Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, II

Continuing my survey of Eusebius’ landmark work, Ecclesiastical History. Perhaps, a dull topic to some, but for those who are trying to get back to the roots of the faith, it is very useful.

So how, when, and why did the Congregation (the Church) go astray?

My theory is that the problem began in Acts 15. This is an unfinished theory, not trying to build a huge doctrine, just offering a possible explanation. In Acts 10-11, gentiles begin to come into the congregations. Not everyone is sure how to deal with them. The traditionalists are probably afraid that the ‘brand’ will be diluted. Not an unfounded fear. Jews have had lots of experience with the contagious affect of pagans and their practices. Unbelieving Jews take the problem one way by calling them ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:26), beginning the distinction between the followers of ‘Judaism’ and this ‘new religion.’ The believing traditionalists go another way, by saying the gentiles must keep all Torah (from a traditional interpretation) to be saved. The council is held and the Shellachim (apostles) determine that full Torah observance isn’t a pre-requisite for salvation.

Determined to not burden the gentiles, the council trusts that the gentile will learn the rest of Torah because Moshe is taught every week in the synagogues, where the new believers already worship (15:21). However, recall that Yeshua (the only begotton Son of Elohim) told them to make disciples, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matt 28:20). That would include things like, “whosoever breaks Torah and teaches others to do so, will be least in the kingdom…” (Matt 5:19), and “All therefore whatsoever [the Pharisees and scribes sitting in Moshe’s seat] bid you observe, that observe and do…” (Matt 23).

So some of talmidim were, perhaps, negligent in properly instructing the incoming gentiles. You can see this difference in Acts 20, when you find the congregation at Jerusalem is “zealous of the Torah”, but hear that the gentiles are being taught to forsake Moshe by Paul. The better grounded Jews (who also convert in larger numbers in the beginning) are continuing both in faith in Mashiach and also practice of Torah because they are one and the same, and they are living in a culture where Torah is the way of life. Meanwhile, the gentiles are deluged with the Basar (Yay!), but perhaps not given the proper life instruction from Torah (frown).

Persecution around 70 AD devastates the Jews, making it unpopular to associate with Jews, shattering the world’s most Torah-centric community, thus leaving those less acculturated gentiles cut off from a tangible example. The balance shifts more in favor of the gentiles, and the basic grounding is lost, then distance and growing anti-semitism turn the “church” antithetical to its origin. As Paul warned, “And if some of the branches [natural Israel] be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them [Israel], and with them partakest of the root and the fatness of the olive tree [natural Israel]; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” (Romans 11:17-18).

The increasingly gentile church, clearly has boasted (and continues to boast) against natural Israel, and thus denying the ‘fatness’ of the olive tree, basically from mid-200’s on, has produced lower grade fruit. But 11:25 tells us that the partial blindness of Israel will continue until the fullness of the gentiles (or the full fruit). Thus, one could conclude that restoration of Israel and the gentiles are tied together. Thus, one could infer that the low grade fruit of the worldwide church will come to perfection as we and natural Israel return as one.

That’s perhaps a tall theory for many, and since the Brit Chadasha (the renewed covenant scriptures) doesn’t give us this history, it’s admittedly speculative. But, how about we look at Eusebius’ history and see if maybe this theory isn’t borne out . . . I’ll give you a hint, I’m writing this after having finished his book . . .

Matthew and Luke’s genealogies

Not everything in the history pertains to the question of what went wrong with the church. There’s also a lot of neat historical insights and traditions that have been lost to many modern Christians. For example, there are several theories floated around about reconciling Matthew and Luke’s genealogies because they obviously don’t match.

The prevalent theory is that Matthew is Yosef’s line and Luke is Miryam (Mary’s). The main problem with this is that Miryam isn’t mentioned in either one, and isn’t clear why her geneology would be there since, you don’t inherit the title or king or priest from who your mother is. Eusebius provides a better tradition. Matthew is the legal descendancy of Yeshua through Yosef, but Luke’s is the natural. Eusebius quotes an earlier tradition through Africanus, saying “this writer adds the following: “Matthan, whose descent is traced to Solomon, begat Jacob, Matthan dying, Melchi, whose lineage is from Nathan, by marrying the widow of the former, had Eli. Hence, Eli and Jacob were brothers by the same mother. Eli dying childless, Jacob raised up seed to him, having Joseph, according to nature belonging to himself, but by law to Eli. Thus, Joseph was the son of both.”

So we would have it that the genealogical dispute is solved by a son of David (and therefore Judah) raising up seed to another son of David (and Judah), fulfilling a mitzvah (Devarim 25:5-6).

Bad Priests

Churches often condemn the chief priests, scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees, as if they were universally and homogenously bad. And worse, that these bad guys represented the keeping of Torah, thus condemning Torah. Eusebius tells us via Josephus “The rites, indeed, of the law, having been already abolished since that period [when Yeshua was ministering]…of continuing [the office of the priesthood] for life and of hereditary descent. Under the Roman governors, however, different persons at different times were appointed as high priests…” Thus, the priests you are seeing were not chosen according to Torah, but the will of Rome. They were essentially acting as an extension of Roman rule. I have read elsewhere, that the scribes and the Sadducees were closer to the priests. When you read the gospels in this light, you’ll begin to notice that it is the chief priests and scribes who actually have Yeshua killed, not the Pharisees. This is important because it suggests that the priest wasn’t acting out of pure motives.

The appointed priests were essentially acting like subordinate kings under Rome, as such Yeshua being from the house of David (which they never denied) had the right to rule, if he was the Mashiach it meant the end of their fiefdom. Its easy then to see why the chief priests would bend over backwards to have him convicted and killed, and thus their condemnation was not a function of Torah, but a sin against Torah.

Book II

In 43 AD, Philo tells us of the ascetics of Alexandria. Philo “extolled and revered the apostolic men of his day who were sprung probably from the Hebrews, and hence, still continuing to observe their most ancient customs after the Jewish manner.” The ascetics had sanctuaries in each house, where they only brought in the Torah, prophets, and hymns for study.

Interesting, also in 43, Philo tells us that “Christian” was not the universal term for followers of Yeshua. In fact, no universal title seems to be used in the first ten years. Why does that matter? Because if Yeshua meant to establish a ‘new religion’, why is it no single name to rally around has appeared? This would have been really important because we know from Acts that they shared synagogues, so you would want some way to distinguish them from the Jewish, right? Unless of course, the early believers were not trying to distinguish themselves and in fact saw themselves as a continuation of the faith of Israel. Remember that in “Avraham” will all the nations be blessed. One would expect that the religion of Yeshua would be tied to Avraham, not a new Greco word. In fact, Acts 11 is historically read that the gentile converts were called Christians by others, not by themselves. Christian was at first a disparagement from adversaries, not a self-designation to create distance from the Jews.

However, we also see something of a black cloud forming. These ascetics live very austere lives. That’s not bad; ministry can be austere. But they sound like monks, studying and studying, but not going out to do much. And neglecting the needs of the body. I point this out, because no where in scripture do we see Elohim institute austerity for its own sake. There is one day of fasting in the year, but not a week, and not weekly. The actual Cohenim (priests) ate regularly, slept regularly, married, had sex, had children. They had some lands, houses, animals. The Torah does not teach an escape from life, but truly, living life to the fullest, the way Elohim intended. Not in worldly fullness, and not in worldly self-desolation—in fact, Paul in Colossians condemns this.

I note that these ascetics, would search the Torah for “they consider the verbal interpretation as signs indicative of a secret sense communicated in obscure intimations…the whole law appears to these persons like an animal, of which the literal expressions are the body, but the invisible sense that lies enveloped in expressions, the soul.

Good study of Torah will render that there is indeed, hints and mysticism in the text. The Rabbis teach this, and you can see Yeshua use the same thinking, and even a normal reading will suggest things in your spirit. But combined with this devaluing of the body (contrary to Torah), I think we see the ascetic/monastic tends to a pursuit of knowledge detached from the creation, and thus askew. Which would be very in keeping with Greek philosophers like Plato (427-347 BC), whose influence probably reached to Antioch. We all know someone who seems to read way too far into the Bible and comes up with truly strange notions. I think this denial of body, distance from Torah, and seeking secret knowledge are all factors leading to error.

Eusebius adds his more catholic commentary on Philo’s ascetics saying, “All these the above-mentioned author has accurately described . . . are the same customs that are observed by us alone at the present day, particularly the vigils of the great festivals . . . ” He goes on to claim that these were the practices of the apostles, yet he had already quoted Philo as saying that what was handed down to the ascetics were after the custom of the Hebrews. Hence, Eusebius is telling us that the church practices of his day appear to have come in kind with these mystical-seeking ascetics, who did things like fasting on Pesach (which the Hebrews don’t and is never commanded in scripture) and deny themselves meat and value perpetual virginity over marriage which both the Tanahk and the Paul treat as aberrant. Hence, Eusebius tells us, backhandedly that the church of his day had inherited unbiblical traditions.

Philo (the earlier historian), goes on to produce books on very Torah centered thoughts like, On Agriculture, and commentaries on Genesis, and the Ten Commandments. Eusebius suggests these might tend towards mystical allegories (and they may), but it underscores that in the early congregation, Torah was still in high esteem.

Eusebius also records the martyrdom of Ya’akov HaTzaddik (‘James’ the Just). As it regards Catholicism, Eusebius clearly sees Ya’akov as a brother of Yeshua so it would seem that Eusebius seems to have believed that Miryam was not a ‘perpetual virgin’.

As Ya’akov’s death concerns, a Messianic perspective…he was the ‘just’. We know from Acts 20 that he was the leader of the Jerusalem congregation which was full of those zealous of Torah. In fact, Hegesippus goes onto elevate him to such justice that he was allowed to enter the sanctuary of the temple…

Yeah…about that…

But then Ya’akov was pretty righteous, abstaining from wine and meat and bathing… Yeah, so Hegesippus may need to be taken with some skepticism…

Josephus on the other hand, a seemingly more believable historian, does say that the siege of Yerushalayim was caused by the murder of Ya’akov because he was so just. It should be obvious, but could the Jews have considered Ya’akov so just, if he didn’t uphold Torah?

Side note, Eusebius states the opinion that the epistile of Ya’akov (James) was considered ‘spurious’ at his time, yet paradoxically was used in most congregations.

To be continued…

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Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, I

Along with being almost halfway through War and Peace (a heartwarming tale about a variety of people all highlighting tomfoolery in different ways…or as most people call it: life!), I am also now the proud completionist of Eusebius’ most notable work.

Who is Eusebius? Eusebius (Yoo-se-vius) was a church historian (ecclesiastical is a fancy word for “concerning church”) and the Bishop of Caesarea in the land of Israel about the time of Constantine’s ascension. His history concludes one year prior to the Nicean Council, but the translator from the 1850’s, C.F. Cruise provides other records to cover the council.

I made it a goal to delve into this 430 page work of 1,700 year-old history because Eusebius lived within striking distance of the Shellachim (Apostles). As a Messianic, I believe the original church practiced a Messiah-restored Judaism. The early talmidim (disciples) could freely worship in the Temple and synagogues, because they practiced most of the same things, but from the heart of the Brit Chadasha (Renewed Covenant). Naturally then, I have believed that if you look back into history prior to the Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox, you would find records to this effect.

And I did find, I believe, quite a bit of support for this view, but being wary of my own presuppositions, I also have enough honesty, to say I also found a great deal of very catholic flavored history. There can be little doubt that the roots of Catholicism go back very far, and frankly deeper than Protestantism. But I would also add that it definitely was not the Catholicism of today, and Catholicism of today was in many ways repudiated in those first three centuries.

Eusebius for his part is the most catholic of all the contributors, and you can see that in much of his recording and theology, however most of his history is compiled from the writings of early historians who were farther from what we would recognize as catholic.

But let’s get to those highlights (literally taken from what I highlighted)…

Eusebius and the Basar 

Book One (of ten) is Eusebius’ mission statement, includes a laying out of the orthodox understanding of the faith, which being from him is a more catholic version, being recorded from somewhere near 324 AD. So it’s less useful for understanding the first couple centuries, but it does tell you what was considered the consensus of his time:

  • Mashiach was pre-existant, with Elohim at creation and agent of creation.
  • The way in which he is ‘begotton’ is pure mystery.
  • Mashiach is separate from the Father because the unchanging God can’t ‘become’ human.
  • Mashiach is self-existant because people like Moshe saw Elohim in the form of a human.

I might take issue with the attempt to distill Elohim’s infinitude down to so certain a creed, so don’t mistake me for agreeing with that entire consensus, but also don’t take me for denying it. I can see all those statements as true, but also incorrect or lacking. For example, self-existing and ‘begotten’ are opposites. The fact that ‘self-existent’ is never in scripture describing Mashiach, while ‘begotten’, ‘firstborn of creation’, ‘HaShem created me’ are all through scripture. So I would argue that there is a mystical nuance that is not captured by self-existent (though again, paradoxically, I would say it’s also true).

Eusebius goes on to make interesting observations about the Basar (Good News):

  • Man wasn’t ready for the revelation of Mashiach until the Torah had elevated/prepared men
  • The Basar was foretold, not alien and unexpected. It was supported by the prophets.
  • Mashiach’s doctrine would not be alien.
  • The name Yeshua was prefigured as the name of Mashiach because Moshe changed Oshea’s name to Yehoshua (a longer form of Yeshua) in Numbers 13:16
  • Mashiach would be a unifying of priestly and kingly function because Yehoshua was from Y’hudah (David’s tribe), yet the priest was called ‘anointed’, the word for which is Mashiach.

Concerning the subject of Torah, the historian further says:

  • Torah was a “fragrant odor . . . spread abroad among all men…” by which “the dispositions of men, even among most of the Gentiles, were improved [by teachers], who softened their wild and savage ferocity so as to enjoy settled peace, friendship, and mutual intercourse.” Apparently, the Torah as rigid, cruel, and impossible was not known in the beginning of the 4th century.
  • The Hebrews were well-known for honor, “excelling in piety, righteousness, and every virtue.” To Eusebius, the accepted church position, was not that the Hebrews were cruel, theological cave-men, but that they were actually righteous. A statement impossible to say, unless the Torah they kept encouraged such things

Eusebius’ recap of the Basar and of Yeshua’s ministry includes one very interesting omission. Miryam (Mary) doesn’t hit the radar. That might be an oversight on Eusebius’ part, because she was obviously important. But his omission demonstrates that ‘Mary’s immaculate ascension is not an original catholic thought. Catholic apologists will of course explain that the vocabulary of doctrine was ‘evolving’ and so ‘Mary’s’ emaculate conception and work of co-redemptrix was ‘present’ but not clearly articulated. However, Eusebius doesn’t articulate her, at all.

What went sideways?

Let me admit that I am still a novice at church history. I probably know a lot more than the average church-goer, but I’m not fluent in any ancient language, and my reading of translated works is fairly thin. So my main credentials as an interpreter of theological history or biblical interpretation is ‘laymen’s’. I don’t think that’s a problem or that I am then subject to anyone with a degree, but I acknowledge my weakness.

Yet, I’m going to present theory. If you are Messianic like me, then you believe the first century believers were very Hebraic. They kept Torah, they interpreted from a Hebraic/Jewish mindset, and they were not averse to Judaism. Obviously, the modern worldwide church does not keep this as a whole, so the question has to be asked, when did it go wrong, or are the Messianics wrong?

Or since they are messed up in so many ways, maybe I should ask, are they wrong about this?

HAHAHA!

But, lest you jump on the “this weird, fringe denomination is wrong” bandwagon, let me remind the protestants that you are a minority against the catholics. Your doctrine is only five hundred years old, and the more-evangelical/less-‘stuffy’ congregations hold to major doctrines in conflict with most catholic and non-catholic believers worldwide. So the Protestants would also have to believe that the first century believers believed one way, and then somewhere along the line devolved into error. So again, when did things go wrong? At what point did the church fall away? Where was the remnant? And most importantly, why did it happen?

If you’re catholic, then you’ll probably argue that your church is the remnant, and argue the line of apostolic succession for authority. To you, things went wrong when the Protestant’s fell away. You don’t need to reform back; others to reform/repent to the full expression of grace. However, as we go through the history, you’ll find they did not teach all of the things that catholics now teach, and in fact repudiate some of the things now taught as established doctrine. Further, if you believe the succession doctrine (and not saying it’s all wrong), then you have to ask why the reformers broke away?

Yochanon 17:23 says that a proof that Yeshua was sent by the Father is that his talmidim will be one. Catholics will point therefore to the continued unity of the catholic church as evidence that it is the true church, especially because of the claim to having unbroken succession back to the apostles. But if this is true, the break works both way. If the Protestants broke unity, then the Catholics failed to keep unity: either way the talmidim are not one. And before the Protestants, recall that the Orthodox broke away. Before that was the Eastern Schism.

So whichever of these camps you come from, you have to see that somewhere a glitch entered the church. So the question remains: when did it start and why?

To be continued . . .

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Understanding Peters vision of the middle eastern barbeque

A sister responded with interest to the previous edition, The Problem with the Moral LawShe then went on to wonder about Peter’so vision in Acts 10, because there is a common teaching that Peter was given the ‘ok’ to do as the Chinese.  [If it has four legs and it’s not a table, swims but isn’t a submarine, or flies but isn’t an airplane–eat it! ]

So, let’s take a quick look at this often misunderstood passage.

Pre-View

In verses one through eight, we are given the prologue about a gentile man who feared God. Now, fearing God in scripture is synonymous with obedience. So this is a gentile who follows as much of the Torah as he can get away with. Not someone like Nero.

To a devout Jew, a gentile was like a dog, a source of uncleanness. You can see this when Yeshua refers to the Phoenician woman as a dog. Also, in how theasy scribes and priests would not enter the judgment hall of Pirates, lest they become unclean. In short, a good jew wouldn’t hang out with a gentile.

Now, there are reasons behind this Tradition, but it is a tradition, and I believe a wrong one as Avraham, Yaakov, Moshe and Aharon all ate with gentiles.

Interesting, Acts tells us in v6 that Peter is staying with a jew, who is. tanner…important because the tanning profession would have often risked uncleanness. So Peter is willing to stay with actual uncleanness with a Jew, but probably, assuming he adheres to tradition, would be unwilling to visit Cornelius.

Vision, say what?

Peter has his vision of unclean beasts and told to eat. How does Peter respond? V14, by refusing.

Think about that. Peters has a vision FROM HEAVEN and refuses, three times  (v16). Now, if God tells you to jump, most of us say “How high? ” Where does Peter get the…um…guts to say, no?

What should be obvious is that he is operating from a Torah mindset, so it would be like God telling a Baptist to hit a bar and smoke a joint. It’s unthinkable.

This can’t be glossed over: Peter is assuming Torah is still in effect. Why? The obvious answer is that Yeshua never told him different. If Yeshua had taught that after his death the Torah was a nulled, then Peter makes no sense because he’s already been taught this.

And the inverse, says the idea of life without Torah was never taught by His Master.

V17, Peter doubtake what the vision means. This is me hammering home the previous point. Peter refuses to accept the eat pork chops instruction FROM HEAVEN and even afterward doesn’t know what the message meant. Why? because he knows that whatever it means, it can’t mean break the everlasting commandments of God.

Deciding

The Spirit knows Pete is confused. V19, so the Spirit tells him “three men seek thee.” How many times did the sheet come down? 3. How many gentile men are there? 3. What do we suppose was the message of the sheet…?

So, Pete goes doubting nothing because the Spirit says they were sent by God. No mention of stopping at the local barbeque pit. Fast forward to v28, where Peter tells us exactly what HE learned from the vision. “You know how that it is an unfit thing for a jew to keep company with a gentile…but God has shown me that I should call no man common or unclean…

So… Peter tells us plainly that the vision had nothing to do with pork chops. Weird.

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The Problem with the Moral Law

When discussing Torah with someone from many a church, a dilemma will arise in that the believer will believe their sins are done away with and the Torah, too (like a bonus!), but then asked if it’s okay to cheat on your spouse or whether children should give a hoot about what their parents say, the same person will say of course, it’s not okay. They might elaborate in one of two ways:

  1. They’ll say, “Well, not all the law is done away with. We still keep the moral law, but not the civil or ceremonial. [This is usually the mark of someone who’s studied church doctrine in some degree]
  2. They’ll say, “We don’t have to, but we do out of love.” Of course, the followup would be, “Why would God do away with something that’s an act of love?” Or, “So you don’t have to show God love, but you do. So does that include not eating pork?” Then they’ll say, “That’s old Testament.” An unending circle might ensue, but beneath you’ll find they don’t have the words, but they actually are trying to express #1.

However, to someone who studies and practices Torah, this doctrine is difficult to understand.

Where do we find ceremonial, civil, and moral catagories?

Uusually, something like adultery is dubbed a moral commandment–no one wants to say they think that’s okay to cheat on their spouse! Whereas something like not working the Shabbat is ‘ceremonial.’ But how do we know which is which? The Torah or the Bible in general never calls one versus the other. One could argue that some commands are simply called commands, mitzvot (which literally means something you put in your nature). That sounds like a ‘moral’ standard, but the problem is every command is a mitzvah. If Elohim says to do something, it’s a mitzvah, so you’d have to conclude (kind of like me) that all commands are moral.

But if you get past that hurdle, there are also mishpatim, which means rulings so you could argue that’s civil. And chukkim, which means customs, so that’s kind of ceremonial right?

That’s well and good, but you have the ten commandments (which the Bible doesn’t even call commandments, it calls them wordsaserot haDibroyt. But in this set of commandments are ceremonial (keep the Shabbat), moral (don’t murder), along with some that could be either or both. Is taking the name moral or ceremonial, since you’d have to say the Name at some point? Is adultery moral (for some reason…?) or is it ceremonial since it involves ceremonies like weddings and divorces, offerings, and vows? Is it civil since it involves punishment for wrong doing?

That’s Old Testament

You quickly realize that mitzvot, mishpatim, and chukim have very blurry and overlapping lines. Some will solve this problem by saying essentially that the moral law is what’s repeated in the Brit Chadeshah (New Covenant). That kind of makes sense because a lot of the BC is written to gentile audiences who are distant from the temple, hence a lot less ceremony, and not under a Sanhedrin’s jurisdiction. What you see, does look like a lot less related to ceremonies and civil ordinances (at least if you don’t think about how Paul actually did sacrifice like the entire congregation in Jerusalem, or how even the gentiles still met on the Shabbat in synagoges and studied Moshe, not Paul…).

But let me ask you this, Paul deals with a runaway slave and then sends him back. What was the moral law he was following? The Torah has a lot to say on the subject, but the BC says very little. How was the master supposed to receive this servant ‘as a brother’, what does that mean when you’re talking about a slave?

Paul uses the term ‘fornication’ quite a bit, which means immoral sexual activity…well…without referencing the Torah, what is immoral sexual activity? You could derive some incest, but not beastiality. You can’t even clearly show premarital sex counts (even though the Torah doesn’t forbid it, per se, only failing to marry afterwards). The BC says nothing about forgiving financial debts or how to treat an employee, the Torah covers that. The BC doesn’t say how to keep Pesach (Passover), even though Yeshua said “As often as you do this“, ‘this’ being the Pesach meal.

So how do we break up the Torah, so nice and neat?

Didn’t we just leave this party?

Now, we’re told that Yeshua’s death ended the law. Why would it do that? As I’ve said before, that belief only makes sense if you believe the law was actually arbitrary, odious, burdensome, and cruel. If it was good, why would you cheer for it to end? But we’re told this happened because our sins were no longer counted against us. So why then would even the moral law remain? If our debt is paid, and the law wasn’t good anyway, then why are we doing any part of it?

And it gets even stranger. Okay, you want to keep the moral law. Is baptism moral law or ceremonial? Can you be baptized in your heart, but not with your body? Is communion ceremonial law or is it moral? What about tithing? When the epistles talk about delivering one unto Satan for the destruction of the body after a mortal sin, is that people sitting in judgment of someone’s morality? Is that a civil proceedure? When Peter oversaw the divine execution of Ananias and Saphira, was the civil? Because I’m told it’s cruel to stone a woman for adultery, but no one has a problem with someone lying in church and getting killed on the spot?

I’m not disparaging, I’m just saying, those sound like civil and ceremonial and moral all strangely blurring and overlapping.

How can we be moral without being ceremonial or civil?

The above point seems to lead to this one. How can one be moral without these other divisions? Can I be moral before Elohim, but not keep his ordinance, his ceremonies of baptism or communion? Or the same Shabbat that Yeshua and all the apostles did?

Can I be morally faithful to my wife, if I am not physically faithful? Can I ‘defraud not’ a brother morally, while exacting usury (which the Torah forbids, generally, and the BC is strangely silent on) or forgiving his debts or paying him a timely wage or not being overly burdensome in exacting of his debts still current? Can I show hospitality in my moral spirit, while denying food and water and clothing and shelter as the Torah commands? Can I ‘provide’ for my house, so that I’m not worse than an infidel, without providing for my estate’s proper division to my children and financial provision for my wife?

When I look at the Torah, considering a mitzvah, that says for example, don’t barge into a person’s house to collect collateral, how can one violate the mitzvah’s civil ordinance (don’t go in and get his stuff) while keeping it morally? If I get in a scuffle with someone and break their nose, the Torah says that I should pay for him to be healed: how do I do that morally, without also doing it civilly?

The Problem is not a Moral vs. Civil or Ceremonial

The Christian often thinks he’s reaching for a ‘higher standard’ than the Torah when he seeks to a moral law. But doesn’t this only show hard heartedness? Christian, do you think your loving, all knowing God, who set the standard that sin misses the mark as the Torah (1 John 3:34?)…do you believe that God gave a bad law? Do you believe his law that is “holy, just, good” according to Paul lacks the moral element?

To avoid blasphemy, you must conclude the moral law is already embedded in the Torah. And the argument for keeping the ‘moral law’ admits it anyway. The Moral law is already there. So do you think God just imposed the ‘civil’ and the ‘ceremonial’ because he thought people had too much time on their hands? Or do you look at the mitzvot covered above and say, “How could you be moral without keeping the civil?”

Isn’t it obvious, that the moral must work itself out into a civil or ceremonial expression? How do you sanctify a woman to be your particular wife, without a ceremony? How do you keep the Sabbath day, even if you think it’s become sunday, without ceremonial trappings? Didn’t Yeshua sing hymns? Didn’t he teach his talmidim to pray, instead of leaving it up to them to ‘figure it out’? Isn’t it obvious that not defrauding your brother will have to have entail actual transactions of goods and worth? The not defrauding would insist upon a just measure and weight (as the Torah insists)?

I think if you’re honest, you realize the moral law has to find expression in both the ceremonial and civil. It cannot exist any other way.

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Our Unbelief Makes a Lie of Our Confession

Reading through Ecclesiastical History by Eusbias (a full “review ” will be forthcoming), and one thing keeps coming to the surface, the early congregation was largely populated by believers who were ready, even cheerful to be martyred.

Those who were became celebrities with those who survived. Their deaths and preceeding tortures were hailed the way professional athletes are.

In contrast, I have an elder brother in HaShem that suffered a stroke, and all of us around are praying for his recovery and there is a sense of dread surrounding the whole affair as we wait to see how permanent the damage could be. Or how many days left he has in this world?

We were singing hymns and suddenly they took on different meaning. “Take me life?” Faith of our Father, anyone?

Don’t get me wrong, but odds are every talmid, every disciple, reading this is going to die. The point of the Glad Tidings or Gospel is not that we don’t die. It’s not that we die comfortably in our sleep. It’s certainly not that we have a cushy life with a yacht, six figures, and a cruise control family. If anything, Yeshua promises us affliction, trial, being hated, being divided from your family, to be figuratively, if not literally, crucified.

The Glad Tidings is that the promises of HaShem overcome these. That his riches outweigh the suffering of this life. Properly understood we should see death as the finish line where an Olympian crosses to receive his medal. It should be like the Price Is Right where everything behind the door is a better prize. It should be like coming home.

So what does it say when we dread death? I’m not talking about mourning. We must mourn because we are human. We should weep, but we don’t weep for our brothers who have left victorious (though we certainly should weep for those who leave defeated). We weep for those left behind. We weep for the world that is a little darker without them. We weep for all our missed opportunities to love someone the Father loves.

But for them? And for ourselves staring into our own mortality? And for those in conversation with us about a future death? Shouldn’t we be saying to each other, “Don’t worry. Your turn will come.”

Instead of praying for recovery, perhaps we should pray first that we each overcome? That our death be worthy? Not to avoid suffering but for strength to laugh in it’s face.

I wonder if that’s why the body is so sick? Or one of the reasons. We get hung up on how the world sees us as inviting or judgmental. The Early believers were willing to die rather than sacrifice to the gods of Rome, you think that was less judgmental than refusing to bake a cake?

“I’m gay and I know there’s a ton of other bakeries that would do this, but I went into the one I knew would have a moral problem. Will you make me a gay wedding cake? ”

“I’d rather be eaten by wild animals along with my children, while people cheer.”

The early believers weren’t concerned about being inviting, but their opponents often became converts on the basis of what they were willing to gladly sacrifice.

Let’s get back to our roots. If the thought of your death doesn’t put a smile on your face, it’s time to ask why.

 

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Racism: the unwinnable argument

The other day I reconnected with my brother, Jordan. His wedding was coming up, and I missed that I hadn’t seen him in awhile. Adding him on Facebook however, I soon found race related posts surfacing. I groaned because I hoped he was “above that”. I put that in there for honesty, but I understand now how that will read to my brother, but also trust he can understand what I mean.

For me, I have held the belief that the cultural obsession with race is divisive, even if you believe we are different races. Which I don’t. It just doesn’t help, and takes the eyes off of the real problem of sin. And the real solution of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ). Plus, If you take away this form of hate, it will just transform into another. Or more likely go stealth.
I tried to make this known, but then Jordan shared with me a recent story from his life in “Not forgetting, just moving on” https://obsessedwiththeoppressed.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/not-forgetting-just-moving-on/.

The story portion is of unfair, angering, and tragic racial abuses. The largest of which being at the hands of law enforcement. That these things happened to someone I know is infuriating.

Yet, as I read, I had problems, some small, some big, with the lessons learned. Most of which came down to, yes, the perspective, the interpretations of events.

I know that questioning touches on one of things my brother wrote not to do. We should approach a story of abuse, especially from someone we know, from the default of credibility.

However, the perspective of the oppressed, is not the only valid perspective. I won’t go farther in that, but it must be said that just because someone perceives insult, does not mean they were insulted. For example, some black people take offense if a white man makes a “black” joke, it is assumed insulting even though if a many a black did it, it would be fine. No one hazards to guess that maybe the white is trying to bond like he’s seen blacks do.

So, while I read, counter arguments began to form. I thought of a dozen different openings and styles for this blog, to show how it was just as racist and unjust to accuse all whites, as it was to mistreat all blacks. Just as wrong to ignore that there is economic and judicial inequality, as it was to ignore the hundreds of thousands of whites who died to free the south?
But every time I thought I had a good flow, I felt the Spirit teaching me… this will only lead to argument. Is that what Jordan or a thousand blacks need to hear?

So I kept reading.

As I did, I felt I could really hear Jordan a little better. He admits that his campaign against racism, his making his voice heard isn’t a solution. That set some of my mind at ease, because that’s where I was, and I think where many of those not directly touched by racism live. What good does all this talk about racism do? The racists on both sides aren’t listening, and the reasonable just get tired of being shamed (to use the new lingo).

When I say stop the race talk it’s only making things worse, the black people hear “the racism doesn’t affect me, so you blacks need to suck it up, stop whining, and get your act together.” So they lump the whites together with the racists, and won’t listen to whites because they don’t trust them.

When he says there’s a racist system, enforced by racist cops, and if you don’t protest with us, then you’re an undercover racist, the whites hear “I don’t care that your blood was spilled to free blacks, don’t care that 99% of you never burned a cross or supported a lynching. If you’re white I see no difference. And all those cops and all that good effort that you’ve done isn’t good. You’re all evil bastards.”

Unable to communicate, because each side views the other as evil or barbaric, what can either side do to help? If either side says anything, the opposite runs it through a filter that says white equals oppressor, or black equals ungrateful rabble. Is there any possibility that actual harmony can occur with this?

No matter what the white cop does (just for an example; the cop is just the extreme version of any citizen), his actions will be seen as suspect. The black will treat him as such, always being guarded and defensive. Because the black looks like he’s hiding something, and viewing the black through his own experience (or inexperience) the white cop will deal with the black as if he is already guilty.

Thus, each sides distrust reinforces the others. Conclusion there is no natural means of actually promoting harmony.
What then, do we give up? Merely tolerate either the status quo or the rioting of protest?

May I humbly suggest, as I work this out myself, that the problem is we’re looking for a logical solution, to a problem that is emotional. What we need is a desperate and sacrificial one. We need a supernatural solution.

Am I saying just pray? No.

“The blacks” will never naturally trust me because I naturally refuse to be slandered as a racist. I’m not guilty and I won’t accept white guilt.

Especially because I’m only half white (whatever that means. Who decides who is really black or really white?). And the black will not naturally accept that full reparation is not even possible.

When Yeshua (Jesus) came and died for our sins, he was being punished for sins that were not his own. He was willing to be called guilty of every single crime, so that there could be peace between sinners and their holy creator. What about his disciples?

What did Paul mean, to be poured out as a drink offering?

Can it be that, not because every white is guilty or indebted, that the white who follows Yeshua accept a responsibility (as much as he can) for a sin that is not his own for the sake of the brothers and sisters?

Yeshua talks about taking on his yoke. A yoke binds one laborer to another. The strength of one, steadied the weakness of the other. Paul talks about bearing one another’s burdens. Is it possible, or is not probable, that we are called to carry the burden of racism to alleviate the burden from those racists that won’t repent? And also the victim who has no relief?
As Paul says, wouldn’t you rather be wronged than to make a scene out of disputing between brothers?

Go ahead and call me a racist. I will be the racist, if that will bring peace. And I repent of it. Forgive me, Jordan, Jonathan, any other black for the sins of racism. While I’m at it, if you’re native American forgive me for taking your land, too.

But, there is also a burden for the other one in the yoke. The black must forgive, because there are whites (most whites) that have desired to repent. And Yeshua says to forgive.
And since, I am part Mexican, which means I probably have native American, Mayan, Aztec, a little African probably too, along with my Spanish, I’ll forgive my whiter brothers.

Is this kumbaya nonesense? Like I said, it’s an answer that relies on God. No natural solution is possible between two fundamentally distrusting races. There simply has to be forgiveness on both sides. What would my blacker brothers say to Yeshua, a middle brown jew, whose entire country was strewn with Jews crucified by lighter skinned Romans, who then pronounced faith for a Roman centurion and healed his servant?

There has to be personal repentance on both sides.

Does it stop there? I can hear my darker brothers say forgiveness is not enough, there has to be change. There has to be real boots on the ground help for this burden.

That help may not come in the form of protest and signs, but yet help. But that’s not systematic. I in Adams County do not have the ability to fix Cincinnati or the state of Indiana. That’s why forgiveness is needed, because we can’t keep holding the entire problem against everyone. I am responsible for my circle. The area God had given to me. So my help, cannot be judged by what I’m not doing somewhere else.

If you need help enter my circle and I’ll do what I can. And that’s what we each need to do, where we are. We can’t keep waging war against whole groups of people because they don’t join the war in your way.

In summary. If you need to blame someone, I’ll be guilty. If you need help, I’ll give. If you need forgiveness, I’ll do that too. Hope to see you there.

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We are a kingdom of ministers

I was somewhat surprised by the positive feedback from my “how I ended up Messianic…” series. Unexpected people seemed to be blessed by it. And all I’d done was tell a fairly “plain” story.

Meanwhile, in the last couple days, a dear brother had a stroke. North of eighty, such things can be dangerous…unless you’re Kirk Douglas, who continues ticking away into his 100’secret, Baruch Hashem!

I “happened” to be on patrol that day. He “happened” to fall surrounded by people who loved him and Yeshua. In addition to that, I had three or four encounters that made me question my decision to stop doing police work.

Later, considering the prospect that my brother, we’ll call him John, might not make it. An unbiblical sentiment, since death would be the definition of making it. I thought of his “girlfriend” who John had been helping with hEr medical issues and general life. John has been helping someone for as long as I’ve know him.

Who would take of his girlfriend, now? Well, unless all this community stuff I’ve been talking about is a load of hogwash–the community had better take care of her. Again, I prayed for more younger people in the fellowship.

Then something shifted in my mind. One of those “is the puzzle upside-down?” I’d been praying for awhile for more that I could do. I don’t want to be a sideline disciple. The faith is not a spectator’s sport.

What if the elders around me were not an accident? What if the elders were supposed to be my service?

I don’t mean that as a box. I don’t think we’re supposed to ignore things outside the box. There is no box! But what if we look around and see what we do have to minister with, instead of praying for a ministry that isn’t there?

If you have a story (and if you’re sentient then you probably do), then telling that is probably part of your ministry. If you are surrounded by children (even if they are your own), that’s you’re ministry. Old people, then those are yours.

Basically, get rid of the tidy confines of what it means to minister. Look around, what needs do you see? What can you do? Ministry is right in front of you.

 

 

 

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How I ended up Messianic: An Autobiographical Tale (Episode III)

Continuing my personal story of moving from a ‘normal, nondenominational’ Christianity to something called Messianic Judaism. Previous episodes recounted my Christian upbringing, and my near shipwreck. The latest showed the dilemma that paved the way and my discovery of the joys and pitfalls of Messianic Judaism.
And now, the inconclusion of my story (because of course, I’m still alive)…

Enlisting in Insanity

So brother Chris took the easier and wiser choice of joining the Air Force, and I took the jar-headed route of joining the Marines—probably in pursuit of that long sought feeling of respect. Ironically, in the Marines I learned the respect of the world was usually worthless, from people who really had no idea what is going on. Marines (or any branch) may do some good things and have truly heroic people in them, but any organization that does not have root in God will do its best to destroy your faith.

My years in the Corps were dark. Most severely because I actually tried to be a Marine in the Marines, instead of trying to be God’s servant in the Marines. I trust God to redeem it, but I regret joining the Marines. I went in emotionally depressed, lonely, and then I surrounded myself for 4 years with people who had no interest in God, and I hadn’t the prayer life to realize I was in a mission field instead of some twisted version of a career path. The respect I thought I wanted, I found poison to what was really important. I have much regret for the sins of those days. No doubt the conscious abandoning of fellowship, neglect of scripture and prayer aided my downfall.

But God did redeem it. Before I deployed, I decided “I had better” go to some kind of church, I was feeling the thirst for worship and community. Up until this point, I just didn’t care. Having a bad taste for things Messianic—

—I should clarify that Messianic doesn’t mean just one thing, just as Christian encompasses Baptists and Presbyterians. For some, Messianic means basically Christianity with Jewish dress-up: meet on Sabbath, use the word chutzpah, and try not to bring pork chops to fellowship meals, but the Torah is only really important for reaching Jews, and if you’re a gentile you probably shouldn’t keep it, at all. This includes the MJAA and UMJA as far as I understand their positions. However, there is a growing body of Messianics who use the term (or Hebraic Roots) to mean actually wanting to practice all areas of life according to Torah in light of Yeshua’s Messiahship. That is the way I use Messianic.—

—Having that bad taste for that other version of Messianic, I decided that I would look for ‘just a church.’ And specifically did not look for Messianic, or anything like it. So I found a Baptist church, where I learned that what I had always called ‘non-denominational’ was in fact Baptist. Then again, since every church regardless of its label seemed to teach the same thing, I’d be tempted to believe all the denominational ones were Baptist, too. And Calvinist, if you’re still tracking the labels =)

So I went, and there were some people I enjoyed quite a bit, and the Baptists weird hierarchy of drinking and dancing being so high on the list didn’t bother me too much. But, the main sermon series, was a study through Romans . . . oh, boy . . . that stirred my soul too, but in a different way.

Even though Jack had taught us to study for ourselves, for most of the years after, I basically studied to prove what I already believed. I could show handily how obedience was not opposed to grace, it was the point of grace. I could show how common anti-torah proofs from Paul were in fact not. I suppose those were important, like multiplication tables, but I believe I’d become stunted. Or perhaps, it was just time that God wanted more of me.

Christians Don’t Believe in the Law, And they don’t like it, either 

So there I was, about twenty-four listening to the baptists go on and on from Romans about how the law was done away with, and how great it was that we weren’t under the law, and it began to dawn on me, they don’t like the law, they think the law is evil. They wouldn’t say it, after all staring in the face was Paul saying “the law is good, and the commandment pure and holy”. But, if you thought the law really was good, pure, and holy…why would you be so eager to get rid of it?

Up until then, I had looked at obedience to torah as a problem of interpretation. I could see it in scripture so when I found something in the Torah that seemed distasteful, I knew my understanding was in error. It was mostly a question of reason, to me. But, I saw then that most Christians, having been raised on anti-torah thinking, had a kind of visceral aversion to Torah. When they saw the villainous Pharisees wanting to stone the woman in John 8, to them that’s torah. Religious people complaining about healing on Sabbath, that’s torah.

They hadn’t spent years reading torah and discovering… Wait, God wants us to forgive all debts, every seven years? He expects us to provide refugees with food and shelter? God wants us to have compassion even on our animals? God wants us to make amends when we injure one another rather than punish? He wants us to have big parties? Enjoy even liquor? Good food? Meat?

The problem was most christians had no idea what the Torah says, and what they did know, they knew from a perspective of flesh, not from the perspective of why would the God of Jesus have commanded such and such?

And most Messianics haven’t helped, because they spend all their time telling Christians how pagan they are for Sunday, and Easter, and eating pig. We hadn’t shown that torah was so much bigger than those things. I hadn’t shown it. And in truth, looking back, I didn’t show it because I hadn’t gone deep enough to know it for myself.

Getting Off the Bench

I didn’t grasp this all, right then, but I went back to the barracks and started pounding out 90 pages, the seed of a study that would eventually become my book, Backwards.

It took a couple years for “The Case for Torah” to become Backwards. I got married to a beautiful dancing old-soul, Alisa. She’s kept me grounded, encouraged in the many storms we’ve faced, and motivated. There’s nothing like a woman in your life to make a man shoot for the impossible, and nothing like a woman who puts a man back on his feet when he’s missed the impossibe, or run face-first into it. Some of that rough and impossible, included the death of our firstborn son. These don’t seem terribly related to the development of my convictions, but I can’t imagine they were unrelated.  

At the root of my book’s thesis were two perspectives on the subject of obedience to Torah. Firstly, I tried to acknowledge the emotional objections to law, but asked the reader to set aside their revulsion, and trust what should be obvious, that if the God who sent His only begotten into the world is so good…then the law He gave must also be good. Set aside, the emotions and let scriptures reshape them.

Two scriptures had come to form the backbone of my systematic theology: Isaiah 46:9-10, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:”

What God is going to do, He announced in the beginning. This means that there shouldn’t be anything in the “New” that can’t be found in the “Old.”

Amo 3:7 “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”

Again, the same. Legitimate doctrine cannot abruptly appear. For example, I can make the case from the Old Testament alone that Yeshua would be the name of Mashiach. That He would be called God. That His mother’s name would be Miryam (for some reason the translators decided to change her name to Mary, much as they changed Jacob to James). That Miryam would be a virgin (without even relying on the prophecy in Isaiah). And this method of interpretation is obvious in the New Testament. How many times do the gospels say, “Thus it was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet . . . ”

In the earlier days of my life, I had seen scripture as kind of a soup of truth, full of random proverbs and spiritual truths, with a few unrelated stories thrown in, and you needed that guy (the pastor) with the decoder ring to put things in the right order. The reason that you got different denominations was because someone else had another ring that took the same verses, put them in a different order, and voila “Denominationalism!”

At the time I couldn’t have said that, but I’m giving you the distilled version.

But lately, I’d begun to see . . . wait, Joshua picks up where Deuteronomy ends. Judges where Joshua ends. . . You get into the New Testament and read the books of Paul and you start to catch names repeating in his salutations. There’s a story being told in the background. These weren’t random letters put in one book. They were part of a cohesive story. And the whole bible had to be seen as a cohesive story. So this is playing in my mind when I’m in that pew listening to the pastor talk about Romans and how bad the law was and how great it was to be out from under it—I’m thinking . . . why does he have to go to Paul to make this case? Why does everyone always go to Paul?

Paul is one writer, who didn’t even write the majority of the New Testament and isn’t the Messiah, and he’s the one apostle constantly having to deny false accusations about his teachings. The one apostle that is singled out by another apostle (Peter) as having “difficult” sayings . . . but everyone goes to Paul. Why can’t they make the case from the Old Testament?

That’s when I’d say, I entered the ministry. I don’t like that word, maybe service is better? Whatever you want to call it, I felt I had some talent inside me, and no right to bury it.

Backwards

The basic premise of my book became this: You’re probably not a Mormon or a Muslim because you’d tell me that their teachings contradict scripture—even though they both ‘believe’ in Jesus, and at least the first one believes in the scriptures. Most, rightly assert that the Mormons and Muslims cannot reinterpret scripture to accommodate their newer revelation.

By the same assertion it is also untenable to accept the New Testament on its own authority.

In other words, if you want to say Yeshua is Messiah, you can’t start in the New Testament to prove it. You have to go to the Old—which by the way, is what the New Testament does. It references past, established, trusted revelation as authority for itself. The New Testament constantly points back to the Old for confirmation. But that doesn’t apply just to Messiah’s circumstantial identity. Case in point: Yeshua had to be born in Bethlehem, if He had not, He could not be the Messiah. Now, what if He met that and other time/place prophecies but failed in the spiritual? What if this candidate for Messiah, had been born in the right place, to the right person, etc., but taught that God was actually a three-headed, spaghetti monster who said that raping children was great?

Obviously, he could not be the Messiah no matter how many of the other prophecies He had fulfilled. It doesn’t even matter, if he died and rose from the dead, he still could not be the Messiah. In fact, the Bible tells that a prophet who works wonders but tries to turn you away from God’s ways as Moses was giving them, was a false prophet and should be killed even if his signs come true. Good to remember, since the antichrist will work miracles.

So then, any messiah who was anti-torah, could not be Messiah. And it makes no sense to even imagine it. If you read through the Old Testament, looking up every use of the word Torah (law), you will not find one disparaging comment from God’s prophets or faithful people. You will not find one hint that Torah was going way. Not one. That’s why everyone goes to Paul.

Just to be clear: I’m not criticizing Paul. I’m pointing out what should alarm any serious student of the word: If no one else is saying what Paul is saying . . . either Paul is a heretic, or we’re misunderstanding Paul.

Furthermore, you will find that Isra’el suffered tremendous tragedy and for more than a thousand years was rebuked for not keeping the Torah.
So re-examine the common church doctrine:

You’re saying that for thousands of years, God praised the Torah from one end of the scriptures to the other, and punished you for transgressing it, including the slaughter, rape, exile and slavery of your people…told you to stone prophet (even if their signs came true) if they tried to turn you from Torah…and then God sends a messiah who’s ministry mocks Torah, and starts a religion of throwing it away?

You might begin to see how one could question the justice of such a god. It’s no wonder that some church theologians have even suggested there are two gods in the bible.

For me and other Messianics, we read the New Testament writers from the context of someone who would be in agreement with that unanimous opinion of the Old Testament. And doing that I’ve found that the Bible begins to make sense as a whole, rather than in parts.

How I Messianic Now

Since taking up the Torah, and especially since I really started to study with this cohesive story in mind, my doctrine also becomes more stable. I don’t feel as threatened as I used to, when I met another believer of a different doctrine.

For example, I was taught women are not in the image of God, because Paul says that man is the image of God, and woman is the image of man, and the preferred ‘He’ pronoun for God means He is male. But from a cohesive standpoint, I look back to the beginning and find that both male and female are the image of God, and then understand Paul to mean something other than the superficial. Or Paul says women should not teach or even speak in church, but the Torah never forbids either so I read Paul through that lens and conclude that’s he’s talking about a specific situation, not a new church order.

Another really great example is the woman of John 8, caught in adultery. Most churches teach Yeshua was being a heretic by denouncing the law as cruel (which is insane, since if you believe Jesus was God, then Jesus is the one who gave the command that adulterers should be stoned). But, if you actually study what the Torah says, then you find that Yeshua was the only one keeping the Torah that day.

1) the command was for both the man and woman. Where’s the man?

2) no judgment could happen without the woman being given a chance to make her plea. She never said a word.

3) A judge was to seek justice only. These guys were there for the express purpose of trapping Yeshua, in the temple, on a holy day. Justice was not in their minds.

4) No one was to be put to death without the testimony of two witnesses. They said she was caught, but do we know that they were in fact witnesses?

5) Yeshua says, “He that is without sin . . .” Convicted, the accusers all leave. Think about that. That means because they knew they were transgressors of the law, that stirred them to actually be more merciful. In other words, meditating on Torah leads to mercy, not cruelty.

6) The Torah says that the first to throw a stone, had to be the witnesses. The maybe witnesses had all left, so the death penalty could not have been carried out, even by Yeshua.

7) The command didn’t even say death for someone who had committed adultery, but for one who practices (on going, continual) adultery.

8) The Torah also says that the child shall not be put to death for the parents, so with a woman you would have to be sure that she was not pregnant, which would mean you could not carry out the sentence in the heat of the moment.

9) The biggie is that the law is tied to the character of God, to believe the law required a repentant adulterer to be stoned in the temple, on a holy day, even if it meant killing an unborn child shows the hardness of our hearts. Thus the Torah again shows us our wickedness, not the wickedness of the Torah.

It probably comes as surprise to most Christians but in John 7:19 Yeshua declares his adversaries did not keep the law. If Christians understood this, perhaps they would stop seeing the scribes and pharisees as the poster boys of Torah.

Another great example is Miryam/Mary, mother of Yeshua. It’s often, erroneously stated that accepting God’s mission for her, could have meant death at the hands of the law. Not true. As stated above, where are her accusing witnesses? Suppose they had brought her before the judges, she would have claimed to be a virgin. As degrading as it may sound, that could have been checked. Do you think Miryam would have been more opposed to being examined, then having her holy child be called a bastard? Boom, instead of having her killed, following the Torah would have had it etched in the record she was a pregnant virgin.

Or even better, the Torah has a strange ritual specifically for the case when a man suspected his wife had committed adultery (without witnesses). Why do you suppose God went through the trouble of dealing with that specific situation? If Joseph indeed suspected Mary as unfaithful, he could have had her undergo that ritual in the temple, again the result would have been the priest determining from God, Himself, that Mary was a pregnant virgin.

So, walking in Torah has only deepened my understanding. I could say how Torah has much improved my prayer life, or made me a lot less concerned about little doctrinal squabbles, or whether my doctrinal positions are perfect.

I’d really have liked to talk about how, I hear people say that focusing on the ‘rules’ (church rules alienated from Torah) made them overly concerned with their standing before God, in many cases becoming depressed or even questioning their salvation.
For me, the more I practice Torah, and study the commands, the less concerned I become with perfection. Torah teaches that it is God who sanctifies, obedience is ‘merely’ the means He uses to do it. When I keep a command, God is using that to make me able to do even more obedience. More importantly, every time I keep a commandment, I am momentarily sharing in direct communion with God because the commandments are His heart. So when I obey, His heart is beating for mine. Rather than make me afraid, I’m not doing good enough, obedience makes me focus on who He is, and rather than fearing I’m not doing enough to earn something, I find myself hungry to do more so I can be closer to the Father.

What Christians don’t understand is the significance of the “I AM the LORD” attached to the commandments in the Torah. What it means is that each commandment is a reflection of God’s character and person. Obedience isn’t jumping through hoops like a dog to please his master; obedience is God teaching you how to walk with Him, making you like Him, so you can go the places He goes. And see the things He sees. It makes us like Him, and there can’t be a happier place than that.

But I have slain enough digital trees, and there’s only so much you can communicate via writing. Plus, I fear my readers didn’t make it this far. This is long, even for one of my blogs. But maybe the story format kept you around?

How I Got Here, And why I can’t leave

In summary, I didn’t come to be Messianic in a moment nor has it been a phase. I hope some of the people who worry I’m in some kind of cult will walk the path of questions that I did, and see—even if you don’t reach the same conclusion—those were good questions based on scripture and reason, and not some weird private revelation.

And let me leave you with a handful of those questions that maintain me in the convictions I currently hold, and have held for more or less 19 years.

1) How could God be just, telling Isra’el for a thousand years to guard and cherish His law, praise it as good, wisdom, the way to live, light, glorious, right . . . and then without any prophetic warning send them a messiah who would tear it down?

2) All are saved by faith, as was Abraham. We get this model from Abraham, so why did God later give the law? He’d already revealed the only way to salvation, so why add the ‘wrong way’ (by law) when the right way (by faith) had already been revealed?

3) If the law is all the good things that God said, then why is the church so opposed to it? Even if you ‘can’t’ be faithful to your wife perfectly, I’ve never heard the Christian that says don’t try. I’ve never heard the Christian speak against teaching children to honor their parents. So whether it’s possible or not, if the law is good as God and Paul both said, why fight not to try?

4) On the other hand, if the law is actually bad, out of date, and odious . . . why was it so important for Yeshua to keep it? Are we saying that Yeshua was sinless because he lived up to a bad standard? Does God send people to hell because they fail to live up to a standard that’s so bad, that even God wants to get rid of it?

5) What does it say about God if the law is truly bad? If Yeshua is God, what does it say about Him, since He’s the one who said to stone adulterers? Or, what does it say about the law, since Yeshua is the one who wrote it?

6) Yeshua had to be sinless, according to the law, which meant he could not try to turn people away from Torah . . . so all of his teachings are within the context of a law that is allegedly bad, so wouldn’t his most important teachings be after his resurrection when the law is allegedly void? Yet, there’s very little teaching recorded after his death. Why did he waste so much time teaching sermons within the context of a standard he actually wanted to tear down? He should have died, resurrected and then done his ministry.

7) If Yeshua did teach against the Torah, why does Peter so quickly oppose the vision of eating unclean things? Didn’t he get the memo? Such a change would have been huge, did he miss one of the hugest parts of Yeshua’s ministry? How did the elders of Jerusalem, along with James and Peter lead a congregation of thousands of Jews that were ‘zealous’ of the law? Were James and Peter epic failures? How had they failed to pass on this massive doctrinal shift? Why does Paul go along with upholding their error by encouraging it by actually doing sacrifice in the temple? For that matter, if Yeshua had spent his time on earth casting down the Torah, how did he attract thousands who were zealous of the Torah? And when there is a question about whether the gentiles needed to keep Torah to be saved, they agreed that no one was saved by keeping Torah, but then they give four items to be kept that come from Torah, one of which is a dietary ordinance (not to eat strangled things, and possibly, not to eat blood), with the expectation that they will be in the synagogue learning Moses every Sabbath . . . Wouldn’t the logical thing have been, to take this opportunity to say, “Guys the law doesn’t matter for any of us. Let alone the gentiles, let alone for salvation. And you probably shouldn’t go to synagogue if you’re a gentile because you might learn jewish traditions. And you don’t really need Moses, just get a copy of Isaiah 53, and we’ll give you the apostle’s creed for your churches. That’s all you need.” In summary, if Yeshua taught the end of Torah, why were so many of His followers so confused about whether they should or not?

8) Why is it that the people who most easily trust in Yeshua (like Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, Zacharias) are all reported to be just/blameless in regards to the law? While Yeshua’s adversaries like some scribes and Pharisees are described as people who don’t keep the Torah or pervert it? Why were the largest mass conversions to devout Jews from every nation? Why was the largest congregation one full of people zealous for the Torah? One would almost have to say that keeping Torah actually made you better able both to accept and to follow Yeshua . . . ?

9) Why can’t someone find this shift predicted in the Old Testament?

I could go on but to me, those nine—taken always with the fact that the Old Testament is unanimously approving of Torah—are by themselves insurmountable obstacles to throwing away the Torah.

But if you are unconvinced. I still love you.

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How I ended up Messianic: An Autobiographical Tale (Part 2)

Continuing my personal story of moving from a ‘normal, nondenominational’ Christianity to something called Messianic Judaism. Part one covered my Christian upbringing, conversion, and beginning of real disciplship…

Proto-Messianic

Needless to say, those years at Medical Lake Community Church with Jack and the youth group  were life-altering. I wanted to go to church now. I wanted to know what else the Bible said. The things I learned didn’t end up as “Oh, that’s neat” notes on a page, they got inside me and told me, “Change the way you’re living.” I wanted to hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

One of Jack’s last lessons—it may even have been his last—was about Rosh HaShanah. Which is Hebrew for head of the year, and is the traditional name for what the bible calls Yom Teruah (the day of the trumpet blast or shout). It’s not actually the head of the year, biblically, but that’s a rabbi trail.

Get it? Rabbi! HAHAHAHAHA!

The subject was the prophetic meaning. For example, when Jesus says he returns at a day when ‘no man knows’, I’d always been taught that meant no one knows the day. Duh! But it turns out to actually be a Hebrew idiom for the beginning of a month.

The Hebraic calendar month begins at new moon, but without advanced calculation, you’re not sure if the month will be twenty-nine days long or thirty. You have to watch for it, which should conjure to mind all the ‘watching’ that Jesus told his disciples to do. Also, Jesus and Paul talk about the Jesus’s return being preceded by a ‘trumpet’ and a ‘shout.’ Well, it just so happens that Yom Teruah (the day of the trumpet shout) falls on . . . guess what? The New Moon, or the day that no man knows. In fact, because of Joel and others, the Rabbis have long associated the day of the LORD with trumpets. Jesus and Paul weren’t merely talking in riddles, they were confirming what the sages had already taught. They wouldn’t know exactly when Mashiach would return, but it would happen in proximity to the feast of Trumpets.

I suddenly learned that there was a body of Jewish understanding that I as a Christian was entirely unaware of. How many other phrases and things had I missed? Why had I never heard this? I and others in the youth group were hungry for more, but Jack was gone abruptly thereafter. He’d become unwelcome after being involved in bringing an accusation against someone in a position of leadership.

I didn’t see Jack, or really hear from him much after that, and the church went through some new youth leadership that served to confirm that the way Jack believed high schoolers could actually apply themselves to scripture was apparently unique. We were presented with teaching that was obviously phoning it in, and I promptly challenged it.

In fairness, though the teaching was weak (and I believe in error), I will admit that I was too eager to challenge. Too hot-headed over the fact that a better teacher had been replaced with others trying to teach us what Bonhoeffer would have called cheap grace. I freely confess, that my manner was wrong, but it did serve God’s purpose to show me, I needed to look elsewhere, and in essence kicked the training wheels out from under me. I was under eighteen at this time, so I continued to attend, and make too much trouble. I have since asked forgiveness from others involved.

Meanwhile, my sense of what scripture actually said was not discouraged—and for context, my parents agreed with the church so now I was out of step with them as well. And on the Hebrew/Jewish side, those of us who had been closest to Jack started trying to keep the feasts. An important point at this juncture is to understand that I did not approach the feasts or anything Hebraic as being required for anything. I and others had merely seen that there were these hidden meanings that deepened and expounded upon the teachings of Jesus.

But the innocuous search for more knowledge, brought the seed of a dilemma. Studying the feasts lead to Hebraic Roots (a hermeneutical belief that the Bible, being written and preserved by the Hebrew people, must be approached from that perspective; you can’t understand someone else’s mail without taking into account the person intended to read it). Even regular Christian pastors do this to a degree. How many times have you heard someone say, “The word in the text is (insert Greek or Hebrew), and it means ____. But in the first century that meant something different (insert explanation)”? Any good student recognizes these little nuggets, but what is neglected is the way of thinking surrounding the nuggets, and that is Hebraic Roots.

Hebraic roots leads to actually studying Torah (the law) and the Old Testament, because you begin to understand that the concepts and stories of the Old Testament provides the lexicon for the new. So of course, I read some of the ‘law.’ There wasn’t anything too surprising there; even my non-Messianic Dad understood Sunday was not the Sabbath. And I could count, every calendar has Saturday as the seventh, and Sunday as the first. If Sunday was not the first, then Jesus couldn’t rise on Sunday. Pork was unclean, but who didn’t know that?

The dilemma came in that I started to ask, “Why did God give these commandments?” There must have been some ‘spiritual’ reason just like Rosh HaShanah. After all, Paul says, that the holy days are (present tense) shadows of things to come. So why did God establish a specific-day Sabbath? Everything was supposed to point to Christ, so how does not eating pig point to Christ?

I started researching and found that pig, along with other unclean meats, are nutritionally less beneficial. Christians will say that has to do with improper cooking. But that didn’t make sense. Jesus didn’t give any new ‘cooking instructions’ that would explain how pig suddenly went from unfit for consumption to fit for consumption. Was fire a lot different before 33 AD? In fact, salmonella which can be carried by chickens dies at a higher temperature than trichinosis which is often given as the reason pigs were deemed unfit. And if that were the reason, then it would still be unclean today, if prepared incorrectly on a barbeque, and I’ve never heard a Christian teaching on improper cooking.

But actually, my research showed me things beyond the common sense. For example, both pig and shellfish leave uric acid in your system after metabolism. Uric acid according to Oxford is “of, pertaining to, or derived from urine.” It’s a waste product left in your system, and it can build crystalline deposits in your joints that give you . . . gout. Meet someone with gout and start asking about their diet. Diverticulitus can also be traced to diets heavy with unclean foods in them. Shellfish are also bottomfeeders, and secular scientists will say that because they are bottom feeders they are higher in toxins such as mercury among the creatures of the sea. None of these things have anything to do with how you cook it. In fact, seas being more polluted now, make shellfish more harmful than before Jesus’s day. I could give many more examples of this today.

The demanding “why” grew more insistent, when a sister named Leigh came to visit my future sister-in-law. She was some version of Messianic, and explained how Torah was good (though we didn’t get very far in the subject). And I listened, and thought it was interesting, but I among others drew the line to say, “Yes, but it’s not required. We don’t have to abide by the law as commandment.” That’s right, I argued against Torah!

But I couldn’t escape what I was saying: “I can objectively see that the commands of the law are good . . . but I’m arguing we don’t have to do them. I am arguing for the liberty to be self-destructive.”

I Give Up

Some in the former youth group had decided to go and visit Jack, and have kind of a jam-packed teaching get away. My brother and I did get consent from our parents, though it was reluctantly given (I was very blessed that my older brother and some of my closest friends from the youth group were also walking this walk together). So we went. I can’t remember what the main subjects were, but we recounted the recent exchange with Leigh, and Jack flatly told us, that in fact Torah was still authoritative.

Now, this will seem like complete hypocrisy—but as soon as Jack said it, all my opposition melted away. Yeah, yeah, I hear what you’re saying and know how that looks.

“Cult leader!” My mom would protest.

And that’s fair, but let me point out some mitigating factors:

1) I was walking down a road of perversity when Jack spoke scripture into my life that turned me around.

2) I’d yet to see Jack take a stand that he couldn’t readily back with scripture.

3) Jack method of instruction, challenged us to read and interpret for ourselves. He told us, “Don’t believe me. Check the scriptures!”

4) Apart from Jack, I had already found myself in the dilemma of arguing against what I knew was objectively good.

So if I held Jack’s opinion higher than most bible teachers I’d met, or some Messianic girl that I’d met only once—I think that’s understandable.

The Early Years

Returning from Ohio, I slid into being Messianic. You can blame it on Jack, but I’ve seen Jack maybe three times since then, a span of almost 20 years. We don’t even talk regularly, so as I understand a real cult-relationship, I should have to worship him or at least stay in constant contact and probably move near him, and marry one of his daughters or sisters—maybe even more than one. If in 20 years, I haven’t changed in my convictions (though deepened), I think that I have credibility to say that the reason I switch mindsets so easily was not Jack’s excessive influence.

God had already prepared my by giving me a Dad and Mom who valued scripture over human opinions or church doctrines. And Jack reinforced that scripture-first, study-for-yourself mentality, and he’d taught me from scripture that I owed it to God to actually apply myself and seek to use my talent so that I could be a good and faithful servant. So deciding to follow Torah was not difficult for me—except when friends or family made it difficult. I’m saying, there was little inner struggle over whether I should do Torah—even though it was in opposition to a great portion of what I had always believed.

How come after nine years of believing the law was dead and obedience was nearly irrelevant (not counting my earliest childhood), I so easily turned my back on that entire way of thinking and actually moved towards a lifestyle that was rather alien to me? What did I know of the feasts? I had no family traditions in that direction. What did I know of kosher? My favorite foods were unkosher. I loved bacon! I loved Zips’ Belly Buster Burger which had beef and two forms of pork on it! I loved the Diablo pizza that had sausage and jalapeno. I liked to be able to work or do whatever I wanted on Sabbath. The point is, choosing to follow Torah came with a personal external cost in giving up things I liked and opposing the doctrines I had grown up with and considered ‘normal.’ I did not want to be weird. In fact, even some of the people from the old youth group who agreed on obedience, disagreed on Torah, so this even meant a potential rift with my peeps. The first consistent friends I’d had in my life!

Yet, none of that translated to reasonable doubt about what scripture actually taught.

So, I and others from the ‘core group’ looked for a different congregation to worship at, while practicing the feasts and holding little bible studies as best we understood. Somehow, we found a Messianic Jewish Congregation (which later became Kehilat HaMashiach, Congregation of the Messiah). In many ways it was what we needed, but also had many shortfalls. The teaching didn’t live up to Jack; I often fought sleep during the sermons, and didn’t feel like I learned much. However, there was a sense of community, and everyone there was motivated, by that I mean I didn’t see anyone on autopilot. And worship included dancing.

Dancing may seem like a small thing, especially since in most churches dancing is spectator’s worship. But dancing in a messianic fellowship involves people getting out of their seats and coming forward to dance. Not a specific team, anyone could join. And I’ll tell you worship became much more invigorating and community building when there was dance. I mean, why has worship in church come to mean using your voice and maybe you hands, but not the rest of your body? Since then, worship in churches feels to me like holding back. People not wanting to embarrass themselves. Maybe sway, but don’t move your feet. Lift a hand, but not too high. Sing, but not full-throated. I know I felt that reservation the first time someone else ‘dragged’ me into a dance. I’d been afraid to be a fool for God.

We were there for a couple of years, but . . . there were also problems in the congregation. The leadership was unbalanced, bottle-necked through a single individual who seemed unable to be accountable or share leadership with others. There’s more nuance to that, but it’s not terribly important. I think it was right for a group of us to challenge the leadership, but not as we ended up doing. Some people were seemingly chased out of the congregation, myself included, when we had a differences of vision. Also, the congregation was very pro-Jew, and gentiles like myself were kind of second-class.

Eventually things came to a head with about fifteen people trying to force a congregational meeting to address grievances. I think the cause was just, but we went about it wrongly. It was like we all went in to do surgery on each other, but had no plans beyond cutting the other person open. I have since tried to make amends with the congregational leader there.

So myself and others left, feeling burned. I know it particularly sunk in when I was compared to a ‘leper’ even before the big blow up, merely because I didn’t have an emotional love for the Jewish people, and didn’t feel I should abandon all of my gentile heritage. Afterwards, we tried a home fellowship and another kind of Messianic/Hebraic congregation. Neither worked out. So the shrinking ‘we’, a few from the original youth group and a few from Kehilat, kind of wandered. Somewhat disenfranchised with the messianic thing…

To be continued…

 

 

 

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How I ended up Messianic: An Autobiographical Tale: Episode I

I’ve stumbled again into doctrinal debating.

I know, right?

I’ve tried to avoid them, but should I? How can iron sharpen iron without making sparks? Leviticus 19:17 tells us as a sign of love to arguingly argue with one another. Arguments ought to be used to fosters intimacy rather avoided.

Argument summary: I am Messianic, thus believe in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Christ) but believe following Yeshua also means keeping Torah (the law) because it is a praise to Him, rather than discarding it.

My brotherly and sisterly opponents disagree and present me with a slew of arguments, which—and this will sound like arrogance—I’ve heard before. In fact, I’ve made some of them myself because those are the arguments I was raised to believe.

So how about I tell you a story? The story of how I ‘lost my way’. I’ll show you what I believed, and the questions, the line of reasoning that convinced me to where I am today. Maybe understanding, how I got here, my fellow believers will convert me back, or perhaps, see that I’m not so crazy . . . at least in this regard. =)

My Early Christianity

Born in Alaska in 1981 to Christian or nearly Christian parents . . . [all biographies have to start something like that.]

I’m not sure when our family became Christian, but Dad talks like the years before I remember were something of a transition. My mother was born Catholic, and my Dad, I think, was Presbyterian or Episcopalian. Neither heritage seemed much defined/changed by their faith. In fact, I grew up asking grandparents (especially on Dad’s side) whether they were saved, and not believing that they were.

But I grew up identifying our home as Christian. Dad explained many of the things we did on the basis of scripture. We went to church. Mom read scripture after each meal. Some Sundays when we stayed home, Dad would lead us in worship with hymn books that were kept at home. We consistently went to church. However—and my loving brothers and sisters will point to this as “Aha, that’s where Jesse started becoming a heretic”—my family didn’t stay in any church for too long.

My earliest church memories were of a home church with the Frasies family, and I don’t remember much other than that one of the boys there seemed bullyish to me (but that’s probably the unfair memory of someone around six or seven). And one day I came in on a prayer portion and shouted, “My Mom made cinnamon rolls, and yours didn’t.” I cringe when I imagine how that must have mortified my Mom. Ha ha. Oh, yeah. And while looking at a flashlight on a table, I was pushed off and broke my leg.

Later, we went to Monroe Park Gospel Chapel in Spokane. I have many memories there. They had a good library for kids. I drew pictures in the pews and sat with the adults during sermons. I stole cookies out of the fridge (at the time, I didn’t think of it as stealing). As an eight year old, I wrestled with a nine year old and ‘won’. I would also wave as I ran along cars being driven away . . . at least one time I ran into a sign.

I also remember the trauma of being asked to sit on some teenager’s lap. Her name was Robin and she was pretty, so of course no little boy wants to sit on a pretty girl’s lap for a play, and pretend to be a little boy . . . Very traumatic. But the show went on, and I did my duty to sit in the pretty girl’s lap.

One day, we stopped going. I didn’t know why, or even really process that this was unusual. Being committed or grounded in a specific church hadn’t been instilled in me. Later, I came to understand that we had left because the Gospel Chapel wasn’t motivated to spread the gospel.

About the same time, my Dad started feeling called to help spread creation science. He got involved with ICR (Institute for Creation Research) and Answer in Genesis, helping with events and conferences. He even started a local organization called Creation Outreach. Dad taught in the home that the Word of God was paramount and that we as a family lived according to what the Bible said, but the Bible would be no good if it didn’t match up with real life evidence. Nowadays, he would summarize it using a jury trial analogy. A person shouldn’t be convicted on testimony alone. Testimony must be matched to physical evidence.

So we as a family began to serve together in this endeavor as Dad found speaking opportunities at various churches and conferences. It was a humble ministry, but I had some secret pride about what Dad was doing. One day a church elder challenged him during his presentation. He was not uncivil, and the man had a point because Dad had moved from creation evidence to prophetic topics—but young boys aren’t known for that kind of nuanced distinction. I instantly disliked this other guy.

The ministry kind of faded away, not sure quite why. Dad still ministers through a blog (from before the time it was called a blog). And I still respect his efforts on the creation front.

Other things in those middle years include going to a Bible camp up in Canada, where I learned to play poker and Stretch (a game where you throw knives near each other’s feet, gradually placing a foot where the knife sticks until you’re doing unbearable splits and fall over . . . or until someone actually gets hit with a knife and the counselors say enough. The poker had to stop too.) But I loved those times at camp, singing around the campfire. Playing games. Doing sword drills and memorization, and chapel every night which always had the gospel in it.

The years did turn darkish, though. I became aware of the feeling of loss as we hopped churches, making friends only to move on. There always seemed to be something doctrinally wrong with the churches. From my perspective, they all taught basically the same things. The gospel of grace, salvation by faith, praying to receive Jesus, baptism, eternal security, ‘penal substitution’ [a brother recently introduced me to the term], the trinity, all those things. We never went to a Catholic church or a JW or a Mormon or a Jonesboro Baptist. They all seemed to be evangelical/protestant/reformed/regular church—and the first time I heard about Calvinism, it was me being told that we were Calvinists, by my Dad. So that was my normal, those were the main doctrines that I grew up with, and never had reason to question.

The reasons we left—as I realized later—usually had to do with some, more private interpretation of a more . . . peripheral doctrine? Some I still see as important. Like do they believe in a literal creation account? I take a more nuanced approach to that literality, but I firmly believe it’s a mistake to simply allegorize it. Other doctrines—at least the way they were taught in our home—I have rejected. Like whether God is really a male and only a male because He is always called He.

I mention that particular discard because it was at the basis of why we left more than one church. Also, I think it was the cause or the symptom of growing strife in the home between my parents. Another part of that equation involved alcohol. These mixed and worsened as I approached thirteen.

Toward the end, I would not have seemed unchristian. And I will firmly say that I had sincere belief. I had asked Jesus into my heart. I believed He died and rose again for my sins. But I will say, I was on the way out the door. I just didn’t realize it. Looking back there were environmental reasons. Fighting in the home and alcohol had badly damaged the way I felt about our family. Making matters worse, I had been exposed to pornography. Nothing like what we have today in terms of availability or explicity. I don’t want to give the wrong impression about what my parents knowingly allowed in the home, but that spirit (for lack of a better term) was having an impact. I’m not trying to gross anyone out, least of all my parents, but . . . the truth of redemption is that even your sins can be turned around. Grace is only great, if sin is also great. So if I say some things that are shameful toward my family, I hope they make that point.

Beginning of a New Beginning

And so the stage was set for my arrival Medical Lake Community Church, another non-denominational congregation that was probably Calvinist, taught salvation by grace through faith, through the shed blood of Jesus. I coasted in, no intentionality of my own, not hostile but just coasting, drifting.

The church was normal enough, until the youth pastor changed. I didn’t really want to go to his class. I had developed low self-esteem, manifesting in insecurity, so I preferred the company of people younger than myself. But, praise God, I was sent to the high school class that became Jack’s. Some people whom I dearly love will say this is where it all went wrong for my beliefs, I will say it was an act of God. Remember, my faith was shutting down. Could God have got me back another way? Of course, but this is the way He chose.

Jack opened up the scriptures. I’d never been around an instructor that actually went from verse to verse, and interacted with real questions. Sure, I’d done ‘workbooks’ and other mass produced class materials where you’d fill in the blank, or make a note about what something meant. But with Jack you had blanks and no form questions. He was the first teacher I’d ever had who made a point by reading and dissecting a passage instead of merely giving a verse to memorize along with it’s one and only meaning. Maybe everyone else’s youth group Sunday School classes were different, but I’d never been in one before, and I didn’t see one after.

The difference really seems to have centered on questions. Here’s what the passage says, but what does that mean? Who’s Paul talking to? Jesus said this, but how does that work with what He said earlier? Answers to these were dragged out of us as kept fingers in half a dozen books at a time. We saw the stepping stones that connected one verse to another, the logic and cohesion binding one scriptural thought to another. I can’t say it all sunk in, none of us were used to actively interpreting as opposed to simply recalling what we’d been taught. Jack had to rephrase most questions in ten different ways to get our minds to finally turn over on their own, but he cranked away to get us active in the study instead of merely absorbing.

Up until then, I’d always been told what to believe, with a verse or two for reference, but no one had linked the verses together into a cohesive train of thought. We were learning to study, not just recall. The seed of really studying was planted for the first time. We were learning to study for ourselves, instead of just trusting a pastor or a commentator to decode the hidden message. The Bereans were held up by Paul because they rigorously studied the scriptures to see if Paul told the truth, that was the model for our class, too.

And that went right along with the thesis of Jack’s time at MLCC. I met him in the book of Matthew, and he kept drawing out passages like the parable of the talents or the ten virgins, pointing out how what we did affected the outcome. I kept seeing passages that I had always summarized in my mind as being calls to believe, and seeing, “Wait. These are already to believers, they are telling us to make belief into action.” Belief and salvation were not the end of the race; they were the beginning. Choices mattered, lesser and greater reward stood before every believer. Sin or righteousness . . . still mattered for the disciple of Jesus. It wasn’t just what He did for us, there was a response that was expected. To summarize what I learned: Matthew 12:36 “That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”

To be clear, Jack never taught that this was about salvation, but rather obedience and reward vs. losing reward. He would often say, you’ll go to heaven, but you might be scrubbing toilets. Which was always funny because he was a custodian who scrubbed toilets. He could use the parable of the talents, the parable of the sower, Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:15, Ephesians 2:10, 1 Timothy, or many others to make the point.

Grace wasn’t central conversation in our home, so perhaps that’s why I wasn’t allergic to Jack’s doctrine. Not that it was absent, but it wasn’t as central, as perhaps faith and truth. But I heard about grace there, and in every church and Bible camp I recall. But these provided no obstacle in my mind between salvation by grace and a call to obedience. Why talk about the ten commandments or obeying parents if obedience no longer mattered? If right and wrong were worth Jesus’ death on the cross, why weren’t we more careful to obey? Why wouldn’t God be pleased with me for actually doing good?

It wasn’t just that I had no reason to object to this new doctrine, there was also a part that wanted it to be true. I’d heard people proudly say, there’s nothing we can do to add to the work of Christ. That grace was unmerited favor. That we can’t earn our way to heaven. That our sins are forgiven on grace alone. But hearing obedience to God had consequences, stirred my soul. And looking back, why should that be reaction surprise?

God made Adam and Eve to rule and reign, to subdue the earth, to keep (meaning guard) the garden. Then the Bible is full of saints doing tremendous good deeds, heroic deeds, yes of faith, but deeds! Even in our modern time, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresea, Billy Graham, or your neighbor down the street, or a martyr in China—we all know that we were made to do good and great things. Having someone tell me that it mattered whether I used my talent or buried it in the sand, if I bore fruit or if I didn’t—that awakened something inside. I didn’t become instantly perfect, but I’ll tell you this, porn and my autopilot faith were taken out back and shot. There was power in the doctrine of obedience.

I can’t overemphasize what someone essentially saying, “Repent! For the Kingdom is at hand!” did for me. You can tell me all you want to about grace, but the message of grace apart from obedience had left my faith to die; the call to repent and obey, brought me back. That’s not displacing grace, rather it’s realizing grace isn’t given so you can stay in sin, it’s for getting you out of sin. The goodness of God lead’s men to repentance.

To be continued . . .

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