Friday, December 23, 2016

42727 :: What is Christmas really all about?

Not to be snarky or Miss Grinchy britches, but this is what makes my head spin this time of year...

Now first, let me preface my rant by stating that I am a sucker for the Budweiser Clydesdales at any time of the year, and the snowmen feeding the Wells Fargo horses their carrot noses? I think that is an absolutely brilliant and timeless bit of marketing.

Snowy landscapes and houses lit up at night? Gorgeous!
But, "Does this say Christmas or what?" ... No
Grandparents reading a book to a child on their lap? Adorable!
But, "This is what Christmas is all about!" ...Still, No.
I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with enjoying the different seasons of the year. I don't think it's an abomination to decorate your house with snowflakes and snowmen to celebrate the cold weather, or even poinsettias to bring a contrast of color to brighten up the home any more than I think it's heresy to set out lawn chairs and eat watermelon in the summer, or hang out a flag to celebrate our country's independence.

But when someone says, "That just says 'Christmas' to me, I can't help but wonder why some of the very same people are the first to say "Let's Keep Christ in Christmas!" in response to all the over-the-top commercialism that abounds this time of year.

The word "Christmas" has somehow morphed to being synonymous with Winter. Or is it the other way around? Yes, I know all about the history of the church's subverting of pagan traditions and replacing them with religious meaning. Symbolism is a very powerful thing. There is symbolism all through Scripture. It is through the telling of stories and drawing pictures and correlations in our mind that truths take root and we remember the significance of a thing. That is why Aesop's Fables have lasted for centuries. That is why the morality tales that people have come to call "Fairy Tales" and "Nursery Rhymes" are still so popular. They paint a picture and leave the hearer or reader with a lasting lesson that they can relate to.

But, I seem to have drifted off-course a bit... so let me rein it in: I think we hold a double-standard when we cry "Foul!" at Christmas being subverted by commercialism, then turn around ourselves and equate any charming Winter-y or family scene with a "Christmas" vibe. If Christmas is supposed to be all about the Christ child coming, then tell me please: Where exactly is the Christ child in a snowy winter scene? And, yes, families are dear (or they were designed to be. I'm not suggesting everyone has fond memories of childhood or their family), but please don't misunderstand me when I say: I love traditions and family time as much as the next person. It's just that my mind does a distinct disconnect when it comes to calling something what it most definitely is not.

Call me a concrete literalist, if you will. Celebrate Christmas if that is your tradition. But can we at least be honest that Christmas is not about snowflakes and candy canes? Christ did not come to deliver a sleighful of presents. He is not found at the tip of a fir tree decked out in your picture window. Truth be told, he did not come in December at all, and that is another rant that has already been sung.

We are being dishonest with ourselves and each other when we say one thing yet act differently. Setting up a manger scene in the front yard, with Santa kneeling at the crêche may be cute, but it's dishonest. When truth and tradition collide, I think it's very telling when we choose tradition over truth for the sake of not stepping on toes.

Friday, October 28, 2016

42670 :: Pondering arrogance and hypocrisy

Having tread through many blogs and video teachings, not to mention countless social media comments from those who now count themselves as part of the Hebrew roots / Netzarim / Messianic movement and having watched the vitriolic attacks against any one or thing that doesn't line up squarely with a certain teaching, these thoughts have been simmering for a while and I just feel the need to sort them out...

In regards to "Religion", at what point in our "being right about this" do we come across as arrogant and self-righteous to those who are not on the same page as we are?

And, what does that profit us, or the truth, when we act like that towards others?

I prefer to think that I am not so much "stooping to compromise" when I do not cry "Pagan!" or berate someone who decorates their house with skulls and jack-o-lanterns for the month of October or bunnies and eggs in the spring, as much as I am taking the time to sow into a relationship to where I will hopefully earn the right to have a voice to speak what I have learned into someone's life, rather than souring them from the get-go by being a harridan.

Does that make me a hypocrite or a coward? I don't think so. Rather, I would hope it makes me a respecter of persons. God does not work in us as if we are all identical little robots. We are not all in the same place at the same time.

My perspective of "truth" just 10 years ago would have been the response that "God can redeem a pagan holiday for Himself; it's all about the intent of our heart", just as is often heard from the pulpit or other positions of leadership. The fact that an opinion comes from a place of perceived authority does not in itself make it valid or scriptural. In fact, that is the very thing that Yeshua ("Jesus") got in hot water about when he told the religious leaders, "Their worship of me is useless, because they teach man-made rules as if they were doctrines." Mat 15:9 CJB

I would propose that it is not a giant leap to say "man-made rules" and "our own opinions" carry about the same weight.

My "truth" today is that my opinion has little value when it does not square with scripture. If I claim to believe that "the Bible is the Word of God", as most who call themselves Christians also claim, why is it then called heresy or legalism when I make it my goal to try to make sure my thoughts and actions line up with the principles found in that very same Bible? So, if I claim that "God can redeem a pagan holiday for Himself", but scripture says, "be careful, after they have been destroyed ahead of you, not to be trapped into following them; so that you inquire after their gods and ask, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I want to do the same." Deu 12:30 CJB, you don't exactly need a carpenter's level to see those two thoughts don't square up.

HOWEVER, that does not give me the right to bash someone else over the head with my "aha moment." It gives me the responsibility to live out the truth I have been given... in love.
And, that does square with scripture: "Love each other devotedly and with brotherly love; and set examples for each other in showing respect." Rom 12:10 CJB

Thursday, September 1, 2016

42614:: From There to Here

My mom liked to say that I have been in church since the first Sunday after I was born. Since I was born on a Monday, I supposed that actually might have been true. One of my very earliest memories is lying in a church pew during a service, my mother letting me play with twisting the wedding ring on her finger to keep me occupied and quiet. Church is where we went on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and any time in between. I accepted that as reality because it was my reality.

I remember receiving my very first Bible after I “walked down the aisle” at the age of 10. I was so proud to be entrusted with it that I promptly began to read it from beginning to end. Most of us know how that was destined to end as soon as I hit Leviticus, but I do recall getting at least as far as Exodus 20 because one of the first things that confused me was:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. — Exodus 20:8-11
So, I asked Mom why we didn’t go to church on the seventh day as (to my 10-year-old mind) the Bible clearly implied we should. Her answer that “we go to church on Sunday because that’s the day that Jesus rose from the tomb” appeased me for many years because, after all, my mother would never lie to me, therefore it must be true. As it turns out, most Sunday Christians do believe that is the reason why they attend church on Sunday. Years later, when I learned the real reason why, I wondered if there might be other things that weren't as I had believed. (But even that explanation did not explain away why it was okay for us to call the Sunday "Sabbath", but not observe it as a day of rest.)

As I entered my teen years, most of my extracurricular activities revolved around church and youth group. But I was also starting to experience a sort of "disconnect", where the things I was hearing and learning did not match up with everything I was seeing and experiencing. There were also times when we went to church that I remember resentment and rebellion stewing in my heart as I would defiantly sit ramrod-straight in the pew the entire evening, thinking, “You can make my body be here, but you can't control my mind to make me pay attention.”

In the '70s at the tail-end of the Jesus People movement, small inconsistencies began to pop up here and there as I sought to reconcile the faith that I had been raised in with my own observations and reasoning. But I was easily intimidated into keeping my “radical and rebellious” thoughts to myself, and so I put such questions as: “What does Santa Claus and the Easter bunny have to do with Jesus?” and “If we lie to our children about these things, how can they trust that we are telling them the truth about Jesus?” on the back burner.

It was in the '80s when I heard for the first time a presentation by Jews for Jesus on Christ in the Passover.  It was a completely new revelation for me. Something stirred in me to want a better understanding of the Old Testament because this was the first clue that I had that everything I had ever believed from the New Testament had a deeper, richer, more symbolic and prophetic meaning than I had previously known. And this, after having attended a denominational college for two years, with the requisite Bible classes!

Fast forward a few years later to having my own children... and we started homeschooling, I thought it would be a great idea to do a unit study about Christmas to learn about how the holiday is celebrated in different parts of the world. It was certainly fun to bake traditional sweets from the Scandinavian and Mediterranean countries as we learned about Santa Lucia and Père Noël, but the real eye-opener for me was learning about Hanukkah and the history (and legends) behind what I had always naïvely supposed to simply be a Jewish substitute for Christmas. I still remember thinking (and saying out loud to anyone who would listen), “I don't understand why the Christian church doesn't celebrate this instead of what Christmas has turned into. Hanukkah is about standing up for what is right and true in the face of tyranny and persecution… isn't that what we are called to do as Christ-followers?” From that point on, we began to incorporate Hanukkah every year into our other family traditions.

For our family, Christmas was all about Christ. We did not go overboard into debt to buy gifts, we read the Nativity story aloud as a family, we did the advent wreath and prepared our hearts for His coming... ours was no pagan celebration of the sun. We really did celebrate Christ's birth, down to the "birthday cake for Jesus." We knew that the date was symbolic, that Christ was not really born in December, but we didn't think it mattered. We thought that as long as we were “keeping Christ in Christmas," God knew the intentions of our heart and honored us for honoring Him. After all, we reasoned that if He could redeem us, then surely He could redeem a pagan holiday.

So, we added Hanukkah to our winter tradition and exchanged our gifts on Saint Nicholas Day and kept Christmas about Christ by attending church and having a special family dinner, and I patted myself on the back that I had one up on those people who got sucked into the commercialism and seasonal insanity that we call “the most wonderful time of the year.”

When my own two children later walked away from the inconsistencies and lack of love that they had experienced with organized church in the late '90s, I began to examine my paradigm of “faith” and the whole church culture from a different perspective. Later, after reading a book by Dr. Michael L. Brown, Revolution in the Church: Challenging the Religious System with a Call for Radical Change, followed by his series on Answering Jewish Questions about Jesus, I was encouraged to read a book called Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna (of the Barna Research Group) and “lightning struck my brain” (to steal a phrase from the movie Hook).

In retrospect, I will admit that it’s probably dangerous to ask questions if you are not willing to make a change in your life when you realize you have been wrong about something, but these were the things that were puzzling me:
  • If we say we believe the whole word of God is true, why do we not live like we believe it?
  • How do we excuse observing all of the “Ten Commandments” except #4, yet turn around and say “you can’t pick and choose”?
  • If scripture in the Old Testament is “no longer valid," how can I be sure that scripture in the New Testament is still valid?
Those only led to more questions as I sounded out others as to what their thoughts were on these matters...
  • Who is “Israel” when scripture says these commands are for Israel and they will be blessed by keeping them? Is it symbolic?  Does it include me if I’m not Jewish?
  • Where in the Bible does it say that Jesus changed the Sabbath to Sunday? (Spoiler alert! Nowhere! So then, who gave the Roman Catholic church the “authority” to change Sabbath to Sunday?)
  •  Does observing God’s commandments mean that we are being legalistic or obedient?
  • What does “Under the Law” really mean?
  • What exactly did Jesus nail to the Cross?
  • Is there really anything wrong with co-opting pagan holidays and making them “Christian” in order to make people feel comfortable about joining the church?
  • Is there anything wrong with going to church on Sunday?
I had gone down the proverbial rabbit hole and things looked a lot different than they had always seemed. I was beginning to understand some of the “whys," but it still took me several more years to get a handle on the “Yes, but how?” aspect of what I had been learning.

So, I began to read the Bible more consistently doing word, contextual, and topical studies. In the process, I found out that “Israel” is often used as a metaphor for those who are true worshipers of God... and over the years the truth of what I have been learning has chipped away at the layers of “harmless traditions” that had kept me from understanding how He really wants me to worship Him.

Besides “Israel” being used as a metaphor, I still have heard many people insist that the Torah is just for the Jews. However, the more I studied and searched, the more verses I found that did not support that thought. This was another case of having to decide if I could justify picking and choosing which scriptures I was going to believe.

“The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.” – Exodus 12:49
“You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.” – Leviticus 24:22
If we think we should ignore those “laws” or instructions that we have always heard were “for the Jews," we ought to stop and consider that Israel was called out and set apart by God to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6), to show the world what “right living” according to the instructions of our Creator truly looks like. If we want to claim the verses in Romans 11 that say we have been “grafted in” apply to us, and if we believe that in Christ there is no longer any separation between Jew and Greek/Gentile, shouldn't we at least have an understanding of what kind of light God expects us to be? He has intentionally established guidelines that, if followed, will clearly set us apart from others in all areas of our life (calendar, food, dress, finances, how we treat others, etc.) with the end result that it will lead the world to Himself. And interestingly enough, when God calls His people to “be holy” in Leviticus 11:44-45 and 1 Peter 1:16, the word “holy” literally means “set apart.”

This is a good goal for us to have. In fact, I think it should be the very reason for our existence. So, instead of attempting to explain away “inconvenient” commandments, I want to understand the underlying principle behind them as best as I can and embrace them as beneficial for me to follow. I have always been taught that Jesus came to earth teaching and walking in the commandments of His Father. But the notion that Jesus nailed God's commandments to the cross is in direct contradiction to scripture. Jesus plainly said that his doctrine was not His own, nor did He come to institute “a new thing” that was contrary to God's perfect and unchanging words. Jesus came as our perfect example, and my conclusion is that if I am going to claim that I am one of His followers, then I should walk in His footsteps. We know Jesus kept all of His Father's instructions perfectly, but it was not so we don’t have to, but that we might have an example of what it looks like to properly interpret the Word and walk in it.

Unfortunately, we have gotten used to picking and choosing as we attempt to justify a lifestyle that, if you really examine it, in many instances is contrary to what God has outlined for us in His Word. People ignore the fourth commandment, claiming that “Jesus is their Sabbath rest” or “we can worship any day of the week."  Or many attempt to explain away the dietary instructions found in Leviticus 11 by arguing that we now have refrigeration and can safely consume that which God clearly says is unclean, and even goes so far as to call “an abomination.” I don't think we should assume that we know better than God; we are called to hear and obey, not edit His instructions.

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” - Titus 1:9
“For I give you sound doctrine, forsake ye not my Torah (instructions).” - Proverbs 4:2
Over several years as I began to learn more about Passover and the other Feasts of the Lord and the Messianic symbolism and fulfillment of them, and then compared those to our traditions of celebrating Easter and Christmas, I discovered that once I know the truth of a thing, I cannot un-know it. And that is how it has evolved for me over several years.  As I want to learn more about the heart of a thing, I have gradually become convinced that just because we have honorable intentions, if we are in opposition to what God has actually asked us to do, then we have a dilemma. Do we continue to do things “as we have always done them," or do we find out if God has a better plan? I think you can guess the answer to that one.

The problem comes when we do not read all of the Bible; people often think that much of what is in the “front of the book” does not apply to the “New Testament church.” So, when God says,

“be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, 'How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.' You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates.” - Deuteronomy 12: 30
we just gloss right over that and make excuses like, “Well, He is talking to Israel. I'm not Jewish. That doesn't apply to me... So what if Christmas was originally a pagan celebration? I’m celebrating Christ’s birth, not participating in Saturnalia orgies", or “so what if Easter bunnies don't really lay chocolate eggs, it's just fun for the children and I don’t want them to feel they are missing out.”

As I read and learned more about the Hebrew roots of my Christian faith, I began to explore what it meant to follow what I had always considered to be the “Jewish traditions," and found that there was a profound difference between “traditions” and living a life “set apart” according to God’s instructions or standards. But, I think the nail in the coffin of any further objections I could come up with came with reading the verses:

“Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse!” - Deuteronomy 11:26
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.” - Deuteronomy 30:11.
Seriously! Who in their right mind would choose a curse instead of a blessing? Especially when God specifically says that His commandments are not too difficult - or “impossible” - as we have often been told.

And the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119 (the one that I always put off reading when I got around to reading my daily Psalms) is chock-full of admonitions as to just how beneficial it is to live a life according to God’s instructions. How could I argue against that?

After a couple of years of spiritual inertia which resulted from having my paradigm so shifted that I had no idea how to proceed, I prayed, asking God to give me discernment and a hunger for Truth. I began to seek out Messianic teachers wherever I could find them. It didn’t take me long to discover that some had a little bit of truth mixed with a lot of error and pride, but others along the way continued to steer me towards understanding “the whole Truth.” (I would hope that I am not so arrogant that I ever think I have it all figured out, and I am certainly not so blind as to say that I have not made some mistakes in judgement along the way.) Therefore, I continue to pray that God will give me discernment and reveal His Truth to me, and give me a heart that is willing to trust Him and follow Him, despite the potential consequences of having friends or family disagree with or even ridicule me.

Just as Israel had to literally come out of Egypt, so I needed to recognize that much of how I was living my life was still figuratively in Egypt. “Coming out of Egypt” means much more than learning about the feast days, or putting the ka-bosh on pagan holiday celebrations. It means ending my desire for the things that the world desires.

If we are going to avoid the mistakes the Israelites made in the desert, we are going to have to start getting into the right mindset about what our Father wants for us, and avoiding those things in the world that would spoil us and lure us into a false sense of “luxurious” living, while in reality we are in bondage!

I came to the conviction that I should weigh everything I heard and thought I knew against what the scriptures actually said (or didn't say!), and it has been disconcerting to find that everywhere I turned I found another tradition (Christian and Jewish!) melting away before me as I have tried to examine what God says about a matter. And yet, I am also very grateful to many teachers and scholars for helping me understand the difference between a Greek mindset and a Hebrew mindset; how the rabbis and even some of the “Church Fathers” originally had good intentions with their traditions and doctrines to keep people from falling into disobedience, and what impact that has on our foundational understanding of scripture. Many teachers have had input while I have been on this journey of understanding and obedience. Even some of those who have mixed truth with error have been instrumental in helping me understand the significance of certain doctrines and traditions, and in being able to discern that just because something is indeed simply a tradition does not in and of itself make it heresy. It's how a thing lines up with God's instructions to us as His set-apart witnesses (light) to the world that makes a thing worth following or leaving behind. The bottom line should be: Are we representing Him as He wants to be represented? Because it should never be about what we are accustomed to or “comfortable with” in our faith walk. If it is, then we are putting our traditions above God’s commands… the same thing that Jesus Himself criticized the religious leaders of His time for! If we honestly want to claim that we are “crucified with Christ… [and] the life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” as it says in Galatians 2:20, then we need to give up wanting to do things our way.

I cannot help but look at things differently than I ever have before. Yet, I am sorry that some have erroneously assumed that I have fallen into the “trap of legalism” and that I am somehow trying to earn my salvation… something I had been freely given long before I had my eyes opened to the truth in 1 John 5:3-5:

…this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
So, one thing I have decided to change is to observe a day of rest on the seventh day to the best of my understanding. This does not mean I cannot attend church on Sunday. A “day of rest” is not the same as “worship” which, incidentally, we should do every day!

I am trying to learn the difference between tradition and truth in celebrating the Feasts of the Lord (erroneously called by many “Jewish holidays”), and how I can celebrate those in a way that honors God and helps me understand more about Christ.

I am choosing to believe that God had a good reason for telling me what foods I should eat and those I should avoid, if for no other reason than to trust Him to know what is best for me… and to realize that the often used excuse of “Peter's vision” was a complete misinterpretation of scripture, so we have no valid reason to believe that the God who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” somehow decided, “Oops, forget it… I changed my mind.”  (Ironically, and happily for me, I also “just happen” to be allergic to pork and shellfish, so this is an easy one for me.)

I really am finding that obedience is not as “impossible” as I have been told it would be all these years. It really is quite easy when I adjust my mindset to wanting to live a life pleasing to my Creator.  Actually, I have to work harder at not worrying about what other people may think of me than anything. Happily, He also had an answer for that, not once, but three times:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” - Matthew 16:24 - Mark 8:34 - Luke 9:23

So, thank you for hanging in there with me this far. I have wanted to share these things with my friends and family so you might have an understanding of what my walk of faith has been like these past years, but wanted to make sure that I did it in such a way that I could lay out my thoughts without getting distracted by bunny trails.

I have even debated if I should still call myself a “Christian," since culturally, the term itself has lost so much of its meaning and seems to have become a broadly defined label that says very little about what a person actually believes or how they live, except to imply that they are not Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim.

Have I lost my faith in Christ as my savior? Do I think that I have it all figured out? Do I think that if I don't “do” things perfectly or “just so” I will lose my salvation? No way!

What I do think is that I have misunderstood different scriptures over the years, and because of that I have had some incorrect notions of what a life lived for Christ should look like. I no longer think that there needs to be a tension between works and faith; I think they go hand in hand, and I believe God has the right to tell us how we should live and treat others and worship Him. Anything less from us is false worship.  And when we fail to live as God has called us, well, He calls that “missing the mark” that He has set for us. He has clearly shown us what it looks like to “hit the mark” and He sent Christ to show us that it can be done, so that is how I want to make adjustments and live my life.

If I have represented anything in this testimony that you believe is in error, I would ask you please to come to me and tell me where you think I am off base. I will consider everything against scripture and make changes as needed or give more specifics to clarify if I have not expressed myself well. With the recent release of the independent documentary The Way, I felt that this was a good time for me to put my thoughts down on paper and, if you are interested, I will be happy to loan you a copy of the documentary to see for yourself what other people are experiencing on this walk.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope that you will not take anything that I have said here as criticism against you or where you are in your walk with Christ. It was only my intention to tell you where I am, not where you “should be.” Only God is qualified to do that.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

42522:: How Did That Happen?

It was barely 18 years ago that I witnessed a most amazing event, the birth of my oldest grandchild.

I was so determined to have a different mindset with my grandchildren than I ever did with my own children. It seemed like when my children where babies, I was always looking forward to their next milestone - when they could turn over, when they could walk, when they could tie their own shoes, when they could buckle and unbuckle their own seatbelts... always looking forward, never enjoying the moment.

So with my grandchildren, ever mindful of how quickly life zips past, I was determined to enjoy each moment and relish each experience for itself.

I'm not sure what happened, but all of a sudden it is gone. Today, my bug whisperer graduates from high school and leaves behind childish things. Part of this Nana's heart is breaking.

Don't blink folks. Don't blink. You'll miss it.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

42488 :: My point being...

It has been rightly said that I get a little verbose as I meander through my thoughts. You will get no argument from me there.

I do, however, wish to clarify the general points I was trying to make yesterday without making anyone else follow my rabbit trails. So these are those:
  1. You don't understand everything. Neither do I. 
  2. No one ever changed anyone's mind by bullying them into silence or "winning" an argument.
  3. Believing you are "right" does not give you a ticket to force another to do things your way. This goes both ways, so examine your own actions and motives.
  4. Talk to people and find out who they are instead of pigeon-holing others with tidy little labels. We have more in common that we think. 
  5. Being kind and treating others as fellow human beings trumps winning any argument about who is right or wrong.
There, is that better?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

42487 :: Truth. A matter of opinion?

I am not a morning person. I don't wake up well. So I have developed a coping behavior that helps me ease into consciousness that works very well for me. Some people might not be able to leave their dinner dishes overnight, but washing dishes is something I can do even half-awake. Standing in my robe and sandals at the kitchen sink with a soapy sponge in my hand, making short work of a few spatulas and pots and pans (last night, I made a batch of strawberry jam after dinner... so more than a few pots and pans!), and the warm water. In just a few minutes I can go from grumpy and disoriented to being able to face the world and tackle the problems the day brings.

It works for me.

The other thing that washing dishes in my sleep allows me to do is to think. I can literally work my way through wooden spoons, funnels and all the things that don't go well in the dishwasher at the same time as thinking my way through the conundrums that have pickled everyone's brains for the past few days on social media. Things like what is "normal" when we are talking about Religious vs. LGBT rights, what is the answer to bathrooms for transgenders, who is right? who is wrong? how do we live together in this society?

OK, I admit I didn't quite figure out the last part about how we live together, because I can't control the behavior of other people, only myself. But I do think I have figured out the rest of it:

We are all wrong.

We think we know the answers when in reality we have limited understanding and vision. And we also have freewill to believe or not believe in a Higher Power who created or designed it all. Even those of us who do believe, we are still limited to our concept of what or who that "higher power" really is. So, what it boils down to is that, in and of ourselves we cannot know who or what is really right or wrong. We do not have that power, because what lifestyle or belief system or behavior we consider "right" for ourselves is ultimately governed by our understanding and/or belief in our chosen god or God or nongod. We cannot "know" for a certainty if our belief system is The correct belief system like we can know from experience that by drinking a glass of water we will no longer be thirsty, or by taking a nap we will no longer be tired. We take our belief system on faith... hence the term faith-based belief.

So, based on that (slightly convoluted) point of view, I think we have to agree that we do not agree, and probably will never agree with everyone else on what is right, or normal, or acceptable behavior. Then what?

My mother used to say, "Your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins." At the age of 12, that philosophy didn't make a heck of a lot of sense to me. Then I grew up and I realized that the rest of the world did not walk in my shoes. They did not wear my glasses. And I had to adjust my thinking and decide if I was going to remain a child and insist on having my own way, or was I going to learn to respect others and allow them to think the way they do and let them go on their own way, even though I sincerely thought they were making the wrong choice. I know some evangelicals have a problem with that mindset, and I do understand where they are coming from, but my faith-based belief system is such that it is not up to me to argue someone out of their point of view, but to so live my life according to my own belief system and do it in such a way that shows respect and tolerance for where another person camps out, that my belief system will eventually trump another intolerant, hate-based belief system and actions will speak louder than words.

In the end, even though I believe my truth to be the most logical, "correct truth", as long as your "truth" does not impinge on my "truth", you are on your own and you are responsible for the consequences of your choices.

Having said all that, it still remains that forcing me to call "normal" what my belief system defines as "not normal" is, in effect, crossing that metaphorical line of swinging your arm into my nose. That is where we have to agree that we are not in agreement. It does not call for name calling, I am not an "idiot", I am not a bigot or an "anything"-phobe just because I do not agree with you.

The reality is, we live in a post-Christian nation. Yes, there are still plenty of people who wear that badge, some wear it well, some are an embarrassment to the name. I cannot help that, because I am not in charge of them. It does not mean that all people of faith are bigoted or narrowminded, or even right-wing conservatives. So we - who try to live out what we believe to be true in a way that is mindful that others do not believe as we do - are trying like everything to figure out how to love without compromise, and it is not an easy bike to pedal, believe me.

Treat other people as you would like them to treat you

It's not just a cliché phrase by some dusty rabbi 2,000 years ago, It puts into terms anyone can understand how we are to treat someone else, even when we don't agree with them. It is not by mistake that he also taught that the world is going to hate us, and we should do good to them anyway.

But I tell you,love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!

Seems like that bike should be pretty easy to ride, if we can keep that in mind.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

42479 :: I like to browse

Sometimes, when I have a little free time, I like to browse and Google "contentment." I often come up with some interesting (or sometimes ridiculous) quotes, often sentiments that are a little further "out there" than where I live, but many times I will run into something that resonates with me and I say, "Aha! That one I have to pin on my board."

I do not define contentment by modern psychology. If I did, I would have to have wasted much more time than I did in college Psychology classes to even begin to wrap my brain around such statements as:

Contentment is hypothetically a mental or emotional state of satisfaction maybe drawn from being at ease in one's situation, body and mind. Colloquially speaking, contentment could be a state of having accepted one's situation and is a milder and more tentative form of happiness." - Eisenblatt, S (2002). The Straight Road to Happiness: A Personal Guide to Enable Us to Overcome Tendencies which Block Our Natural Flow of Happiness and to Explore New Horizons of Inner Joy. p. 292.

Wikipedia does, however, boil it down nicely when it states:

A more practical way for most people would be to simply practice contentment as an attitude: Just be contented. It might be added that being grateful for the good things – to count one's blessings – is perhaps a more reasonable way to understand what contentment as an attitude is about.
Practicing contentment as such does away with the need for other concepts – be it arguments about why one is unhappy and various practices to achieve contentment. Seen in this light, contentment is not an achievement but an attitude that one can adopt at any time. There is really no explanation or teaching needed for this.

I guess I am just simpleminded, but I can for sure wrap my mind around the statement:

...we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it...if we have food and clothing we will be content with that... -1 Timothy 6:5-8

I have a lot of appreciation for Wikipedia as they use as an illustration of "Contentment" the painting (the image is now in public domain) by 20th century Belgian artist Edgard Farasyn, Human Contentments.

Yes, enjoying a life well lived, sitting in the garden with my child or grandchild, something to read and a glass of wine. I can most definitely be content with that.

Monday, April 11, 2016

42471 :: It's the small things

Just the other day I happened to see a short video clip about the importance of making your bed every morning. Now, I have had this preached to me since I was a child. I rebelled against it then, I rebelled against it when I was FLYing with F.L.Y. Lady, but this time, it all made sense. His point being, start with one small accomplishment and it sets the tone for the rest of your day. (Or, at least that is my "boiled-down" version of his point.)

As I was dressing the next morning, as I do each morning I straightened my tzitzit and said a short blessing... and began to think about the importance of doing the small things. Like wearing tassels on our clothing. When I began investigating what it meant to live a Torah-observant life, I couldn't help but wonder about the validity of some of the teachings. Many I had grown up with in the Christian church, some made sense to me as I learned about them and could understand the underlying principle of the teaching; but there were others... like the wearing of tassels. I just could not find any way of reasoning a logical answer for why I should do such a thing that was so foreign to me.
And then I read the verses again:

Numbers 15.37 Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 38 “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. 39 And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, 40 and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be [set apart] for your God. 41 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”

That's when it hit me: I don't need a "logical" reason. I need to do it because He asked me to. He had a reason, and as I began to do what He asked, I began to understand why He asked it... because apparently, we need a daily reminder. It's really a small thing, to put on tassels, to bless YHVH for speaking to us, for choosing us, for setting us apart. But when we do that "little thing", it sets our mind on the right path as we start our day. I am beginning to understand by doing this one small thing how living out my faith by being obedient is of benefit to me.

It reminded me of another video I watched recently where they asked a very simple question: Which of YHVH's commands are too difficult for us to do? I had to admit, wearing tassels was surely not one of them, so what was I so hesitant about?

The short and simple act of remembering whose we are, and blessing Him for that is a small thing... that sets the tone for the rest of our day. And why would I not want to head in that direction?

If you have further questions, check these out:
Unlearn the Lies
Test Everything
How Can We Implement Tzitzit Today?
Which of the Commandments can we keep today?
Practical Guide to Walking Out the Law of the Fringes

Friday, April 8, 2016

42468 :: A good friend said

A good friend said recently, "This is sure not where I expected to be by now." And I knew what he meant. He recently turned 65, is still working to the best of his physical ability, and believes he has nothing to show for it.

And truthfully, by our society's standards, he is probably right. He owns no home, he drives a 20 year old truck with no prospects of being able to replace it, and has only a meager savings account that would not sustain him for even a year.

This is my same friend who, 16 years ago, sold his home and up and moved to some remote village in Africa and worked with his wife for a year and a half at a small mission hospital because "it was the right thing to do." Many people might look at that and think it was an irresponsible thing to do, but if you talk to my friend (or his wife), they will insist it is one of the best choices they have made in life.

Which leads me to wonder how we shifted our focus from "doing what is right" to "what's in it for me?" At the end of the day, I would so much rather go to sleep knowing that my choices were based on helping others and being of service to my brother than based on whether those choices serve to pad my retirement fund or buy a new car.

I'm not saying that having a healthy retirement fund is bad, but with our limited resources, when we have to choose helping someone with a genuine need or stocking up for a rainy day, I say "to heck with the rain"...

Feed the hungry child in front of you. Cloth the naked stranger in front of you. Tomorrow is not even guaranteed (even if you do have a healthy retirement fund. Just ask those who invested in the dot com bubble or trusted Bernie Madoff), and when the future comes, it is still in our Father's hands. Which brings to mind:

Men of corrupt mind...think that godliness is a means to financial gain...But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
I Timothy 6.5-8

Monday, March 28, 2016

42457:: In response

My reply: Does it bother me that Easter traces its lineage to a pagan holiday? Not in the least! However, it does bother me that those who are followers of the Most High God celebrate “Easter”, admit that it is a pagan holiday, and then claim to do so in His name. Even those who call it “Resurrection Day” seem to have no problem with a church putting on a Pancake Breakfast and Easter Egg hunt on in order to bring more people in to “hear the gospel.”

There seems to be a disconnect in people’s minds when it comes to going along with tradition versus obeying the God they believe in. They take great pains to explain that the pagan meaning of a holiday no longer means the same to them. They even go so far as to claim that Jesus has redeemed a pagan celebration. But is that what God really says? What did Jesus actually say about it?

  • If you love me, keep my commands. John 14:15
  • My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. John 7:16
  • Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

That sounds to me like Jesus is saying he is not changing the game. He did not come to invent a new religion, but to help us understand how God wants to have a relationship with us… on His terms. We don’t make the rules, and it’s not for us to change the rules. We are not God, He is.

So then, what exactly does God have to say about how we are to relate to and worship Him?

  • You must not worship the Lord your God in their way (talking about the pagans here… I don’t hear Him saying anything about “redeeming” their worship practices), because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. Deuteronomy 12:31

Think He was just talking to “The Jews” when He said that?
Read on:
  • The community (also translated as ‘congregation’) is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.’” Numbers 15:15-16
It would seem that God doesn’t differentiate between Jews and non-Jews when it comes to living set-apart lives devoted to Him. That lines up with what the Apostle Paul said not once, but twice in Romans: “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile.”

Yet I think it’s important for us to acknowledge why the Israelites were sent into exile, not once, but several times… it was because they ignored God’s instructions for how He wanted them to relate to Him. They incorporated pagan practices into their worship. He had singled out the children of Israel, He set them apart to show the rest of the world how to relate to our Creator. But they got distracted and lost sight of their calling.

Bottom line: It is not up to us, it is not up to the Church Fathers, it’s not up to tradition to alter what God said. If we truly believe that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, if we truly believe it when we say that the whole Bible is true and is our guidebook for life, wouldn’t we do well to examine what God actually has to say? He doesn’t mince words when He warns us to have nothing to do with pagan practices:
  • “Come out of her, my people! Run for your lives! Run from the fierce anger of the Lord. For the time will surely come when I will punish the idols of Babylon; her whole land will be disgraced and her slain will all lie fallen within her. Jeremiah 51:45, 47
  • Then I heard another voice from heaven say: ‘Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues. Revelation 18:4
Personally, I just can’t rationalize that away. The argument that the names of the days of the weeks (and months of the year) are after false gods is irrelevant. We are not worshipping false gods or our own God when we differentiate between one day and the next. Yes, God can redeem what’s lost through the power of His resurrection. He sent His only Son to redeem His lost sheep. He said nothing about redeeming pagan practices. We are adding to His words when we claim that He has said something that He did not say.
  • Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you. Deuteronomy 4:2 - and, See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it. Deuteronomy 12:32.
If the Lord thought it was important enough to say twice, I believe we would do well to listen to Him.

If we are relying on the institutional church to bombard non-church goers twice a year with “the good news” in hopes of bringing them into the Kingdom, then we are failing miserably at the calling of the Great Commission to go forth and make disciples. Jesus did not say “sit there and invite people to church and I hereby absolve you of the job I have given you.” We are called to let [our] light shine before others, that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16.

Not my words, but Jesus.