did happen upon something of significant value, I was expected to look around to see if the possible owner might be nearby. But if not, whatever it might be, it became rightfully mine.

As one who claims to respect the authority of Scripture, the verses I quoted challenge (or should I say contradict?) this life principle. God clearly calls us to return lost things to their original owner even if we don't know who the person is or if they live far away. Further, we are to take care of the thing found until the person comes looking for it.

Godly directives such as these should lead us to ask certain questions. Does this apply to things of small value? For example if I find twenty-five cents in a vacant parking lot, should I take it home and wait for someone to claim it? What about perishable items? Perhaps in that same vacant lot late at night after the grocery store is closed, a bunch of ripe bananas are found. Would it be wrong for a homeless, hungry person to eat them? Looking again at these verses, they are referring to items of substantial and lasting value, not things of little value or perishables.

Another question has to do with how long we should hold on to something before the original owner loses his claim to it. The passage does not speak of any time limit. Perhaps if it were an animal, then it should never be slaughtered, but would it be OK in the meantime to milk it, if it were a milking animal, or to shear its wool if it were a sheep, or to use its services if it were a work animal? I don't know. And if the item were a cloak - which today might be a coat, jacket, or sweater - should it be put away in a closet forever just in case the owner makes themselves known? Again, I don't know.

What I do know is that we need to take our responsibility toward the care of other people's things seriously. There is more to biblical property rights than the prohibition regarding stealing. My losing something does not cancel my ownership of an item. I also have an obligation to others to ensure that I do my part in returning lost items to their original owner. How we deal with some of the implications of these directives must at least start with accepting our God-given responsibilities.

Whether it is this directive or some other, we need to allow the Bible to confront and contradict our long-held life principles. It may even confront and contradict what we thought God was saying to us more recently. If we want to walk in God's ways, we need to hear what he is saying about all of life and live accordingly.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Israel Needs Salvation

Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1)

Sometime last week, on this blog, I wrote that as we pray for Israel (and other nations), our greatest desire should be for their salvation. Whatever happens in the political and military realms, people are lost forever unless they come to know Yeshua the Messiah.

There are some who teach that as far as the Jewish people are concerned, this will not happen until we are all (or the vast majority) are back in the Land. They would refer to certain biblical references that give this impression. I am not going to take the time now to look at those references, but I will just comment that we need to be careful how we draw conclusions from the prophetic portions of Scripture. Not only is it difficult to accurately interpret these passages, unless they explicitly detail how they are to be applied, we are in danger of guessing God's will. Even if the Scriptures clearly state that the Jewish people will not experience salvation until we are back in the Land (which can't be the case, since I myself am a believer, not to mention the thousands of others like me) – but even if they did state that – those passages would not negate Yeshua's clear directive to bring the Gospel to all people including the Jewish people.

The writers of the New Testament (New Covenant) understood this. They, most of whom were Jewish themselves, loved their own people and longed for their welfare. They lived in a day, like ours, when a good portion of the Jewish people were living in the land, while the majority were living in the Diaspora. Note, however, that Paul's prayer, which I quoted above, is not that they would return to the Land, but for their salvation. As we read of how Paul lived out his calling, even though he knew that his role was to bring the good news of the Messiah's coming to the non-Jewish peoples, whenever he went to a new town, he would always go to the synagogue first. Even though his mission was to the Gentiles, he always sought out his own people, in order to bring the message of the Messiah to them.

With regard to the bringing of the Gospel to the Jewish people, there are some serious issues in our day that people such as Paul did not have to deal with, particularly centuries of Christian anti-Semitism. The bad relationship between Christians and Jews does need to be reckoned with. But however this is dealt with, the need of the Jewish people to hear about and receive Yeshua is the same now as it was in Paul's day. Any other conclusion is a direct contradiction of the Lord's commission to his people.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Abraham's Legacy

The other evening I saw the film, End of the Spear, based on the book of the same name by Steve Saint. Steve's father Nate and four other men were speared to death in their attempt to make contact with a remote people in the jungles of Ecuador in 1952. Steve, who was a young boy at the time would years later become close friends with the man who killed his father.

This movie is a moving account of the lives of those who were willing to sacrifice everything that others may come to know the love of God in Yeshua. This is Abraham's legacy.

God told Abraham that through him all the families of the world would be blessed (Bereshit / Genesis 12:3). Yeshua said that Abraham was glad to see his day (John 8:56). I think this included the turning of the native peoples of Ecuador to his God.

That the nations of the world would come into loving relationship with the God of Israel is Abraham's legacy - the legacy of the people of Israel even though most of us are not aware of it.

Viewing this film was a powerful reminder to me that God's ways are not our own. It was the missionaries' demonstration of faith and love that put an end to a vengeful, murderous cycle of death.

The sooner the people of Israel come to understand this same love and faith, the sooner we will experience our God-given destiny, and the sooner we will all experience lasting peace.

End of the Spear is now available in DVD. We were able to rent it from our local video store.

Monday, August 21, 2006

We need to address the spiritual issues first

I closed yesterday's TorahBytes message by stating, "While some might think that our (i.e. the Jewish people's) salvation lies in political and military solutions, it is actually the other way around." I would like to elaborate on the relationship between the spiritual and the natural realms with regard to Israel's security concerns.

Biblically, the spiritual and moral aspects of life are the prime influences upon natural outcomes. Over and over again we read how God would bless us and help us in response to our obedience to him. While this is true, we need to be careful how we judge circumstances. When people are going through trouble, we must not jump to conclusions, assuming that these troubles are due to disobedience. This was the mistake that Job's "friends" made. Still, this is a general principle of Scripture.

This doesn't mean, however, that we should not deal with societal issues. But if we want lasting solutions, it would do us well to look at the spiritual and moral condition of our society first before addressing the actual problems. But the spiritual issues are just the beginning. In most cases, at some point, we need to also address the practical issues as well.

In the case of the Israel, as I mentioned yesterday, the main cause of our insecurity as a people is spiritual, whether that insecurity be the national insecurity experienced by the State of Israel or the more general insecurity that we have known for much of our history -. Our relationship with God affects everything. While the principle I described above applies to all nations to some extent, they apply to Israel in a particular way due to our specific covenant relationship with God.

Bible believers should understand this. Those who love Israel and claim faith in the Messiah should know this. If we want to see Israel blessed. If we want to see the State of Israel live without ongoing threat of harm, we need to bring this truth to them. To simply emphasize political and military solutions, without addressing the basic spiritual ones, will do them no good in the long term.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

TorahBytes: Israel's Mandate (Shofetim)

When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 20:1)

When God brought Israel out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and his brother Aaron, and later Joshua, it was with the view of possessing what was then called the land of Canaan. Hundreds of years before, God had promised that land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Before Moses died God began to prepare the people for the conquest of the Promised Land. Possessing the Land was to accomplish two things: the fulfilling of the promise to the forefathers and the judgment of the wicked peoples who had been living there up until that time.

Israel's mandate was clear: they were to wipe out the inhabitants of the land. They were to face this task with confidence in God. They were not to fear armies greater than theirs, because he promised to be with them.

Under Joshua the people of Israel did indeed take possession of the Land, but their continued presence there was contingent upon their faithfulness to God (See Devarim / Deuteronomy 4:25-27). Much of the writings of the prophets address this. Israel's confidence regarding the conquest of the land and later in standing against their enemies was based first and foremost on their having a right relationship with God. As the Scriptures clearly describe, it was Israel's disobedience that led to the nation's eventual demise and exile.

Since then Israel has returned to the Land twice. The first time under Ezra and Nehemiah, and the second time in the last century culminating in the establishment of the modern State of Israel.

Some may want to apply Moses' words of confidence to the armies of Israel today, assuming that God is with them in the same way as he was in Moses' and Joshua's day. But that would be as wrong as assuming that he was with them in that same way all through biblical history. While God has an ongoing special regard for the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and while there are still yet to be fulfilled prophecies regarding Israel's spiritual and national destiny, confidence in God's support of them militarily has never been consistent. It was always dependent on their spiritual state.

What God desired for the nation of Israel in Moses' day and following, was clearly spelled out in the Torah (the five books of Moses). There are many in the Jewish community that believe this is still God's primary mandate for us as a people even though we rejected it and were judged accordingly. It is important to note that what is understood as obeying the Torah today is far removed from its original intent, one reason being that the Temple was destroyed and the prescribed sacrificial rituals were ended. Post-temple (or modern) Judaism is only reminiscent of biblical Judaism. It does not represent God's will for the Jewish people in ancient times or now.

The purpose of the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures was to prepare Israel for spiritual renewal through the Messiah. That he came not long before the destruction of the second temple was not just coincidence. He came to bring spiritual renewal first to his own people and then through them to all the nations of the world in fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham.

At that time Israel was about to again face destruction and was on the brink of an exile that would make the earlier one to Babylon seem like a vacation. Yeshua had come to prepare Israel for its new mandate. The time had come to bring the good news of God's salvation to the whole world. Israel, who had been living unto itself for centuries, was being prepared to go to the uttermost parts of the earth.

This was the mandate taken up by the early Jewish believers in their day and has continued to be the mandate of all who trust in Yeshua ever since. And this is still Israel's mandate today even though most Jewish people are not aware of it.

This lack of awareness has not only kept the Jewish people from fulfilling our mandate, but it is also the main cause of our ongoing insecurity as a people. One of the things that has not changed since Moses' day is that our national security is still based on our relationship to God. While some might think that our salvation lies in political and military solutions, it is actually the other way around.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Continuity and Discontinuity

New Covenant believers face a challenge. With the coming of the Messiah we have undergone a transformation. The distance between humans and their Creator has been bridged through the death and resurrection of Yeshua. Through him we have received the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Ruach Hakodesh (the Holy Spirit), and eternal life – all of which were anticipated in the Tenach (Hebrew Scriptures). What we anticipated has now been realized.

The challenge believers have faced is how much of what God revealed prior to Yeshua's coming is still in effect today. This subject deserves much more attention than I can give it now, but there is a basic issue that I would like to address briefly.

The Scriptures are clear that God's dealings with us have elements that are not time-limited. God himself does not change. His attributes and purposes are eternal. At the same time there are other things that have changed. The Messiah has come, the Gospel has been preached all over the world, resulting in people of almost every nation professing allegiance to the God of Israel. The effects of receiving forgiveness and the Holy Spirit has equipped us to serve God in ways not fully experienced prior to Yeshua's coming.

In order to fully embrace all God's wants for us in our day, it is necessary to ascertain what of God has continued till now, what things no longer apply, and what new things have been introduced.

Those who emphasize continuity tend to play down the new things, while those who emphasize the new, play down that which has continued.

For example some who emphasize God's eternal holiness tend to misunderstand the vastness of God's forgiveness. While those who emphasize God's forgiveness at times become lax in the area of holiness. What we need to do instead is learn how the Scriptures instruct us on how God's holiness is expressed in the context of forgiveness.

This is another example of how our inability to effectively integrate the complexity of God's reality. Our tendency to think in absolute categories leads us to focus on one aspect of a thing to the neglect of relevant aspects.

The solution to this problem is gaining a better understand of what the Scriptures – the entire Scriptures – actually teach. As we allow our preconceived notions be confronted by the Bible even our tendency to think in exclusive categories will be transformed.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

How To Pray for Israel

When we face a crisis as the one during the last month between Israel and some of their neighbours, it should go without saying that we need to pray, but what should we pray? Some feel that Israel should be supported right or wrong, and pray accordingly. Others have been moved by the plight of the Lebanese civilians. Some long for certain End Times scenarios to enfold, while others so deplore the violence that they think the only thing God wants is peace at any cost.

Having a discussion regarding the various issues involved and how God would have us pray would be a worthwhile discussion. I would hope that this could be done from a strong biblical perspective striving to understanding how justice and mercy need to work together.
But there is a very basic issue that should be utmost in our hearts and minds as we pray for Israel and that is for their salvation in Yeshua. Without God's salvation in any of our lives military victories, peace agreements, and even the coming of the Lord himself won't do us much good.

Sadly many New Covenant believers - even those who claim love for Israel - are in danger of losing sight of God's appointed remedy for the problems at hand. Everyone of us, whatever nation of which we are apart, need Yeshua.

This is what we should pray for Israel, the Lebanon, Hezbollah, and for our own countries. We all need salvation, God's salvation, which is only found in Yeshua.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Loyalty vs. Non-partisanship

One of the tensions that God-fearing people face is how to be loyal to our primary relationships, while still treating all people (including our enemies) fairly, with love and godly concern.

By primary relationships I mean family, close friends, the company(ies) and society(ies) we belong to (which would include our congressional affiliations), the nation(s) we are citizens of and the cultural and ethnic group(s) of which we are apart.

We have a certain kind of responsibility towards these primary relationships that we don't have to the wider world. At the same time, the call to be loving and fair to all will create a conflict with these relationships.

Some people resolve this conflict by always choosing one over the other. There are those who will always stand by their family or country no matter what. Others are quick to break relationship when they perceive unjust attitudes or actions arising.

I don't think we need to choose one over the other. In fact I don't think that these two things are mutually exclusive. The biblical prophets are a good example of how we can be both loyal to our primary relationships and yet not play favorites. God gave the prophets the task of speaking his word to the nation of Israel. There is no doubt that they were loyal to their own people. In fact it was partly due to their loyalty that they were able to speak the difficult thing they did.

Even more than their loyalty to their people, it was their loyalty to God, which enabled them to do what they did. When we lose our focus on the Lord, our personal loyalties will blur how we see those closest to us. What we think is love becomes misguided and our well-meaning support can actually lead us to keep our loved ones from the very truth that would most help them.

Our loyalties should help make us sensitive to the needs of those closest to us. None of us can fully care equally for everyone and every issue. But unless we take a step back and see all people through God's eyes, our loyalties, instead of being opportunities to love and care, will become obstacles to the good things God actually wants to do in their lives.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

TorahBytes: Gentiles for Yeshua (Re'eh)

Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor. (Isaiah 55:5)

For most Jewish people, Yeshua is irrelevant. While many accept that he was a Jewish man or even acknowledge him as a significant leader, to most Jewish people the movement that has emerged in his name has nothing to do with us whatsoever. In fact for many, Christianity is synonymous with being non-Jewish. There are several reasons for this, but the primary reason has to do with who has made up the bulk of Yeshua's followers throughout history: non-Jews. The biblical word for non-Jews is "Gentiles," which simply means "nations," but is often used to refer to nations other than the nation of Israel.

It is not just the sheer number of Gentile believers that has caused Christianity to be viewed as not Jewish. Other factors contributing to this include the strong stance against Yeshua and his followers on the part of the majority of Jewish leadership as well as the arrogance of the emerging Gentile Christian leadership toward Jewish people.

While it has contributed to some extent, I don't know how much of a role the rejection of Yeshua has played in how Christianity came to be viewed in the Jewish community. Jewish history and Jewish life are diverse. There have always been strong differences between various factions. Yet believing in Yeshua by and large has been kept outside of the Jewish fold by the vast majority of Jewish people.

On the other hand Christian arrogance toward Jewish people has done much to widen the gap between these two communities. When one reads the history of Christian anti-Semitism it is easy to understand why most Jewish people would not want to consider Yeshua. Even though Christians emphasize love in Jesus' name, they have regularly degraded Jewish people in that same name. Along with that degradation has been a revamping of his own cultural and historical context that resists genuine Jewish participation in the life of the Church. A gentilized Yeshua is no longer a Jewish Messiah, but rather a Gentile god.

What makes this all the more tragic is that Yeshua's Gentile following, rather than being an obstacle to the Jewish community, should have been a sign to his people that he really was the Messiah. When God first formed the Jewish people by calling Abraham it was with the promise of being a blessing to all the nations of the world (Bereshit / Genesis 12:3). Many years later through the prophets God predicted that the Messiah would have a profound impact on the non-Jewish world. Israel's destiny was (and still is) to be a light to the nations. This has certainly occurred through Yeshua and his followers. It is because of his followers that all around the world from Jerusalem to London to New York to Buenos Aires to Sidney to Tokyo to Beijing to New Delhi to Nairobi to Cairo to Moscow people worship the God of Israel and esteem the Jewish Scriptures.

The majority of Jewish leadership until today reject that the acceptance of Biblical truth on the part of the nations of the world is the fulfillment of the words of the Jewish prophets, but I believe one of the reasons for that is what I mentioned before. Even though Gentiles the world over have been positively transformed by the God of Israel in Jesus' name, they, at the same time, for the most part have failed to have a heart for the very people through whom God's goodness has come. Even though most Jewish people have wanted nothing to do with Yeshua, it was his Jewish followers who gave their lives in the early years to bring God's Word to the rest of the world. Abraham's descendants have indeed been a blessing to the nations.

That is why it is so important for Gentile Christians to express humble and grateful hearts to the people of Israel today. Israel's call to be a light to the nations is not yet complete. In order for that to happen, those among the nations who have received the light of Yeshua's reality must reflect that light back again to those to whom it first came, so that Israel can truly be all that God wants us to be.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Personal Vengeance vs. Societal Justice

You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38,39)

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:3,4)

I have been focusing on the issue of integration for some time by providing examples of aspects of life that we have tended to treat in exclusive categories, but actually need to be intimately integrated in order for us to live life according to God's design. Similarly there are other aspects of life where our failure to integrate God's truth properly has led us to misapply the teachings of Scripture. One such example is regarding how the Lord's directive that we avoid taking personal vengeance relates to justice issues in society.

There are many good-hearted people who, while rightly understanding the priority of love, have wrongly applied that priority to every situation in life. As I showed in my previous post, mercy should be our heart's desire in all situations, but the conflicts of life at times necessitate difficult and sometime harsh solutions.

When Yeshua taught on not retaliating when we are abused, he was providing a general approach to how we are to personally relate to others. He was saying that our general posture towards those who oppress us should be one of love, not vengeance. We need to entrust ourselves to God, and demonstrate to others God's love and forgiveness through our example.

But do we think that we should apply Yeshua's teaching to situations such as the teenage girl who is abused by a relative? Do we really think that she should offer her body again and again, because the Lord said to turn the other cheek? Do we really think that if someone comes and kidnaps one of our children, that we should offer him another one? This is absurd! We are called to protect the vulnerable of society. How we deal with these things is one thing, but to apply the Lord's words to these situations is ridiculous.

It is the same with international situations. The need to avoid personal vengeance might temper how we deal with these things. I believe giving the most vile of criminals a fair trial and appropriate sentencing is in keeping with godliness. But insisting that others must endure evil when we can prevent it is not love and has nothing to do with the Lord's teaching on personal vengeance.

Those who over-emphasize and misapply our call to love also tend to ignore the God-given role of the state in the our lives. According to the verses from Romans above, God has given government leaders the responsibility to ensure peace and order. It is wrong to insist that governments should conduct their affairs by principles that are to apply to individuals. Again, referring to my previous post, God's call to "love mercy" should temper how justice is worked out. At the same time, our governments must do their God-given duty to protect their people, using force when necessary.

I am grateful for those commentators who call for restraint in time of conflict, for those who love mercy, while seeking justice. We need people who are gifted in diplomacy and strategy to help our leaders come to effective resolutions to the difficult problems of our day. But simplistic solutions that call for love and mercy while ignoring the need for just resolutions only prolong the suffering of innocents.

Coming back to the personal level. Our tendency to misapply the Lord's teaching on love and the avoidance of vengeance is also why many people of faith have been dysfunctional in the personal, business, and congregational relationships. Our misguiding understanding of love has allowed evil to flourish and our relationships to fall apart, because we have avoided honestly and effectively dealing with problems as they arise.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Justice and Mercy

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

Continuing on the integration theme, our failure to integrate justice and mercy prevent us from effective addressing some of the most crucial situations in life, including the current Mid-East crisis. Too often most people side with only justice or mercy, failing to see how they need to work together. Of course there are others who ignore both of these. Sometimes they do so out of frustration, since they think there is no way to come to a balanced approach.

Note that God, through the prophet Micah, instructs us to "act justly", "love mercy", and "walk humbly" with God. The actions associated with each object (act - justice, love - mercy, and walk - God) are not random. First, we need to do things in a just manner. How we resolve conflict should be based on justice, fairness, equity, and so on. When conflict occurs, apart from the emotions involved, there are usually serious issues that need to be addressed. Those issues need to be looked at honestly and without bias as much as possible. Good and right decisions need to be made based on the facts. I am aware that this is a difficult task, but justice needs to be the goal of our actions.

Second, we need to love mercy. When resolving conflict, it should not be with vengeance or a love of destruction. We need to love all people and desire their good. Sometimes love means that people have to face the consequences of their actions (justice), but how we administrate those consequences should be tempered with mercy. This is a challenge when we deal with true aggressors. For example, how much mercy should be extended to a bully? While we need to control our anger and avoid vengeance, bullies need to be dealt with quickly and decisively so as to protect their victims from further harm, as well as for the good of the bully.

Third, walking humbly with our God should create an overall attitude of how we conduct ourselves. By remembering that he is the Master of the Universe and we are his servants, we are able to face life less personally, submitting ourselves to his will and entrusting ourselves to the outcomes he desires. At times this might mean to make some difficult and seemingly harsh decisions. God, at times, demands punishment. We must avoid extending mercy when God himself withholds it. But at the same time we must treat all people as God's creatures made in his image. All people are sacred and should never be treated as objects of scorn. When justice demands harsh treatment, we do so humbly. On a personal level we are always called to forgive because of God's forgiving us. At the same time that doesn't mean we pretend that evil doesn't exist and should be ignored. Forgiveness does not mean we allow others to continue to suffer due to our hesitancy to confront evil and our failure to seek justice.

This doesn't make life simple. Resolving conflict, whether it be the common daily squabbling of young children or the violent clashes between neighboring countries is not often an easy matter. Some conflicts can be ignored, while others should not be. Once we discern which ones need to be addressed, these words of Micah challenge us to be careful to approach them with utmost loving care, wisdom, and humility, making sure to look at all sides, but always with the goal of a just resolution.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Intuitive vs. the Intellectual - Part 2

The Scriptures clearly include both the intuitive and the intellectual. We read of people being led by God through dreams, visions, and words from God. However "words" from God were received, they were generally only heard by the recipient. When it really comes down to it, the receiving of such direction is always subjective, since they are not external to the person. I am aware that there are many people, while claiming to believe the whole Bible, reject that these sorts of communications from God occur today. I don't think that this position has any biblical foundation, since the New Testament includes such things as well and gives no impression that God ever planned to change his methods of communication with us.

If we accept that God does speak to us in these ways today, we need to understand how this kind of communication is to work together with the more objective revelation of God, which is the Scriptures. Most who claim to believe the Bible accept it as authoritative in what it affirms. While we might disagree on matters of interpretation, we accept that the Bible is our authority.

While those who believe in God's speaking to us today would never claim that these things are equal to the Bible, once a "word" becomes accepted, it tends to take on some sense of authority. This is dangerous. If someone receives something they claim is a revelation from God, then it will be in line with what the Bible teaches. From my experience, there are genuine "words" given that come with added information that God never intended or meant to imply. But because of this extra material is associated with something genuine, the extra material becomes just as influential as the genuine part.

In order to preserve what God is really saying to us in our day, we need to submit what we think we receive from God to the Bible. Nothing is lost when we allow whatever we are sensing from God to come under the Scriptures' scrutiny.

Because God has given different gifts to different people, we should not be surprised is some tend to be more intuitive, while other more intellectual. But these differences were meant to complement each other, not compete with one another.

The intuitive person needs to accept that the leadings they believe they receive from God are not authoritative. They may be important; they may be urgent, but they are not equal in weight to the Scriptures. The intellectual needs to see the Scriptures do not provide us with the kind of direction that God desires to give us in our day. This is not so different from our need of the Spirit's illumination of the Scriptures, especially as we need God to show us how to apply his Word to today's world.

Our communities would be so enriched if there would be humble communication between the more intuitive and the more intellectual among us. By learning to submit to one another as we also submit ourselves to the Lord, we would hear what he is seeking to say to us so much more clearly.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

TorahBytes: Basis of Possession (Ekev)

After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, "The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness." No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 9:4)

As we have been experiencing yet another crisis in the Middle East, there is no lack of news stories or editorial commentary. Yet I wonder how many people have a real grasp of the root issues that have both led to this current conflict and may also be the key to its resolution. Much of the Bible deals with these very issues. The people of Israel's relationship to the land is the backdrop of a large percentage of the Scriptures.

It would be quite reasonable for anyone who respects the Bible and who has a desire to see peace in the Middle East to turn to the Scriptures for insight. Many Christians, while claiming to adhere to the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), have wrongly spiritualized much of what it says and teaches regarding Israel. As a result they have robbed themselves of what can be learned from these passages, and crippled their ability to effectively address the current crisis.

There are others who are quick to apply biblical prophecy to current events. While there may be elements of what is happening today that was predicted long ago, we should be careful not to speculate over things that God has not fully revealed. As we stick to what he has made clear to us, we will have what we need to address the issues at hand.

One of these issues has to do with who has the right to the Land of Israel, which from the second century until 1948 was called Palestine, the name given to the region by the Romans. Even if we can establish who has the right of possession, it doesn't mean that right will be recognized. But as our leaders seek diplomatic solutions, and as we look at our own hearts, especially if we profess to believe the Scriptures and to love the God of the Scriptures, then it is essential for us to gain his perspective on this issue of the right of possession.

God promised to give to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the region in which the modern state of Israel is a part of today (see Shemot / Exodus 6:8). I believe this promise is still relevant today, since it is a promise without conditions.

One of the things that I have observed regarding how God works, is that when he gets involved in human affairs, he often deals with more than one thing at a time. This appears to be the case with his giving the Land to the people of Israel. When Moses foretold the conquest of the Land to the generation that would succeed him, he impressed upon them that they should not think that their own righteousness was the basis of possession, but rather it was due to the wickedness of the people who had been living there.

It was essential for the people to understand that they were not to think of themselves as superior to any other nation. It had nothing to do with their own righteousness. In this context they were also not encouraged to think of the promises to their ancestors. But rather that God himself was working out his own plan and that one nation (in this case Israel) would benefit because of his judgment of another nation.

Some might think being an instrument in the hand of God is something to be proud of, but that is certainly not Moses' message here. The response being called for is one of great humility. The gift of the Land of Israel is God's gift to the people of Israel. To abuse this gift has always been a very serious matter.

We therefore have no right of possession in the sense that some people mean. The people of Israel have returned to the Land of Israel because of God’s continued grace to us. Until we come to grips with the nature of this gift, we will never possess it in the way we were destined to.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Intuitive vs. the Intellectual - Part 1

Continuing my series on integration I want to look at two common, and often exclusive, approaches to life. I may not be using these terms precisely, but I will try to make clear what I mean.

By the intuitive I am referring to responding to life and life situations in a spontaneous, non-analytical way. This is when we make a judgment based on what we might call a sense rather than through a process of reason. At time what we call intuitive might be simply very quick reasoning, but other times it could be a feeling or some other personal, not easily explained understanding of something.

I would include as intuitive spiritual experiences such as well. Someone might claim (rightly or wrongly) that God is directing them. However this is experienced, it is occurring outside of analytical reason based on facts or other external and identifiable sources.

By the intellectual, I am referring to analytical reasoning. This would include to conclusion drawn by careful study, but also normal mental processes. This is when we think through something – whether over a long or short time - before we make a conclusion.

These two approaches are related to what I was discussing regarding the subjective and the objective. I hope I was able to show that in order to effectively know God's Truth, we need them to work together. Similarly with the intuitive and the intellectual.

What make these two approaches difficult to integrate is that people who tend to lean more one way than the other have trouble accepting the other approach as valid. The intuitive see things more from their hearts: the place of desire and emotion. While the intellectual does so from the mind: the place of ideas and reasoning. To the intuitive, the mind is cold and uncaring. To the intellectual, the heart is deceptive and sentimental.

Next time (after the next TorahBytes message) we will look why the two approaches need to work together.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Subjectivity vs. Objectivity - Part 6

Striking the right balance

It seems to me that in order to have the right balance between our need to personalize our faith and the need to not shape the Truth into our own version of reality is to continually submit our understanding of things to what has been revealed in the Scriptures (I am assuming that we regard the Scriptures as God's revealed Truth).

Doing this will keep us from sectarianism, since all believers would share the same point of reference. It would not be necessary for all to understand the meaning of Scripture in the exact same way to achieve unity in this issue. What is essential is the humility that will express itself in accepting that only God is absolutely right and that none of us have a complete understanding of the Scriptures.

If we adopt this posture of continually submitting ourselves to the Truth of the Scriptures, we may find it difficult to define ourselves in any other way than that of being simply "believers." While we may choose to affiliate with a particular association or denomination, our identity as followers of Yeshua will be just that and not according to any other label. This must be the case, because our humble attitude of submission will regularly challenge those things that give our associations their unique character. If we will truly humble ourselves in this way, and allow God's Word to challenge our subjectivity, we will hold our personal views much more lightly than how most of us have up until now.