Thursday, February 25, 2010

"I'd rather be a Christian than to fight."

FORENOTE: I just want to clarify that this blog has nothing to do with war. I understand that there are many Christians who say that war is never justified. While I respect their convictions, I believe that self-defense (and the defense of others) has a place, and sometimes war is the necessary means serving to that end.

If I knew in advance what to expect that day, I wonder what kind of a difference it would have made. Danny and I were swimming at the pool like we often would, when suddenly a kid came up to us in the shallow end and started picking a fight w/ me. He backed off b/c Danny stood up for me, but that wouldn't be the last I saw of Anthony. I went back to the pool sometime later on only to find him approaching me again. "Now you are alone! Now you have to fight me!" he insisted. Anthony kept trying to egg me on, but I resisted by pushing him back a few times. "Why won't you fight me? You're insulting me!" he declared. "Because I'd rather be a Christian than to fight," I replied. "What do you mean?" he asked, looking quite perplexed. "Do you know what it means to be a Christian?" I asked in response. "Not really. It sounds familiar, though. I think my aunt is one." I explained to him what it meant, that we need to ask Jesus to come into our hearts and save us from our sins, that He taught us not to go around fighting people when we don't really have to, and that this was why I wasn't going to get in a fight with him. "So do you want to become a Christian, too? Do you believe in what I just told you?" I asked. Calmed down, penitent, in a surrendered tone of voice, he said the two words that blow me away to this day, "I believe."

I was 9 when that happened. More than two decades have past. As I think about how I would handle such a situation like that, today, I have to admit that it feels like something inside of me has changed for the worse. What is it about life that often causes us to become more defensive as we get older? Why is it so hard to let go and focus more on letting Jesus be known for Who He truly is, rather than focusing on boosting my popularity ratings and acting in my own self-will? What would you have done in such a situation? Am I the only one who feels this way?

That was the last time I ever saw or heard anything of Anthony. As I look back on it, I'm glad that of all the times we could've crossed paths under such unfavorable circumstances, it happened to be then. Who knows if he ever would've come to know the Lord any other way? I hope Anthony's walk with Jesus has been continuing and growing strong ever since.

"I say unto you that unless you change and become like little children, you will not make it into the Kingdom of Heaven." - Mt. 18:3 (paraphrased)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Purim: Why should a "Jewish" holiday matter to Christians?

"For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" - Est. 4:14

I want to start out by clarifying something - there are Jewish holidays, and then there are biblical holidays. Many churches have come into the habit of celebrating the holiday of Passover, noting the significance it has in the foreshadowing of the Messiah (i.e. Jesus). I once heard of a Christian man who was uncomfortable with this b/c it is a "Jewish" holiday. Allow me to make an observation. Scripture tells us that we're not obligated to the ritual elements of the Law (see bottom of note for detailed explanation), hence I have no issue with someone saying they don't want to observe Passover. However, I'm going to make a bold statement by saying that Passover is not a "Jewish" holiday. In order for me to consider a holiday or a custom distinctly Jewish, it must be something that was invented by the Jews during the evolution of their culture (hence "4th of July" is a uniquely American holiday, "Cinco de Mayo" is a uniquely Mexican holiday, "Guy Fawkes Day" is a uniquely English holiday, etc.).

What of Passover, though, or Rosh Ha Shana, or Yom Kippur? Last I checked, these are holidays that were given to the Jewish people by God, and are called the "feasts of the Lord" (see Lev. 23). In fact if I may drive the point painfully home, while we are not obligated to do these things (again, see bottom of note for detailed explanation), Scripture seems to say that the day will come when this will change (see Zech. 14:16-19; I might add, some Christians would look at a passage like this and say, "Well, it's speaking symbolically, not literally," despite having no solid source to back up this claim. Of course many of these people will just as quickly say, "Truth is absolute! You can't just go around bending God's Word to make it mean what you want it to mean!" when it comes to other touchy subjects [like homosexuality or hell]. But hey, nobody's perfect, right? :) The bottom line is that this is one of many instances of ignorance that I've seen in church circles growing up - in this particular instance, one stemming from anti-semitism in church history - where I think it would do us well to be a bit more enlightened. I'm aware that what I just said might offend some people, but you know what? If you say you believe in a God of truth and you find yourself struggling over facts, it sounds to me like something's not quite right with that picture.

Now then, there are Jewish holidays, and there are biblical holidays. I think we can all see the validity in learning about the biblical ones (regardless of how we feel about practicing them; who in their right mind is going to say they believe in a certain book, then backpedal and say they'd rather not learn about a particular portion of it?), but why should a Jewish holiday be so important to us? Consider. Much of what is seen as a part of Jewish culture today (i.e. things that arose from within Jewish culture independent of any directive from God) came into being before Jesus came to this earth. Such is the case with Purim, the holiday commemorating God's deliverance of the Jewish people from annihilation as recorded in the book of Esther.

Let me ask you, though, how often do you hear this talked about in church circles? I hear a lot of talk here in America about how our values are "under attack" (which should come as no surprise[1 Jn. 3:13]), occasionally I hear mention of the persecution that Christians face in certain parts of the world, and once in a while there's a passing reference to the persecution endured by the early church. I don't usually hear anything about the Jews' enduring hardship through dispersion in the Old Testament, witnessing the miraculous hand of God preserving them, keeping His promise to bring them back into their land. I don't hear much of any acknowledging that this demonstrates the faithfulness of God to all of us, how His preservation of the nation of Israel resulted in the coming of the Messiah.

We like to talk about ourselves, especially when we're under attack (everyone enjoys the benefits that come along w/ being recognized as the victim). Since when is it about us, though? Scripture clearly tells us in a number of places that we should put others before ourselves (Philemon 2:3; Mt. 5:41, 44; 25:31-36). Furthermore, it tells us that we are to honor our parents (Ex. 20:12) and give credit where credit is due (Rom. 13:7). What does it say of the Jewish people, but that they were the ones who fathered us (Gentiles) into faith in Jesus (i.e. the reason there are Gentile believers in the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures [i.e. the Old Testament] is b/c there were Jews that believed in Him who led us to this faith [see Gen. 17:4-5 & Rom. 4:17-18]).

So why should a "Jewish" holiday (namely Purim) be so important to Christians, too? Because it is a remembrance of God's covenant-keeping faithfulness, the implication that has had for us throughout time, and taking the time to honor Him for what He did, much the same way that we honor our national heroes, as well.

*Explanation about our freedom from obligation to the ritual elements of the Law

Ok, let me start w/ the fundamental point of "Torah observance" (the keeping of the Law of Moses [i.e. all the commandments given in the first five books of the Bible {Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, "B'reishit, B'sh'mot, Vayikra, Bamidbar, D'varim," or however you want to phrase it :o) }]). "And God said to Abraham, 'Therefore you are required to keep my covenant, you and your seed after you in their generations. This is my covenant, which you are required to keep, between Me and you and your seed after you, every baby boy must be circumcised." - Gen. 17:9-10 (paraphrased) I feel that the passage is too long for me to quote here, but if you read Acts 15:1-21, it clearly says that full-adherence to everything commanded in the law of Moses is not required for those professing faith in Jesus, including circumcision (subnote: Although it is not required, I'm not saying that God doesn't ultimately desire it [which I'm sure you probably noticed me saying in the second paragraph of this note]. However, the passage in Acts, here, clearly indicates to me that we are not to judge those who exercise this freedom as being "less spiritually mature", and for those who might say, "The passage says God doesn't require Gentiles to live according to everything given in the Law of Moses, but Jewish believers in Jesus are still held to its expectations," I would question how that reconciles w/ these words: "Why do you tempt God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, one which neither our fathers or we were able to bear?" [Acts 15:10]). Furthermore, Exodus 12:48 plainly states that circumcision is a requirement for all male non-Jews that choose to keep the Passover. A friend of mine once tried to weasel around this by saying, "But all true believers in Jesus are circumcised in their hearts, so they need to keep the Passover, too." Nice try, but circumcision of the heart isn't strictly a New Testament deal (Dt. 10:16; Lev. 26:41; Jer. 4;4 [to give a few examples]). There's so much more that could be said on this matter, but I think that sums it up just fine. So that's why I believe that full-fledged "Torah observance" is not a requirement for believers in Jesus...but...please also remember that I said I don't believe it's forbidden, either, so long as anyone who chooses to try to do all the things mentioned therein (to the best of their ability) is doing it as a sincere act of worship towards God, and not as some form of self-righteousness. Thanks for reading :)