Thursday, July 29, 2010

Who is Jesus? This has been a question for many, many centuries. There is a lot of ambiguity, even in the Bible about who Jesus was as a mortal and is as the Son of God. There are many answers too. There is a poster in the office at my church that has a long list of names for Jesus. There was always one name in the list that confused me. There was one which stood out as unusual, and it seemed to me contradictory. The Son of Man seems to me to imply that Jesus was indeed born of man, and like many kids I was told that it was just a figure of speech, or, that he meant something else by it. I let it go and forgot about it, only really remembering the question had ever arisen when it again came to mind. I have been looking at a book called “The Jews in the time of Jesus” by Stephen M. Wylen and there is actually some research on the term “the son of man” or, in the Aramaic, bar nash. The research tends to give us three main answers for what the term can be used for. The rough translation of the most common usage of it is, I, or myself, or me. The term is used to indicate speaking about oneself. The second term is human being, person, and the last is divine, Lord, and God. All of these different definitions make the gospel no less confusing. I looked through some of the scriptures in which the term, “the son of man” could be found and was struck by the passage in Mark chapter 2:23-28:

Lord of the Sabbath

23One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"

25He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions."

27Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

In this passage it seems very easy to read the phrase in three different ways and therefore read the entire story in two different ways. The first way, and the way I read it in church when I was informed that The Son of Man is a term for Jesus, is to interpret Jesus as the lord of the Sabbath because he is divine. This means that Jesus sets up his authority over all people, and even makes his own rule above that of the law scholars and priests. The second way to read it is to read it as I, or me. This way creates a more strict line of authority to Jesus personally. He would therefore be the lord of the Sabbath and that would make him God and since He is God, then he is the truest authority on the matter and the Pharisees better watch out. The third reading of the is that Jesus used the term bar nash to refer to humankind, thus giving all men lordship over the Sabbath for all time.

So, after my reading, the term, it seems to me, was intended to be somewhat ambiguous. Jesus did speak in parables to his Disciples and he was known to make a scene in public places.

But, enough of my assumptions and conjecture.

What is your take on it? How do you view the term “The son of Man” in this passage? Is Jesus proclaiming himself lord of the Sabbath? Is he granting people the power to create their own set of rules for the Sabbath, or, is he taking the personal rout making himself the mortal lord of Sabbath to be treated as though it were a day dedicated to him?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

As I have been reading "To the Jew First" I have also been looking into a some studies called the new perspective on Paul. These studies seeks to clarify the point of view of Paul, and through an understanding of first century Judaism, rethink how we view some of Paul's words. I recently had a discussion about the new perspective and I came out with a basic understanding that the reformers viewed Judaism as a religion of works, and Paul was thought to be preaching against the works. We can read in Ephesians Chapter 2 verses 8 and 9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”. This is where the old perspective stopped. Faith, not works. The new perspective seeks to establish a “works because of faith” theme in Paul’s writings. Especially when we read verse 10 of the same chapter: “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Because of the old perspective trying to escape the works end of Paul’s teaching, it called Judaism out on being works-based, and because of the many generations of thinking of Judaism as a religion of duties and deeds, the old perspective actually may have helped to breed some anti-Semitism within the church, not because of their rejection of Christ, but, because it then sets Judaism drastically apart from Christianity. When any religion views another religion as very different, hatred is a result, and, Christian’s view on Judaism is no different. Some Christians even feel as though the new interpretation undermines Jesus’ role in our salvation because it brings too much human achievement into the mix. Paul, however, was speaking of faith in a different way than most contemporary Christians do. Actions, to Paul and the Jew in the first century, were simply the result of faith. To say that one had faith was to imply that they were performing good deeds because they were a part of the faith. We all have the opportunities to do good works, saved or not, but what should separate the Christian from the non-Christian is how we look at the opportunities. Are they gifts from God to allow us to show his grace to a total stranger? Or are they just a happenstance that doesn’t hold any eternal significance? The Jews believed that good works were the fruit of their faith. In fact doing and intent are taught separately in orthodox Jewish circles. One must have the intent before their actions are truly significant. Without this understanding of Judaism, it can certainly seem as though they are simply living liturgically, without any spirituality in them.

Stay tuned for more on the New interpretation and also more on “To the Jew First” and please feel free to ask any questions or make any comments!!!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The second part of Chapter 3 of “To The Jew First” talks about what the personal testimony should not be. There are just as many things that the testimony should avoid doing as there are things that the testimony should do. After all, we don’t want to turn people off, or give them the wrong impression right?

Triestman starts out the don’ts by saying that the testimony is not a platform to brag. Remember, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) This strength has nothing to do with the capacity of our insignificant strength. We should not make our personal testimony a way for us to talk about how great we are, but, how great God has made us. It is far more powerful to say: “God gave me strength to resist temptation” than it is to say” “After becoming a Christian, I could resist temptation”. The focus needs to be on God, not man!

Along the same lines, the testimony should not reflect any personal sacrifice. Who are we to think that our personal sacrifices are comparable to the sacrifice of Jesus? We may have had to choose between comfort, and Messiah, or even between our earthly families and Messiah, which is hard to do, But Jesus sacrificed his perfect life for our shortcomings. We may sacrifice our secular relationships, but we sacrificed those for self preservation on an eternal scale. Jesus, sinless and perfect, went to the tree willingly even though he had nothing for which to repent. When sacrifice is used in a personal testimony, it should only be the sacrifice of Jesus for us!

Next up is to avoid sensationalism. I remember many stories of the drug and women abusing murderer who turned to Jesus and was saved and got out of prison on good behavior and turned into a prison minister bringing the good news to those in his circumstance. These are valuable stories for those in prison because they are relatable to them. Not so valuable in the street ministry however. Remember, the testimony is short for one, so there isn’t time to go into the details, but, the person you are evangelizing might develop a lack of trust for you after hearing about whatever past sins or crimes you were guilty of. This sensational approach could also hinder the ministry by serving to reinforce the “religion as crutch” opinion. After all, while lost in the deep trenches of horrible sin you needed a way out, and turned to religion. Many non-Christians consider themselves to be moral people, this means that they feel as though they have no need for this crutch. Being lost in sin and then found is not sensational, but often times, that’s the situation of the people that we evangelize, and that’s what they need to hear.

The personal testimony should never be guessed. When you are saved, it shouldn’t take too long before family and friends notice the change in you. Others will notice that you are different than many people they meet on the street. They should not have time to jump to their own conclusions. They should know outright that you are, in fact, different. Very different. You are a child of God and a co-heir to The Kingdom of Heaven! Don’t hide this; otherwise you could appear to be ashamed of the Gospel. If someone asks you why you’re different, they may already have a preconceived notion as to why, and the truth could taint the gospel, if everyone knows why you’re different, then you are more likely to be asked how, and this question is the first step to truly eternal- life changing progress!

Remember that all of these little rules help to refine the personal testimony. Each circumstance is different, and we must all be prepared to meet the people where they are. If they are lost and wandering the desert, then it is our duty to find them and escort them to the living water! Nobody, when given the proper chance, will deny the water after the drought, through faith and prayer we can help anyone to find their way!

So, why do you think that these don’ts are so important? Are there any big surprises in this list? Why do you think that there is such a difference between the church testimony and the street testimony?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It's been a while since my last update due to a vacation in Arizona, so, I'll jump right into the third chapter of "To the Jew First".

The third chapter is entitled “The Personal Testimony” and deals with how to set up a personal testimony that can help jump start a conversation. The first guideline that Mitch Triestman gives for the personal testimony is that it should be shared as soon as possible. He says that when he starts a relationship with a Jewish person, they almost immediately recognize him as Jewish, that being said, he knows that he needs to set up an honest report with them, because they may proceed with him as if he were not yet Christian which can lead to feelings of deception or, just as negatively, feelings of embarrassment when the Jewish person recalls saying something, or behaving in a way that may not be acceptable to a Christian. This is the same with anyone who seeks to evangelize at all, but particularly with the Jews who should be aware of the difference early so as to not surprise them which would risk offending them.

The next rules are how to set up the testimony. The first rule is that it must be brief. No one wants to sit around and listen to several minutes of testimony. Triestman recalls a time when he was looking for a religious book strore in New Jersey and couldn’t find it. He pulled up to a red light next to a Chasidic man and asked him for directions. When the man seemed puzzled at the appearance of the Triestman, who was clean shaven and not wearing a skull cap, Triesman managed to share his testimony, and get directions. This kind of Testimony can be exceedingly valuable. Making the testimony shareable in less than a minute can help to avoid wearing on the patience of a non-believer and also will help keep the attention, and even whet the curiosity of, the person being evangelized.

The next rule is that the testimony must be good news. The greatest difference, in my opinion, between Christianity and any other religion is the total forgiveness and grace of Messiah. There is no need for worry or fear and all is well with our eternal lives, even if the here and now is hard. As it is written in Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” This rocks because it is a gift! Gifts are free, all that we need is the faith to receive it!. Don’t be gloomy within your testimony because you have received the gift!

The third rule states that the testimony should be easy to listen to. There is a lot of language that is exclusive to the Christian church. There are terms and vocabulary that could easily confuse the seeking or the lost. When preparing a brief, joyful testimony, be sure to use language that is applicable to the lowest common denominator, which would be the completely uninformed. Triestman also makes sure to point out several words that would detriment the testimony to a Jew. These are called the 4 offending c’s. They are as follows: Cross, Christ/Christian, Crucified and Convert. These words can bring up many negative associations or emotions in the Jews. The replacement words are Tree for Cross, Messiah for Christ, Sacrificed for Crucified and Repent for Convert. Making these changes can help to avoid the fearful or saddening responses that these words can relate, and also avoid confusion.

In light of this type of personal testimony, what do you think are the advantages of following these guidelines? Are there any other rules that you would suggest one follows to ensure the best possible results? And here’s the pop-quiz…What does the term Christ mean? This is a point of confusion for Christians as much as Jews and other non-believers. Let’s set the record straight!