Judaism: The World’s Oldest Religion

To sum up Judaism in a sentence, you could say that it’s the foundation of the Christian faith, but they’re still looking for the Messiah. The Jewish faith goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve communed with God, and praised Him. It carried on throughout the Old Testament patriarchs through Abraham, Moses, David, all the way up to Jesus Christ. Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ as the long-awaited Messiah, whether they were Jew or gentile, were born into the Christian faith. In the Old Testament there was no such thing as Christians, because Christ had not yet made Himself known as the Messiah. What God-fearing Jews were then, would have been considered what Christians are today. But Jesus Christ came and changed all that, and now there is no distinction between Jew and gentile in the Lord’s eyes.

A brief history: In A.D. 70, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans. That was significant because that meant there was no place for the Jews to offer sacrifices. When Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jews scattered to almost every nation of the world where they established communities and built synagogues to keep their faith alive.

Many centuries later the world witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust which brought about the merciless death of 6 million Jews. And in 1967, the Israelites recaptured all of Jerusalem – the first time they have held it as a free people since 586 B.C. For a complex, yet fascinating read on this subject, I recommend Six Days of War by Michael B. Oren. And now we are in the point of history where Palestine is trying to take over. That is the briefest history lesson I can give on the people of Israel.

Judaism exists in 4 different forms: 1) Orthodox, 2) Conservative, 3) Reform, and 4) Messianic. Let’s examine them all:

Orthodox Jews follow the Law to a tee. When I say the Law, I am referring to the Torah (law or teachings), which are the first five books of the Old Testament, written by Moses. They obey the Old Testament (aka, Hebrew Bible) and other teachings of famous rabbis that have been added through centuries, such as the Mishna and the Talmud. And the Sabath is strictly practiced on a weekly basis.

Conservative Jews are more lenient with the Torah, but they keep the traditions of Judaism alive.

Reformed Jews believe that teaching the principles of Judaism is more important than practicing them. Most of these Jews do not observe the strict dietary laws. But let me stress that all of them (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed) agree on keeping the Sabath.

The Sabath, as most know, begins at sundown on Friday night and ends on sundown on Saturday. After a modest dinner of challah bread and a sip of wine, Conservatives and Reformed go to the synagogue. The Orthodox go on Saturday mornings and afternoons.

Some Jewish holidays:

Rosh Hashanah – This is the Jewish New Year and it lasts from September to October.

Yom Kippur – This is the Jewish Day of Atonement which takes place ten days after Rosh Hashanah. During those ten days, Jews take part in repentance and soul-searching.

Passover – This usually takes place during Easter. The youngest children will usually ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and the Elder will tell the story of the Exodus.

Concerning Jesus, the Jews believe that He was a great prophet and teacher. Nothing more. The Jews in Jesus’ time had strayed from the purpose behind God’s laws and had become legalistic and judgmental in their practices (like some Christians today).

So what’s the difference, then between Christianity and Judaism? Well, this question hinges on another question: Was Jesus the Messiah, as He claimed, or was He an impostor? That’s really what it comes down to. Christians still study and learn from the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament and esteem them as God’s Word. Like every other religion and belief system in the world, it all comes down to one thing and one thing only: Jesus. Do you, or do you not, believe Him to be the Anointed One, the promised one, the deliverer? That is the question that will make all the difference concerning each and every individual’s eternal destiny. So then, could a Jew be a Christian today?

There is a movement that gained increasing momentum during the last decades of the 20th century, called Messianic Judaism. These people believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is the promised Jewish Messiah and Savior for Israel and the world. What spawned this movement? It was at the end of the Six Day War in 1967, when Jerusalem suddenly came back into Jewish hands after nearly 2,000 years, and tens of thousands of Jewish people accepted Yeshua as their Messiah. Christians, if you meet a Messianic Jew, invite him or her into your home as a sibling in Christ, and gladly break bread with that person.

Today there are 350+ Messianic Jewish congregations worldwide and dozens in Israel. More Jewish people put their faith in Christ in the last 20 years than in 20 centuries. They welcome Gentiles yet retain Jewish forms of worship, feasts, festivals, songs, customs and even humor. Beleiveing Jesus is a very Jewish thing to do! (Acts 15, Eph. 2, Rom. 10:12)

Like my upcoming suspense/adventure novel The Man in the Box for exciting updates, contests and discussions. 

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Go After Your Dreams

There are few movies that I want to go back and re-watch as soon as the end credits roll. Disney’s overlooked sports drama, The Rookie is one of them. It followed in the wake of the tremendously popular Remember the Titans. After years of the Magic Studio producing forgettable comedies, they finally regained their composure and began a short-lived line of sport dramas.

The Rookie is based off of a true story staring Dennis Quaid who plays aspiring major league pitcher, Jim Morris. After years of moving from state to state because of his dad’s frequent military reassignments, he lands in a little town in Texas where he settles down and takes a job as a science teacher. He is forced to give up his dream of pitching when he injures his shoulder, but when the high school baseball team asks him to pitch for practice, he discovers that he still has a tremendous gift for throwing fast balls – 98 miles per hour to be exact. There are only a handful of people that are born that can throw that fast. So after much debate and wrestling, he decided to try out for the major leagues. He gets drafted, and spends four months on the road as a AAA ball player, waiting for his big break, thinking it will never come.

Folks, I’ve spent the last three and a half years playing in my own AAA league, thinking I wasn’t getting anywhere. My minor league hell had nothing to do with baseball. Instead, I had written a book that grew to be very dear to my heart, and had been shopping it around to agents and publishers for years, only to be faced with over 300 rejections. But a couple of weeks ago, a contract came in the mail and I signed on with a publisher to publish The Man in the Box. Our journey to adopt James is now underway! This is all part of the plan. The funds for my book will help go to our adoption. Now, it could be that it doesn’t do very well, and it won’t be until my next book that we’ll see fruit, but I’m pushing hard for this one.

Any faithful readers of this blog will be doing us a favor by liking The Man in the Box on Facebook. I will be building the page and other promotional tactics the closer we get to its release date, exposing the plot one bit at a time. I am very exited about this book, because I feel like it really pulls in people from all walks of life who are just struggling with making it to the next day, wishing for an escape. Or maybe you’re married to someone who has grown distant and has lost his or her passion for life. If that’s you, you’ll want to keep your eye on this book and be watching for updates on its release. Also, I haven’t forgotten those who prefer fast-paced, pulse-pounding suspense – this book has it.

I look up to people like Jim Morris, who not only took a risk at achieving what he wanted, but he swam through the murky waters of AAA and false hopes and small crowds. Of course, he found himself on the pitchers mound in his Texas hometown surrounded by a packed audience, and struck out the first batter he was up against.

Maybe life has let you down. Maybe you’ve given up on your dreams. If so, take heart, that dreams do come true, but you’ve got to work hard. I mean, really, really hard. Eliminate what’s getting in your way. Include your family in your dream. Talk about it, laugh about it, cry about it. But don’t, for the love of your God-given passions, burry them and pretend that you’re happy with where you’re at in life. God did not make life to be some terrible burden to bear – we did, in the Fall. It is our sin that keeps us from having the enjoyment God offers us in life. Reach into your heart and discover what it is you really want, keep your family close, and together go after it with zeal and passion. Maybe someday you’ll receive a contract in the mail, or a call-up out of the minors and you’ll get your chance to pitch your 98 where it really counts.

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Summer Books for Your Kids (Part 2)

I consider myself to be a treasure-hunter. Part of that means storing up treasures for my kids to inherit in the future. This is one of the reasons why I read children’s books on occasion. Buried somewhere under all the Harry Potter and Captain Underpants influenza is a Tuck Everlasting , or a Charlotte’s Web. Stories that carry on into people’s lives. Stories that stick with you forever in some way or another …are treasures. Here are some finds I have come across over the years that you can feel safe having your kids read, or that you can read to them, no matter how young they are.

Special Note: I have listed the following books on the right of this page. If you purchase any through those links you’d be supporting our sponsor and helping us reach our goal with adopting James.

Little Women

As a 28 year old male, I am comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit that this is one of my all-time favorite fictional books. I love it as a storyteller, a dreamer, a prayer, a hoper. It has the most wonderfully optimistic view of life – a great remedy for prone pessimists like myself. I’ve read it a couple of times (it’s so long… but not long enough), and it never ceases to bring me to tears. A tougher read for kids under 9, but a great bedtime story to build lasting memories, I’m sure.

 

 

 

 

Little Men

For people with boys running around the house. Here’s the alternative (and sequel) to Little Women. It’s about Jo’s married life and the orphan boys she and her husband take into their school. It’s full of sin, repentance, and great lessons for parents on why discipline is so absolutely necessary for the nurture and care of children and how it can bring about a redemption in their lives at a young age. Yes, I am saying that this is an excellent parenting book.

 

 

 

 

 

Around the World in Eighty Days

This is one of Jules Verne’s shorter books, so it can be read quickly, depending on your child’s interest in world travel and reading. I read this a few years ago, and was honestly on the edge of my seat for most of the book. It’s about a man who makes a rather large bet that he can travel around the globe in just 80 days or less, but he is often delayed, which causes the blood to rush a little faster, and the heart to pound a little quicker. Lots and lots of good fun.

 

 

 

 

 

No Wonder They Call Him Savior

No, this is not an intended children’s book, and I don’t recommend Max Lucado for mature Christians who are past the need for milk and honey but desire meat and heavier nutrition. But I read a lot of Max Lucado as a junior higher, this one being the first, and to this day, I can sense a lot of his imprints on my thinking process in terms of relating spiritual matters to everyday life. A great start for spiritually hungry children.

 

 

 

 

Bone

Back in the days of yore (the 90’s), my parents paid for my subscription to the Disney Adventures magazine (which I mistakenly called “Disney Afternoon” magazine because I never took the time to read any of the covers). But for a good year or so, they published snippets of the first of the Bone story, and I was hooked. Yes, it’s a graphic novel, but it’s family friendly …think Lord of the Rings meets Mickey Mouse. The books (there are 9 of them) have reemerged and are now finding their way into the hands of kids of the ipod generation. Just good old-fashioned fairytale fun. The only graphic novel I ever read, and if I had them in my possession, I’d read them again today.

Gloriously Redeemed

This is a guest post that one of my best friends and brother-in-law wrote for this blog. He and his wife, Sarabeth’s sister, moved to Southeast Asia nine months go to fulfill mission work for the Lord.
We have the honor and privilege to serve cross-culturally with friends that are all over the world.  This post is the convictions, testimonies and stories of two of our dearest friends serving in India. We hope and pray that this will allow you to experience world missions the way many people do throughout the world.  We pray this will be an eye-opening post and will change the way you view missions as a whole. Read, enjoy and please pray for our friends as well as people all over the world that are bringing the gospel to the unreached.  This is their experience…
Imagine living in a place that is vastly different than the place you call home. Imagine a land that looks like that one area of town that everyone stays away from, the dump. Try to imagine experiencing this mysterious place with all 5 senses. A land of 1.2 billion people with no concept of the green movement or environmental conservationism leads to lots of trash and pollution. Imagine smelling all of those things as you travel by public transportation or are walking home with your groceries. Imagine seeing people contribute to those smells by polluting it with their own human waste. With no concept of shame related to bathroom habits, many people take any and every opportunity to use the bathroom no matter where they are and no matter how bad it will be. Imagine hearing car and bus horns consistently as you try to walk down the street or ride in a car. With no concept of enforced traffic laws, the roads are filled with drivers that pull out into oncoming traffic and cut you off at any chance they get just to get to their destination a couple of seconds faster. Imagine feeling the exhaust from a bus pour out onto you as it pulls away from the stop light, leaving black soot on your skin and clothes. Imagine tasting both exhilarating and disgusting dishes that you know will have you struggling with the dreaded “Delhi Belly” as you succumb to cultural pressure to eat whatever is put in front of you while in a national’s home.

If you can begin to imagine these things, then you have only begun to skim the surface of what life in south India is like. Life in south India is extremely difficult. Cultural norms and social mores are completely different than anything I have experienced in America. What is considered normal and acceptable to Indian culture would be absolutely frowned upon in the culture which I grew up. These experiences don’t lend themselves to creating a warm and fuzzy feeling inside of me. Oftentimes, these feelings culminate in anger and ethnocentrism.

So, why did I come to India? My wife and I lived in a very nice apartment in a very nice neighborhood in Louisville, KY. We would go on walks with our dogs almost every day and enjoy cooking food from scratch. We would get in our car many nights and just go for a ride with our windows down. All of those things are gone now. The life we once lived is completely overshadowed with chaos, dirt, and everything else associated with India. Again, why did we come here?

Without sounding cliché, God brought us here. And the truth is, he brought us here more for the work he would do in us rather than through us. As Balaam very well knows, God can use anyone or anything to carry out His work. Gary Thomas asks the question, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” I have often thought of that question about missionary work: What if God brought me to India to make me more holy than to make me happy. The concept behind this question makes even the most devout Christian tremble. It is the one thought that prevents many believers in taking that “next step” to surrender to God’s will for his/her life. The idea of giving up temporal happiness for the opportunity to be made purer through the fires of various trials is something that shakes most believers at their core. However, there is so much glory that the Lord receives when the trials we face produce endurance (James 1:2-4). This has been a key verse that my wife and I have focused on to get us through the hard times.

Many of the presuppositions I had behind missions have been completely obliterated since coming to India. John Piper coined the phrase, “Missions exists because worship does not.” I used to understand missions as the necessity to see as many people saved as possible because that is the most loving thing to do as one who knows and is a messenger of the truth of the Gospel. While that is true, it is incomplete. God has to be the reason why we go. We cannot get the two greatest commandments out of order. An overwhelming love and devotion for God is the first and greatest commandment. If I came to the field first and foremost to save Indians, then I would have left after arriving in the Delhi airport and dealing with the unfriendly customs agent. But, God brought us here to conform us more into the image of Christ. He brought us here to rely on His grace every day. He brought us here to, by His grace, make worshippers of Him.

The road has been terribly hard, and I have contemplated giving up many times. However, it has not been in vain. God is doing a mighty work in me and my wife. He is stretching us in a way that we never thought we would be stretched. But, it is producing endurance. What once was anger and resentment towards God is now turning into a complete reliance on His daily grace. At the end of verse 4, James says that the endurance that is the product of these trials will make us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” That is what we are shooting for. I would rather have that right now than the comforts of complacency.

I think our time in India will not be long-term. We believe that God has brought us here for a season. Our main focus is that we would not squander the season that He has given us. We want to leave this place emboldened in our faith and see the fruit of our labors from the seeds we sowed here in India. We want to see people come to repent and believe in the Gospel. We want to see churches planted. We also want to live and act a lot more like Jesus than when we came.

I’m not one of those that tries to guilt people into doing missions by giving statistics or using depressing stories. The only advice I would give is to live out the Gospel in your own life. Love God first. Love you neighbor second. All that will culminate in you being a great commission Christian. You can do that anywhere. But, if you think that God is commanding you to be a great commission Christian beyond the borders of America, then you cannot ignored that either. God wants to do a sanctifying work in us. For me, that involved moving me to the last place on earth that I would ever want to live. For you, it may be different. All I know is that I would rather be sitting on the shores of Nineveh knowing that I submitted to what the Lord was commanding me to do, then laying on the shore in the great fish’s vomit.

Eastern Orthodoxy – Where’s the Pope?

Some may think that there’s no point in looking into the religion of Eastern Orthodoxy. A study shows that there are 6 million Orthodox churches in the United States alone (with a grand total of over 200 million believers worldwide). I wonder if many of you even know people that subscribe to the Eastern Orthodox religion. But with that many churches, you’d think they’d be everywhere. And maybe they are. So what is Eastern Orthodoxy, anyway? Isn’t just like Catholicism, just without the Pope?

The Orthodox Church doesn’t have a Pope, but instead they are headed by patriarchs, the archbishop, and the metropolitan. Orthodoxy believes there is to be only one visible church, and it believes itself to be that church. When it split from Rome back in 1054 as we studied last week, the east (Orthodoxy) claimed that the west had strayed into heresy.

Now up until this point, Christians have nothing to say against Orthodoxy. But here’s where we differ drastically. While we put Scripture as supreme authority over the church, Orthodoxy puts the church as over Scripture saying that Scripture itself is only part of a large tradition that makes for a complete organic whole – the “fullness of the Christian faith.” They also say that the Spirit of God living within the church is the authority instead of Rome or Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Remember that Scripture itself says that the Word is God. Orthodoxy says that the Bible is not set up over the church, it is something that lives and is understood within the church and that the Bible gets its authority from the church.

In regards to baptism, they believe a person is born again through baptism. It is administered to infants as well as adults (called the “bath of regeneration”). Protestants detest philosophy and see it as a defilement to the sacred sacrament. Baptism is meant only to proclaim your pre-existing faith, which you made a conscious decision about well beyond infancy. It it is a grave danger to let your children go through life believing they are saved because they had holy water sprinkled on their foreheads when they were infants.

As with Catholicism, confession of sins must be made with a priest, but here God is judge. The priest will occasionally give advice and a penance.

Orthodoxy emphasizes something called theosis. Theosis is going through the process of deification to attain salvation. There is no emphasis on paying for temporal punishment. No indulgences involved to expiate sins for living or dead. They pray for the dead because the soul is being strengthened by prayers offered, preparing him/her to be confident on Judgement Day. The saints, especially Mary have achieved deification. They are not mediators but intercessors. Praying to them is not worshiping by venerating them. Orthodoxy says theosis is not some kind of pantheism. We might become gods but we still have human nature.

Orthodoxy believers lay prostrate before icons, kissing them, burning candles in front of them. They say that the icon is not an idol but a symbol. Veneration is not toward picture but toward who is depicted.

Eastern Orthodoxy stresses deification above justification. According to them, the Fall was a disaster. But man is not bound by a totally corrupt and sinful nature. Mankind did not inherit guilt from Adam, instead we inherited death, mortality, and corruption. Man was not created for communion or fellowship with God. Instead we have to work toward that. When mankind fell in Adam, it was “departure from a path,” not a drastic plunge from a state of blessedness, as protestants and Catholics believe.

Eastern Orthodoxy says that the Fall is an impenetrable barrier between God and man, but the cross is not a substitute as a victory over sin and death. Instead, it is just a means to enable man to “become god, to obtain theosis (deification or divinitation).”

Eastern Orthodoxy fails to stress the nature of salvation as a free gift. This results in a failure to distinguish between justification as God’s free acceptance of unworthy sinners and sanctification as the process of becoming righteous, a process which involves human activity and effort. We believe the apostles were succeeded not by bishops or church Fathers but by Scripture only (Titus 1:1-4, Jude vv 3, 17).

Obviously, I was only able to skim the surface of this religion, but I hope it has helped believers to better understand what others believe, so we can have intelligent conversations with lost souls and specifically pray for those who subscribe to such beliefs. If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ and put your full faith, hope and trust in His death and resurrection alone, then I hope these brief discussions help to convince you of the truth as you engage in conversations I’m sure will take place below. Brothers and sisters, allow me to remind you to be gentle as doves while answering questions that others may post.

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Wall-E …Much Deeper Than it Seems

I’ve always considered Pixar’s films to be deeper than most others, and for many years I made the bold claim that there had to be a Christian somewhere in that studio making right decisions. Then a couple of months ago I came across an article from Christianity Today with interviewer Mark Morning, and discovered that Andrew Stanton, one of the Pixar originals and director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo is a proclaimed born-again Christian, as it shows in his movies. Unfortunately the article has been deleted as it’s so old, but I managed to go around and collect some snippets of it from various sources. Enjoy, and please pray for those brothers and sisters in Hollywood making a difference.

There seem to be some biblical themes in this film. WALL•E is sort of like Adam, the only “guy” on earth, lonely, longing for a companion …

Andrew Stanton: Yes, and that’s certainly why I picked EVE as an appropriate title for the female robot. But “Adam” just didn’t have the underdog ring to it as the main character. WALL•E was a little bit more sad sack—and I could find an acronym that could work for that. But definitely it had that first man, first female theme. But I wasn’t trying to replace man in the bigger story. I just loved the poetic-ness that these two machines held more care for living and loving than humanity had anymore.

There’s also a bit of Noah’s Ark story here, with the humans on the space station, waiting for a chance to repopulate the earth—but having to wait till EVE comes back with plant life to indicate it’s okay.

Stanton: I wasn’t using the Noah’s Ark story as a guide, but through circumstances, I loved the parallels of EVE almost being like this dove, of going down for proof that it’s time to come back. It just worked in that allegory, so I ran with it.

This next snapshot is from: http://lookingcloser.org/2008/06/christianity-todays-mark-moring-interviews-andrew-stanton/

Apparently the idea for Wall-E was first born in 1994?

Stanton: At the time, it wasn’t a whole story. It was just the foundation of a great character‚ and it was literally born from the sentence, “What if humankind left earth and somebody left the last robot on, and it just kept doing the same futile thing forever?” And I thought that was the saddest, loneliest character I ever heard of in my life. [Co-writer] Pete Docter and I loved that idea, and thought we’d love to see a movie like that.

But since we hadn’t even finished Toy Story yet, our next sentence was, “Nobody would ever let us make a movie like that.” And we put it on the shelf and got caught up doing all these other things. But the idea stayed with me all these years, and when I was writing on Nemo, I started thinking about WALL-E again‚ and I couldn’t stop. That’s when I realized that I was attracted to the pure loneliness of this character, and the opposite of loneliness is love‚ so it should be a love story. From then on, suddenly the skies opened and I just couldn’t stop writing.

And I love this…

Moring: Some Christians want more “message movies,” and they want them to be movies where the gospel is preached loud and clear. But when movies get too driven by their agenda, you often end up with a crummy movie.

Stanton: Yeah, I’m right with you on that.

Moring: But guys like you and others at Pixar, and other Christians like Scott Derrickson and Ralph Winter, are bringing biblical themes into the movies without making them feel “preachy.” Where are you on all of that thinking?

Stanton: I agree with what you said. Just because you’re strong in your faith doesn’t mean that you suddenly have to be dumb and pander to a certain audience. When did that become a rule? I think you were given a brain to use it, and I think you were given talents to use it. And so the same intoxicating, seducing talents and cleverness and wisdom that you see in what may be considered “secular” entertainment, there’s no reason that those things should be held back for anything else, I like to think.

Here is another great article that says that Wall-E is not what it seems on the surface. It’s much, much deeper than an environmental movie.

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Man’s Great End

Lord of all being,

there is one thing that deserves my greatest care,

that calls forth my ardent desires,

That is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made -

to glorify thee who hast given me being,

and to do all the good I can for my fellow men;

Verily life is not worth having

if it be not improved for this noble purpose.

Yet, Lord, how little is this the thought of mankind!

Most men seem to live for themselves,

without much or any regard for thy glory,

or for the good of others;

They earnestly desire and eagerly pursue

the riches, honours, pleasures of this life,

as if they supposed that wealth, greatness, merriment,

could make their immortal souls happy;

But, alas, what false delusive dreams are these!

And how miserable ere long will those be that sleep in them,

for all our happiness consists in loving thee,

and being holy as thou art holy.

O may I never fall into the tempers and vanities,

the sensualtiy and folly of the present world!

It is a place of inexpressible sorrow, a vast empty nothingness;

Time is a moment, a vapour,

and all its enjoyments are empty bubbles,

fleeting blasts of wind,

from which nothing satisfactory can be derived;

Give me grace always to keep in covenant with thee,

and to reject as delusion a great name here or hereafter,

together with all sinful pleasures or profits.

Help me to know continually

that there can be no true happiness,

no fulfilling of thy purpose for me,

apart from a life lived in and for the Son of thy love.

Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions edited by Arthur Bennett

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