3/14/09

"Pray without Ceasing"

Recently I was reading a very good book entitled Our Father, Abraham by Marvin Wilson. He made this comment about Prayer in the life of a Jew.


"Prayer is the means by which Jews – both ancient and modern – have stayed attuned to the concept that all of life is sacred. Jewish prayers ten to be short because the entire working day of an observant Jew is punctuated with sentence prayers. More than one hundred of these bera-khot, “blessings,” are recited throughout the day (cf. Mishnah, Berakhot 9:1-5). They customarily begin, Barukh attah adonai, “Blessed are you, O LORD,” As King and Creator of the universe, God’s presence is acknowledged at all times and in every sphere of activity within his world. Moses commanded the Isrealites to bless the Lord for his goodness (Deut. 8:10). Building on this and other texts, the rabbis taught, “It is forbidden to a man to enjoy anything of this world without a benediction, he commits sacrilege” (Babylonia Talmud, Berakhot 35a). Hence a Jew recites a prayer upon hearing bad news and good news, when smelling fragrant plants, and when eating food or drinking wine. A jew offers a prayer in the presence of strangely formed persons, such as giants or dwarfs. A Jew is even instructed to offer a prayer (several times a day) to bless God that one is able to urinate. The prayer reads: “Blessed is He who has formed man in wisdom and created in him many orifices and many cavities. It is fully known before the throne of Thy glory that if one of them should be [improperly] opened or one of them closed it would be impossible for a man to stand before Thee” (Babylonia Talmud, Berakhot 60b).
It is, therefore, not pure facetiousness when, in Fiddler on the Roof, the rabbi is asked, “Is there a blessing for the Tsar?” , and again, “Is there a blessing [i.e., to God] for a sewing machine?” These Jews, in their Russian village, are reflecting the ancient Hebraic belief that everything is theological. This is the way one stays in touch with the Almighty and keeps a divine perspective on life. It means constantly praising God for all things, with sentence prayers, throughout the day. Abraham Heschel poignantly describes this Jewish mind-set as follows: “Saintliness was not thought to consist in specific acts, such as excessive prayer . . . but was an attitude bound up with all actions, concomitant with all doings, accompanying and shaping all life’s activities.” Indeed, today’s Christians will fail to grasp Paul’s admonition to “Pray without ceasing,” that is, “Pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17), unless they understand that a main feature of Jewish prayer is its pervasiveness. (157-8)."


Understood in this context prayer is simply not a matter of clasping the hands and bowing the knee. Prayer is a constant realization that everything come from the LORD no matter how mundane.

2/19/09

Bringing Together the Best of Culture






The incredible revelation of God in the face of our Lord made me think of an interesting interpretation I once heard of the 2 Corinthians 4:6 passage. It has to do with the cultural context out of which the Apostle Paul was writing. Paul was a Hebrew by birth, living in a Greek city, of Roman citizenship. The major pursuit of the Hebrew mind was the pursuit of Light as an ideal (The Lord is my light and salvation - Psalm 27:1). A major focus of Greek culture was the quest for knowledge (gnosis). This was central to Greek philosophy and learning. The sine quo non of Roman aspiration was found in the attainment of glory. All roads lead to Rome, the city that was not built in a day. Jesus Christ is the quintessence of Hebrew, Greek, and Roman culture. Paul takes the major pursuit of each and shows how in the face of Jesus each of these quests finds its perfect fulfillment. Apart from Jesus Hebrew revelation is going nowhere, Greek Philosophy is empty speculation (see Acts 17:23; Colossians 2:8), and Roman law has no foundation. In many ways the United States is a synthesis of Hebrew Revelation, Greek Philosophy, and Roman law. Ultimately we look to a person and not an idea to provide a cohesive life philosophy.

1/18/09

The Strong Man, The Disciplined Man


"Too often the moral downfall of men is blamed on some failure in their wives. That is a cowardly evasion of moral responsiblity. The man of disciplined character does not have to have a warm, responsive wife, who caters to his every impulse, to keep him in the path of virtue. He keeps himself, by the grace of God. If his relationship with his wife is happy. he is grateful; if it is not, he simply appropriates more grace, and demonstrates the man that he is. A weak man is a poor risk no matter how warm is his wife; a strong man will keep himself pure even if it means total abstinence the rest of his life. And it must emphatically be affirmed that this is not just a matter of being "made that way" or natural temperament; it is a matter of achieving complete subordination."


The Disciplined Life by Richard S. Taylor (pg. 28)

1/4/09

How God Relates Inversely

Excerpt from Provocations: Spiritual writings of Kierkegaard


"At the time when there were no churches and the Christians gathered together in catacombs as refugees and lawbreakers, God was close. Then came the churches, so many churches, such great, splendid churches and to the same degree God was distanced. For God's nearness is inversely related to externals, and this ascending scale (churches, many churches, splendid churches) is an increse in the sphere of appearance. Before Christianity became a doctrine, when it was only one or two affirmations expressed in one's life, God was closer. An with every increase and embellishment or doctrine, with every increase of "success," God was distanced. When there were no clergy and the Christians were all brothers, God was closer than when clergymen, many clergymen, a powerful ecclesiastical order, came into being. For clergymen are an increase in appearance, and God always relates inversely to outward show.

This is how Christendom has step by step by step become so distant from God. Christianity's history is one of alienation from God through the gradual strengthening of appearance. Or it might be said Christianity's history is one of the progressive removal of God - tactfully and polietly by building churches and monumental buildings, by a monstrous doctrinal system, with an incalculable host of preachers and professors. Established Christianity is about as far away from God as one can possibly get." (Page. 187,188)

12/26/08

... being a man, make Yourself out to be God.

Jesus during the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22-42)


It was winter in Jerusalem and Jesus was walking in the Temple during Chanukah. The Jewish Leaders had gathered around Him to ply Him with questions. One Rabbi said, If You are the Moshiach, tell us plainly? Of course this question was dishonest. They had already made up their minds concerning Jesus. Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still. Jesus than tell them about the nature of His sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish (John 10:27,28). The same nation the Prophet Ezekiel once declared: As for you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are men, and I am your God, declares the Lord God (Ez. 34:31). From Jesus point of view these religious leaders were not truly following Torah (see Romans 9:6). Jesus than makes one of the most incredible statements of his entire ministry on earth: I and the Father are one. Sort of a Christological Shema. The leaders clearly understood the import of this proclamation. They claimed that Jesus is claiming to be God. That was precisely His point. The charge of blasphemy was most heinous. If Jesus was not God than He would have immediately rebuked the religious leaders for such an appellation. God is not a man, that He should lie (Num. 23:19a) so wrote Moses. The Temple leaders than pick up stones in a vain attempt to destroy Jesus before his hour has come.




I was thinking about Chanukah (Feast of Dedication) and how Jesus revealed his deity during this feast. It was about two hundred years earlier that Antiochus IV had erected a statue of the Greek God, Zeus inside the sacred precincts of the Temple. This abominable act prompted the Jews to rise up and overthrow their Greek oppressors. I can not help but think that the religious leaders of the day must of had this story in their minds when dealing the Jesus. Here was another 'god' in the Temple setting Himself up as divine in our most sacred place. Stoning was a fitting punishment. Nevertheless, the stone do not leave the hands and Jesus once again confounds them with is answers. Therefore, they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp (John 10:39). He eluded their grasp physically, and more importantly, spiritually.



Zeus is as dead at the stone used to represent him. Jesus continues to live in Heaven and in the hearts and minds of millions. Shalom



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This Momentary Light Affliction ...

I recently read the following commentary from the Artscroll "Tehillim" (Psalms):


" Dorash Moshe elaborates on this theme (Psalm 43:23 - Because for your sake we are killed all day long we are considered as sheep for slaughter.) by citing the Talmud's description of the heroic death of Rabbi Akiva. As the Romans tore at his flesh with iron combs, Rabbi Akiva calmly recited the Shema. His disciples were amazed by his fortitude, but Rabbi Akiva attempted to minimize his heroic accomplishment. He explained, 'All of the days of my life I recited the credo And you shall love Hashem your God will all your heart and all your soul, but I was grieved that I was never given the opportunity to fulfill this commitment. Now that the opportunity has finally arrived should I not fulfill it (joyously)'?

The Shaloh Hakodosh reveals the profundity of Rabbi Akiva's statement. When reciting the words, With all you soul, one should imagine the excruciating pain experienced whey dying and try to feel the torment of an agonizing execution. If one conditions himself in such a manner all the days of his life, then when he is actually confronted with the need to submit to a violent death for God's sake, he will be so accustomed to the pain that it will hardly affect him (Vol. 1, pg. 556)."


The Apostle Paul uses this text (Ps. 44:22; Rom. 8:36) to describe the incredible love that the Father has bestowed on those who place their trust in Yeshua. If God gave his most prized possession, His Son, for us will He not give us that which is nothing in comparison. For as he says eariler, the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18). As Paul says elsewhere, momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17). When we finally depart this mortal coil all the stuggles, all the trials, all the doubts will melt away and seem like rubbish. They will all be forgotten when we behold him panim el panim (face to face).

12/22/08

Take up the Cross ... Daily


"And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life because of me will find it (Matt. 10:38,39)."

It was Bonhoeffer who said, "When Christ calls a man He bids him come and die." What a frightening proposition. It would be the same as saying 'take up your electric chair' 'take up your guillotine 'take up your noose.' We must bear the very instrument of our execution. Execution of self is a life-long death.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit (John 12:24)."