Yom Kippur – Renewal

It has been three and a half years since my last post.  I’m not sure how that happened so quickly.  I have mindlessly renewed my WordPress and domain account each year thinking to myself that I would start typing again.  Each year, when I sat down to contemplate what to write, I remembered how inadequate I felt to write anything of value especially if compared to those that provide content confidently claiming to be right.  The one thing I confidently know about myself is that the more I learn, the more I realize I cannot confidently claim I am right.  I believe I am on the right track, but my track is a path on a journey meandering towards the destination of an intimately close relationship with Yehova.  My “right track” is not a paved road encircling my castle of knowledge and wisdom.

Not much has changed.  I still feel inadequate and ill-equipped to write anything with real value to wandering eyes that may happen upon this site.  I am typing this on or about Yom Kippur.  “On or about” meaning it depends on which calendar you follow, which moon report you read, and where you are on the globe.  I won’t chase that rabbit trail today, but the complication of that sentence will likely resonate with someone other than me.  Yom Kippur being THE day of atonement, I find it fitting to use this time to consider renewing my online ramblings.  More for myself than anyone else.  This is a virtual place I can work through my thoughts, studies, findings, and overall ramblings.  Of course, Yom Kippur is also supposed to be a sabbath day of solemn rest.  Is typing here breaking that command?  Is this work?  I suppose it depends, but that is another rabbit trail.

Setting aside the controversy of whether today, tomorrow, or the next day is Yom Kippur or whether typing here is breaking the rules of sabbath, I find it fitting to use today as a day to renew my commitment.   The original intent of this day, as described in Leviticus 16 was to recognize Israel’s sins, offer a sin sacrifice, and for Yehova to provide atonement, thus renewing the relationship.  Couldn’t that be the best description of a renewal and re-dedication to Yehova?  In no way do I find this blog as a renewal or re-dedication to Yehova.  That is between me and my God in a very intimate way.  However, this blog is a method for me to process my thoughts and studies.  I work through a lot here.  I use a handful of formal and informal online resources I have found and have wondered in a humble way if anyone could benefit from my own ramblings.  Perhaps it is egocentric to believe that others may find value in my layman’s words.  Or perhaps to someone it may be reassuring to know that there is another human in the world that doesn’t have it all together in a polished package, assuming to know the answers definitively.

I spent time last night and will spend time today working through some repentance with Yehova.  I have already spent some time reading scripture and plan to do more.  I took today as a personal day away from employment and plan to spend the day in a restful state in and out of studies, prayers, a visit to my grandfather in the nursing home, and spending time with my wife.  I started my evening last night with a fast, which I will keep through today until after sunset.  You may wonder why am I typing all of that?  Is it to prove my commitment?  Is it to appear righteous or better than anyone else? On the contrary.  For me, I see those things as a mere token of respect towards my creator, based on his request to me.  I don’t expect Him to be disappointed or disapproving towards me if I am on the wrong day, missed a step, or somehow “did it wrong.”

To be honest, I try to approach the biblical holidays with respect and humility.  I try to remember to ask for mercy if I have the day or details wrong.   I try to remember to approach Yehova with a humble heart.  I approach Him assuming I have details wrong because of my lack of understanding.  I wasn’t standing in the desert 4,000 years ago to hear His voice or to hear Moses teach.  I don’t have the luxury of understanding Hebrew, let alone the vernacular and idiosyncrasies of the language at the time the words were spoken and written.  I do believe that, based on Deuteronomy 31:7-13, the Torah was written and spoken in such a way that a young child hearing it for the first time in seven years would understand enough.  That is enough evidence to me, that should I misunderstand, as long as I fear and respect Yehova, seeking mercy and humility for accidental mistakes in how I live out the Torah, He will love me and honor my attempt.

Today, I type this with a renewed commitment to process my thoughts online in hopes that it will honor Yehova.  My hope is that by typing here, it may organize my thoughts and allow me to workout challenging lessons.

God even helps the overwhelmed

Say therefore to the people of Israel, “I am the Lord , and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord .” 

Exodus 6:6-8 (ESV)

I wonder if there is another place in scripture in which God declares more authority or provides more assurance in such a short passage.

I am the Lord”
I will bring you out from under the burdens”
I will deliver you from slavery”
I will redeem you”
I will take you to be my people”
I will be your God”
I am the Lord your God”
I will bring you into the land”
I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob”
I will give it to you”
I am the Lord”

In order to identify what prompted this kind of declaration from God, we need to back track a few chapters.

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. 

Exodus 2:23-25 (ESV)

So often I read scripture and don’t slow down enough to really let the depth of the message sink in.  “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant.”  The descendants of Jacob moved to Egypt in the first place because of a widespread famine.  God put Joseph in a position to be second in command under Pharaoh, giving him the vision to foresee a famine, the wisdom to help Egypt prepare for it, and the power to enact a plan.  In doing so, his brothers and family were able to move to Egypt and be spared from the famine.  God saved the family.

Fast forward approximately 400 years and those descendants have multiplied into the millions, been imposed tax penalties so heavy that they are enslaved by Pharaoh, are distraught, desperate, and crying out to the God of their patriarchal forefathers for relief.

In reading these first few chapters of Exodus, the story is so condensed that the weight of circumstances is easy to miss.  Israel is not yet a nation, but considered a people by God (2:25).  We know that these people are enslaved for approximately 400 years.  I imagine, although not recorded in scripture, they had been hoping and probably praying for deliverance for quite some time.  If not all of them, at least a remnant, and eventually the cries become strong enough that God takes notice.

Consider that for a moment.  How often do we pray for something and get discouraged?   Can you imagine 400 years of prayers going unanswered?  How dedicated must these people have been to not only remember a God that was silent for 400 years (or at least it appears he was silent in scripture), but also to pass a prayer down from one generation to the next for a handful of generations?  Surely after 400 years, when they finally hear an answer they must have been elated.

Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

Exodus 6:9 (ESV)

They did not listen.”  What? At this point, my inclination is to be critical and judgmental of their response or lack thereof.  They cried out to God, who sent a message through Moses, proclaiming his promises and his identity with definite authority.  Their response should have been a giant collective sigh of relief.  Instead their response was to not believe.  The very thing they cried out for relief from, overwhelmed them so much they didn’t hear the response.  They were broken, yet he didn’t hold their lack of faith against them and turn his back.  He set out to prove who he was to Pharaoh, also proving himself to his people, and ultimately made good on his promise by delivering them out of Egypt.

Slowing down to read this and attempting to grasp the details caused me to reflect on my own relationship with God.  Do I seek his help diligently?  When I do seek his help do I listen for a response?  Do I recognize the response when it comes?

What really inspired me to think differently was the idea that God did not hold it against them that they asked for help, then were so overwhelmed they didn’t believe when help was sent.  Sometimes we may get so overwhelmed by our circumstances that we forget God can help or we become blind to the help he sends.  Our own overwhelmed state of mind doesn’t stop God from making good on his promises.

Galatians – Part 3 – Confrontation with Cephas (Peter)

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

Galatians 2:11 (ESV)

I can not help but read this verse and wish Paul and Cephas were available for further questions.  I definitely wish there was a corresponding account of this anywhere else in the New Testament, preferably from Peter to hear another perspective.  Unfortunately, we just don’t get another side of this story, so we have to do the best we can to decipher it from where we sit today.

Up to this point, within his letter to the Galatians, Paul has recalled his testimony including his interaction in Jerusalem with the beit din of James, Cephas, and John.  Paul has assured his readers that he was given the “right hand of fellowship,” to continue his ministry.  In simplest terms, Paul is telling the readers that the authoritative beit din in Jerusalem has agreed with his teaching.  In typical rabbinical format, Paul provided a testimony, his credentials or under what authority he can teach (beit din approval), and is now going to give a story to start his teaching.

For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.

Galations 2:12 (ESV)

In my opinion, this verse is skipped over all too quickly when evaluating this passage.  By stopping to evaluate and absorb what Paul wrote, the rest of his story regarding Cephas is much easier to explain and there is no need to guess or infer meaning to the passage.

Jewish sages and rabbis had developed laws or instructions in addition to the Torah (Laws of Moses).  These are referred to as “fence laws.”  The idea was that by developing additional laws, it created a barrier or fence around the Torah.  If one were to break one of these additional laws the original, God-given law would still be protected.  We see evidence of this issue throughout scripture.

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Mark 7:5-8 (ESV)

These Pharisee leaders were bothered that Yeshua’s disciples were not following the fence laws.  While there is nothing directly wrong with these additional laws, the problem is that these Pharisee leaders, considered the “traditions of the elders” as important as the God’s laws.  Yeshua actually referred to a passage in Isaiah 29.

And the Lord said: “Because 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,”

Isaiah 29:13 (ESV)

The full passage in Isaiah deserves an entire lesson by itself, but the leaders that Yeshua was talking to, knew exactly what was prophesied by Isaiah and would have understood the point, which was to not elevate the teaching, instructions, or commandments of men to an equal or higher standard than the teachings of instructions from God.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.

Ephesians 2:14-15 (ESV)

Many use this verse to focus on the “One New Man” concept, which I am not going to get into in this study.  What I want to draw attention to is Paul’s use of the phrase, “abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.”  Paul is not referring to the Torah.  In this instance, Paul is discussing the man-made ordinance regarding Jews and Gentiles in worship.  There was typically a wall, curtain, or some kind of physical separation in synagogues designed to segregate Jews from non-Jews.

This is the crux of Paul’s message, which I’m going to delve into much deeper as I get further into the letter to Galatians.  To simplify for now, Paul was working to break down the barrier that had been built, not just physically but a psychological barrier of prejudice that Jews were saved and Gentiles were not.  Jews had developed a mentality and teaching that the only ticket to salvation was to be Jewish or to convert through Jewish ritual circumcision.

For there are many rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others. This is especially true of those who insist on circumcision for salvation.

Titus 1:10 (NLT)

Paul’s message in this letter was not to abolish the need to follow the Torah.  His message in this letter was to abolish the man-made teaching that Jewish conversion was the only path to salvation.  Jewish conversion was commonly referred to circumcision within Paul’s writing.

But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 

Galatians 2:3 (ESV)

The specific point that Paul made was that circumcision or Jewish conversion was not necessary for salvation.  This point will be made more evident as I dig through the letter to the Galatians.

How does this apply to the topic at hand regarding Paul’s dramatic account of his confrontation with Cephas?

For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.

Galatians 2:12 (ESV)

Paul’s accusation was that Cephas had no problem eating with the Gentiles until the circumcision party came for a visit.  The “circumcision party” was a group or sect of Judaism, at the time, that believed salvation was only attained by being circumcised as God commanded Abraham in Genesis chapter 17.  Paul’s position was that salvation was attained by Abraham before he was circumcised, which he will mention later in this letter.

What was so significant about Cephas eating with Gentiles?  Why would he not want to be caught? This was an ordinance of man, tradition of the elders, or a fence law.  The dietary instructions in the Torah are very specific.  There are also specific guidelines that must be kept in order to be considered ritually clean.  At that time, because these instructions and guidelines were not adhered to by a typical Gentile, Jews feared that they would become ritually unclean or defiled by unknowingly coming in contact with a Gentile that was unclean.  Therefore a fence law was established that Jews could not enter a Gentile’s house or eat with Gentiles.  These segregation laws were established to protect a Jew from unknowingly becoming unclean.  Take the time to read Acts 10:1 – 11:18.  Peter is under fire from the circumcision party because he went to visit a Gentile home.  He defends himself and interprets a vision he had that God tells him “What God as made clean, do not call common.”  Contrary to some popular beliefs, this vision is not about food, it is about Jews considering Gentiles unclean or common.  Peter defends himself in Acts 11 and in verse 18 said, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Peter has already dealt with this issue and defended himself on the issue, yet he still feared retribution from leadership.

The entire basis of Paul’s confrontation with Cephas is to set aside this man-made law to exclude Gentiles from fellowship and ultimately salvation.  Paul’s argument was consistent with Peter’s defense in Acts 11, which was (is) to include Gentiles into fellowship, as God includes them into salvation without requiring Jewish circumcision.

Paul continues his argument with Peter, but I’m going to split that into another post, as this has already become a lengthy post in itself.

Final footnote: The English Standard Version places quotation marks at the end of verse 14, ending Paul’s conversation with Peter.  Other major translations place the quotation marks at the end of verse 21.  Upon reading carefully, Paul’s use of “we” and “our” in verses 15, 16 and 17, in reference to Jews, it does appear that he is still talking to Peter.  Although the placement of the quotation marks may seem insignificant, it is a valid point to make when evaluating this particular passage.  I disagree with the ESV’s placement of the quotation marks and agree with the other translations, placing the end of the conversation after verse 21.

Does Church Meet Your Needs?

John is every pastor’s dream member. He’s a life-long believer, well-studied in the Bible, gives generously and leads others passionately.

But last year he dropped out of church. He didn’t switch to the other church down the road. He dropped out completely. His departure wasn’t the result of an ugly encounter with a staff person or another member. It wasn’t triggered by any single event.

John had come to a long-considered, thoughtful decision. He said, “I’m just done. I’m done with church.”

The Rise of the ‘Done With Church’ Population
Tom Schultz
ChurchLeaders.com

This article was recently posted on FaceBook with the question, “Any thoughts?”  That simple question spawned a comment battle that was unexpected by the person who posted it.  When I saw the question and article, I knew immediately that it would ruffle some feathers.  I was ready for the popcorn and of course, I couldn’t help but put my 10 cents into the mix (that’s giving my 2 cents more than once).

I was disappointed there weren’t more comments that seemed relevant to the contents of the article.  There were comments from some that understood the article to mean people were leaving church because they had their priorities wrong, had a bad experience with church, or were just letting go of their commitment to God.  If you didn’t read the article, I’d highly suggest you do before reading any further.  It will take you 60 seconds to read the article.

At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among the most dedicated and active people in their congregations. To an increasing degree, the church is losing its best.

-ibid

There’s the crux of the issue.  Dedicated attenders, having a deep relationship with God, are losing interest with the typical church experience.  This could be from a variety of reasons.  The article mentions that one reason is this group feels bored with the same routine.  Why not change churches?  If you’ve ever changed churches, you know that the typical church is considered typical for a reason.  Brief greetings trying to catch up since 7 days ago, 2 or three songs, greet your neighbor, couple more songs, announcements, offering, sermon, song, cordial good byes.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I believe the challenge lies not with the format of church, but the content.  The one-sized fits all message just doesn’t appeal to everyone occupying a seat.  At times it is hard to blame the pastor.  I am confident that the majority of church pastors are doing their best to provide an inspiring message teaching a thing or two.  For the majority of attenders, this isn’t an issue.  In fact, it is exactly what they need to stay connected.

The article is discussing those that aren’t fulfilled by the above recipe.  The article is discussing a group of people emerging that want more.  We want depth.  We want discussion.  We don’t expect to always agree.  In fact, we almost look forward to disagreeing just so we can learn more.  We want to take scripture apart to the point it is almost uncomfortable because it stretches our mind to think beyond a feel good life application sermon, but instead a historical lesson that takes us back two or three thousand years to understand why that particular message was so significant to the audience at the time.

But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.

Daniel 12:4 (ESV)

I’m not going to engage in a debate as to whether this passage only applies to people seeking knowledge during the tribulation period or not.  That seems to be a popular Christian commentary theme.  The point is that this prophecy from Daniel points to the idea that people will begin to seek more knowledge and deeper understanding of God.

If the article is accurate, which I believe it to be, how do churches keep up with this phenomenon?  Perhaps the answer is to support this hunger for knowledge?  Why not encourage bible studies within the church walls, even if only 3-5 people are interested?  Allow and encourage attenders to engage and dig and seek and search.  Establish some basic boundaries to ensure the discussions remain respectful.

The reality is that people are seeking more and evidently enough are not finding what they need so leaving their churches.  Not because they have lost their relationship with God, but because they want it to be deeper.  Why not encourage encourage the search instead of ignore it?

Offer the birthday boy a gift this Christmas

I had an interesting thought a few days ago.  I was considering the meaning of Christmas and contemplating whether it is an appropriate holiday to celebrate.  It seems that, as a Christian, it is a no-brainer to celebrate Christmas.  After all, it is the traditional celebration of Jesus’ birthday, right?

Yet, as someone who doesn’t quite fit into the traditional Christian mold, I find myself questioning a lot more than probably the typical church goer.  That doesn’t mean I am better.  It just means I am different and I approach my relationship with God differently than most people who I attend church with.  I observe the Sabbath, the biblical festivals, dietary guidelines, and attempt view the bible through the lens of understanding that Yeshua was fully Jewish and practiced Judaism whole heartedly, as did the apostles.

The interwebs are full of polarizing arguments about Christmas.  Is it a Pagan holiday?  Is it scriptural? Should we celebrate man-made traditions or holidays?  Are we giving in to commercialism?  A blogger I follow wrote an excellent piece recently entitled, Christmas is Coming! Don’t Panic!

I would be a hypocrite if I used the argument that Christmas isn’t in the bible.  Neither are cars, TVs, or Independence Day, yet I acknowledge all three and more.  For that matter, Hanukkah is not considered one of God’s holidays, even though it is noted in the gospel of John, chapter 10 that Yeshua observed.  So, using the argument that Christmas isn’t a biblical holiday is not an option for me since my family will light five Hanukkah candles tonight.

It occurred to me that the intended meaning of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of our messiah, Yeshua.  Not that this has never occurred to me, but I recently had a vision from a different angle.  I envisioned a birthday party with signs saying, “Happy Birthday Terry!”  Several friends and family mingling around talking about me and the contributions I’ve made to this world.  We all sit down for a wonderful meal together, and afterwards we meander to a room full of beautifully wrapped gifts.  As I stare at the pile of gifts, with wide eyes, I watch in amazement as they are passed around the room out to all of the guests, and I stand empty-handed.  The gifts are all opened and the guests are thanking each other, happy, and excited to show off their new wares.  I now sit, looking around, still empty-handed, wondering what just happened.

That kind of birthday party seems completely ridiculous.  Yet it is exactly what we do on the day that we are supposed to celebrate the birth of the most important person in our lives.  So how do we change this?  It’s not like we can walk into a department store, purchase a gift for Yeshua, wrap it up and present it as a birthday gift.  What do you buy the Messiah, who has access to the whole world at his finger tips?  It’s not like he’s really excited to get his hands on the latest CD, gadget, or video game.

Perhaps it is a lot easier than we think.  After all, Yeshua told us exactly how to shop for him, didn’t he?

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:40 (ESV)

The answer is so simple.  When we do anything for the least of these, we are serving him.

Occasionally I find myself at the grocery store or gas station witnessing someone who can’t fully pay their bill or someone behind me that by appearances, seems to be more needy than I.  On a handful of occasions I have succumbed to the tug inside of me and stepped forward to help pay the bill or perhaps leave money with the cashier to help the unsuspecting person behind me.  I don’t consider this a significant gesture, nor do I think it is in any way inconveniencing me or my bank account.  I typically do not give much thought afterwards to what I’ve done, and if I share the story at all, it is typically only with my wife.

This Christmas season, consider giving gifts to the birthday boy.  Find an anonymous way to provide for someone else, even in a small way.  Volunteer at the soup kitchen.  Buy a present for the community Christmas tree.  Drop a bag of food at the food shelf.  Anonymously leave a bag of groceries on someone’s doorstep. Invite someone alone to your family holiday dinner.

Find a way to make the least feel like they matter and you will be blessed.

Count the cost

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Luke 14:26-33 (ESV)

Did Yeshua really tell us we must hate our family?  I’m not going to spend much time answering that question.  If one were to read earlier, Yeshua had just taught using the parable of the wedding feast.  The point of that message is that some that are invited are unwilling to prioritize their responsibilities in order to attend the wedding.  Of course, a metaphor referencing that some will be invited to the Kingdom, but will be unwilling to put God as their priority.  This lesson of counting the cost is merely a continuation of that parable, driving the point home.

In some scholarly circles there is debate on what word Yeshua really used.  The odds are very high that Yeshua did not speak or teach in Greek.  More than likely he spoke Hebrew or Aramaic.  That’s not the point I am considering.  The point is that more than likely, Yeshua did not use the word hate and certainly could not have been teaching to literally hate our family members.  The intent of the passage is to prioritize our lives, being willing to put God ahead of our family, if necessary.

I don’t know what other people consider when they think about this passage, but I get anxious wondering how I would measure up to such a standard.  Would I be willing to choose a path away from my family, if that is what God asked of me?  God wouldn’t intentionally design a path for me that required me to turn my back on my family, would He?  I would argue that the path to God is open to all, and if we choose to walk that path, our family is invited, but may choose not to walk that path.  So in reality would we be turning our backs on our family, or would our family be turning their backs on God?  Then again, perhaps a different understanding is that God may guide me to be part of a foreign county mission trip which would require me to leave my family for a period of time or put myself directly in the line of danger.

The author of the book of Hebrews had a little to say on the matter.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Hebrew 12:1-4 (ESV)

 Many misunderstand the first part of this passage, picturing a crowd of cheering spectators, whether angels or spiritual forefathers.  First, in further context, the author continues the message by relating the story of Yeshua enduring the cross.  The author challenged readers to consider him who endured hostility and reminded readers that they had yet to shed blood.

The word witnesses was not used the same as we use it today.  This word is actually derived from the word martyr.  D. Thomas Lancaster did a thorough job breaking down the history and meaning of this word in one of his sermons.  To summarize the thought, a witness was used in reference to one that was called by the Roman courts to renounce their belief in God.  If they did not renounce their belief, they would often be put to death, being called a martyr or witness for providing their testimony without failing to renounce their loyalty to God.

The author of the book of Hebrews seems to have upped the ante a bit.  Instead of expecting followers to leave behind their family, the writer is reminding and forewarning the readers about real persecution. The deaths of Stephen and James are both recorded in Acts.  Paul recorded various punishments he received in 1 Corinthians.  History has recorded several barbaric deaths of disciples and God followers for thousands of years.

How does one count the cost when living in a culture that the most difficult persecution we face is perhaps embarrassment, social pressure, or appearing socially awkward?  The cost of loyalty for some, is taking a purity oath as a teenager, and living life as a virgin in high school or as a young adult.  Perhaps it means admitting to your family that you have to be late for an event because of church.

As I write this, my family and I prepare to light the 5th candle in celebration of Hanukkah.  The story of Hanukkah perpetuates the lesson of counting the cost of being loyal to God.  The Maccabee family chose to rally and inspire enough in the community to stand up against Antiochus and take control of the temple back.  A rag-tag crew of community members were outnumbered by 10 to 1,  yet stood to fight against trained Roman soldiers.  Those community members paid a hefty price for what they believed, but their faith proved enough for God to bring victory.

I don’t exactly fit in a typical Christian church because I observe the Sabbath, festivals, and dietary guides.  That’s not typical for a Christian. I still believe Yeshua is the messiah so I don’t fit into a Jewish community.  I’m sort of in between.  Sometimes the cost for me is that I don’t participate in some church activities on Saturdays because I do observe the Sabbath.  There is definitely some awkwardness between myself and other church attenders because the church I attend openly teaches against these traditions as “old law.”  At the family Christmas dinner in a few days, I will choose not to eat the ham that my mother in law will prepare and possibly withstand a minor, but not ill intended, joke from my brother in law.  Is that persecution?  I hardly think Yeshua or the author of Hebrews would feel sorry for me.

How can I even understand the cost, let alone count it?

Faith vs Trust

Faith and Trust: Each are five letters and both have significant meaning.  Related to each other, yet very different. When I used a common search engine to search for the term “having faith” the first result seemed simple enough.

“Faith means relying on God” by Rick Warren (link to devotion)

I am not here to agree or disagree with Rick Warren.  However, I think that simple phrase, by such a popular Christian teacher, is an excellent example of unintentional confusion.  Rick Warren is not the first to define faith in that way.  Mirriam-Webster first definition of faith is “strong belief or trust in someone or something.”  How do the scriptures define faith?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1 ~ ESV

The author of Hebrews defined faith as an assurance or conviction.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder!  

James 2:14-19 ~ ESV

James defines faith as belief and separates that belief from the evidence of works.

I wrote earlier that Rick Warren’s statement is an example of unintentional confusion.  If we turn to scripture to define faith for us, I’ve given two examples which define faith as a belief, assurance, or conviction.  Faith is better defined as a feeling and not defined as an action in those two examples.  The unintentional confusion is that the word faith has been elevated to a meaning beyond its intended origin.  By unintentionally assuming that faith is enough, one must remember that James warned that even the demons believe.

Most of us have seen a video or perhaps even participated in a trust fall exercise.  One person stands with their eyes closed and falls backwards trusting their partner behind them to catch them.  I recently saw a video in which a woman was standing on a platform about three feet off of the ground, with no one else around.  She turned around, closed her eyes and started counting down.  As she counted, people came quietly out of hiding and lined up behind her and linked arms.  When she reached zero, she fell backwards, trusting her team would be there even though she hadn’t seen them arrive.

Applying the definition from Hebrews and James, the woman had faith before she fell backwards.  She could not see her team, yet she believed they were there.   She could have said, “I know you are there and thank you for being willing to catch me,” and ended the exercise.  Of course, the intent of the exercise is not faith, but trust.

In the Hebrew language the words emunah and bitachon are used to explain faith and trust.

The Rambam defines emunah as the knowledge that Hashem created and continues to run all of Creation.

Bitachon, however, is quite different. Bitachon means trust. The Chovos HaLevavos defines bitachon as relying on Hashem, trusting Hashem. It is a sense of depending on Him to watch over and protect me.

Amazingly, a person can have emunah and not bitachon. He can know that Hashem runs the world, but not necessarily trust in Him.

The Difference Between Emunah and Bitachon
Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier
Orthodox Union
http://www.ou.org

I highly doubt that Rabbi Shafier would have used the New Testament letter from James as the basis for his definition, however, their thought processes are similar.  Rabbi Shafier explains that a person can have faith in Hashem, but not necessarily trust in Him.  This has a very similar undertone to what James wrote by segregating the two.  Even the demons believe in Hashem, but they certainly do not trust in Him.

In my earlier example, if the woman had stopped counting, and simply proclaimed, “I know you are there and thank you for being willing to catch me,” she would have exercised faith without trust.  It is obvious to us as we read this that had she only expressed faith, it is impossible for us to believe in that faith because faith can not be seen.  She proved her faith by showing trust through action.  Perhaps a better explanation of trust is the physical manifestation of one’s faith.

As I was preparing to write this post, I prayed for guidance, as I try to do each time I sit down to study.  An immediate thought that came to mind was the trust needed for the Israelites as they fled from Pharaoh’s army.

The Children of Israel came within the sea on dry land; and the water was a wall for them, on their right and on their left.

Exodus 15:22
Stone Edition Artscroll English Tanach

Put yourself in the sandals of the Israelites for a moment.  You’re standing at the bank of a large body of water.  Large enough that the rest of the story explains it took all night for Israel to cross the dry sea bed.  As these people cross through a dry land passage way, water standing tall to their left and right, held only by the power of God.  Israel trusted that God would hold the waters for them as they passed.

When this story came to my mind, I was unsure if it was a good example to use.  After all, shortly before Israel walked across a dry sea bed, they cried out to Hashem and asked Moses if he brought them to the wilderness only to die because there were not enough graves in Egypt.  I thought of this as a complete lack of faith so soon after they had been able to walk out of Egypt carrying their plunder of gold and silver.

I decided to turn to a search engine and sought to find if bitachon was used in any scripture.

Avoteinu trusted in Thee; they had bitachon, and Thou didst deliver them. They cried unto Thee, and were delivered; they had bitachon in Thee, and were not disappointed.

Tehillim 22:5-6 ~ Orthodox Jewish Bible

In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Psalm 22:4-5 ~ ESV

It felt like a confirmation that I was on the right path of understanding.  I am unsure if David was thinking of Israel crying out just before they ran into the dry sea bed, or if he was thinking of when they cried out initially while still in Egypt.  If I had to guess, he was probably speaking of the latter.  However, I believe my example still holds value.  To walk on a dry sea bed, through a corridor of two giant walls of water, with nothing holding it back, took tremendous trust that the water would not fall.  Bitachon.

How do we apply this today?  First, we need to redefine faith as belief and hold trust as the higher principle.  Scripture has given us the definitions we should use, so we should not deviate.  James, David, and the author of Hebrews have given us great examples.

Faith is a feeling.  Trust is action showing proof of faith.

Discipleship

Luke explains, “A large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people … had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured” (Luke 6:17–18).

Luke prefaces the sermon by distinguishing between the large crowd and the disciples, just like Matthew does. Luke says, “Turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say …” (Luke 6:20). In these words, Luke indicates that Yeshua delivered the sermon to His disciples, not to the crowds. Matthew explains that He first withdrew from the crowd by ascending the hill.

This story indicates that Rabbi Yeshua had two kinds of followers: the crowds of people and the disciples. Which kind of follower do you want to be? Are you one of the crowd that flocks around Him to receive a miracle, a blessing, or a ticket to heaven? Or are you one of His students, eager to learn His teachings and every word that comes from His mouth?

Two Kinds of Followers
First Fruits of Zion
800.775.4807
http://www.ffoz.org

When I received this weekly email teaching, it was one that really challenged me to look at myself in the mirror.  Would I be one of those Yeshua turned to address? Am I one of the crowd that listens but doesn’t transition from crowd to disciple?

“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.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

Arguably one of Yeshua’s most quoted phrases by the evangelical Christian movement.  I would even go so far to say that these words have been the driving force behind global Christian growth for the last two millenniums.

Am I disciple? Am I a good disciple?  More importantly, would Yeshua consider me a disciple or part of the crowd?  If I self evaluate, I’d say I rank fairly low on the scale based on how well I follow his complete instruction, “to observe all that I have commanded you.”

The Greek text of Matthew used matheteuo.

Cognate: 3100 mathēteúō (from 3101 /mathētḗs, “disciple”) – to disciple, i.e. helping someone to progressively learn the Word of God to become a matured, growing disciple (literally, “a learner,” a true Christ-follower); to train (develop) in the truths of Scripture and the lifestyle required, i.e. helping a believer learn to be a disciple of Christ in belief and practice. See 3101(mathētēs).

~Strong’s definition listed on BibleHub.com

I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar and to claim that I am even familiar is a complete stretch.  However, I  do seek out the origin of words, at times, to search for clues of the intended meaning.  With a little reading, I found that there’s an entirely different controversy surround the Hebrew version of this passage in Matthew compared to the Greek text, but I won’t dig into that controversy here.

Notice the key words above as to train (develop) in the truths of Scripture and the lifestyle required.  If Yeshua meant what he said in the literal sense to teach others the lifestyle required, this rings a familiar tone with the familiar count the cost of discipleship passage.

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28-33 ESV)

It seems that Yeshua had expectations for his disciples.  These expectations must have been the distinguishing factor between being one in the crowds or one he considered a disciple.

It is important to remember that Yeshua was not unique in his role as a rabbi.  As a rabbi in that era, his expectations would not have been out of the ordinary compared to any other rabbi.

Children began their study at age 4-5 in Beth Sefer (elementary school). Most scholars believe both boys and girls attended the class in the synagogue. The teaching focused primarily on the Torah, emphasizing both reading and writing Scripture. Large portions were memorized and it is likely that many students knew the entire Torah by memory by the time this level of education was finished.

The best students continued their study (while learning a trade) in Beth Midrash (secondary school) also taught by a rabbi of the community. Here they (along with the adults in the town) studied the prophets and the writings (3) in addition to Torah and began to learn the interpretations of the Oral Torah (4) to learn how to make their own applications and interpretations much like a catechism class might in some Churches today. Memorization continued to be important because most people did not have their own copy of the Scripture so they either had to know it by heart or go to the synagogue to consult the village scroll.

A few (very few) of the most outstanding Beth Midrash students sought permission to study with a famous rabbi often leaving home to travel with him for a lengthy period of time. These students were called talmidim (talmid, s.) in Hebrew, which is translated disciple. There is much more to a talmid than what we call student. A student wants to know what the teacher knows for the grade, to complete the class or the degree or even out of respect for the teacher. A talmid wants to be like the teacher, that is to become what the teacher is. That meant that students were passionately devoted to their rabbi and noted everything he did or said. This meant the rabbi-talmid relationship was a very intense and personal system of education. As the rabbi lived and taught his understanding of the Scripture his students (talmidim) listened and watched and imitated so as to become like him. Eventually they would become teachers passing on a lifestyle to their talmidim.

Rabbi and Talmidim
Follow the Rabbi
followtherabbi.com

We know that Paul was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers,” (Acts 22:3) which must have been considered a high honor since Gamaliel was a member of the Sanhedrin and a well-known rabbi.

It is easy to establish that being a disciple had expectations.  I would argue that the expectations were well beyond our understanding of being a disciple today.  It seems that students started at early school age and continued in a dedicated lifestyle of learning with the elite often leaving home to learn.  Even in reading through the gospels, we do not see the apostles visiting Yeshua.  They literally and physically followed him for the three years of his ministry.

If that is the standard of being a disciple, not just of Yeshua, but of any rabbi at the time, then, again, I can’t help but rank myself in comparison to these examples.

Am I worthy to be called a disciple? Or am I simply in the crowd?

Oneness is not Sameness

It seems fitting that for one of my first posts, I should start with a subject that best defines the position I hold with regard to the position I hold.  You do not have to re-read that.  I repeated myself intentionally.  I am going to try and explain the position I hold in regards to what I believe about the position I hold, which is the place I occupy within God’s kingdom.

I spent some time in my first post giving some background on how I arrived at this point in my life.  I’m still very new on the journey of labeling my religious identity, which sounds awkward when written that way.  I read terms like Hebrew Roots, One Law, Two House, Messianic Judaism, Messianic Gentile, and can’t help but wonder where I’ve  been for so long that I thought the only denomination wars were about Baptist, Assembly of God, Lutheran, Methodists, etc.

What seems to me as the basic, fundamental explanation for my understanding is that oneness is not sameness.  I am confident I did not coin this phrase, however, I do not remember where I first heard it.  After an internet search, I did not find any sites that I had visited that used the term, however, there were plenty of findings from the search engine to choose from.

The original inspiration for this study actually came from a sermon I heard at the church I attend.  The pastor was teaching from 1 Peter and identifying the audience as predominately Gentile Christians, spread throughout Asia.  A blogger I follow regularly, MyMorningMeditations, recently posted about a similar sermon.  In an email conversation with the author, he encouraged me to post my findings in a blog.  I was humbled by his suggestion, but already contemplating the decision so start blogging, I decided it was a good nudge.

The overwhelming agreement among Christian writers is that Peter was writing to Christian believers that were scattered in Asia.  I agree.  However, the piece that I firmly disagree with is that he wrote to all Christian believers.  I believe he wrote specifically to Jewish Christian believers.  This is where many get confused.  Most Gentile Christians consider all believers as one in the same.  Contrary, I believe there are far too many scriptural references that Jewish and Gentile believers have different roles and responsibilities.  Oneness is not sameness.

Peter spends almost all of the first two chapters of this letter describing his intended readers.  It appears that he is reminding them of the tremendous people that they are, and of the promises God has given them.  It feels almost like a coach talking to his team in the locker room after they are feeling like the other team is winning and the coach is reminding them of all the adversity they have overcome and that they can endure the second half to claim victory.

 To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, (1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV)

 The term elect exiles of the Dispersion was a term used to describe Jewish people that had left Jerusalem to live in the Diaspora.

 Strong’s definition of dispersion: scattering abroad of seed by the sower, hence: dispersion, used especially of the Jews who had migrated and were scattered over the ancient world.

At the end of verse 2, Peter used the phrase, according to the foreknowledge of God.  If Peter is referring to the foreknowledge (prophecy) of God, it is impossible to continue reading his letter with any accuracy unless we identify what foreknowledge Peter referred to.

And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. (Leviticus 26:33 ESV)

And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. (Deuteronomy 28:64 ESV)

  I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. (Ezekiel 36:19 ESV)

 Though I scattered them among the nations, yet in far countries they shall remember me, and with their children they shall live and return. (Zechariah 10:9 ESV)

 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples, of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.  In that day the Lord will extend his hand  yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.  (Isaiah 11:10-12 ESV)

It should be noted that this theme is consistent throughout prophecy. There are other verses throughout the Tanach (Old Testament) that prophesied Israel would be scattered, but I’ve only chosen a few as examples.

 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:14-19 ESV)

Peter continues to relate to his intended audience by using Tanach references that reference their identity.  There is a lot to unpack in the passage above.

First, Peter quotes the quotes the Torah in verse 16, You shall be holy, for I am holy.

 You shall be holy to me for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. (Leviticus 20:26 ESV)

God, speaking to the people of Israel, is giving them instruction on how to be a nation, distinguished from other people, by keeping themselves holy.  My bible footnote claims that Peter was quoting a different passage in Leviticus 11:44. That reference doesn’t make sense because, in Leviticus 11, God is giving instruction about staying holy in reference to clean and unclean food, which is not relevant to the topic Peter is discussing.  Leviticus 20:22-26 is a paragraph identifying Israel as a separated people among all the people of the earth, which better fits the theme of Peter’s letter, which is staying faithful to God while dispersed in exile among non-believers.

Peter put a time limit, all be it unknown, on the exile, throughout the time of your exile, which supports the prophetic writings that that there will be a time of exile and in God’s timing call Jews home again to Israel.  Many would argue that we are seeing prophecy fulfilled now, with Jews from around the world are making aliyah and returning home.

The next phrase, ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers,  has to be a reference to Jewish forefathers.  That is only a term used, up to the point which Peter wrote this letter, by Jews when referencing their lineage.  I am not aware of any verse in which the term is used in reference to Gentile forefathers, whom had no relationship with God as a people group.

And finally, for this particular passage, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, Peter is contrasting the original context of the idea that a ransom was an atonement.  In Exodus 30:12, God told Moses that they

each shall give a ransom (atonement) for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them.  (Exodus 30:12 ESV)

The Stone Edition Tanach translates the word ransom as atonement.  The basis of a ransom or an atonement was part of Jewish culture and history.

All flesh is like grass and all it’s glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. (1 Peter 1:24-25 ESV)

The entire quote in context:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.  A voice cries; “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  And the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all the Flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”  All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:1-8 ESV)

Peter may have only quoted Isaiah 40:6-8, but like today when someone quotes a passage, the intent is to understand the context of the entire passage.  First, it is important to know that Isaiah 40 starts the prophecy of a messianic redemption and an end to Israel’s exile.  Peter knew this and knew his readers would have known this.  Second, Peter is reminding his readers that the word of our God will stand forever, in other words, God’s promises and covenant with Israel will not be forgotten.

Each of these historical references are meaningless to Gentiles.  Gentiles would know these only as stories, at best, but not as their own forefathers or from a historical basis for which an entire nation was born.  Why would Peter use such references to Gentiles when the meaning had nothing to do with their history or ancestry?  That logic simply doesn’t have a trail to follow.

Understanding that Peter, and Israel, hold to the promise that God’s word and covenant is forever, we as Gentiles, must recognize that this is the hope that they, as a chosen people, based their lives on.  This is what drives Israel to never give up on their land.  This is what drives them to stay true to their Torah roots after over 5,000 years.  This promise is just as instinctive to them as breathing.

 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men put in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5 ESV)

After this passage, Peter goes on to quote Psalm 118:22.  I would encourage you to read all of Psalm 118 to understand the context of what we are reading here.  Like us today, that search for context within passages written, the writers of the New Testament (or Old Testament for that matter) would quote from older scripture based on the context of the entire passage.  Psalm 118 is a beautiful poem about God’s love for Israel lasting forever and the future messianic redemption.  Again, though, remember the context that this was written by David to and about Israelites, further establishing that Peter is identifying to the readers through Tanach scriptures.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

 Because Peter has repeatedly referenced the Torah in his letter, it only makes sense to reflect upon the Torah again to determine where Peter would have come up with such a spectacular description of the people he is writing to.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. (Exodus 19:5-6 ESV)

 Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests – Aason and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. {omission from chapter 28 regarding the priestly garments}…This shall be a statue forever for him and for his offspring after him. (Exodus 28:1 & the last half of Exodus 28:43 ESV)

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.  The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations. (Deuteronomy 7:6-9 ESV)

 It could not be more clear that Peter is reminding his readers of multiple references within the Torah of God’s original covenant with Israel.  These references were specific to Jews.

In chapter 2, verse 12 Peter wrote, Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable.  If he were writing to Gentiles, why would he use that wording?  He would only have needed to write, “Keep your conduct honorable.”

I titled this post Oneness is not Sameness for a reason.  It is perfectly reasonable to accept that within a church body, not all have the same purpose.  One very well known passage is the 1 Corinthians 12 passage in which Paul is using the human body as a metaphor for the body of believers.  It seems easy to read that passage and understand that some are called to teach, some to preach, some to heal, some to be prophets, etc.  However, for some reason, I have found that it is very difficult for traditional Christians to accept that Jews and Gentiles are different within the kingdom.  We have different roles and responsibilities, which is perfectly acceptable in a church, but for some reason causes confusion or irritation when in context with Jews and Gentiles.  Even within Israel as a nation, each tribe had different roles.  For example, the Levites were set apart as priests, and the Benjamites were specialized as warriors.  That did not mean the other tribes had a lesser role or were in some way second class citizens.  Each tribe had a role.

Consider the scenario that you’re attending a church when the pastor stands up to read a letter from whatever conference that church belongs.  The letter is addressed to the elders and leadership of the church to address some overall concerns within the parent conference regarding how elders and leaders have been conducting themselves.  Within that letter is a series of encouraging statements, and positions of how to conduct oneself as an elder or leader with scriptural references.  The pastor chooses to read the letter to the whole congregation as a matter of transparency and to encourage the whole congregation to understand the role of the elders and leaders.  Just because the letter is read to the whole congregation, does that mean all of the congregation is now an elder or leader within that church?  That is an absurd thought.  The letter was written to the elders and leaders with a specific topic in mind, and only read to the whole congregation in the spirit of love, encouragement, and transparency.  Peter wrote a letter to the Jewish believers in a synagogue, encouraging them to stay strong in their commitment to God and to remember the promises God has given them.  That letter is just now being read, out of context, by non-Jews, attempting to hijack these promises as their own.

Up to this point, I have been fairly neutral in my position only working to prove that Peter was writing to Jews and not Gentiles, which seems harmless and not that big of a deal.  Here’s where the rubber meets the road for me.  The finer point I am making, is that Peter did not refer to all believers as a chosen people or royal priesthood.  He gave this honor and responsibility to Israel.  He did not replace the promise from God to Israel as a chosen and holy nation, with a promise from God to all believers as a “spiritual Israel.”  I firmly believe that if we choose to seek and honor God through faith, love, and obedience, whether Jew or Gentile, we will be welcomed in his kingdom.  However, I do not believe that the covenant with Israel was replaced by a covenant with all believers as one spiritual assembly.

Israel is and was always the chosen nation and people.  Fortunately Gentiles were and are given an opportunity to belong to the kingdom, but not through a covenant relationship.  I already anticipate that some will read this and be outraged.  Some will read this and realize it is incomplete.  I already sense future posts regarding Paul’s message about being grafted in and adopted citizens.