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Saturday, 19 May 2018

From Hebraic roots to Greek philosophy! (Part 2)

Having just returned from Scotland, where my wife and I attended the funeral service for her mother, I am publishing this post quickly, as we return to Scotland on Tuesday for a wedding, and for our mid-year visit to family and friends.

If you haven't read the first instalment, I would recommend that you do so before you read this second part!

So, let's jump into our personal Tardis (I hope that you know at least that much about Dr Who!), and fly back some 400 years! Malachi, the last of the prophets whose writings are recorded in the Tanakh, has recorded his message – and then there is silence, until the angel Gabriel appears to a Jewish priest named Zechariah, and informs him that, in their old age, he and his wife, Elizabeth, are going to have a son.

But that 400 year-long gap is important. Malachi spoke of the coming of “… Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of YHWH comes.” (4:5). But there was no timetable issued! It was to be a long wait – and still is!

Meanwhile, Artaxerxes II was ruling the mighty Persian empire; the Romans were slowly building up their republic; the Carthaginians were suffering defeats – and, in Athens, a man named Socrates, the first great philosopher of the modern age, was soon to drink the hemlock that ushered him out of his controversial, and influential, life.

And it is on Greece that the spotlight shines during those years of silence. There were many clever people around; people who thought deeply about the world around them, and what made it tick. Following Socrates was his pupil, Plato, whose ideas were to become almost as influential as those of Jesus Himself in the development of Western Christianity – especially his “Theory of Forms”. This is something that is difficult to explain in just a few sentences but – here goes my attempt!

He explains that most human beings live as if they were in a dimly-lit cave. We are chained, and facing a blank wall, with a fire at our backs. All that we can see are flickering shadows playing across the wall of the cave, and this we take to be reality. Only if we turn away from the wall, and the shadows, can we hope to see the true light of reality.

Or, to put it in slightly more philosophical terms, Plato taught that everything we perceive around us – sailing-ships and sealing wax; and cabbages and kings – is merely appearance. The true reality is the realm of ideas, or Forms, from which this appearance derives. This true reality is perfection; what we see is but a poor reflection.

Plato did think that it was possible for a man to escape from the cave of shadows. Those who did would be the “guardians” – specially gifted and trained individuals; the philosophers, of course! These guardians would be rewarded by being granted a view of the “higher Good” – the source of all truth and reason

This “Higher Good” is the ultimate Form – top of the Forms. It is, effectively, Plato’s concept of God – an eternal reality that exists in a higher realm. Our senses are not equipped to see any more than a pale reflection of this “Higher Good”. Plato likens the concept (for this is not a ‘personal’ God, i.e. a God with personality) to the sun. Both, he taught, cause things to exist and grow; and both are sources of light.

Just one more important point (although we have missed out so very much). Plato believed that we are a body and a soul, but that these are totally separate entities, temporarily bound together during a person’s physical lifetime. This is the concept of the duality of man. In Plato’s view, the soul is good and the body is bad (again, this is the basis for some of the teaching of the later Gnostics). If you forget everything else I’ve just shared on Platonic philosophy, please remember this. It’s the Big Consequence of Plato’s Big Idea: Soul = Good; Body = Bad.

We're not even going to look at Aristotle, but merely mention him as a pupil of Plato, who may be thought of as the father of the academic discipline of logic, as he gave himself the task of thinking logically about every aspect of human life.

So, a brief summary of all of that: in the four-century gap, a whole flood of new ideas and ideals was pouring out from Greece – a Hellenistic mind-set as opposed to an Hebraic mind-set. I recently came across this comment in an SU Commentary on Revelation: “As soon as the Hebrew Christian was squeezed out of the church, and the OT was increasingly neglected, Christian theology was poisoned by this Greek concept.” That, I would contend, was the beginning of the corruption of the Body of the Christ! We'll move on in the next section!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

From Hebraic roots to Greek philosophy!

Just today, I came across some notes that I had prepared for a series of talks on the topic: "From Hebraic roots to Greek philosophy!" Sadly, the group with which I had hoped to share those talks was unable to meet as regularly as had been envisaged, and the talks were never given.

As I read over them, I sensed that it might be of interest to some of those who regularly read these posts, to gain some insight into the topic. It is my plan, therefore, to share the notes - expanded, and in suitably-sized sections - on this blog. I hope that they will be helpful - and, perhaps, even eye-opening!

The plan was to look at some parts of HaTorah (the first five books of the Tanakh - the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament in the Christian Bible) from a Jewish perspective – and to try to discover how they relate to the Brit Chadashah (the New Testament).  However, it is necessary to begin with a brief lesson in Church History in order to understand that the church, before it was too many centuries in existence, lost its Hebraic roots.

I began to realise this when a friend introduced me, some years ago, to the writings of a Messianic Jew (i.e. a Jew who accepts that Yeshua [Jesus] is HaMashiach [the Messiah]) by the name of Steve Maltz. It was his writings that made me realise how far the church has moved from the true Brit Chadashah church of the early apostles. I freely acknowledge my indebtedness to Steve Maltz, and also to another writer, Victor Schlatter, who has written in a similar vein although from a specifically Christian perspective.

I would not have had time to provide even a basic résumé of the six books that I have read - and certainly would not be able to do so on this blog! What I hope to share is only the scratch on the scratch on the scratch on the surface. But we start, as Novice Maria might say, at the beginning, because that’s a very good place to start (that only makes sense if you know the story "The Sound of Music"!).

The early disciples, of course, were virtually all Jews. After all, Jesus was a Jew, and He Himself told a woman of Syro-Phoenicia: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”! (Mt.15:24). The first nine chapters of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles centres around the apostles’ ministry to the Jewish people and to the conversion of Jews – including a Pharisee by the name of Saul - and Samaritans and Proselytes (converts to Judaism).

Then we come to ch.10, and a new phase in the spread of the Gospel through the conversion of the Roman centurion, Cornelius. Surely a time for rejoicing! Not according to Acts 11! "Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticised him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” But Peter began and explained to them ... ... As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptised with water, but you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.”" 

Fast forward to ch 15. Some of those who have become known as “Judaisers”, were still at work. "But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question." This first major conference/summit of the leaders of the church had been convened to address one issue – the Gentile (non-Jew) problem! It was much easier when God was drawing believers out of only His ancient chosen people – and one or two who had “adopted” Judaism. After all, He was their God, wasn’t He? They were the custodians of the Law and the writings of the prophets; they were the children of the Covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they bore the mark of circumcision. What did Gentiles know of the things of God?!

It had been a hard lesson – but that same God had made it abundantly clear, through Peter’s dealings with Cornelius, that even the Gentiles had a future in the plan and purpose of God! Perhaps they remembered the words of the prophets: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Is.49:6). 

You may read the record in Acts, but the end-result of this first Church Council was an open invitation, from the Jewish leadership to the Gentiles: “Jesus is for you, too. Let’s move forward together”. And most of the rest of the record in Acts shows Saul – now known as Paul – established as “the apostle to the Gentiles”, and his letters are to Gentile churches, most of which he, and his associates, founded.

Well, that's probably enough for this post but, if you are at all interested, do keep an eye out for the next "instalment"! There may, indeed, be some "eye-opening" information!!

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Be prepared!

Although I was a member of the Boys' Brigade (and the Lifeboys, before they became the Junior Section of the B.B.), and held every rank except Sergeant and Captain, I have always liked the motto of the 'rival' organisation, the Boy Scouts: "Be Prepared".

I've been thinking of that motto over the past couple of weeks! There is a long story behind the situation, but we ended up agreeing to host a 14-year-old French pupil for just over a week, in order that her English language skills might be improved! What we didn't realise, at the beginning, was that this involved some formal tutoring - 20 hours! - as well as informal conversation. 

Well, I didn't spend all of those years in the classroom for nothing! So, a week or so before our guest was due to arive, I started gathering up what I decided would be appropriate lesson material. Then, last Friday, she was brought to our home by her mum. Lessons commenced shortly afterwards - and I discovered that I was not as well prepared as I had thought! She was much more advanced than I had been led to believe! I only wish that my command of her mother-tongue was as good as her command is of mine!

That why this blog has been neglected for so long. I have been kept busy preparing more appropriate lessons - on top of all of the other demands on my time (like preparing to preach, in French, on each of the next two Sundays!).

All of this has caused me to think about the preparation that each of us must make. Yes, I'm back to the topic of physical death. First of all, it appears to me that many do not even bother to make preparation for that inevitable event. In some cases, as I mentined recently, it is because of the "ostrich syndrome". "If I just bury my head in the sand, and cannot see it, this won't happen!" Others have decided that, while death is inevitable, it is also nothing more than annihilation - when we die, there is simply nothing!

There are many other attitudes to death, but the one that makes most sense, in my opinion, is that of the Christian faith. Please note that I did not use the word 'religion'! Religions are man-made. Both the Christian and Jewish belief systems have been revealed by the Creator God - YHWH Sabaoth; the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; and the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, the Christ. In the Christian faith, there is a simple truth: that "... it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment," (Heb.9:27). This life is not a "practice run". This is it!

So how prepared are you for that final judgment? Perhaps you are one of those who believes, sincerely, that if you chalk up sufficient "positive marks" to out-number the "negative marks" that you know you desreve, all will be well. Perhaps you think that if you give enough to charitable causes, that will ensure your entry to heaven. You may even believe that being a church member or, better still, office-bearer,  will attend to the matter. Sadly, that is not the Biblical position! Not one of us can work, earn, or buy our way to eternity in God's presence. 

Commenting on Ecclesiastes 9:1-9, David Robertson writes: "He [the Preacher] is saying that death comes to all, indiscriminately, good or bad: ... ... Death is not an accident – it is an appointment which only God can change or cancel. He [the Preacher] is not saying that we are to live passively or that we are not to prepare. But he is saying that it is only God who knows the future."

Of course, there are others who take the attitude of the rich man in Jesus' parable. Their philosophy is one of "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry." (Lk.12:19). However, the parable continues: "But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'"

Be prepared! But ensure that you have made the right kind of preparation! It's not simply a matter of life and death; it's a matter of your eternal destiny! 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Al Kol Eleh

After having recently published a number of posts that had to do with death, it is good to be able to publish one that is full of life! 

However much false reporting there is in the MSM with regard to the State of Israel, and the Children of Israel (I would contend that the two descriptions are not synonymous!), no-one could deny the pride and enthusiasm that the ordinary Israeli has for his/her country.

The video below involves12,000 Israelis who have come together to sing "Al Kol Eleh" (Over all of these) in an inspirational celebration of Israel's 70th anniversary. Look at those faces!

President Rivlin joined the special production in singing “Al Kol Eleh” (“Over all of these”) by Neomi Shemer, along with guest artist Shlomi Shabat, and accompanied by the Jerusalem Street Orchestra. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Another Bush has died.

Spring has finally appeared in the Dordogne. This means that work on the inside of the house will wind down, and work in the garden will have to increase (where are people like my cousin-in-law name-sake, when I need them?)!! Lack of water will, of course, ensure the death of any bush, or any other plant - although I have also discovered that over-watering brings its own problems!

However, the Bush in the heading was not a plant, but a human being - Barbara Bush, wife of one President of the USA and mother of another. She has been described as "the no-nonsense first lady who ran the family that ran the country." (Newsweek), and the current POTUS and FLOTUS noted that "she will be long remembered for her strong devotion to country and family."

During the illness that resulted in her death, the Washington Post published an insightful story about Barbara Bush and her family that may help to explain her remarkable character. The daughter of a New York publishing executive, she met her future husband in 1941 at a country club dance in Greenwich, Connecticut. She was sixteen years old. They became engaged in the summer of 1943 and were married in 1945. Their first son, George Walker Bush, was born on July 6, 1946, as his father was completing his studies at Yale. Two years later, they moved to Odessa, a town in West Texas. They were transferred briefly to California before moving to Midland, where their family settled into the oil business. 
In 1953, their three-year-old daughter, Robin, fell ill with leukemia. Eight months later, she died. Barbara Bush was twenty-eight. The tragedy turned her hair white and has marked her family for the rest of their lives. She later explained what sustained her through the worst pain a mother can know: “We believed in God and that made an enormous difference in our lives then and now.” She also said, “Because of Robin, George and I love every living human more.”
Her life priorities – faith, family, service – have inspired millions since. But she is dead!
Earlier, on my Facebook page, a nursing friend had posted a video of a gentleman named Tom who, we learn, "... has his own internal defibrillator, which thankfully saves his life." The gentleman had experienced a heart attack, but this ingenious implant ensured that he lives to see another day. One day, however, the internal defibrillator will not be sufficient. One day, sadly, Tom also will die!
Two people - one known to millions; the other known to few. But, as people used to say, "Death is no respecter of persons"! Rich, or poor; tall, or short; black, or white; male, or female; IQ of 150, or IQ of 50; whoever you are, whatever you are; you cannot escape physical death. It is an incontrovertible statistic - 100% of people die!
Death seems to be frequent topic on this blog at this time. Perhaps it is as my own days advance, and I am acutely conscious that I have much less time on this earth. At the end, I am assured that there is a judgment! "... it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, ..." (Heb.9:27). The verdict will not be based on my own (few!) 'good works', but solely, and fully, on my relationship with Jesus, the Christ, and my acceptance of His sacrificial death at Calvary. If I am in Him, and He is in me, then I am already acquitted. If not, then my eternal destiny is equally fixed - but it is not in His presence!
How do you feel about your certain death? It is, of course, in our contemporary, 'progressive', sexually permissive, politically 'correct', culture, something about which we tend not to speak. But that is what may be termed the "ostrich syndrome". "If I don't see you, you aren't there"! That, is a dangerous, as well as a foolish attitude to take!
I pray for the Bush family in their bereavement. I trust that Tom will have a few more years to enjoy life. But I also pray that many of those who read this blog will ensure that, when their own time comes, they are ready! Further information in some of the links below, or by contacting me at the e-mail address above. It is not my primary e-mail address, so I don't check it every day. However, be assured that, as soon as I read your e-mail, you will receive a response.