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Discipleship – #FAIL


 Bible image

One day a ten year old boy came home with a note from his teacher. The note said,

“We are concerned that your child is illiterate. Can we have a parent-teacher conference?”

The next morning before school the mother stormed into the class room, slammed the note down on the teacher’s desk, looked her straight in the eye and said,

“I’ll have you know, I was married two years before little Ricky was born!”

That said, I have to call a spade a spade. The plague of biblical illiteracy is upon us. We must “take arms against a sea of troubles, and thus by opposing, end them.” But as long as we accept them, they will exist and persist.

“Americans revere the Bible – but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” – George Gallup and Jim Castelli

How bad is it? Here is a list of results from various surveys…

  1. Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels
  2. Many professing Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples
  3. 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments
  4. 82 percent of Americans believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible verse
  5. 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife
  6. A survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife
  7. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham

I’ve personally heard the following:

  1. Is Galatians in the Old or New Testament?
  2. Wasn’t Jacob the guy who got swallowed by the whale?
  3. That’s a book of the Bible?
  4. ALL of the disciples were Jewish?

And many more, that I can’t remember at the moment (and some which are too embarrassing to share).

Conclusion: #FAIL

Let’s face the facts: “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.” (A quote by George Barna.) And people like George Barna tend to blame churches, pastors and youth pastors. But is it really their problem? Isn’t the problem the mothers and fathers of the children, who are commissioned to teach their children (read the book of Deuteronomy — Book #5 in the biblical lineup, in case you need help — it’s a constant theme)  the Bible and biblical values? We have not only failed on a personal level by not engaging the biblical record ourselves, but we have failed the generations of our children, grandchildren and all future generations.

Segue…

We have a breakdown in the process of discipleship. In order to be a true Disciple of Yeshua (Jesus), we must imitate him. But in order to imitate him, we must know his life and message. In order to know his life and message, we must understand his teachings. In order to understand his teachings, we must have a very good understanding of the Bible he used: the Tanak (a.k.a. the “The Old Testament.” And in order to properly understand the Tanak, we must first understand God’s initial self-disclosure to humanity found in the Torah (or the “Pentateuch” — Genesis through Deuteronomy).

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr (president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) sums it up quite well by saying:

We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs. The many fronts of Christian compromise in this generation can be directly traced to biblical illiteracy in the pews and the absence of biblical preaching and teaching in our homes and churches.

Again, this requires effort to correct.

“A person wants to become a scholar and a leader overnight, and to sleep that night as well.”
—Rabbi Yaizel of Navorodock

If we expect to be good disciples sheerly by osmosis, we are sorely mistaken. It requires an investment.

Start your investment today, so that you will have dividends you can enjoy tomorrow.

The Parable of the Soils


scattering seedWhile studying FFOZ’s Torah Club volume 4, Chronicles of the Messiah (a year-long, weekly commentary on the Gospels), this morning, I came across a few things I would like to share in regard to Yeshua’s Parable of the Soils. While this is typically known as the Parable of the Sower, I think his emphasis is more on the different types of soils than the sower. The sower and the seed are the same in every instance. It is only the different soils that affect how the seed is received.

First, a word about parables:

‎”Christian readers sometimes misread and misunderstand the parables of the Master because they assume that they contain deeply symbolic, secret, esoteric, mysterious truths. Christian teachers enjoy extracting unanticipated and hidden meanings from the parables of the Master, but such interpretations are ordinarily farfetched and far removed from the simple intended meaning. The rabbis did not use parables as riddles. They used them as illustrations.” 1

We have to be careful in our interpretation of parables in that we don’t want to “over read” them and “super spiritualize” them as was often the case with the church father Origen. Our job is to catch Yeshua’s intended singular portent, and then apply that principle to our lives as his disciples. With this in mind, I would like to give you a list of how Daniel Lancaster interprets the symbolism in this popular parable:

Symbol Meaning
Seed the message of the kingdom, i.e., “Repent, the Messianic Era is at hand”
Path the disciple who cannot receive (or understand) the message
Birds Satan
Rocky Soil the disciple who begins to repent but gives up quickly under pressure
Weedy Soil the disciple who begins to repent but becomes distracted by the business of life and materialism
Good Soil the disciple who obeys, repents, and submits to the kingdom with perseverance
Abundant Crop good deeds, acts of righteousness (mitzvot)
Meaning Only those who obey the message of the kingdom of heaven and persevere in it will endure to produce fruit for the kingdom of heaven.

;

Where has the seed fallen in your life? What kind of crop are you producing?

  1. Chronicles of the Messiah, p. 486.

Balderdash or No?


man covered in dust

Let’s face it. There is a lot of “balderdash” or “urban legends” that circulate, particularly when it comes to religion. It seems there is hardly a week that goes by in which I do not receive some forwarded email from someone thinking they are doing me a favor by sending me an “inspiring” teaching on how the way Jesus folded the “napkin” after his resurrection alluded to his second coming, or how the blood of Jesus literally flowed down from the cross and onto the hidden Ark of the Covenant beneath the Temple Mount to make atonement for us. It’s just that way. Humans have an innate need for sensationalism to validate our paradigm. However, we need to know fact from fiction and need to always check our sources and be prepared to prove our outlandish propositions with evidence, if we make such claims.

This morning I came across a blog post from Lois Tverberg, which she recently posted as a response to another blog post from about a year ago which attempts to debunk the legitimacy of a popular rabbinic concept often used by Messianics in their teachings.

Back in April of last year, Trevin Wax (Managing Editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources) created a list of “urban legends” within Christianity. While the majority of these were great and need addressing, he included one that didn’t quite fit into the “balderdash” category. The concept he challenged was that of being “covered in the dust of your rabbi”, based off of Avot 1:4, which states:

Yosi ben Yoezer of Tzeredah said: Let your house be a meetinghouse for the sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst.

Fortunately, Lois Tverberg and one other brave soul chimed in with a very thorough (but gentle) rebuttle, but seemed to be completely lost in the 211 comments that erupted from Trevin’s post.

I’m not quite sure why Wax thought this to be an urban legend, particularly since it is based squarely on a reliable Jewish text from antiquity, unless he was merely going on the misunderstanding of other misinformed bloggers who only had one desire: to attack Rob Bell and his use of the concept in his teaching (Dust – which I highly recommend). I think the real breakdown in communication came in that of the attackers thinking the more “Hebraic” or “Messianic” interpretation of this mishnah to be literal, rather than idiomatic. They seem to attack the concept of literally caking on dust while following your rabbi, particularly the origin of the phrase, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi” (which is obviously a Rob Bell original).

This, however, is not the point of the mishnah. The point is that as disciples of our Master, we are to allow his teachings and his presence to “rub off” onto us so that we are better equipped to emulate him. We are to be constantly following him, constantly sitting at his feet in order learn from him, constantly looking for ways to imitate him. No, we shouldn’t grab a handful of dust and powder ourselves with it to feign our piety. We should, however, be getting a little dirty because of our concern for following our rabbi being greater than our concern for outward appearance.

Are you walking around squeaky clean, or are you beginning to collect the dust of your Rabbi?


ps. Dr. Tverberg – If you are reading this, I would be more than willing to post a review of your latest book, Walking In The Dust of Rabbi Jesus, if I could get my pauperly hands on one (hint, hint).

Blogs on My Kindle Howto


kindle blog feedIn January, I was blessed with a Kindle Touch for my birthday. Everyone knows how great e-ink readers are for books. However, right now I’m actually more excited about it’s ability to act as an RSS aggregate. What do I mean by that? I mean that it can take any RSS feed (such as a blog, or news stream) and pull it into your Kindle in a very nice, organized and presentable format. I’ve struggled keeping up with multiple blogs over the last several years. I currently subscribe to 27 different blogs (nearly all Messianic) via RSS feed, and they all come into my email Inbox. While this in and of itself is really great, in that I don’t have to go out on the internet and hit each site to find out whether they have posted anything new each day, it can be a little overwhelming and difficult to keep up with even when it’s coming into my Inbox. Now I have a new solution: my Kindle.

If you have a Kindle or any other e-Reader device of your own and would like to know how, I’m about to show you through this tutorial / howto. And although you can’t just turn on your Kindle and click a few buttons, it’s not difficult to get it set up. Not only can you get blogs, but online news sources such as Ha’artz daily, the Jerusalem Post, etc. Here are the steps:

1. First, you need to download a FREE application called Calibre. It comes in 4 flavors: Windows, OS X, Linux and “Portable.” I haven’t tried the “Portable” format, so I’m not sure if that’s cross-platform or what. Anyway, just download the application and add it to your desktop applications. You’ll want to put it somewhere that is easy to access, because you’ll be using it quite a bit.

2. Next, you’ll need to configure Calibre to work with your e-Reader device. Calibre will ask you a few questions to get you set up and then you will be presented with the main page.

Calibre Main Page

Calibre Main Page

3. Now, you will create a new news stream, and start adding links to RSS feeds to it.

3.a. First, click on the “Fetch News” icon on its pull-down menu at the top. If you just click on the icon itself, you will get a window for scheduling your news downloads (we will discuss this in a moment). For now, you will want to use the pull-down menu and select “Add a custom news source.”

Calibre - Adding a Custom News Source

Calibre - Adding a Custom News Source

3.b. Now, you will name your news stream, in this case I called mine “Blogs” because it would contain all of my feeds from the various blogs to which I subscribe. You will enter this in the “Recipe title” box at the top.

3.c. Now, toward the bottom in the “Feed title” area you will enter the title of the blog, or something to let you know which blog you are seeing. To set up my blog, you would probably enter “Digging with Darren.”

3.d. Next, you will enter the url to the RSS feed. These can be tricky to find these days for some reason. However, any good blog site should have it in a fairly obvious location. You will either see a link marked “feed” or “rss” or more often, you will see an RSS feed icon (which looks something like this: rss-icon). You can either Command-Click (Mac) or right-click (PC) and copy the url / link location directly from this. My RSS feed location (I use Feedburner) is: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/DiggingWithDarren. (Make sure you don’t copy the “.” at the end if you copy it from here.) You will now paste this into the “Feed url” box.

3.e. Finally, you will click the “Add feed” button at the bottom and this will add the feed to your blog feeds.

Don’t stop here! You have two more important steps!

This is only your first blog feed. You will want to repeat steps 3.c – 3.e. with each blog to which you wish to subscribe. When you are finished, you will need to do the following:

4. Click on the flashing “Add / Update recipe” button on the left in order to save your “recipe” (your news stream). If you would like to add more blogs to your “recipe” in the future, you will need to select the recipe first, before you start adding blogs, or you will be creating an entirely new stream for each one (I did this before I understood how it worked). From there you will click the “Close” button in the lower-right. It will ask for a confirmation, which you will need to approve.

5. Lastly, you will need to schedule when you would like Calibre to pull down new files from the internet. I have scheduled this to happen daily around 6:00am. You will do this by clicking on the “Fetch News” icon at the top of your main window. It will open a new window in which you will see a list of all of the potential news streams that Calibre has pre-configured, plus your custom blog stream, which is in the “Custom” list at the top. You will click on the arrow to the left of “Custom” to reveal your blog stream. Then you will click on its title (‘Blogs”). Calibre will then show you a list of scheduling options. You will select the options you desire, and then save.

Calibre - Scheduling

Calibre - Scheduling

Now, if Calibre is running, each time you connect your e-Reader devise to your computer it will sync with Calibre and download any new articles if they are available and have been downloaded. I would love to get some feedback and to know if any of you take advantage of this.

Honey, Vinegar & Athlete’s Tongue


honeycomb

One of my most fond childhood memories is eating fresh pecans with my grandparents. It seems like that always had fresh pecans. It was because, until recently, they had multiple pecan trees in their small, suburban yard. I remember the excitement & anticipation as we cracked open the pecans and dug out the treasure inside and hurriedly popped the “meat” into our mouths as fast as we could. Sometimes, however, in our rush we would fail to remove all of the bitter encasing of the nut, and our faces would turn sour. If you haven’t had that experience, it is one of the most awful tastes you will experience. It’s something you will not forget quickly.

As I was reading another blog post yesterday, I had a similar sensation. The article was well-written and very informed. Yet, when I began reading the comments, I felt my mouth becoming increasingly bitter. It was like getting another bite of those pecans, which we had not taken the time to clean thoroughly.

One great philosopher & theologian once said, “Man who stick foot in mouth repeatedly get athlete’s tongue.” While I say that with humor, the essence is true. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). Yes, we all make an occasional mistake and speak things that we regret later. However, if we repeatedly speak in ways that are cynical, exaggerated, belittling or boastful, we will eventually become the product of our own fruit. We, ourselves, will become a cynical, arrogant fool before we realize it. Paul said, “a little leaven leavens the entire lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6). It creeps up on you before you realize it.

Open Mouth – Insert Foot: Guilty As Charged

This is especially true for those of us in the Messianic Restoration. We can’t help it. When we finally understand the implications that Jesus (nor his disciples for that matter) did not come to establish a new religion called “Christianity,” but sought to reform the biblical religion of Judaism as the long awaited Jewish Messiah and all of the implications that come along with that — when we finally “get it” — it’s like someone has finally pulled out the box top of the puzzle we have been working on for all of these many years and waived it in front of us just long enough to get a glimpse of our goal. And from there, we frantically start throwing the pieces of the puzzle together and make more progress in one hour than we have in the last five years of looking at it and scratching our heads.

It’s not like we have a perfect snapshot of the entire, finished puzzle. However, we at least know that the pieces we were using for the grass actually belong in the trees, or vice versa, and have somewhat of an idea of how this hodgepodge of pieces was intended to be arranged. It’s just natural to start telling people that their pieces don’t fit together and don’t look anything like the box lid.

But I think there is a better way. I think that we need to work on our own section of the puzzle without having to re-arrange anyone else’s pieces. And when people see the beauty of how the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together in our lives, they can’t help but to take notice and begin wondering why their section of the puzzle is disjointed and filled with mismatched pieces, and begin to ask questions that may help guide their decisions on how they connect the pieces they have been given. Jesus said it this way, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). St. Francis of Assisi paraphrased this by saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”

In regard to our saying “too much,” Hillel says, “do not make a statement that cannot be easily understood, on the ground that it will be understood eventually.” (Avot 2:5) Rabbi Abraham Twerski, in his commentary on Pirkei Avos, sums this up in effect by saying, “Don’t say anything to anyone they are not ready to hear.”

So… Through much personal failure, I have learned that silence is golden, until I know I have a receptive soul. It has kept me from “dumping” on people and pushing them away. It has actually, made people come to me asking to know more about my faith and practice.

I Can’t Hear You When You’re Shouting

Personally, I think the Messianic Restoration is a powder keg near a hot flame. I think that all the world is waiting on is for Messianic believers to really start living out our faith (i.e. majoring on the majors, and minoring on the minors), and there will be a major spiritual revolution that will sweep across our land. But the world will never see that until we prove that we are genuine disciples of the Master through our love for one another (John 13:35), rather than our castigations of one another. And if you disagree with someone and would like to persuade them toward your line of reasoning, there are better ways to do it than berating them.

The old saying that “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is true. I really have no idea whether it is true in the sense of literal flies, but I know it to be true in its analogy to human nature. It has proven itself time and again. Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) said it this way, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

If there is one lesson I have learned from people like Boaz Michael (“still learning” is actually a better description) is to be gracious with others, respect others, listen to others, and love those who don’t agree with you.

The Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, one of the gadolim (great ones) of Judaism, clung to the passage in Psalm 34 which says, “What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:12-14). It became the hallmark of his life and his life’s work, and eventually became his namesake as the Chofetz Chaim, the “Desire of Life.”

James, the brother of our Master, gives us this analogy:

“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:2-12)

The Greatest of These

The bottom line is that “people really don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Our love and good deeds (the actual living out of the mitzvot — “commandments”) will speak more than anything we could ever say in trying to convince anyone of the how we see things. It is our fruit that people see, rather than our roots. And if our fruit is rotten, what appeal is there in that?

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

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