29 September 2013

Law and Grace: The Beginning of a biblical review

Law and Grace: An unfortunate dialectic

A sermon given at Carlton-Kogarah Baptist Church, Carlton, NSW

Sunday September 29, 2013

By Bob Mendelsohn


Shalom to all of you here today in Carlton, and those who will watch/ listen/ and read along with us on the Internet in this information-shared world. Thanks to Pastor Steve for letting me come and thank you each of you for listening along with us today as we unpack a very fundamental and very confused topic this morning, that of the unfortunate dialectic: Law vs. Grace. As we consider this may I ask you to think a bit outside what you already believe, what you already know, what you already think, and let’s see things from another angle or two. Being challenged is a good thing, right? So let’s begin.

We have already read the Scriptures in Leviticus 19 and Romans 6. For those online, those are able to be read at the bottom of this manuscript.

Introduction: How many gods are there?

Of course every year in synagogue when I grew up, we read Leviticus, and then more particularly when I was a child, the first book I ever learned, that is, studied with a learned man, was Leviticus. If you get that right, if you get holiness right, everything else will be right.

So let’s turn there first.

For many, who only carry a pocket New Testament, this will be difficult. Consider what that carrying says to people.  By choosing only a portion of Bible, and not the entire 66 books, you are saying this is the good bit, or the important bit, or the bit I think matters more today. And sometimes a Gospel of John or a portion of Bible is all you are pondering at a time or season and that’s excellent. But carrying a Bible is a big signal to you and to those around you that the whole volume matters and has weight.  OK, my pet peeve is out.

So now we turn to Leviticus and if my guess is right, and if you are a marker in the Bible, you will have very little by way of marks in the 27 chapters. This is not an indictment, but rather an indicator of something I call bi-theistic evaluation. Here’s what I mean.

Many well-meaning Christian people could be labeled bi-theists. A monotheist is a believer in one God, and a bi-theist believes in two gods. You would normally tell me that no Christian is a bi-theist, and I would agree, that no Christian can be, based on dozens of biblical texts where he is the One and only God, who does not share his glory with another and that all other gods are not the real God.

But by practice and convictions, many Christians have a notion that the God of the Older Testament is fundamentally different than the God of the Newer Testament. Jesus, they would argue, is not the same as the God of the Older Testament. In the OT, he was old. He was seated probably because he was tired. He had gray hair. He was crotchety, like an old man in a nursing home. He was judgmental and angry. But they say, in the NT, God is nicer, and younger. He’s out healing and performing miracles. He has flowing dark hair and is adored by young adults and children.  But if you believe this two-god theory, you are a bi-theist and as a result will have a more negative evaluation of the Old Testament.

So if that’s you, and you are now turning to Leviticus, let’s see if we can glean from this text a mechanism of reading and understanding God, and this big issue of Law vs. Grace.

Definition of terms

Before I touch our text, let me define these two terms, which will help us throughout this talk. Both law and grace, as I understand them, are systems. I’m not using the term ‘law’ to mean a commandment. And that may be the difficulty for some of us. The word ‘law’ is used 164 times in the NT, 77 of those in Romans alone, 32 in Galatians; and law is used 199 times in the OT.  But listen, law is not the same in every case. That’s where the confusion comes.

Sometimes the word means ‘commandment’ and means an individual action required or prohibited.  James identified law with freedom as in “the law of liberty”(James 1.25, 2.12). King David cried out “How I love thy law!”(119.97, 159) Paul the apostle said, “The law is good.” (1 Timothy 1.8).  So I understand confusion about the matter. To most, and throughout the record of Scripture, and certainly in our passage in Romans, Law sounds like some compliance, and then it becomes a system of compliance. So that is my definition: Law is the system by which I gain God’s approval on the basis of my good works. And then grace must be different. Grace then is the system by which I gain God’s approval on the basis of what God did in Messiah Yeshua.  Both are systems. One more small difference in language. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. So mercy keeps you from hell and grace gives you heaven. Understanding those, let’s look at our texts.

Older Testament reading: Leviticus 19

Checklist religion

In this foundational chapter of the Older Testament, God commands Israel many things: to be holy (.2), to fear mother and father (.3), not to make idols (.4), to burn leftover peace offerings (.6), to leave the corners of the field when harvesting (.9-10), not to steal or lie (.11), etc. Many of you older folks will quote the no tattoo rule (.28) when speaking with your teenage children. Other rules include not cutting the corners of your beard (.27), not eating raw meat with blood (.26), keeping your daughter out of the sex trade (.29), keeping the Sabbath (.30), avoiding reading horoscopes (.31), honoring old and foreign people (.32-34), keeping honest measurements and scales (.35-36), not eating fruit before its time (.23-25), and not wearing wool and linen at the same time (.19). Talk about power clashing.

So those of you who like to outline are frustrated just now. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for these laws, often superscripted with the term “Various Laws” as a header in your Bible, or at least no reason for their order. And although I’m an outliner from way back when, and like to keep things in such order, the text neither warrants nor needs such.

Inside the text is the most famous verse of the OT, and quoted by Yeshua: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s in verse 18. I remember that as my Hebrew teacher when I was 7 taught us, that 1918 was the year World War 1 ended and that’s the address of this text. If we can learn this lesson, to love everyone, then war will not happen anymore. Harsh lesson that we keep needing to learn, and keep forgetting, you know?

So if you had an interpretation of this passage as laws that are law, and thus a system of compliance such that you would gain God’s favor, and if you had been taught that all this OT stuff is old and not to be kept anymore since we now have Jesus as our God and savior, what do you do with the laws of Leviticus 19? Do you now send your daughter out to be a harlot? Do you steal and lie? Do you read horoscopes and make old people stand while you sit on the bus? Obviously the simplistic and binary approach: Old=bad; New=good just doesn’t work.

In fact law is something so beyond your capacity to accomplish it, that it’s sad how many try to do so. There are two consequences to checklist religion, and I’m not limiting myself to Jewish or Christian religions. If you are successful at keeping the fragments of religion you maintain, you might feel smug or even proud. If you fail to succeed at your religion’s checklists, then you feel condemned. Neither pride nor condemnation is God’s desired result.  Checklist religion always fails.

Poor man in your midst

Look at the text in verse 9. We see that we should harvest our fields and then leave something for the poor. This is a law. Nowadays, how would a poor person come to find provision in the company of God’s people? Let’s say a poor person from Brighton-le-sands came to hear about a big local church and that they care about poor people. He rocks up to the church and finds a receptionist. He presents his case. She is sympathetic to him and rings the pastor. The PA of the pastor hears the call and the poor man presents himself to the PA.  Then the PA sends the poor man to the pastor in charge of food distribution or such. Now, the 3rd time in an hour, the poor man has to tell his story. Compare that with the biblical method of providing. In the Bible no one has to hear the story. No one is shamed. No one is embarrassed. No one feels owing and no one feels robbed or used or questions motives. It’s gracious isn’t it? So when you think of law vs grace as OT vs NT, you miss the point.

Dr Laura Schlessinger,  Aaron Sorkin, and Kevin Rudd on homosexuality

Same with the issue of sexuality, which our text intimates in relation to slave women and marriage. Obviously if you are familiar with the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20) you will recognize that many of these various laws of Leviticus 19 are informed by and an expansion of those commandments. Idolatry, stealing, adultery, Sabbath-keeping and others are expanded here. But what about sexuality? You may have heard Steve mention Dr Laura, the US talk-show presenter, who is well-known in the US as a fast-talking, ethic-pounding psychologist. This from Wikipedia: In the months before the premiere of her TV show in 2000, Schlessinger called homosexuality a "biological error", said that homosexuality was acceptable as long as it was not public, and said that homosexuals should not attempt to adopt children. She regularly compared gay parenting to pedophilia by reiterating her view that "a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys."[31] Schlessinger was frequently criticized in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) media for these views.   (More about Dr Laura at the end of this manuscript, even surprising facts)

But what about sexuality? My question remains. Dr Laura is opposed on the basis of biblical considerations. And she’s right. But opponents will then point out that we don’t keep OT laws either. What about the famous scene in the tv show The West Wing, where Aaron Sorkin wrote for President Bartlett (Martin Sheen).

"My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police?"

Leviticus 11
7and the pig, which does indeed have hoofs and is cloven-footed, but does not chew the cud and is therefore unclean for ou.
8Their flesh you shall not eat, and their dead bodies you shall not touch; they are unclean for you."

"Here's one that's really important cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town: touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7 If they promise to wear gloves can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point?

"Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?

 [Online, the whole scene is in transcript: http://westwing.bewarne.com/second/25admonitions.html ]

Obviously Sorkin is venting. And as a result many Christians pull back from using any biblical (read: OT) reference when trying to teach a lesson about homosexuality. Similarly the noise was voluminous when my friend Pastor Matt Prater up in Brisbane asked then-Prime Minister on Q and A just before the election last month about his views on homosexuality. The PM Kevin Rudd scored many points with the audience, but lost miserably in the election 6 days later, as his mean-spirited views and hostility to the Christian pastor were unveiled. He also demonstrated a lack of biblical knowledge although he tried to be Sorkin-esque in mentioning slavery. The banter went like this:

"I just believe in what the Bible says and I'm just curious for you, Kevin, if you call yourself a Christian, why don't you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?" pastor Matt Prater asked.

Mr Rudd responded: "Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition," he said, receiving a loud applause from the audience.

The PM Rudd won the battle for the moment in the audience but lost the war. The Bible does not say that slavery is a natural condition and in fact, even in our text we see a view that is counter-cultural from God. We should treat women, and foreigners, and workers and animals and fruit and all things and all people in an honorable way. This is God’s way. This is “love your neighbor as yourself.”

But what about sexuality? Our text is clear and there are many more texts that help us unpack this issue. The Law was given to help a newly-delivered slave community, coming out of Egypt after 400 years, to know how to relate to God, to each other and to the world around them. We still need to know how to relate to God, to each other and to the world around us. That’s why King David said he loved the Law. That’s why Paul said ‘the law is good.’ It’s useful he said. It matches God’s plan from the beginning that we should love one another.

The goal of Torah

“The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.” (1 Tim 1.5-10)

The purpose of Torah was to keep us loving people and loving God. That’s the goal of our instruction then and now. Homosexuality and kidnapping (read: sex slavery) and lying and murdering and all kinds of evil damage society, causing mistrust and is as Paul says, “Contrary to sound teaching.” And remember the goal of all that teaching was love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere or un-hypocritical faith.

Mixing clothing and mixing marriages and mixing field crops and boiling a kid in its mother’s milk are all about the same thing. It’s the same as God dividing the light from the darkness in the beginning. It’s the same as Paul to the Corinthians: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6.14)

God designed us with two feet but we cannot walk in two directions at once. We have two eyes, and unless you are the Aussie comic Tim Ferguson, interviewed by Margaret Throsby last week on ABC classic radio, (He has a condition called strabismus:  see this link: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001004.htm) you will probably be reading this sermon with both eyes looking in the same direction.

The apostle Paul referenced this phenomenon in his battle with Peter in the epistle to the Galatians.  We read “When I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2.14) The Greek word for ‘straightforward’ is orthopodeo, straight footedness. Going in one direction, in other words. Peter was having it both ways and Paul rebuked him publicly and saved the freedom-message from going the way of checklist religion.

Where then is grace?

Remember we are not talking about compliance by which we gain God’s approval. We are talking about ordinary human good will and human good and sound teaching. We are talking about an ordered and civil society.

So where is grace?

That’s the system by which we gain God’s approval on the basis of what Jesus did on our behalf. It’s not about my good deeds or my behavior which will cause God to smile at me. Or to like me more. Or to listen to my prayers that much more intently.

This one won’t work or will it: Negotiation

The story is told of the little Catholic boy who was having a hard time thinking God was listening to his prayers.

“Dear God, if you will give me a new bicycle, I promise I’ll be a good boy and …” He thought better of that.  He started over.

“Dear God, I promise to make my bed every day and do my homework and then will you please give me a new bicycle?” He thought again about promises made and unfulfilled. He thought better. He went downstairs and got his father’s little sacred statue of the mother of Jesus, Mary.  He went back to his room, wrapped the little statue in a towel, put it under his pillow, and knelt down. Again he prayed,

“Dear God, if you ever want to see your mother again…”

Approval by one means

Look, you don’t have to negotiate with God. You don’t have to work your way to heaven. In fact, you can’t do that. All your good works are like filthy and bloody rags, Isaiah says. (“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Isaiah 64.6)

Consider this example. You have a full trolley of groceries. You are in the queue at the checkout and now everything is packed back and you give the checker your credit card. He swipes the card. Now you wait. The word on the credit card machine reads, “Processing.” And you wait. The line behind you seems to be growing and growing impatient. The machine still spins the word ‘processing.’ And your anxiety level rises. Then finally the word appears, “approved.” Your fears subside. Your smile returns to your face. You exit with relief and approval.

That relief, my friends, is the feeling this Orthodox Jew had when I gave my life to Yeshua 42 years ago. I who had sought God’s favor through prayers and religious observance had finally found forgiveness, favor and approval in one fell swoop, by receiving Yeshua, by receiving Jesus as my Lord and Savior. That’s all it took. God had already done everything I needed for his love and favor to be mine. All I had to do was to admit my sin, repent of my sin, and receive him as my sacrifice, as my forgiver, as the one who perfectly kept Torah on my behalf and become his.

Grace was overwhelming. I even sang it with the woman who prayed with me that night. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, ‘twas blind, but now I see.” Paul wrote the Romans about this, when he said, “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6.6-7)

We are no longer alive to sin. We used to be very much alive to sin, but not any longer. Sin shall not reign in us. “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts” (Romans 6.11-12)

Those things are not us any longer.

You were buried. You no longer are alive to sin. You are alive to God. That’s sound teaching. That’s love from a pure heart.

Be motivated by grace and forgiveness, and you will not obey the lusts of the flesh.

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, (the system by which you gain God’s approval on the basis of what you do), but under grace (the system by which you gain God’s approval on the basis of what Yeshua did.) (Romans 6.14) Thanks be to God!

A kind view of Law in OT found in a Christian website: http://www.biblica.com/bibles/faq/17/


The Bible in Romans chapter 6:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? may it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was braised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. for if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 6.1-23)

The Bible in Leviticus chapter 19.

      "Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘you shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. ‘every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths; I am the LORD your God. ‘Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods; I am the LORD your God.

‘Now when you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. ‘It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and the next day; but what remains until the third day shall be burned with fire. so if it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an offense; it will not be accepted. Everyone who eats it will bear his iniquity, for he has profaned the holy thing of the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from his people.

     Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. you shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another, and you shall not swear falsely by my name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD. you shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. ‘You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. you shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.you shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD.you shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. and you shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.(.18)

    You are to keep my statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together. Now if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave acquired for another man, but who has in no way been redeemed nor given her freedom, there shall be punishment; they shall not, however, be put to death, because she was not free. He shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD to the doorway of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. The priest shall also make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed will be forgiven him.

     When you enter the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as 1forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten. But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. In the fifth year you are to eat of its fruit, that its yield may increase for you; I am the LORD your God.

     You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying. you shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. you shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. (.28)

     ‘Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land will not fall to harlotry and the land become full of lewdness. ‘you shall keep My Sabbaths and revere my sanctuary; I am the LORD. ‘Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God. you shall rise up before the gray headed and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. when a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. ‘The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. and you shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.

       ‘You shall thus observe all my statutes and all my ordinances and do them; I am the LORD.’”

Wikipedia entry on Dr Laura Schlessinger:

Marriage and family life

Schlessinger met and married Michael F. Rudolph, a dentist, in 1972 while she was attending Columbia University. The couple had a Unitarian ceremony.[60] Separating from Rudolph, Schlessinger moved to Encino, California in 1975 when she obtained a job in the science department at the University of Southern California.[61] Their divorce was finalized in 1977.[62]

In 1975, while working in the labs at USC, she met Lewis G. Bishop, a professor of neurophysiology who was married and the father of three children.[2][63] Bishop separated from his wife and began living with Schlessinger the same year.[64] Schlessinger has vociferously proclaimed her disapproval of unwed couples "shacking up" and having children out of wedlock. But according to personal friend, Shelly Herman, "Laura lived with Lew for about nine years before she was married to him."[2] "His divorce was final in 1979.[65] Bishop and Schlessinger married in 1985.[66] Herman says that Schlessinger told her she was pregnant at the time, which Herman recalls as "particularly joyful because of the happy news."[2] Schlessinger's only child, a son named Deryk, was born in November 1985.[67]

Schlessinger was estranged from her sister for years, and many thought she was an only child.[2] She had not spoken to her mother for 18[68] to 20 years before her mother's death in 2002 from heart disease.[13] Her mother's remains were found in her Beverly Hills condo approximately two months after she died,[69][70] and lay unclaimed for some time in the Los Angeles morgue before Schlessinger had them picked up for burial.[71] Concerning the day that she heard about her mother’s death, she said: “Apparently she had no friends and none of her neighbors were close, so nobody even noticed! How sad.”[13][71] In 2006, Schlessinger wrote that she had been attacked in a "vulgar, inhumane manner by media types" because of the circumstances surrounding her mother's death, and that false allegations had been made that she was unfit to dispense advice based on family values. She said that she had not mourned the deaths of either of her parents because she had no emotional bond to them.[1][13]

25 September 2013

Unhappy fans

262/366 Raspberry by bobmendo
262/366 Raspberry, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

Fans can be so great; fans can be so angry. AT that game that night at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the Sydney Swans took it to the Collingwood Magpies by a significant margin. And everyone likes to win at their home stadium. And when you are visiting and trying to support your wandering team, in the home field of another team, it's doubly hard. I get that.

I took a couple photos that night of unhappy fans. They thought they were being unfairly treated. They thought their boys on the field were receiving an uneven number of calls against them. To be fair, the umpiring left something to be desired that night. I made noises some 100 metres up the stands where I sat with my friend Roger.

Fan. The word comes from the word 'fanatic' and has its root in the Latin word for 'temple' (fanum) which means it was about worship in a way.

Online Dictionary says, "1. a person whose enthusiasm or zeal for something is extreme or beyond normal limits
2. Informal a person devoted to a particular hobby or pastime; fan a jazz fanatic
a variant of fanatical
[from Latin fānāticus belonging to a temple, hence, inspired by a god, frenzied, from fānum temple]"

So no wonder it felt like synagogue. Conversation during the celebration. Action on the ground that didn't involve me, so we ate, talked, drank, carried on. Without interrupting the action. And when it was required we stopped and joined in with the celebration, the cheering, the noisemaking, and the like.

What is it about which you are fanatical today? Your football team, your car wash, your new hairdo? Is it time to yell at referees because you don't agree with them or time to adjust your interest level to moderation?

I'm not against wearing red and white, or having a mug with the team logo on it. But painting your face, or getting a permanent tattoo of your team's mascot-- that' s a bit much. Maybe some think I'm fanatical about my love for God and His plans for our lives.

That's fair enough.

I have been to his temple and found him there. I have devoted my life to his service and want to live for him. He forgave my sins and gave me new life. I am his. That warrants cheering for his side, being a fan and liking him on Facebook and in real life.

I'm no longer an unhappy fan. I remember the words of Stuart Briscoe, some 40 years ago in Pennsylvania at Jesus '73. He said, "Happiness is when your happenings happen to happen the way you want them to happen." But he contrasted it with joy, which is based on God's doings and not our happenings. Clever man.

Jesus doesn't really want fans anyway; he wants loyal friends. And brothers. (Since he's the judge you will always be treated fairly, too. Double bonus!)

20 September 2013

New year, new adventures?

Borrowed for a Blog by bobmendo
Borrowed for a Blog, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

They say it's a matter of perspective. Sometimes it's a matter of personality. How do you look on the future? How do you look at things which lie ahead but about which you know very little? I found this photo by the Norwegian Tom Eikrem on Stumble Upon today. And found it descriptive of just this issue.

To be sure, the spookiness of the clouds across the lightweight bridge is a bit off-putting. I think most of us prefer ease in travel, and comfort in the assurance of what's ahead. Not many of us want to sit in a 747 crossing the Pacific Ocean flying blind with only instruments to guide us. We would want clear skies, and plenty of visibility for our pilots.

But then there are some pilots who don't mind such adventures. Anyone can fly when the visibility is infinite. Only the best pilots can fly in low clouds and tougher conditions. So one man's discomfort is another man's adventure. For one it's annoyance or even trauma; for another it's a mountain to conquer.

It's a matter of perspective or of personality.

Five years ago my wife and I crossed the Mossman Gorge near Cairns, Queensland. This bridge called the Swing Bridge was at best teetering. Bridge photo I can only imagine the apprehension we would have felt had it been cloudy that day.

So what do you feel about a new year? It's 5774 in the Jewish calendar now. And last night was the Chinese Moon festival (brightest moon of the year). For many in the Northern Hemisphere a new school year has begun.

How do you view things ahead? Worry, anxiety, crippled with fears? Or are youlooking forward, no matter the cloudy conditions, to the other side?

If you honestly believe the Bible, and trust the One who wrote it, then you are informed by the verse that is well-known, but not always believed: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths." (Proverbs 3.5-6)

I heartily recommend you trust God. Lean on Him. Believe in Him in all your circumstances of life-- university, dating, child-rearing, burials of friends and relatives, new jobs, new routines-- and He will guide you.

By the way, that's His promise, not mine. It's all a matter of gaining His perspective.

13 September 2013

Forgiveness: Yom Kippur message

Yom Kippur Fables: What would Yeshua answer?
By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Sydney, Australia
13 September 2013 (10 Tishri 5774)

Shalom dear friends, tonight on the holiest night of the Jewish calendar. I pray your fast is easy and your day tomorrow, normally Shabbat anyway, would be especially significant. Thank you for listening to me for the next 25 minutes or so.
Tonight I’m going to deliver a sermon in a different fashion. I hear so many silly things and some religious things and some cultural things that define or matter to us Jewish people, especially during this time of year. And if you will allow I want to address those phrases, those thoughts, those ideas, and see if they are consistent with messianic faith, and with you particularly in the 21st Century, here in Australia.
And those concepts or ideas or phrases are going to be up on the screen and contrasted in due course with the words of Yeshua, our Messiah and redeemer. Let’s have a go at this.

Modern Idea #1) it’s all about love: Forgiveness assumed
From this week’s Jerusalem Post: “Yom Kippur is the day when the love of the Blessed be He “beats” all! This the day when G-d calls out to us: “Return to me and I will return to you”! The day when we stand before G-d as children before their father and hear the Divine call “I forgive”! If we succeed in connecting to the incredible beauty of this day, we will feel the purifying forgiveness, the endless love of the Blessed be He for us – His only children, and with G-d’s help, that feeling will accompany us even after Yom Kippur ends and we will be blessed with a Shana tova!” (Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.)
Anything wrong with that?

For Rabbi Rabinowitz the essence of Yom Kippur is love and we hear “I forgive.” Problem is we don’t really hear that. Do an exit poll at Jewish synagogues tonight or tomorrow night especially and you will find most answering the question, “Do you feel forgiven?” by saying, “I hope so.” They don’t know, because they don’t hear it.
The Bible does not guarantee that, not on the basis of Kol Nidre or of our good fasting.
Forgiveness assumed is not forgiveness granted. This assumption produced failure.
Y’shua would declare to us “this is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26.28)

Modern Idea #2) May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for good: Forgiveness temporal
Hebrew phrases can be so helpful here. G’mar chatima tovah.

Literally: A good final sealing
Idiomatically: May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good
This is a combination of three words, two of which are not in the Bible. "Gmar" comes from the root word that means to finish. Although it's not a biblical word, it appears quite a bit in the Talmud (Avot 2:16 Yevamot 12:6). Chatimah is also Talmudic and can mean a signature or a sealing (Pessachim 104). The word "chotemet" or stamp (like a rubber stamp) is a derivative of "chatimah." The final word "tova" means good. The 10 days of repentance are divided into two parts according to the rabbis. The first the inscribing begins on Rosh Hashanah and finishes on Yom Kippur when the final "sealing" (chatima) of our fate takes place. Many sages give us a second chance - an extra 12 days until a really final sealing on Hoshana Raba (the 7th day of Sukkot). Bonus time.
That is why many people finish their correspondence during this time of year by writing or saying K’tivah V'chatima Tova-- "may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." When I was a kid, I learned that we should be inscribed in the Book of Life. The phrase then included the word, “tikateivu v'taihatemu.” On or right before Yom Kippur, people modify that and wish "Gmar Chatima Tova." Technically you can say it means 'may your finished sealing be good.'
But where is this notion in the Scriptures? Where is inscribing? I can find no references to such inscription and only two references to the Book of Life in the Older Testament, which both seem to reference who is alive this year, or what then might be better, translated The Book of the Living. Moses mentions it in the Golden Calf episode and King David in the oft-quoted Psalm 69 about blotting out from the book of the living, meaning people will die.

So this idea of inscribing in the Book of Life is not there. Although to be fair it certainly abounds in the Newer Testament. There we see seven references, mostly in the book of Revelation to the Book of Life. And this book is the eternal book, the one that secures your eternity. If your name is written there, you have no need to fear, your forgiveness is assured, your life is eternal. But if your name is not written there, you have everything to worry about, eternity away from God, and major disappointment.
As for the idea of sealing in the Book, if inscription is not there in the Older Testament, then surely sealing is not there either. At least not sealed in the Book of Life.
However sealing is a Newer Testament word and very helpful in understanding something about the death of Messiah.
Let me describe the Greek word sphragizo. The Greek word means to cause to be sealed. It is used 15 times in the NT and six of those times in Revelation and four of those times in chapter seven alone. Like in the book of Esther when the king Ahashuerus sealed things with his ring, it meant it was official. We read in “Now you write to the Jews as you see fit, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for a decree which is written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s signet ring may not be revoked.” He wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus, and sealed it with the king’s signet ring, and “sent letters by couriers on horses, riding on steeds sired by the royal stud.” (Esther 8.8, 10)

Rick Renner wrote in an article on his website, “So in the New Testament, when the Bible records that “When the chief priests and Pharisees asked that “…the sepulcher be made sure…” the Greek word sphragidzo is used. This word described a legal seal that was placed on documents, letters, possessions, or, in this case, a tomb. Its purpose was to authenticate that the sealed item had been properly inspected before sealing and that all the contents were in order. As long as the seal remained unbroken, it guaranteed that the contents inside were safe and sound. In this case, the word sphragidzo is used to signify the sealing of the tomb. In all probability, it was a string that was stretched across the stone at the entrance of the tomb, which was then sealed on both sides by Pilate’s legal authorities.
“Before sealing the tomb, however, these authorities were first required to inspect the inside of the tomb to see that the body of Y’shua was in its place. After guaranteeing that the corpse was where it was supposed to be, they rolled the stone back in place and then sealed it with the official seal of the governor of Rome.

“After hearing the suspicions of the chief priests and Pharisees, “Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can” (Matthew 27:65). The word “watch” is the Greek word coustodia, from which we get the word custodian. This was a group of four Roman soldiers whose shift changed every three hours. The changing shifts assured that the tomb would be guarded 24 hours a day by soldiers who were awake, attentive, and fully alert. When Pilate said, “Ye have a watch…” a better rendering would be, “Here — I’m giving you a set of soldiers; take them and guard the tomb.”

“Matthew 27:66 says, “So they went, and made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” Wasting no time, the chief priests and elders hastened to the tomb with their government-issued soldiers and the special officers assigned to inspect the tomb before placing Pilate’s seal upon it. After a full inspection had been made, the stone was put back in place, and the soldiers stood guard to protect the tomb from anyone who would attempt to touch it or remove its contents. Every three hours, new guards arrived to replace the old ones. These armed soldiers guarded the entrance to Y’shua’ tomb so firmly that no one would have been able to come near it.
“The purpose of the seal was to authenticate that Y’shua was dead; therefore, we can know that His body was thoroughly inspected again for proof of death. There is no doubt that Y’shua was dead, for He was examined again and again, even as He lay in the tomb. Some critics have claimed that only Y’shua’ own disciples inspected His body and that they could have lied about His being dead. However, an officer from Pilate’s court also examined the body of Y’shua. We can also be fairly certain that the chief priests and elders who accompanied the soldiers to the burial site demanded the right to view His dead body as well so they could verify that He was truly dead.“ (Rick Renner, CBN, Teach all nations Publishers)

I say all this to say that sealed in the Book of Life, not an Older Testament concept, but a Newer Testament one, starts with the sealed tomb of Messiah Y’shua, and allows us who believe in Him to find eternal life and our own sealing to the day of judgment. Listen to Rav Shaul who writes:
• God also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. (2 Corinthians 1.22)
• In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation — having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1.13)
• Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4.30)
We are sealed and safe. We belong to God. He is ours! Not on a wish list for another year, but dramatically and powerfully by the Ruach Hakodesh. We are His.

The writer of Hebrews would say, “and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” and “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 9.12, 10.10)

Modern Idea #3) We are forgiven on the basis of what we do. Forgiveness earned

Repentance, prayer and charity. Those three things substitute for the sacrificial system since we have no Temple into which to bring the animals for sacrifice. This is standard understanding in the Jewish religion not only on Yom Kippur but also throughout our year. Without good works, all our ritual activity is useless. I get that. And I agree with this in measure.
Listen when the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE we lost our religion and we lost our way. For 1000 years we had that building, glorious and built by King Solomon, until Titus the Roman emperor destroyed it. Now what do we do? We had no place of offerings; no place of sacrifices; no place of atonement. Had God supplied another way before He took that away?

The rabbis say no. That would be the t’shuvah, t’filah and ts’daka as above.

The messianic answer is a resounding “YES!” The Talmud records this in Yoma 39b: "Our rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the western most light shine; and the doors of the Hekel [Temple] would open by themselves" (cited: http://www3.telus.net/public/kstam/en/temple/details/evidence.htm).
[The story is that there was a scarlet cord/ strap which hung outside the Temple in Jeruslaem and each year when the High Priest performed his service (Leviticus 16-17), the cord would turn white. The Yoma reference reminds us that the system was flawed after 30 CE, the time of the death of Y’shua]

The accomplishments of Y’shua on the cross 40 years before Jerusalem fell caused the scarlet or crimson strap to stay crimson. Never again would the sacrificial system ‘work’ or be efficacious. Y’shua had done the work on the cross, as he died for us. He saved us by his dying there. His blood is the atonement blood, which gives us everything we need to be forgiven of our sins. Only in Y’shua is there forgiveness.
Not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3.5) and again, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.” (Hebrews 9.22)
By his death on the cross, Y’shua created forgiveness for us Jews and for all people, whoever would believe.
No amount of good efforts, no amount of good religion is enough to save anyone.
That said, I still believe in repentance and in forgiveness. I still believe in charity and prayer. That’s why we do this so often. But it’s more of a thank you and a reminder to us that it’s God’s job to forgive us, and not our 100% that gets it done.
I remember as an Orthodox Jew, in my youth, failing on so many occasions.

When I was 14, and now a full-fledged member of the synagogue, after the morning prayers ended about 2 pm, and before the services reconvened at 4 pm for Neilah, I was famished. How could we be expected to ‘last’ 24 hours of not-eating. I snuck around the corner to the Smak’s Drive-in and got a 19 cent hamburger. I stuffed it in my face very fast, lest someone see me. Then I returned to synagogue, sat next to my parents, and my mother asked me about the tomato sauce (ketchup) stain on my white shirt sleeve. Caught! And it was my first sin of the year, or at least the day, as I lied. You would think the pickle smell on my breath would have been part of my disclosure as well.

I wondered if I had to wait until Yom Kippur to get God’s attention, or how we would ever fix it.
Each year on Yom Kippur, we would chant the short form of the confession. We would add to it the Al Khet. Listen to the first few words of the short confession:
ASHAMNU: We have become desolate. We commit ourselves to recognizing that our failures are self-destructive.
BAGADNU: We have betrayed our potential, our families, God Himself. We can question who we have been in our multifaceted role as a human being and as a Jew? Whom have we betrayed? Is it not ultimately we as well as others?
GAZALNU: We have stolen. This includes not only financial theft, but theft of time, and misleading others into thinking that we are more accomplished than we actually are. This sin is especially damaging in that it reflects the fact that we have rejected the role in life that God has given us.
DEBARNU DOFI: We have spoken with "two mouths" – we have been hypocritical. We can confront our fear of rejection, and the dishonesty that we use to "cover ourselves." Of whom are we afraid? Why? Should we not be more willing to tackle the reality that confronts us?
(More below, after the end of the sermon)

Confession is good. And required. But not a substitute for Y’shua’s death on the cross. He alone can take away sin. Not the blood of bulls or goats. Not my white robe or fasting all of 25 hours until tomorrow night. Not clenching my fists, not keeping kosher. One thing will forgive us. God’s love in Y’shua.

“For Messiah also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3.18)
He declared from the cross, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23.34)

Idea #4) We did nothing wrong. Forgiveness extended
Then there are others who say, “We don’t need forgiveness; God needs forgiveness. He has failed the Jewish people. He has failed the world. He is either helpless or frail or unable, or uncaring if He is powerful enough to assist.” I’m pretty sure you don’t feel like this, but it’s reasonable to consider this topic. The world is a mess. And God’s lack of changing it might be proof of his inability and/ or his lack of love. We need to forgive God, they say, most critically about letting six million of our people die in the Holocaust. God needs our forgiveness.
Does this statement shock you? It’s abundant in the modern literature. So says Ian Cron, "Miss Anne, is it wrong for me to believe it was Jesus who asked my forgiveness?".... She put her hand on her hip, "So why wouldn't Jesus humble himself and tell a boy he was sorry for letting him down if he knew it would heal his heart?"

from Jesus, my Father, The CIA and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

For those online, read Sam Storms here Storms and also this blog and comments: Blog 2

Does God need to be forgiven? Not in the least. Who needs forgiveness? Those who fail to live up to what they have said about themselves, or the contracts they make with others. God however is perfect, his ways are perfect, and all his ways are justice. We don’t get it; we don’t understand; we don’t like it. But forgiving is about cancelling a debt, and God owes us nothing. He is not indebted to us. Yet we often find God guilty of "lapsing" when we face tragedies. We blame Him for bad golf shots or rainy days after we got our hair straightened. We blame him for wayward children or failing parents who forget us suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. We blame God for war in the Middle East, for millions dead in the Holocaust, for Tony Abbott’s victory or surprises with our football team.
When we think this way we endorse the human need for pleasure and we think we are better than God. Our principles, our ethics, our considerations are more carefully chosen than His. We know better. We have to teach him and forgive him for his failures.
That’s even hard for me to read. Much more to speak out loud and would be even harder yet to espouse. God help those who think like that.

I understand disappointment and hope you do also, but to blame God for your dissatisfaction and your expectations unmet is to think of yourself more highly than you ought. It’s to make you God and him your servant. And that won’t work. Been there. Done that.
Y’shua would offer himself to us as a living sacrifice to bring us to the Father.

Idea Eternal idea #5: God forgives on the basis of His own sacrifice: Forgiveness in Y'shua
Although I’ve mentioned it in passing, now I get to the final idea, the original idea, the heavenly one, and the one that works. It’s not based on us or on me or on a religion or philosophy. It’s based on the person and work of Messiah Y’shua. He came to live and die, to be a korban, an offering who would bring us near to the Almighty, who would bridge the gap between eternity and the temporal, between the Ever-good and the failed, between Righteousness and human failings. He died to forgive us our sins, and to usher us into God’s presence.

Take an exit poll at messianic congregations worldwide tonight and tomorrow night and you will find the assurance of salvation, the comfort of knowing our salvation is God’s work. You will find believers shouting ‘Hallelujah!’ because of a cross in Jerusalem and the empty tomb nearby.
Y’shua declared forgiveness there, to all who would receive Him.
Most of us in this room tonight have done just that.
Have you? Will you now? Receive His love and grace and be born again. Then your name will be written in the Lamb’s book of life, never to be erased. You will be His. He loves you. He longs to be in relationship with you.
Receive Him now.

The original photo is from Angel: http://www.flickr.com/photos/emilyforangelphotography/5727635545

More from the confession:
More from Aish.com on all the rest of the short confession:
HEYVINU: We have made things crooked. This includes all forms of dishonest rationalizations. Our hunger for decency sometimes is satiable through false justifications. We must remember that even a murderer invariably justifies himself at the time he commits the crime. We must rise above the false self-pity that at times lets us slip into situational ethics.
VI'HIRSHANU: And we have made others wicked. We have forced others into destructive responses. An example of this is a parent who slaps the face of an older child, almost forcing him into loss of verbal (and possibly even physical) self-control.
ZADNU: We have sinned intentionally. The classical example is lying, in which case there is always full awareness of the factuality of the sin. How could we learn to bring God back into our consciousness when we are blinded by stress and fear?
CHAMASNU: We have been violent. This includes all forms of taking the law in one's own hands. Almost everyone has fallen into the trap of letting the ends justify the means.
TAFALNU SHEKER: We have become desensitized to dishonesty. Dishonesty feels "normal" to us. When we live in a time and place where lying is "normal," we can endeavor to envision our spiritual heroes in our shoes.
YATZNU RA: We have given bad advice. This often is the result of being ashamed to admit ignorance. One of the most beautiful aspects of taking counsel from the Torah sages is their refreshing ability to use the words "I don't know." Committing ourselves to re-introduce this phrase can be life-changing.
KIZAVNU: We have disappointed God, ourselves and others by not living up to our promises. We tell people that we can be counted upon, when we really mean that we can be counted upon if things work out. When they don't, it is important to ask one's self: Why is it that in situations where integrity and convenience can't coexist, it is always integrity that must be sacrificed?
LATZNU: We have been contemptuous. We have diminished the importance of people and values that deserve respect. We all know at least one person who makes himself/herself "big" by devaluing others. If that person is ourselves, then we must question the direction that our need for self-esteem takes us.
MARADNU: We have rebelled. We, in our bottomless insecurity, have found ourselves negatively proving ourselves endlessly both to God and to our fellow man. How many times this year could our lives been spiritually improved, if we didn't have to "teach" anyone a lesson?
NI'ATZNU: We have enraged people. We have purposely pushed other people's buttons. We have caused God's anger to be awakened by our self-destructive behavior. We've let our desire for human connection lead us to destructive interactions.
SARARNU: We have turned aside. We have confronted truth and looked the other way. We have chosen ease over morality.
AVINU: We fallen victim to our impulses. Would our lives be improved if we learned to not only ask ourselves the question "what" but the question "when"? The desire for instant gratification has financial, physical and emotional implications.
PASHANU: We have broken standards of behavior that we know to be right and then justified this because of our egotism. Have we not found ourselves justifying bad decisions with lie after lie? Have we not moved forward because to do so would mean tacitly admitting that our present level is not "perfect" enough to gratify our bottomless egos?
TZARARNU: We afflicted others. Even in situations where harsh words are demanded, whenever we go beyond what is called for, we are accountable for the pain suffered by every unnecessary word. While we may be just letting off steam, our victims may believe every word that we say. The result can be a tragic diminishment of their self-esteem.
KISHINU OREF: We have been stiff-necked. We have been stubborn and unwilling to redefine ourselves. No matter how wrong we are, we insist that we are right.
RISHANU: We have been wicked. This includes all forms of physical aggression or financial injustice (such as refusal to repay a loan). When Moses saw his fellow Jew striking another Jew, he called him "rasha." He never used this phrase in any other context.
SHICHATNU: We have been immoral. This includes all forms of dehumanizing "hunting" members of the opposite sex, or the equally dehumanizing choice of becoming "prey." Do we question why we select a specific image to be the one that we use to let the world know who we are?
TA'INU: We have erred. This, of course, is not a reference to sins that we have done because we weren't aware of better options. This refers to the choice to remain ignorant out of fear or laziness that inevitably leads to making further mistakes. This is a good time to make a solid, defined resolution to learn more. Let it replace the vague realization that time is slipping by.

11 September 2013

Bands and worship

Band by bobmendo
Band, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

I read a blog which both bothered me and with which I mostly agreed. It's here Singing. The thesis is that the music in churches today is unfamiliar and thus people stand and watch/ listen rather than participate.

That may be true. That may be part of the truth. That may not be true at all.

The photo I'm using today in this blog is from Rob Smith's 'performance' at an Anglican church in Sydney a while back. Rob is a friend of mine and a good man on many levels. Even though the crepuscular activity is nice, with purple rays of light beaming, I don't and didn't find them distracting. Even though there was performance, it was not enough that kept me from joining in.

So what's the difference?

David Murrow reckons it's familiarity. Others I speak with comment on the volume at the services. Some have said the words are broken down oddly on screen. (Karaoke is much easier, they say.)

So how is a person to worship in church? Listen, music matters. Singing matters. But neither of those is 'worship.' There are six or more types of prayer and worship is preeminent, and primary. It's the first and foremost or the rest is irrelevant.

Worship is an attitude; it's not vocalized. It's a body position, not a song. It's usually silent. It's humble. It's bowing. It's a private (although sometimes corporate/ thus simultaneous rendering of private actions) expression of the worth of the God who made us. It's better rendered as "Worth-ship."

So I find it hard when I get to a meeting and immediately am hit with "Let's stand and worship." I find it demanding. I find it noisy at times. I find it assuming.

Not everyone who attends meetings is a believer. Not everyone who jumps out of a car or bus and enters a meeting hall is ready to start praising (the 2nd type of prayer). We need to comply with the advise of Solomon in Ecclesiastes, "Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few." (5.2)

We don't generally give ourselves time to separate from the 'outside' when we come inside. We don't stop and ponder very often. We don't come in and quiet our souls. The psalmist said, "Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me." (Psalm 131.2)

Wonder and quiet. Pondering and listening. That's the first step in worship. Long before the band plays its first song.

If we do that, if we set our hearts toward God, then singing and praising and dancing and participation and intercession and petition and so many other things will naturally flow.

Take a minute.
Take a couple minutes.
Be quiet.
Stop typing.
Stop reading Facebook.
Stop watching tv.

Bow down if you need.
Close your eyes if you need.
Quiet your soul.

Hear God. He's speaking in the quiet of your being. He wants to speak with you today.

Then you can sing.
Then you will sing.
Even if you don't know the words or the melody. And that will be a good time for everyone.

06 September 2013

Who is not being heard...Syria and Egypt

I received this post this morning from an email from the WEA. I'm concerned for those who have no voice. Maybe you are similarly concerned as you watch the horrible happenings in Syria and Egypt.

WEA Secretary General Urges Religious Liberty for Arab Christians at Conference in Jordan

New York, NY - September 5, 2013

On September 3rd and 4th, 2013, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), spoke at a conference in Amman, Jordan, convened by King Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein to address ‘the challenges facing Arab Christians,’ in particular the situation in Syria and Egypt. Representatives of various churches in the region were invited to ‘unite and give voice to the leadership of Arab Christian Churches (…) and, together, to discuss and find possible solutions.’

In his speech, Dr. Tunnicliffe addressed the increasing suffering and persecution of Arab Christians in recent years, stating that “this is despite the fact that Arab Christians have been loyal citizens in all the countries of the Arab world for two thousand years.”

He emphasized the importance of religious freedom for a prospering society and that “Christians in the Arab world deserve to be treated respectfully and with honor.” He said: “All they ask is to be allowed to live in peace and to faithfully practice their faith, in the same way as their neighbors and fellow citizens are able to practice theirs.”

In both countries, Syria and Egypt, Christians have been victim of targeted attacks from Muslim extremists and have asked for continuous prayer.

In light of current discussions of a possible military intervention in Syria, Dr. Tunnicliffe sent a letter from the conference to the White House and the United Nation’s Security Council, stating that Christians in the region clearly oppose these plans.

“I think I can say that there is a major consensus amongst the Christian leaders in this region that any military intervention by the United States will have a detrimental effect on the situation and in particular for Christians in Syria,” he wrote, adding that “Christians have already been threatened in Syria by some of the opposition indicating that a post regime Syria will be Muslim and Christians will not be welcome.”

In regards to the Syrian refugee crisis, Dr. Tunnicliffe mentioned Jordan as example for the region and said: “Today Jordan graciously and generously bears the burden of many refugees from neighboring countries. We evangelical Christians are grateful to His Majesty King Abdullah for his country’s support and welcome of these refugees and we are encouraging Christians all around the world to support your efforts.”

Mark Burnett and Roma Burnett-Downey, WEA Ambassadors and producers of the TV mini-series ‘The Bible’, also attended the conference and spoke about the importance of the unity of Christians to face the current situation.

“As Christians of all traditions face discrimination, persecution and threat, now is the time to link arms together in a unified love to respond to these challenges together,” Mrs. Burnett said, after sharing of her own experience of violence and discrimination in the Northern Ireland conflict.

Mrs. Burnett concluded her remarks by quoting the Anglican Minister and Christian Statesman, Dr. John Stott: “I wonder if anything is more urgent today, for the honor of Christ than that the church should be, and should be seen to be, what by God’s purpose and Christ’s achievement it already is – a single new humanity, a model of human community, a family of reconciled brothers and sisters who love their Father and love each other, the evident dwelling place of God by his Spirit. Only then will the world believe in Christ as Peacemaker.”

“It is our hope and prayer that Christians in the Middle East in spite of their differences will be united together in a common bond of God’s love,” she added.

Dr. Tunnicliffe remains in Jordan for a few more days to meet with senior Jordan officials and evangelical leaders, and to visit refugee camps on the Syrian border.

The WEA is joining other world Christian bodies for a day of prayer for Syria on September 7th.

05 September 2013

Kevin Rudd: Slavary, Same-sex marriage and biblical awareness

Kevin Rudd is the prime minister of Australia. He is running for re-election this Saturday. Monday night was one of the final conversations with the public in the ABC show "Q and A." A Christian pastor, radio show host, and a friend of mine, Matt Prater was in the audience and asked the PM a question. Prater asked, about trust, and about Rudd's Christian commitment. Mr Rudd said he made a decision a few months ago to change his position on gay marriage after reflecting for "many, many months and years" and concluding in his "informed conscience and Christian conscience" that it was the right thing to do.

John Sandeman from Eternity magazine interviewed Prater the next day. "You had a go at Kevin over three things. One was chopping and changing, another was his view on gay marriage, and was he fair dinkum in his view of the Bible. Which is the key one for you?

[Prater:] I think his view of the Bible. Because if you don’t take the Bible, and the message of the Bible at face value then your whole foundation is shaky. The whole Bible points to Jesus from the Old Testament to the New Testament. So what does Jesus say about a topic? That’s the bottom line to me."

At one point, the PM challenged the pastor to further clarify his view, demanding he say whether he thought homosexuality was "abnormal".

"I just believe in what the Bible says and I'm just curious for you, Kevin, if you call yourself a Christian, why don't you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?"

Mr Rudd responded: "Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition." Rudd referred to Paul's comments - in Ephesians 6:5 and Colossians 3:22 - for slaves to be obedient to their masters. And he finished with, "we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the US Civil War". Rudd concluded with "The human condition and social conditions change," he said. "What is the fundamental principle of the New Testament? It is one of universal love. If we get obsessed with a particular definition for that through sexuality then I think we're missing the centrality of what the gospel... is all about. And therefore I go back to my question, if you think homosexuality is an unnatural condition then frankly I cannot agree with you based on any element of the science."

John Dickson wrote on Twitter today, "The New Testament's "honour your master"(Ephesians 6:5) no more endorses slavery than "honour the emperor" endorses pagan dictatorships. Both are retrieval ethics."

I had never heard that term retrieval ethics. This shows my ignorance, but also launched me into more reading today. And will lead me to more writing/ blogging about ethics in the days to come. But for now, I'm amazed at the Prime Minister's ignorance of both the Bible's views on slavery and on same-sex marriage. I understand why Prater thinks that the view of the Bible is #1 as it really does influence our thinking on everything else in life. More about that in my conversation later this week about ethics vs Scripture in schools.

I address both topics here, but the slavery issue is amazing to cite. Lately I've been teaching much about law vs grace and quote from Paul's letter to Timothy. Here Paul clarifies what is 'out of bounds.' We read, "But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless, rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers (read: slave traders!) and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching. (1 Timothy 1.8-10) Same-sex activity is as condoned and normative as murder and perjury.

Therefore I'm a bit concerned that the PM indicates his understanding of same-sex activity is a revision based on his Christian conscience and his informed conscience. I honestly don't know what Christian conscience is, but whatever it is, it ought to be in line with the Christian Scriptures. And same-sex activity is as appropriate as slave trading and parental murder.

Also as a Jew I'm shocked about the PM's perspective on slavery. In fact, just the opposite seems to be in the Almighty's view. The Torah reads, “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. ..And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (24.17, 22) Arguing for good treatment of slaves as a natural condition of slavery is to misunderstand the Bible. Completely.

I am proud of William Wilberforce and so many others who led the charge against slavery. I'm sorry it took so many centuries before this was done. I'm also very sorry about the amount of sex-slaves in the world today, in Southeast Asia, in Eastern Europe and around the globe. And proud of those who work for their release.

Slavery is not God's idea. Proper treatment of people is His concern.

The PM has changed his mind, and that's not the worst thing in life. Especially if you had it wrong earlier and change to a better idea. But Mr Rudd seems to be pandering for certain blocks of votes. If there is a "Christian vote" in Australia, and I'm not sure there is, he has just lost it entirely.

Read more: Eternity interview
The Age article