Friday, December 28, 2007

Angels on the Head of a Pin

JERUSALEM - Israeli scientists have inscribed the entire Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible onto a space less than half the size of a grain of sugar.

The nanotechnology experts at the Technion institute in Haifa say the text measures less than 0.01 square inch surface. They chose the Jewish Bible to highlight how vast quantities of information can be stored in minimum amounts of space.

I guess we'll finally be able to answer the age-old question. Just how many angels appear in the Tanakh, anyway?


The Importance of Religion As Well As "Spirituality"

Touchstone has published an interesting article that needs to be shouted from the rooftops, as it punctures a particular conceit on the part of secularists. Some highlights:
A group of prominent social scientists from Princeton, Pennsylvania State, Baylor, and other institutions answered that question at a conference on “Religious Practice and Civic Life: What the Research Says.” The conference, held in Washington, D.C., in late October, was hosted by the Heritage Foundation and their research partners Child Trends and the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion. . . .

Thus, Smith concludes: “Religious involvement is associated with, and probably promotes, civic engagement. . . . Those participating in a faith community are more likely to vote, belong to voluntary associations, and carry out altruistic acts than the nonreligious.”

The latter claim may seem presumptuous, but according to the 2002–2004 GSS, for every 100 altruistic acts—like giving blood or letting someone ahead of you in the checkout line—performed by nonreligious people, the religious perform 144. . . .

That is not what the data show. For nearly 40 years, psychologists and sociologists have studied the connection between religion and various negative outcomes in adolescents. According to one meta-study (a study of the studies), 97 percent of studies found a negative relationship between religion and sexual activity; 94 percent claimed a negative link between alcohol use and religion; and 87 percent alleged a negative correlation between suicide and religion.

One survey done by the University of Pittsburgh’s John Wallace, Jr., and his colleagues reports that when teenagers are asked whether they have smoked cigarettes, gone on a drinking binge, or smoked marijuana in the last 30 days, weekly-attending religious kids are twice as likely to report not having smoked or drunk heavily and are more than twice as likely to report not having used marijuana.

But religion affects behavior, Wallace maintains, not only at the individual level but also at the community level. The moral community in which students are immersed has an impact above and beyond that of personal religiosity.
Go read the article--and then bring up the actual facts the next time your friends launch on a tirade against "organized religion."


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Article on HebrewRoot

There's a new article on HebrewRoot: Who Has the Authority? Hopefully, it will spark some interesting discussion in the Body of Messiah.


Mixed Traditions

I was recently interviewed by the Gwinnett Daily Post for an article on families with split traditions. Anna was very nice, and the overall direction of the article is correct. There were a couple of quotes that came out awkward (like the one that said that I liked having the synagogue do all the decorating work--that's partially true, but I said it that way as a joke), and I do wish that she had written "Messiah" instead of "Christ," not because Christ is a dirty word, but because the connotation is different.

But it did give me a chance to honor my parents, who have been extremely supportive these last few years in my calling to a Messianic Jewish lifestyle. And it is that theme of honor that I'd like to touch on for a moment.

Messianics often find this time of year difficult. Most of us were raised on Christmas and have family who still celebrate it, but are distinctly uncomfortable with the pagan symbolism that has been carelessly mixed with the theme of the Messiah's birth (mistletoe, yule logs, decorated trees, etc.). How do we associate with our families during these times without feeling like we are betraying our spiritual convictions?

In answer, let us remember two important keys: 1) Yeshua put loving our neighbor (which definitely includes our families) just behind loving God in importance, and 2) the rabbis have always understood the command to honor our parents to reflect an honor of the God who put them over us. They have actually written that it is impossible to do one without the other.

So then, while Christmas no longer has any significance for me, it does for my parents. It is incumbent for me therefore to honor them if not the day. So on Christmas morning, I will be over at their house to exchange gifts (our gift to each other this year is a trip to Israel in April) and to have Christmas dinner together. I will enjoy their love and fellowship, and let them enjoy mine without mocking their dearly-held traditions. Discussions on the scripturalness (or lack thereof) about the holiday can wait for another time.

I'm not saying that we should compromise our beliefs, but that we should let love cover a multitude of sins.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Once and Future Antiochus

Here on the last and most joyous day of Hanukkah it's fitting to look forward as well as back, to the future persecution that the past one prefigures.

When four of His talmidim came to Him to ask about the time of His Second Coming, Yeshua spoke of false messiahs, wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, and then of a worldwide persecution of His people. He tells us the event that would spark off this persecution:
Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.

For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Mat. 24:15-22)
Here the Master refers to two key events prophesied by Daniel: The Abomination of Desolation (Dan. 9:27, 11:31) and the Great Tribulation (Dan. 12:1). The important thing to realize is that the passages in question had already been fulfilled by Antiochus Epimanes.

They had already been fulfilled, and they will be fulfilled again.

The key to Biblical prophecy is to understand that it is about pattern, not just prediction. Recognizing this puts aside the often venomous debates about, for example, whether the Olivet Discourse is a prophecy of the Second Coming or of the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The answer, as to the question of whether the Abomination referred to Antiochus or to a future desecration of the Temple, is both.

There is another link between Hanukkah and the End Time Antiochus. Daniel 12:11-12 says, "From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days!" These two numbers are unique in the prophecies, which usually measure the last period as 3 1/2 "times" (roughly years), 42 months, or 1260 days--thus, the prophecy here speaks of two events 30 days and 75 days after the end of the Seventieth Week.

There is a strong indication in Scripture that the Seventieth Week of Daniel's prophecy will end on Yom Kippur. Hanukkah just so happens to come about 75 days after Yom Kippur. It is no stretch to suppose that just as the Temple was cleansed and rededicated on Hanukkah over two millennia ago, it will be again in a Hanukkah yet to come.

And when that day comes, those who see it will surely be called blessed.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hanukkah: Particularly Happy for Messianic Jews

Today marks the first day of Hanukkah, which celebrates the cleansing of the Temple after its desecration by Antiochus Epimanes ("the Madman," a somewhat better title than "Epiphanes," methinks). Though it's not a Biblically mandated Feast, it is mentioned in the New Testament (John 10:22), and since it is not expressly mentioned that Yeshua eschewed it, it's safe to say that He celebrated Hanukkah along with everyone else in Jerusalem.

I've occasionally been challenged for keeping Hanukkah instead of Christmas, usually on the basis that it's purely tradition, having no Biblical mandate. And it's true, there isn't a specific Biblical command, but nevertheless, Hanukkah has become very dear to me.

Why? you ask. Simple: Because it celebrates the successful resistance of the Jews to forced Hellenization. Even though God had not sent a prophet in many years, nevertheless He remembered His covenant with the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and gave them victory against overwhelming odds.

It truly breaks my heart that for so many centuries, the Church actually stood in the place of Antiochus, demanding that Jews who wanted to follow the Jewish Messiah to give up everything Jewish, and become functional Greeks instead. And though at times the persecution of a perverted state-church was nearly unbearable, still my people hung onto their identity and their dedication to the Torah of God.

Ironically, it is only because the Jewish people as a whole rejected this false image of Christ and resisted assimilation that the prophetic Scriptures have not been broken. Later in the week, I'll explain a particular end-time prophecy that actually points to Hanukkah as its fulfillment.

Until then, Happy Hanukkah, and for my Sunday brethren, Merry Christmas.