Fifteen Questions: An Oldie Re-Surfaces

In my very first post on this blog, three years ago, I addressed what used to be a hot topic in the Church–or at least used to be when I was a young Christian back in the 70’d and 80’s. The Rapture.

To be more specific, the rapture (catching away) of the Church from the earth, by Jesus, seven years before a cataclysmic Tribulation period that would unleash Hell on earth: the pre-trib. rapture, for shorthand.

I must confess that, as a new christian being discipled in conservative churches of the day, and hearing teachers & preachers on TV and radio, I was a staunch believer in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching for several years. Until I was challenged to read a certain book…. But that’s all addressed in my first CSL On The Bible post.


These two blogs that I write don’t represent my first venture into flinging my thoughts and ideas at the world’s wall to see what sticks. For seven years, I had a website entitled The Pelajian Challenge**, which I used to write about Christian topics, and one of the things I wrote about was the fallacy of the Pre-Trib. Rapture teaching.

And one of the things I created was a small pamphlet entitled “15 Questions For The Pre-Trib. Rapture Believer.” Well, I’ve recently used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to look at some of the articles I wrote, and decided to resurrect that pamphlet. I’ve created it as a .pdf file, and you can read/download the file here: Fifteen Questions.

CSL

**About 30 years ago, I realized that I have more in common with Augustine’s chief bugaboo, Pelagius, than Augustine. As an in-joke, when I started getting active online, I chose to spell his name phonetically, Pelajus, to see how many ministers in my denomination were acquainted with the heretic. Sadly, not one asked me about it. *sigh*.

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“Am I A Disciple?”, part two

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In my first post on this subject I wrote about the need to ask a different question of ourselves, something other than “What benefits do I accrue as a Christian?” I presented the idea that the real concern for a follower of Jesus would be his/her walk and not the perks of salvation. I want to explore the implications of the Church’s failure to be concerned about discipleship in greater depth in this post, and for one vital reason:

I’ve come to believe that most Christians don’t have a clue as to what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I know I don’t. And I am sure that we, as a church, don’t know what being a disciple meant to Jesus and the Jews of the first century. In Mt. 28:19–20, Jesus gave his disciples, and the subsequent church, its Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Makes Disciples, Not Converts

I attend a Methodist church, and the motto of the UMC is Making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. But as I observe the activities of my denomination, I can’t see them making the first attempt to do so. Instead, I see a lemming-like headlong rush to become society’s sycophantic sounding board. And when I look at other denominations and churches, I’m not much heartened there, either. We Christians, whether mainline or evangelical, are good at making converts to our churches, but disciples of Jesus? Not so much.

Converts, CSL? Aren’t they one and the same? No, not even close.

One of my favorite Christian albums of all time is Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming, and on that album is one of Dylan’s best songs ever, as far as I’m concerned: Gonna Change My Way of Thinking. I love that song; it’s got a hard-driving beat that doesn’t quit, phenomenal guitar work, and, of course, spot-on Dylan lyrics. I mean, who wasn’t shocked back in 1979 when, upon putting that album on the turntable, hearing such lyrics as this come from a Bob Dylan song:

Jesus said, “Be ready,
For you know not the hour in which I come.”
He said, “He who is not for Me is against Me,”
Just so you know where He’s coming from.

While I think that Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking is a great song, I believe the title is indicative of the Christian mindset as to what constitutes becoming a disciple. We change our thinking, not our actions.

Converts are merely convinced of the truth of a proposition; their minds are changed into giving mental assent to a theological premise that they may or may not have agreed with previously. Quite often, such assent will prompt converts to become adherents to a church and certain practices, maybe causing them to go so far as to adopt lifestyle changes to be part of the new group.

But Lifestyle Christianity isn’t discipleship, is it? It is merely accessorizing.

Gonna Change My Way of Livin’

Disciples and discipleship are not a new phenomenon, created solely by Christianity. Teachers and leaders, ancient and modern, have had disciples whether they be religious, philosophical, political or otherwise: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Lao Tze, Joseph Smith, Ellen White, Freud, Saul Alinsky, Jean Rousseau, etc., have all had their followers, devotees and practitioners.

But Judeo-Christian discipleship has a different ring to it. Based on a morality revealed from above, sages and rabbis both present a life AND live a life, based on the holiness that God calls us to. Disciples, both Christian and Jewish, followed their rabbis/teachers because they not only wanted to know what the rabbi knows but be what the rabbi is.

This desire to be like the rabbi, to live as close to God in following him, is the distinguishing characteristic of a disciple. The heart of a disciple isn’t satisfied with “receiving” the rabbi, or “accepting” the rabbi, as we say in our common Christian parlance. Instead, if I am a disciple, the realization that my ordinary live-for-myself life is far from the love and desire of a holy God drives me to be so close to the rabbi that I learn how to live like him.

“Walk After Me”

That was Jesus’ call to Matthew to leave his taxing booth and to come and learn how to live by God’s righteousness. “Come and see” he replied to two of John’s followers when they asked him where he was staying. “I will make you a fisher of men,” Jesus told Peter when he called him from his boat. In every instance, Jesus told his would-be disciples to follow him, to be close to him, in order to learn to walk in God’s holiness.

What was Jesus doing when he called these people to follow him? When he called to all, “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” was he issuing a radical call that was totally unheard of before? No, he was doing what Hebrew rabbis and sages had been doing for many years; in fact, what rabbis and sages were supposed to do, which was to “raise up many disciples.” (Pirke Avot 1.1)

The role of a rabbi/sage was to imprint his life on his disciples. According to the very first verse in the Teachings of the Elders (Pirke Avot), creating disciples was one of the three things a rabbi was supposed to do. Rabbis believed it was their religious obligation to live for the glory of God, and to teach their disciples how to do the same.

And what were disciples supposed to do? Learn from their rabbis how to live a life holy and pleasing to God, and then to share this same teaching and life with those around them. This is what I believe that we fail (abominably so!) to do. Today, we teach people that Jesus loves them just as they are, and that he didn’t come to change their way of living. Instead, Jesus came to be their fire escape.

Back in the 1930’s, Richard Niebuhr (Reinholt’s younger brother) described the essence of the liberal Christianity of his day,  in his The Kingdom of God In America:

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

Today’s church goes Niebuhr one better–we invite people to come to an indulgent God who looks out upon his children and chuckles at the playful shenanigans of the little rapscallions. As a church, we today ignore Jesus’ life-encompassing emphasis on the need for discipleship, obedience and devotion to God and His ways.

We want to think about being a King’s Kid, a child of the King. The truth is that kingdom living isn’t beer and skittles. Jesus wasn’t concerned  that we live as “King’s kids”; instead, his concern was that the kingdom advance in the lives of his disciples.

CSL

 

 

“Am I A Disciple?”, part 1

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I understand that in this post, I may come across as getting all church-y and critical; however, if you think of it as merely the quibblings of a grumpy old coot and not a breaking out of whips and cords, maybe we can get through this alright.

Some time ago, a fellow blogger asked his readership for future writing topics and among the replies he received was a suggestion that we need to hear more about who we are in Christ. This reader felt that we need reminding that, as children of the king, we are “supernatural royalty.” And that was the catalyst for this post. Why? Because my basic reaction to that sort of statement is usually an ungentlemanly snort of derision. Continue reading

Are You Where You’re Needed?

As my last post told you, our church is going through a time of grieving and coping, having lost our pastor suddenly. For the past three weeks, Rev. Rob Colwell, the district superintendent of the James River Conference of the VA UMC has been filling the church pulpit and helping the church transition during this interim time, and we have certainly been blessed and helped by his ministry to us.

This past Sunday morning, Rev. Colwell shared a story with us that actually happened to him, and I got his permission to share this story on my blog, so here goes.

One of Rev. Colwell’s ministerial duties was to be an on-call chaplain for a mental institution, and one day, he received a page saying that an inmate wanted to speak to him, personally. Uncomfortable with this aspect of ministry, Colwell went, doing his Christian service as a good Christian minister should.

Continue reading

Unexpected Goodbyes

I attend a Methodist church in the Tidewater region of Virginia, and this past fall, our pastor announced to the congregation that, as she was approaching the mandatory age of retirement in the UMC, she would be retiring from ministry at the end of June, 2018. (This is the traditional time for assigning ministers to congregations in the UMC.)

Of course, she set about accomplishing final tasks and solidifying initiatives that would be her continuing legacy to our church after her retirement–such things as implementing a new, contemporary worship service, strengthening the local anti-poverty organization that she was instrumental in establishing, etc. And she began the months-long task of saying her good-byes to many in the area and in the congregation.

Our church has an e-newsletter, and of course, as pastor, she has a panel in which she writes a small monthly homily or message for subscribers. The February issue was emailed a couple of weeks ago, and this was her message for this month:

PRAYING OUR GOODBYES
No matter what the circumstances, there comes with the act of farewell a feeling of uneasiness. This sense of loss is connected to change. It can be associated with the unknown— of wondering about what is to come. I find myself in a season of farewell now as I prepare to complete a journey as an active clergy after serving over 30 years. This has been a rewarding, fruitful experience as God’s ambassador.

Coupled with the details of the daily operation of the ministry, I find the need to nurture my spirit; and the best way I know for this to happen is in intentional prayer practices. So in the next 182 days, I will be specifically praying for ways of healthy separation. I am asking God to show me the best way through this process of change, and I trust God. In these days ahead, I invite you to join me in praying our goodbyes!

Yesterday, Thursday, after a satisfying and tiring day of work at the church, our pastor made her way back to the parsonage and sat down to rest in her favorite armchair. In the time before her husband came home, our pastor went to be with our Savior, “claiming the resurrection” as we Methodists are wont to say.

Our pastor wrote of feelings of loss and unease, of concern about change. Such is the nature of our impermanent lives. Kermit the Frog said it best in Muppet Christmas Carol: “Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.” He’s only right, isn’t he? But between the meetings and the partings are the joys of fellowship. And knowing God assures us that our partings are only temporary, that there will be a grand meeting one day.

So please keep us in mind, our church, as we find ourselves having to say an unexpected good-bye. And pray that we will be comforted in knowing that the good-bye is only temporary.

CSL

“This Is My Son; Shema!”

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“Shema Yisrael” “Hear O Israel”
~ Deut. 6:4, and the first two words of the greatest commandment, according to Jesus.

These two words are precious to every Jew, everywhere, and should be just as precious to every Christian. Morning and evening, observant Jews recite a prayer/creed/vow called the Shema. Composed of three scripture portions from Deut. and Lev., the Shema is a daily reminder of God and His teaching, and a prayer of commitment to live in obedience to God’s righteous covenant.

We Christians should remember that when Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment”, he answered with this first verse of the Shema. But there is a difference between what a Jew and a Christian understands when they hear “Hear, O Israel”, due to our limited knowledge of Hebrew. (That is, if the Christian even hears the first two words; after all, we tend to edit out things we feel don’t apply to us.)

The English language is a cornucopia, with 400,000-600,00 words. When you look up Hear in a thesaurus, you will discover a multitude of synonyms, most of which deal with aural input into the ear. However, the vocabulary of biblical Hebrew is limited; there are only 8,500 Hebrew words that make up the nearly 500,000 words of the TNK**. Therefore, Hebrew words often have much richer meaning with more implications carried in a word than would be implied in an English word.

Shema is one of these words, and has a wider, deeper meaning when used in the TNK.

Follow Instructions

Years ago, I was in a class were the teacher handed out a page of instructions for the class to follow, as a test. I remember that the first step was “Read the entire set of instructions.” I think the second one was to put your name at the top of the page, and there were different instructions, like numbering your page from 1 to 15, drawing 3 stars on line 9, and several other instructions along that line. The thing was that the last instruction said, “Put your pencil down after doing step 2.”

Most of the students read the first instruction, and then continued on, performing the tasks of each numbered direction as they read further down the list. There were two or three students in the class who put their pencils down and sat in their seats, waiting, while the teacher smiled, and hinted, “Be sure you read the directions closely.” Being one of the eager ones, I kept looking at the kids who were just sitting there, wondering why they weren’t doing the work. It was only when I got to the last line that I understood. This last line read, “Do step #1, then put your pencil down and wait for further instructions.”

They had read the instructions and done what they were supposed to do: read all the instructions, put their names on the paper, and wait. They “listened” and they “obeyed.”

“To Hear Is To Obey”

And that is the fuller meaning of the Hebrew word Shema. Remember that old “to hear is to obey” line from the movies? Yeah, that’s what God, through Moses, is telling the Israelites in Deut. 6.  But the thing is that this same command is given to us today, by our Hebrew Lord. Asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”, He cites the Shema. He wasn’t asked, “What’s the greatest commandment up until now?”, or “What’s the greatest commandment for Jews alone?”. 

No, the greatest commandment for all people begins with Shema, “Hear my words and do them!”, the message of the entire Scriptures.

We Christians think that we know better, that we are under a different covenant by which we don’t have to worry about being obedient all the time; after all, “Pobody’s nerfect,” we tell each other (don’t want to come across as too judgy or self-righteous.) We are under grace now and freed from observances of the Law. We are freed to live in Christian liberty, with freedom to fall down and get back up.

But what is it that God told the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration? “This is my beloved son, hear him.” (Lk. 9:35) (Just a reminder–while Luke wrote his gospel in Greek, God was talking to Hebrew-speaking disciples.) God told Peter, James and John to shema to Jesus. And that word carried the connotation of not just listening, but obeying Him.

“Obey Him? CSL, aren’t you pulling more out of the passage than is actually there? After all, Jesus instituted Christianity, which is based on believing Jesus, not obeying some laws, right?”

No, I’m not going beyond the text, and no, Jesus didn’t institute a new religion. He was a teacher of the religion, the Covenant that He grew up in. In fact, Jesus said that He didn’t come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it, (establish it, in better translations.) When He told the teachers that not the least yodh or kotz (jot and tittle) would pass from the Law before Heaven or earth be destroyed, He was upholding the permanence of God’s law (Mt. 5:18).

So, Hear Him? How?

By being a true disciple, a follower of Jesus in deed, not just word. Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah to demonstrate how religious people can be so…, well, religious, but not be disciples:

… this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
(Isa. 29:13)

I’ve written a series of posts asking why Jesus was a rabbi. The answer is simple: Jesus, as a Jew, as a rabbi, was the complete embodiment of God’s revelation for mankind. At the end of the second chapter of her Sitting At The Feet of Rabbi Jesus, Lois Tverberg writes:

The mission of a rabbi was to become a living example of what it means to apply God’s Word to one’s life. A disciple apprenticed himself to a rabbi because the rabbi had saturated his life with Scripture and had become a true follower of God. The disciple sought to study the text, not only of Scripture but of the rabbi’s life, for it was there that he would learn how to live out the Torah. Even more than acquiring his master’s knowledge, he wanted to acquire his master’s character, his internal grasp of God’s law…. That’s what the rabbi-disciple relationship was all about. From ancient times, God had told his people: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

It’s one thing to want to live a Christian life because you have been convinced of the correctness the precepts and principles of Christianity.  It’s a completely different and separate thing to realize that you are morally lacking and need to acquire the character of Jesus. All too often we reduce Christianity to the acceptance of a set of intellectual propositions when, instead, it is the transformation of a life.

So the answer to the question of what it means to hear Jesus is to seek His character in our daily lives. Just as He lived a life of godly holiness, we shema to Jesus by seeking to follow His life in our lives.

CSL

** Tanakh is the Jewish/Hebrew term for the portion of the Bible that Christians call the Old Testament, Genesis through Malachi. I am going to try to use Tanakh in my articles from now on, because I believe that the term “Old Testament” is a barrier to communication and understanding between Christians and Jews.

“Inherit The Land”?

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Please indulge me as I engage in a mini-rant, as I am really, REALLY, cheesed off! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am reading scads of material on the Jewish context of Christianity, and I just read something that has me…, well, angry, I guess.

I do get that there is a silent anti-Semitism inherent in today’s Christianity that is so ingrained as to be unnoticed because it is so pervasive that it has become part of our faith, unintended though it may be. What we don’t understand is that we have precious little light and, because of this, we have even less reason to make inquiry into how much we know just ain’t so! Continue reading

“Salvation Is Of The Jews”

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In my Why A Rabbi? post, I traced how God’s revelation of himself and His way came through Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Mankind’s history has been the story of gods and idols that need to be appeased, cajoled, or bribed in order to get favorable results in one’s life. In essence, magic, myth, and mysticism have been the spiritual legacy of humanity from, … oh, say, the time of Noah?

Judaism’s difference, and because it is from the same root, Christianity’s difference, is that there is one God who is supreme and who has been revealing Himself to mankind in order to draw fallen people back into fellowship and holy, right living. The Shema begins with “Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4). And unlike the gods of the universe, this God, this LORD who is one, is not only powerful, He cares for his creation. Continue reading

Sow Where You’re Planted

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This past Sunday, our pastor spoke on the Parable of the Sower, and told us the story of the illustration, above. She and a friend, about 13 years ago, created the banner to go along with this parable when she was serving as a district superintendent for the Virginia Conference of the UMC. They purposely left the face unfinished, using it as the hook for the congregations she was visiting, telling them that they should picture the sower with their face, as it is every Christian’s responsibility to sow the Word of God in their situations.

As she was speaking about the parable, and as I was looking this banner, the old adage about growing where you are planted popped into my head. Only, it didn’t come to me as “Grow where you are planted,” but “Sow where you are planted.” Continue reading

Why A Rabbi?: The Silent Years?

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One of the popular topics of speculation in religious circles, both Christian and non-, is “what happened during Jesus’ Silent Years?” Of course, the silent years being the time in Christ’s life between His twelfth birthday and His baptism by John in the Jordan, when He went off into the desert for forty days.

But here’s the deal about those supposed silent years—while the Gospels don’t give us specifics concerning any particular event in the life of Christ prior to ministry, (other than His youthful visit to the Temple), we have enough historical writings to know what His life was like as He grew, and how He was preparing for His public ministry. Continue reading